Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer

Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth SchneyerAnthems Outside Time and Other Strange Voices by Kenneth Schneyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 372
Published by Fairwood Press on July 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Curator's notes from an art exhibition. Exam questions. A children's social-studies textbook. An end-user license agreement from God. From Nebula-nominated author Kenneth Schneyer comes this collection spanning the range from fantasy to science fiction to horror to political speculative fiction. Representing more than a decade of work, these 26 weird, disorienting stories will accost your expectations while relocating your heart. This volume includes such celebrated works as "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer," as well as two stories never before published.

My Review:

When I read this collection a few weeks ago, I found myself astonished all the way around. And I mean that in the best way possible.

That very pleasant surprised was on two counts. The first being that short story collections usually aren’t my favorite thing. I tend to find them a mixed bag at best, with some strong stories mixed with at least one or two that missed the boat – or in this case the rocket ship – completely. That didn’t happen here. At All. Every story hits its mark – sometimes with a bang. And occasionally – when completely appropriate to the story – with a whimper. Usually on the part of the reader. A kind of contented, contemplative “OH!”

That the collection was written by an author I hadn’t heard of before – in spite of the Nebula nomination – was the second thing that surprised me. I wouldn’t have picked up a collection of something I don’t normally care for by an author I don’t otherwise know without receiving it as an assignment from somewhere.

In this particular case, an assignment from Library Journal. But I loved this book so hard that I felt compelled to signal boost it here, as many reviews in LJ are behind a paywall – although this review might not be. But here we are, just in case.

What I found so compelling about this collection was the way that it does something that SF and fantasy don’t always do well. So much of speculative fiction in general concentrates on the gee whiz of either rocket ships or dragons – or sometimes both – that it misses the human connection.

Not that I don’t love me a good hard SF story. Or for that matter a good time travel story or a good story about dragons either doing or done wrong or a big high-flown epic fantasy. Or a mix of all of the above – although that’s HARD.

But all stories written by humans are about humans, no matter what skin or fur or feather or metal they might be wearing on the outside. And that’s what this collection does so well, whether in its SF or its fantasy stories.

This author is great at letting the reader see the effects of the SFnal or fantasy elements on the humans who are our perspective on what’s happening. And that’s fantastic!

Escape Rating A: This author has what can wonderfully be called a somewhat sideways view of the world. A view that is certainly on display in that Nebula-nominated story, Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer. It’s a story told through the unusual lens of museum case notes. One of this author’s fascinating devices is to tell a story through something else, often something small like the tiny notes next to exhibit entries, and let the pulling together of the story in its entirety occur in the reader’s mind – as it does anyway.

(For the curious, the winner that year was If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky which was itself a nominee for the Hugo the following year. Eligibility periods for the Hugo and the Nebula are confoundingly different!)

The stories in this collection, those Anthems Outside Time, are not fluffy bunnies. Most of them come from the darker corners of the imagination, and all of them are compellingly readable.

The stories in this collection manage to be prescient, heartbreaking and provocative, sometimes by turns and sometimes all at once. They are stories for readers who want their SF and fantasy to make them think, and think hard, about the human condition. And they’re marvelous.

I’ll certainly be looking for more of this author’s work, starting with his previous collection, The Law & the Heart.

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey YatesThe Hero of Hope Springs (Gold Valley, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #10
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Will Gold Valley’s most honorable cowboy finally claim the woman he’s always wanted?
For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…
Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…

My Review:

There’s a big part of me that wants to call this a “friends to lovers” romance. And that’s kind of true. As the story opens – actually, as the entire Gold Valley series opens, Ryder Daniels and Sammy Marshall have been friends, but never lovers. Not for the 17 years that they’ve known each other. And not that Ryder, at least, hasn’t had thoughts in that direction.

Thoughts that he has ruthlessly if not completely suppressed, every time they’ve, well, come up.

That’s something Ryder has had lots of practice with. By that I mean suppressing any thoughts he doesn’t think he can afford to let fester inside his skull – and that he can’t let out of his mouth, either.

But Sammy and Ryder are more than just friends. They’re best friends. They are deep inside each other’s lives, and occupy a whole lot of space inside each other’s hearts. So it feels more like this is a story about two people finally acknowledging a relationship that’s been there all along.

There are, however, a few problems with changing what they are to each other. As it turns out, more than a few. Lots and bunches.

The biggest one being that any attempt to change what they are to each other has the strong possibility of wrecking everything that they are to each other. A risk that neither of them is willing to take.

Until there’s no choice at all.

