Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr + GiveawaySunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Mira on April 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes the happiness we’re looking for has been there all along…

Adele and Justine have never been close. Born twenty years apart, Justine was already an adult when Addie was born. The sisters love each other, but they don’t really know each other.

When Addie dropped out of university to care for their ailing parents, Justine, a successful lawyer, covered the expenses. It was the best arrangement at the time, but now that their parents are gone, the future has changed dramatically for both women.

Addie had great plans for her life but has been worn down by the pressures of being a caregiver and doesn’t know how to live for herself. And Justine’s success has come at a price. Her marriage is falling apart despite her best efforts.

Neither woman knows how to start life over, but both realize they can and must support each other the way only sisters can. Together they find the strength to accept their failures and overcome their challenges. Happiness is within reach, if only they have the courage to fight for it.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

My Review:

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay is an absolute heartbreaker of a story that leads its heroines through some very dark places. But when they emerge on the other side, they are all made stronger by the journey. And they beautifully earn their peace, their joy, and their happy ever afters.

Even if – or perhaps especially because those HEAs are not dependent on the men in their lives. But rather on their love for each other as sisters, daughters, aunt and nieces. The women of the Descaro family have learned to help each other stand tall and strong. And it’s marvelous.

The story is focused on the Descaro sisters, successful Justine in her early 50s, and rudderless Adele, their parents’ surprise baby, in her early 30s. But as the story begins, both of them are at crossroads in their lives.

Adele’s situation is the more obvious. She’s depressed, unfocused and not sure how to pick up her life and her dreams after 8 years of being her invalid parents’ caregiver. Now that her mother has died, her life is her own again. She just doesn’t know what to do with it now that she has it back.

Justine, a successful corporate attorney, is facing a decision. The company she has worked long nights and weekends for for over 20 years has just gone through a merger. Positions are being eliminated right, left and center, and she knows that hers is on the chopping block. She’s burned out and wants to do something different, but her family, her stay-at-home husband, her two high school age daughters, AND her sister are all dependent on her income. An income that is now in jeopardy.

But so is her marriage. When Addie witnesses her brother-in-law passionately kissing a woman other than his wife at the local pizza parlor, she feels compelled to tell her sister what she saw.

And that’s where everyone’s life goes more than a little pear-shaped, as the perfect life that Justine thought she had goes up in flames. Leaving her with a choice. She can continue putting her time and energy into a relationship based on lies, and into a job that has long since lost its appeal. Or she can choose another path. She can divorce the cheating husband and find work that fills her soul.

While Addie, shocked into motion at the shattering of her sister’s life, begins to take charge of her own.

Together they find a way forwards into the future. And finally into becoming the friends, the sisters, the family that they never really were.

Escape Rating A: I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. But I really, really did. I found it to be a completely compelling read, and I basically lost a day between its pages, pulled along in this story of growth and change and sisterhood.

I loved Justine’s side of the story. I found her easy to identify with and enjoyed the time spent in her head, even when there was so much in her headspace that was hard and painful. She thought her life was perfect. She believed her marriage was good. She counted on her husband as her partner in life and in raising their girls. The arrangement where she worked and he took care of their daughters was one that they had agreed to, and that appeared to be working for both of them. Until she learned that it wasn’t.

I adored her decisiveness in the face of her discovery. She didn’t waffle or dilly-dally. She was fortunate to have a successful career, and she picked up the pieces and started moving on. There were painful days when the pieces seemed to scatter all over again, but she kept moving forward and eventually got through.

Of the sisters, Addie was the dilly-dallier, but her journey was a portrait of a different kind of learning and growing. She started by just putting one foot in front of the other, but learned to find a new purpose as well as let go of old baggage. It was only in her search for love that she kept holding herself back.

I liked the way that the two sisters grew up, grew together and grew towards each other. And that they did their level best to provide examples of strong women who learned to stand their ground to Justine’s two daughters.

I also liked the fact that while romantic relationships do eventually become part of their lives, those romances are not the reward. Finding a new man is never the be-all and end-all of either woman’s journey, and that’s a great example for the teenagers.

Instead, they both get their own stuff together first and then reach out for someone who not merely loves but genuinely respects them and their strength.

A great story with the best kind of happy ending!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Sunrise on Half Moon Bay to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-5-20 + Giveaway

Sunday Post

Today is my birthday. And it’s weird to be celebrating a birthday without even the possibility of going out for dinner. It’s not that I generally make a big deal out of it, but it just feels strange not to be able to mark it much at all. And to know that by the time we can go out again, it will be too far in the past to make any sense. This makes all those childhood birthdays when I couldn’t have a party and cake because my birthday often fell during Passover seem like wild extravaganzas in comparison. (Passover this year starts on Wednesday, so I did miss it this year!)