Escape Rating B-: This is a mixed feelings review in multiple directions. So let’s get right to it.

One of the reasons that I love this author is that she creates tension in romantic situations that feels REAL. The problems between Ryder and Sammy, and there are lots of them, feel organic to their lives and aren’t silly misunderstandammits that could be resolved with a single conversation.

The problem for the reader, or at least this reader, is that a huge chunk of their mutual problem, as much as they are definitely a case of opposites attracting, is that for entirely different reasons both of these people live a lot of their lives inside their own heads.

Ryder’s stuck inside his head because his parents died when he was 18 and about to go off to college on a football scholarship. He had big plans far away from the family ranch. But Ryder was the oldest of several children, and the only way for them all to stay together and keep the ranch was for Ryder to give up his dreams and become a surrogate father to his siblings and his cousins who also lived with them.

So Ryder’s always had LOTS of thoughts about what might have been, what he wished was, and just getting through being a parent when he wasn’t quite done with being a child himself.

Sammy lives inside her own head because it was the only place she could be free. She learned to distance herself emotionally when she couldn’t do it physically while her angry and violent father was taking out all of his disappointments on Sammy – with his fists. While her mother looked on. She left her parents and moved into a tiny camper on the grounds of Ryder’s ranch when she was 16 and he was 18, because he made her feel safe.

He still does.

While the reasons that both Ryder and Sammy live inside their own heads a lot – and with a lot of internal angst – feels like an entirely real response to the situations in their lives. It makes for hard reading. Because they also have their heads inside their own asses a lot, unable to get out of their own ways.

So this is a story where it reads like there’s more internal dialog than external dialog – or action. And that’s right for these characters but drove this reader a bit bananas. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

As I said, I finished this book with mixed feelings. While there was more internal angst than worked for me in a romance, the reason for that angst felt real and true to life. I liked these characters and wanted them to achieve their HEA, but admit to being kind of surprised that they actually managed to do it! But I do enjoy the Gold Valley series so I’m looking forward to seeing Ryder and Sammy again as secondary characters in later books. Especially as it looks like some of Ryder’s siblings are up next!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-26-20

Sunday Post

I bought A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking for the title. Some books get bought for their covers, but for this one it was definitely the title. The cover is cute but it isn’t all that. But the book, oh, the book was definitely this week’s winner among some very excellent contenders. I just won’t ever be using Wizard Mona’s recipe for gingerbread. Her book, on the other hand, was terrific!

 

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Feline Good Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $20 Gift Card from Rhys Ford and Silk Dragon Salsa is Sandy

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Hearts and Stones by Robin D. Owens
Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery
B Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes
A+ Review: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
A Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees
Stacking the Shelves (402)

Coming This Week:

The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates (blog tour review)
Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer (review)
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (review)
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair (review)
The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (402)

Stacking the Shelves

George went in for his ‘snip and chip’ yesterday. He’s fine. He came home and immediately tried to eat ALL the things and destroy ALL the toilet paper. It took hours for him to calm down. But he’s definitely fine.

The stack embiggened again. Embiggen is such a lovely little word, even if it means the size of the virtually towering TBR pile has grown ever larger. Or especially because!

For Review:
The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins
The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader
Breathe the Sky by Michelle Hazen
Everything Here is Under Control by Emily Adrian
The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne
Hearts and Stones (Celta’s HeartMates) by Robin D. Owens (review)
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
How to Catch a Queen (Runaway Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole
If the Boot Fits (Cowboys of California #2) by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Kitty’s Mix-Tape (Kitty Norville #16) by Carrie Vaughn
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem (Lady’s Guide #1) by Manda Collins
The Less Dead by Denise Mina
Love and Theft by Stan Parish
Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore
Persephone Station by Stina Leicht
The Princess Knight (Scarred Earth #2) by G.A. Aiken
The River Home by Hannah Richell
Voodoo Heart by John Everson
When She Was Good (Cyrus Haven #2) by Michael Robotham

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Kickstarter:
The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
The Year of the Cat: A Cat of Disdainful Looks edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith (Kickstarter)

Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees

Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia ReesMiss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 512
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A striking historical novel about an ordinary young British woman sent to uncover a network of spies and war criminals in post-war Germany that will appeal to fans of The Huntress and Transcription.
World War II has just ended, and Britain has established the Control Commission for Germany, which oversees their zone of occupation. The Control Commission hires British civilians to work in Germany, rebuild the shattered nation and prosecute war crimes. Somewhat aimless, bored with her job as a provincial schoolteacher, and unwilling to live with her stuffy genteel parents any longer, twentysomething Edith Graham applies for a job with the Commission—but is instead recruited by the OSS. To them, Edith is perfect spy material…single, ordinary-looking, with a college degree in German. And there’s another thing—the OSS knows that Edith’s brother went to Oxford with one of their most hunted war criminals, Count Kurt von Stabenow, who Edith remembers all too well from before the war.
Intrigued by the challenge, Edith heads to Germany armed with a convincing cover story: she’s an unassuming schoolteacher sent to help resurrect German primary schools. To send information back to her OSS handlers in London, Edith has crafted the perfect alter ego, cookbook author Stella Snelling, who writes a popular magazine cookery column that embeds crucial intelligence within the recipes she collects. But occupied Germany is awash with other spies, collaborators, and opportunists, and as she’s pulled into their world, Edith soon discovers that no one is what they seem to be. The closer she gets to uncovering von Stabenow’s whereabouts—and the network of German civilians who still support him—the greater the danger. 
With a unique, compelling premise, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is a beautifully crafted and gripping novel about daring, betrayal, and female friendship.

My Review:

Welcome to the Cold War. The same as the old war. Well, not exactly. But it feels like all the forces that set up – and set off, World War II are ALL still around. Even the ones that shouldn’t be after the defeat of the Nazis.

At the same time, in 1946 Germany, we also see the opening stages of what history calls the Cold War, which was only cold because most of the actual fighting was conducted through proxies.

But in the immediate aftermath of WW2, we see the seeds for the next 30ish years of history, along with a whole lot of dirty deeds done in the name of patriotism – or just plain survival.

On the one hand, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook brings this slice of history to life, as Miss Graham finds herself caught between opposing forces – not all of whom were supposed to even be opposing.

As a British operative for the Control Commission for Germany, she’s there to assist with re-opening schools in Germany – and it’s a job that’s sorely needed. On the other hand, she’s trapped in the middle between Operation Paperclip, run by the U.S. and Operation Surgeon, run by Great Britain. Both agencies were formed with the purpose of whitewashing and using selected Nazi personnel with important skills – most famously Wernher von Braun – and denying those people and those skills to the Soviet Union. Justice for the atrocities committed by the Nazis was only to be served on those who were either too infamous to cover up, like Goebbels and Himmler, or too junior or commonplace to be of any use to the victors.

And there was definitely a third hand, that of the people looking for that justice denied. Both the surviving Jewish agents who had seen what happened for themselves, who had lost friends and family and needed an accounting and to see justice served.

Along with Vera Atkins, the director of the Women’s Section of the Strategic Operations Executive in Britain, who needed to find both closure and justice for the operatives that she personally sent into Occupied France and Nazi Germany. Operatives who were betrayed by someone in her own office. She needs to know who, and why, and how, and make sure they get punished for their treason.

If she can. If Edith Graham, using a code derived by a ubiquitous wartime cookbook, can manage to find the information – and keep it from everyone else who wants to use it – and her.

Escape Rating A: Parts of this story have been told before, as part of the action – the search for the fates of the missing female agents – formed the heart of last year’s The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

But the story told in Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is both larger, and in the end smaller, than that one. Although they do share a character in Vera Atkins, the real-life head of the Women’s Section of the Special Operations Executive. Atkins was the inspiration for Eleanor Trigg in Lost Girls (and also for Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War).

Discovering the fate of those lost agents isn’t the only iron that Edith has in the fire in Germany. The bigger story is the one about the so-called “rehabilitation” of the reputations – and definitely not the beliefs – of any Nazis who had skills that could be useful in the coming Cold War. Even as early as 1946, no one in power seemed to have any appetite for bringing the butchers to justice, while everyone was looking to get a leg up on the opposition. Not to mention sniping at each other over the “best” prizes.

Edith is caught in the middle. She sees the conditions in post-war Germany for the hellscape that they have become. She wants to help those who can be helped – especially the children. She refuses to turn a blind eye to the many and varied forms of corruption all around her, not even the ones perpetrated by her own side.

In spite of being nearly 40, Edith has led a relatively sheltered life. She’s well-meaning, but naive to a fault. A fault that everyone around her is more than willing to exploit, from her German lover from before the war to her secretive cousin lurking somewhere in MI6. She may have come to do a job, but she’s there to be used.

And everyone does.

But in the process, following Edith as she does her best to save what she can, help who she can, and get justice where she can, we see that the idealized history that we’ve been taught about the postwar reconstruction of Germany was far, far from the dirty deeds done that couldn’t see the light of day.