Today is also First Contact Day in the Star Trek Universe. In that version of what would be history, Earth’s known “First Contact” with an alien race will occur on April 5, 2063 when the Vulcans observe Earth’s first warp flight. If this sounds familiar at all, that’s because it’s the event that the Borg are trying to prevent in the movie Star Trek: First Contact. Probably my second favorite of all the Star Trek movies, after Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. And this might be a GREAT day for a rewatch.

But to completely mix my favorite SFF metaphors, while today may be First Contact Day, it is my birthday and, just as every day this past week. it will be a Hobbit birthday. Meaning that I am giving presents instead of getting them. Today’s giveaway is another Barnes & Noble $25 Gift Card, but all of this week’s giveaways are still open, and will be until the end of this coming week.

Live Long, and Prosper!

Current Giveaways:

$25 Amazon Gift Card in the Blogo-Birthday Celebration
$25 in Books in the Blogo-Birthday Celebration
$10 Amazon Gift Card OR $10 Book in the Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop
$25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card in the Blogoversary Day Giveaway
Any book by Duncan M. Hamilton
Any book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris
Any book by M.L. Buchman

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop is Viki S.

Blog Recap:

Early Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway
A++ Review: Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton + Giveaway
Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop
A+ Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + Giveaway
A Review: Condor by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (386) + Giveaway

Coming This Week:

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr (blog tour review)
Matzah Ball Surprise by Laura Brown (review)
Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine (review)
Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer (review)

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Stacking the Shelves (386) + Giveaway

Stacking the Shelves

Today is the actual OMG 9th anniversary of the first post on Reading Reality. Writing this blog is turning out to be the longest “job” I have ever held. And what a wild, strange trip it’s been, but never more so than this year. While I think we’ll all be glad when life turns into whatever the new normal is going to be, I’d like to think that the reviews and features here at Reading Reality are giving readers at least a few suggestions on what to read to take your minds off the current crisis. A book is always a great way to get away from it all when you have to physically stay put.

I have a couple of final giveaways. Today I’m giving away a $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card. And I will tomorrow, too. These are gift cards that I happen to have and have never used, and this feels like a good time to share the wealth of books with a couple more lucky readers of this blog. To thank you all for your comments, support and readership over the past 9 years.

Here’s to 9 more!

For Review:
Alpha Night (Psy-Changeling #19) by Nalini Singh
Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
Chaos Reigning (Consortium Rebellion #3) by Jessie Mihalik
Creatures of Charm and Hunger (Diabolist’s Library #1) by Molly Tanzer
Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis
Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu
The Devil of Downtown (Uptown Girls #3) by Joanna Shupe
Dragon Unleashed (Fallen Empire #2) by Grace Draven
Drowned Country (Greenhollow #2) by Emily Tesh
Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Ghosts of Sherwood (Robin Hood Stories #2) by Carrie Vaughn
The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
The Hollow Ones by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman
The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso
The Paris Hours by Alex George
Party of Two (Wedding Date #5) by Jasmine Guillory
Remain Silent (Manon Bradshaw #3) by Susie Steiner
Riviera Gold (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes #16) by Laurie R. King
Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle
Sunshield by Emily B. Martin
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
What Would Wimsey Do? (Not-Quite Golden Age #1) by Guy Fraser-Samspon

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Ghostrider (Miranda Chase #4) by M.L. Buchman (pre-order)
Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3) by Lindsay Buroker

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Review: Condor by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Review: Condor by M.L. Buchman + GiveawayCondor: an NTSB / military technothriller (Miranda Chase) Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #3
Pages: 428
Published by Buchman Bookworks on March 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Antonov AN-124 Ruslan “Condor”—the heavyweight champ among production cargo jets. Russian tanks, American firefighting helicopters, rescue submersibles, satellites, city-sized power transformers...the Condor hauls them all over the world.

But when one lifts a top-secret payload rated as too dangerous, the US government decides it must take action. Untraceable action. Call Delta Force? SEAL Team Six?

No. They call Miranda Chase, lead crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board to fake a crash. Miranda refuses, but the stakes grow higher and higher. Soon she may be too late to stop the new Cold War from becoming the final war.