So Edith’s part of this story is personal – and by pulling in to her focus, we’re compelled to follow her journey to its end. And beyond.

Review: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

Review: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. KingfisherA Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 318
Published by Argyll Productions on July 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance.
But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…

My Review:

I fully admit that I bought this one for the title. Not that the stabbity-stabbity gingerbread man on the cover isn’t adorable, but it was definitely the title that got me. And I’m so very glad that it did. I also wondered whether this was really YA or whether it was one of those cases where something got called YA because it was fantasy. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but it definitely does still happen.

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is even better than that, it’s a YA that can be read and very much enjoyed by adults. I not only laughed out loud at many points, but ended up reading bits to my husband who needed to know what I was cackling about so much.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking reminds me of three really different things; Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker. And those three things really shouldn’t go together. But they do here.

They definitely do.

It felt like Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City because to a certain extent Mona and Orhan are in the same position. Their city has been betrayed from within – although not for the same reasons. Both of them are woefully underqualified for the role of city savior. Orhan because he’s a despised non-native of the city and Mona because she’s a despised – or at least feared – magic user. And she’s only 14.

Mona’s wry and often disgusted commentary on what’s happening around her and just how far the situation has been left to go awry reads like both Sixteen Ways and the Discworld. Mona sees that things are going wrong, and comments about it to herself. A lot. There may be a certain amount of gallows in her humor, but then the situation does require it.

Where Harry Potter comes in, of course, is that Mona is just 14 and she’s expected to save the city. Which is ridiculous and insane and she’s very aware of the fact that there are lots of adults who weren’t adulting very well at all. It’s up to her and it just plain shouldn’t be. But it still is. Because even if she CAN manage to get better adults it’s not going to happen in time to save the city. So it’s all up to her, no matter how much she downright KNOWS that she is in over her head.

Mona’s understanding that the adults who should have figured this out were collectively asleep at the switch and that saving the city should be up to her but is anyway is something that Harry Potter fanfiction handles better than the original stories. The situation shouldn’t have been allowed to get so far off the rails that a 14-year-old is not just their best but their only hope. After all, when Leia talks about Obi-Wan being her “only hope” at least her expectations are fixed on a grown up.

That the hope Mona manages to provide involves some very bad gingerbread men, a few very large bread golems and a whole lot of carnivorous sourdough starter is what makes the story so much fun. Which it very definitely is.

But it never sugarcoats the fact that the situation is beyond dire – and that war is very definitely hell. And that sometimes all it takes is just one horse rider of the apocalypse to bring that fact home.

Escape Rating A+: There is a LOT going on in this story. That’s what makes it so damn good.

The obvious is the whole 14-year-old saves the city thing that makes it YA. Mona is young. She’s still, to some extent, figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, although her magic has driven her further down that path than most. But she’s also at an age where she’s unsure of herself and her future in so many different ways. She sees herself as young, and small, and weak. She sees her magic as not powerful at all or even all that useful. It’s handy in her aunt’s bakery, where she works, but it’s not otherwise big or showy. And neither, honestly, is she.

Her talent is in convincing dough that it wants to do what SHE wants it to do, so it rises properly and it doesn’t burn. And she can make gingerbread men dance – even if she can’t control what kind of dance they do. Mona’s power has definite limits that she has to work within to make it work at all.

Mona is not a person that anyone would expect to be the city’s savior, least of all Mona herself. But when her life gets knocked off its tracks with her discovery of a dead body in her aunt’s bakery, her path goes straight into the doings of the high and mighty. A position that Mona herself certainly never expected to be in.

But then, she didn’t expect to find herself shimmying up the shaft of the duchess’ crapper in order to get someone more suitable on the path of fixing the mess. And that’s the point at which she discovers that EVERYONE has been hoping that someone else would fix the mess.

And doesn’t that sound all too familiar?

As does the way that someone has been using the powers of their office, along with a whole lot of propaganda and a dab hand at ginning up the crowd and pointing it at a convenient bogeyman. Which leads us right back to Harry Potter and the whole “pureblood supremacy” movement. Or real life and any number of groups who can be used to focus attention away from whatever an administration doesn’t want people to look at.

As I said, this is a story that operates on multiple levels, and all of them are excellent. If you are on the lookout for an excellent fantasy that will make you laugh AND make you think, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking has the perfect recipe.

Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes

Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie BarnesFalling For Mr. Townsbridge (The Townsbridges #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #3
Pages: 105
Published by Sophie Barnes on July 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He knows he ought to forget her…

When William Townsbridge returns from Portugal and meets Eloise Lamont, the new cook his mother has hired, he’s instantly smitten. The only problem of course is that she’s a servant – completely off limits for a gentleman with an ounce of honor. But as they become better acquainted, William starts to realize he must make Eloise his. The only question is how.