My Review:

In this third book in the Miranda Chase NTSB series, the team has finally found the fifth man for its five-man band. And team leader Miranda Chase may have finally found somebody of her own who gets her for all the parts of who she is – laser-focused, single-minded, socially clueless, neuro-atypical and pure savant at figuring out what made a plane crash – no matter how much anyone – or everyone – attempts to hide the truth.

Whether they do that hiding before or after the crash she’s investigating hits the ground.

All of the books in this series have been named for the planes that have crashed – the planes that Miranda’s team has come to investigate. A Drone, a Thunderbolt and now a Condor – so far. And this one is no different in that start. But it is certainly different in the way that events play out.

And the story feels like it owes as much to Tom Clancy’s kind of spy games as it does to M.L. Buchman’s brand of military romance. In fact, it feels like the blend may be reaching an optimal mix for all kinds of combustion.

But first there’s a downed plane, a dead crew, a top secret and completely torched cargo, a Russian counter espionage agent and a CIA Director with designs on becoming the Second Lady of the U.S. – and eventually the First.

In the middle of it all, there’s Miranda Chase and her team, figuring out how and why the plane crashed in the U.S. – and how to make another one just like it crash in the middle of Russia – without ever giving the game away to anyone watching on either side of the deadly equation.

And without any members of her team getting bogged down – or taken out – by the weight of the baggage that they brought along for the ride.

Escape Rating A: In this third book in Miranda Chase’s series, it really feels like the team is hitting its stride. They have really begun to gel as a unit, and as a consequence, the individuals that make up the team have begun to trust each other enough to reveal some of the trauma that’s hidden in their pasts.

Miranda’s past, and its effects on her, have been part of the dynamic from the very beginning. She joined the NTSB and learned to analyze plane crashes because her parents died in one when she was a child. What she wasn’t aware of at the time, but certainly is now, is that her parents were CIA agents, and that their plane was sabotaged in a deliberate – and successful – attempt to take them out.

But we’re still learning about the rest of the team, just as they are learning about each other. As a consequence, the operation that provides the edge-of-the-suspense in this outing is wrapped around the team’s strongman – or in this case strongwoman – former Australian Special Forces operative Holly Harper.

Holly feels responsible for the deaths of her Australian team, as she was the only survivor of an operation that went so completely pear-shaped that even the pear would be outraged. Holly’s secondment to US NTSB was her way of putting her ghosts as far behind her as possible – literally half a world away.

She’s scared of being part of a “team” again, fearful that her bad luck has followed her across a very large ocean. But the operation that the team has been sucked into, faking the crash of a Russian military cargo transport in Russian airspace, is a job that requires all of the old skills that Holly hoped to never need again. But if she’s to save her new team, she’ll have to become the badass covert operative she left behind.

Because there’s an equally badass covert operative who is guaranteed to take out all the members of her new team with extreme prejudice. Unless Holly gets her first. Or unless that slimy new Director of the CIA plays them all.

The operation, in all of its many hair-raising and nail-biting parts is a big callback to some of the wilder adventures of the Night Stalkers in Buchman’s first military romance series. That both Holly and surprisingly Miranda come out of this adventure with the possibility of romance in their own respective futures made this entry in the series feel closer to what I was expecting back when I first picked up Drone – a heart stopping action adventure story with a little bit (so far) of heart pounding romance on top.

I can’t wait to see where Miranda and her team go – and which planes fall down in front of them – in the next book in this series, Ghostrider. I already have it on preorder!

I’ve enjoyed this author’s writing since I read his first military romance, The Night is Mine, back in 2012. He has written plenty of terrific books since then, ranging from military romance to action adventure romance to mysteries to  SF to thrillers and some that straddle all the lines. I haven’t read them all – he’s been VERY prolific! – but I’ve read quite a few and enjoyed every one.

So, as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, I’m giving one lucky reader the opportunity to climb aboard one of M.L. Buchman’s thrill-a-minute adventures. The winner of today’s giveaway will get their choice of any one of his books. Whoever wins is in for a real treat of a story!

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Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + Giveaway

Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + GiveawayWho Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr, #15) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #15
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr investigates the mysterious life and death of a nobleman accused of murder in this enthralling new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

It's June 1814, and the royal families of Austria, Russia, and the German states have gathered in London at the Prince Regent's invitation to celebrate the defeat of Napoléon and the restoration of monarchical control throughout Europe. But the festive atmosphere is marred one warm summer evening by the brutal murder of a disgraced British nobleman long thought dead.