Eloise loves her new position. But William Townsbridge’s arrival threatens everything, from her principles to her very heart. Falling for her employer’s son would be monumentally stupid. All it can lead to is ruin, not only for the present, but for her entire future. So then the simplest solution would be to walk away. But can she?

My Review:

When it comes to love and marriage, it seems that the Townsbridges are prepared to do whatever it takes, and brave whatever opprobrium society decides to administer, in order to marry the person they love.

In the first book in the series, Charles Townsbridge falls for the fiancée of his best friend – and very much vice versa. They try to do the right thing and forget each other, only to eventually realize that the so-called right thing is not the best thing and marry each other anyway in When Love Leads to Scandal.

Brother James compromises a young woman, or at least it appears that way on the surface. James and his new fiancee don’t even like each other, but the strictures of society have them stuck with each other whether they like it or not. But the lady is willing to court scandal in order to not marry a man who can’t stand her, only to discover that James Townsbridge is, after all, Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match.

But neither of these romances is nearly as unconventional as the one that occurs in this book. Because the woman who finds herself Falling for Mr. Townsbridge is the family cook, Eloise Lamont.

Unlike his brothers’ eventual wives, Eloise Lamont is not a member of the same social class as the Townsbridges, and everyone is all too aware of that fact. Not in the sense of thinking that anyone is above or below anyone else, but in the acknowledgement that any attention William Townsbridge pays to Eloise is going to ruin her reputation, no matter how innocent that attention might be.

And his family did an excellent job of educating all three of their sons that even an innocent flirtation with a servant is simply not done because of those consequences. Especially as William’s interest is not innocent at all. He’s also blunderingly obvious about it to everyone.

He just needs to look inside himself long enough and hard enough to figure out that his interest is worth courting any censure that society might administer as long as he can also court Eloise with the intention of marriage.

Something that takes him so long to figure out that she nearly escapes him altogether – no matter how little she actually wants to.

Escape Rating B: In the end, this is a lovely little romance about falling for the boss set at a time period when that possibility was fraught with even more ways that the situation can go terribly, terribly wrong. Yet it still comes out right.

Their initial teasing between William and Eloise is a bit unsettling for contemporary readers. He may intend it to be just teasing, and as the hero of this piece undoubtedly means it that way, but every single sentence is a two-edged sword that she sees all too clearly. There are obviously too many times already in her history when those exact same words in that exact same tone were just the prelude to sexual harassment. She knows it and we do too. But he has the privilege of being either oblivious or uncaring. A state that he returns to fairly often in the course of the story.

When the scene morphs into mutual banter, it’s a relief. There’s a feeling that she dodged a bullet. Until she steps right back into its path.

Because after the initial awkwardness and outright fear, there’s a mutual attraction here that neither of them is able to deny. No matter how hard both of them try to.

It felt like that was what made the story for me. They are in a supremely awkward situation. No matter how much they like each other or find each other interesting, they’re in positions that mean that his interest in her has the potential to actually ruin her life if he’s not excruciatingly careful. His entire family presses that upon him, so what would have once upon a time been the occasion for wink, wink, nudge, nudge doesn’t happen. And the story is the better for it.

I’m emphasizing his part of this dynamic because of his position of privilege. Whatever happens, it won’t affect him much. The need for caution has to be impressed upon him, frequently and often. Eloise is all too aware that the chance of this not damaging her life is vanishingly small, and she does her best to keep as far away from him as possible.

It’s his family who step in to make him aware that his privilege extends to marrying whoever he wants to, including the cook. Because for much of the story he doesn’t allow himself to think that at all and it nearly destroys any possibilities of happiness.

So, while William and Eloise form the romantic heart of this story, it feels like his family are really the heroes, because they see outside of society’s box and get him to see it too. And that part, the family love and family support – no matter how much society is going to balk – make the story.

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Friendship List by Susan Mallery. Susan always manages to write stories that sweep me up and take me away, and I’m sure that The Friendship List will be no exception. I’m so sure, in fact, that I’ll be reviewing this book next week! I’m definitely looking forward to reading this, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (continued from yesterday’s Excerpt at Moonlight Rendezvous)

When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

“Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.

*

“How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

“You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

No bueno.”

Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

“No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

“It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

“You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

“I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Hearts and Stones by Robin D. Owens

Review: Hearts and Stones by Robin D