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

My Review:

Once upon a time, the author of the Sebastian St. Cyr series described how she came to write St. Cyr and his series. She said that she wanted to create a character who seemed, on the surface, to be the epitome of the Regency hero; tall, dark, handsome and brooding. (I think with emphasis on the brooding.) But then to explicitly NOT make him the hero of a Regency romance. Thus was Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, born.

A much later description of Devlin referred to him as Darcy with more than a touch of James Bond, but that doesn’t really feel right. St. Cyr seems to have always been carrying too much emotional baggage to have ever been Darcy, while his adventures and investigations take him into much darker places than Bond usually goes and afford him considerably fewer technological toys – even ones that would have existed in the Regency.

St. Cyr relies on his instincts, his brains and his considerable ability to fight as dirty as necessary, whether that fight involves fisticuffs, social exposure or politics – as much as he hates the latter options when needed.

When his story began in 2005 – or in 1811 in St. Cyr’s world, England was on the brink of the Regency and St. Cyr was a battle-scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, unable to settle or sleep, wracked with PTSD after his life-altering experiences in a war that had not yet ended. (Even by the time period of this 15th book in the series, 1814, the war is still not over. It is merely in abeyance during Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba.)

St. Cyr, as the heir to an earldom, should be one of the Regency dandies that appear in the pages of so many romances set in the period. Instead, he has become an unofficial and unpaid murder investigator with the help of the head of the newly formed police agency at Bow Street. His membership at the highest levels of the aristocracy allows him to poke his nose into many, many places where a simple copper would be thrown out the back door.

Even his father-in-law, the Prince Regent’s cousin and spymaster Jarvis, is forced to deal with St. Cyr whether he likes it or not. And he definitely does not.

This latest entry in the series is an enthralling mystery that does an especially good job of exposing the glitter of the Regency Era as the bio-luminescence of something rotting in the dark, as St. Cyr finds himself investigating the death of a man who is all too much like the one that he sees in his own mirror. There but for the grace of god, and just a few scraps of luck that turned good instead of bad, would have gone St. Cyr.

It’s a case he can’t let go of, no matter how many times he’s warned off. And no matter how high the halls of power that he needs to bring low.

Escape Rating A+: It should be fairly clear that this is one of my favorite series. In fact, if it isn’t clear already, as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration I ONLY review stuff I really, really love. After all, this is my birthday and the blog’s birthday and why shouldn’t I treat myself to some books and authors that I know I’ll love?

Especially since this whole week is a hobbit’s birthday, meaning that I give presents instead of getting them. It just wouldn’t do to give away books I don’t utterly adore.

What I love about this series in general, and it’s certainly exemplified by this entry, boils down to two things. One is certainly the development of the characters. St. Cyr and his wife Hero have created a partnership of equals in a way that doesn’t often happen in historical romance. They have both come through dark places and dark things, and found each other in spite of people and circumstances that stood in their way.

They both carry a lot of baggage, and it is not a weight that either can carry FOR the other. Rather, carrying it together lightens the load. I also have to say that more than either Darcy or Bond, the character that St. Cyr most often reminds me of is Roarke from the In Death series. They share the same kind of darkness in their pasts, and they both work on expiating their demons in the same ways. They have also both formed strong partnerships with women who were initially on opposing sides from themselves.

The other thing that makes this series so strong is its setting. It is so much the opposite of what we think of the Regency as being. There was so much glitter at the top, and so much rot underneath. The murder in this story is a case in point. The powers-that-be have already decided who MUST be guilty, regardless of who is actually guilty. The attitudes reflected by our protagonists resonate with 21st century readers and yet feel part and parcel of their time and place.

Wrong is always wrong. Murder is always murder. No matter who the victim was, or what they, themselves might have done. That St. Cyr sees so much of himself in this particular victim adds to the poignancy of the whole story.

In the end, good triumphed, at least temporarily. Evil got its just desserts. And the powers that be blame St. Cyr for righting a wrong that many would have preferred to bury. A combination of things as they should be with the acknowledgement that many in power do not desire that outcome.

While I am eagerly awaiting St. Cyr’s next case, probably this time next year, I’m offering one lucky reader the chance to either begin this marvelous series or pick up wherever they might have left off. This is a series where you do need to at least start at the beginning. I read the first few, lost track of the series in the middle and have returned for the last several and have enjoyed every single one since I returned.

I hope that the winner of this giveaway will too.

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Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

It’s April Fools’ Day, we’re all quarantined in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and I don’t know about you, but the thing that really feels like its melting is our brains. Also it’s raining. Again. It’s WAY too late for snow in this neck of the woods.

Or, to put it another way, our 90-day trial of 2020 is now officially over, and no one knows where to send it back to get a do-over.

But it’s finally April. We can hope that things will look up. That the sun will come out tomorrow. That the dawn will come. We WILL get through this.

And in the meantime there are books. And giveaways for more books. And giveaways for gift cards for – you guessed it – more books.

Today I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value from the Book Depository. This giveaway is available wherever the Book Depository ships in this big wide and somewhat shut down and shut in world.

This is also day 3 of my annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. There’s a giveaway here at Reading Reality every day this week. Monday’s giveaway is a $25 Amazon Gift AND $25 in Books. Tuesday’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of books by one of my favorite new authors. Thursday’s and Friday’s giveaways will be books from a couple of my long-standing favorite authors. So check out the giveaways! No fooling!

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MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton + Giveaway

Review: Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton + GiveawayServant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, sword and sorcery
Series: Dragonslayer #3
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on March 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Exciting Conclusion to the Dragonslayer Trilogy Long laid plans finally bear fruit, but will it prove as sweet as hoped for? With the king on his deathbed, the power Amaury has sought for so long is finally in his grasp.

As opposition gathers from unexpected places, dragonkind fights for survival and a long-awaited reckoning grows close.

Soléne masters her magic, but questions the demands the world will make of her. Unable to say no when the call of duty comes, Gill realizes that the life he had given up on has not given up on him.

Once a servant of the crown, ever a servant of the crown...

    The Dragonslayer Trilogy:

1. Dragonslayer
2. Knight of the Silver Circle
3. Servant of the Crown

My Review:

First things first. I just want to say what a treat it was to start a series, fall in love with it, and be able to just read – or be read to – all the way through to the end without having to wait months if not years for the later books in a series. I don’t always have that opportunity, either because I fall in love with the first book long before the others are out, or because I run into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum and have to space things out because of other reading commitments. Because I waited to start the first book (Dragonslayer) until the entire series was out – a happy accident! – I was able to do the whole thing in one swell foop. And wow! What a ride!

Second, this is epic fantasy of the sword and sorcery school, and there just hasn’t been as much of that around recently. I’d forgotten how much I love this end of the epic fantasy pool, so I’m grateful for the reminder and will be looking for more of it.

Third, this story manages to be both epic and not epically long at the same time in a way that just really, really works. In an era when so many epic fantasies are made up of several individual door-stop sized books, it was a joy to get such a rich and complete story in a length (or maybe I should reckon this as height) of just under one doorstop at 1,000 pages in total.

Fourth, but still not last, what makes this series so fascinating to read are its characters, and the way that their individual arcs both fulfill fantasy tropes and subvert them at the same time. Because this is a story where the characters feel like real, flawed human beings – and yet they still manage to be Big Damn Heroes, whether they want to be or not. And it’s definitely not.

I’m specifically referring to Gill and Soléne, because their respective journeys, separately and together-but-not-TOGETHER, form the backbone of the series.

Gill is the failed hero of the previous generation. His character, who is very much a classic archetype, usually becomes the mentor figure in most epic stories, whether fantasy or not, and that character usually dies somewhere in the middle so the “real” hero can take center stage. (One of my personal favorite characters of this type is actually dead to begin with, but that’s another story.)

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a great example. He was a hero in the previous war. He failed, he fell and then he hid himself away in the deserts of Tatooine. He becomes Luke’s first trainer and mentor in the Force, and then he’s killed by Vader. The mentor figure always dies. Like Merlin. And Dumbledore. And every other teacher/trainer of the young hero.

But the young hero in the Dragonslayer series is on an entirely different course than Gill’s. Because Gill doesn’t die. Instead, he becomes the hero, one more time, in spite of his own wishes to die in obscurity at the bottom of a bottle. He is, in the end, the “Servant of the Crown” as named in the title of this final volume. He serves no matter what he, himself might want. And he becomes the hero because no matter how many times he’s struck down, he gets up and tries again. And again. And again. Until the job is done.

If it ever will be.

Soléne is that young hero. Gill’s the one out in front to collect all the glory and fight all the battles, or so it seems. But she’s every bit the hero that he is, just from behind the scenes. Her power is huge, but it is also quiet. She’s the mage who operates in the shadows, not because she’s the woman inspiring the hero, but because the power she wields works best from the dark – and the quiet. He knows that she brought him the victory, and he knows that the best thing he can do for her is to acknowledge that privately and not publicly. Not that the Crown won’t give her its own semi-public acknowledgements. Maybe. If they succeed.

It is fascinating that both of their personal journeys are the journey to learn to trust themselves. He has to step up, and she has to step forward, but in so many ways it’s the same step.

I also absolutely adored that there is no romance here – nor should there be. It is wonderful to see trust, friendship and true comradeship in a relationship between a man and a woman that has absolutely no basis in will they/won’t they. Because this particular pair really, really shouldn’t – at least not with each other – and the reader is NEVER led to believe that they should. Solene is never Gill’s reward or his prize, nor is she ever fridged. She’s as big a damn hero as he is, just in a different way.

Even Amaury the villain is very, very human. While he is certainly a meditation on the cliche that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, he’s never able to grasp the absolute power he thinks he deserves. And the minute he gets close to it, it does him in. But throughout he’s human and understandable, even if he’s never a sympathetic character at all. And it’s another subversion of trope that Amaury the human is the big villain, while the really big creatures we think will be the villains, those dragons of the series title, actually aren’t. Well, at least all of them aren’t.

Escape Rating A++: I need to stop squeeing at this point. It’s pretty obvious that I adored this series from beginning to end. I began it in audio – every time – but switched to text at the point where I just couldn’t find out what happened next nearly fast enough.

I will say that the reader for all three books, Simon Vance, was absolutely marvelous. I wanted to continue to listen to him, but patience has never been my long suit. If you love fantasy and have an excuse to listen to the full story, it’s a wonderful listen.

I loved this series so much that I decided to include it as one of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week reviews and giveaways. The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Duncan M. Hamilton (up to $20 US), whether in this series or one of his previous series (and if anyone knows whether they are all set in this same world, please let me know!)

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Early Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway

On April 4, 2011, the very first post on Reading Reality went live. That was back when the blog was called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction” after a saying I found on a t-shirt. At the time I started the blog, the country was still reeling from the “Great Recession” and a book blog was a way to keep my hand in the book world – and give myself something to occupy me intellectually, during a period when we had just moved cities (AGAIN!) and jobs were hard to come by. And doesn’t it seem like the more things change, the more they remain the same?

Nine years and three cross-country moves later, the blog is still going strong!

My birthday happens to be April 5, hence the term Blogo-Birthday was born. I celebrate these anniversaries by giving stuff away – as a way of thanking all of my readers and followers who have found Reading Reality over the years and stuck around to see what happens next.

What happens this week will be a series of giveaways. Today I have two giveaways, one for a $25 Amazon Gift Card and one for $25 in books from either the Book Depository or, for those in the U.S. $25 in books delivered from the book store of your choice. If you have a local bookstore that’s doing mail order, I’ll have the books or a gift certificate sent to you from them. If you don’t have a local of your own, then you can choose from one of the big regional bookstores like Tattered Cover or Powell’s, or get your books from the Book Depository. But books you will get!

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

 

Welcome to the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

This is always a weird hop for me. Snow can be much fun, as long as one is inside watching it fall instead of outside trying to deal with it. But snow here in Atlanta is such a rare event that it is pretty much ALWAYS fun.

Very much on my other hand, at the moment we are all supposed to be staying in and watching whatever fall. That “whatever” being COVID-19.

And even as someone who normally works from home and doesn’t go out a whole lot, it is VERY different to be in the house because I have to be as opposed to because I want to be. That it’s expected to be a “gloomy Gus” of a week here weatherwise does not exactly help. If we’d wanted to live someplace where the weather is gray and gloomy, we’d have stayed in either Anchorage or Seattle. But the weather certainly fits the week and the mood.

But this does make for a GREAT time to stay in and READ. So if you’re looking to get a new book or two (or two dozen!) to tide you over, winning either the Amazon Gift Card or the Book should be a bit of help in that goal!

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For more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Leaping Leprechauns Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Leaping Leprechauns Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

The image that most people have of St. Patrick’s Day, at least in the U.S., is either leprechauns, parades, or possibly bars. Although, since St. Patrick’s Day is a Tuesday this year, maybe no so many bars this time around.

But I lived in Chicagoland, the greater Chicago area, for, let’s just say a lot of years. So my own personal image of St. Patrick’s Day is always this one, when they dye the Chicago River bright, brilliant green!

But on this hop, in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, you have the opportunity to win just a little bit of green yourself. Either in the form of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. All you have to do is fill out the rafflecopter below.

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter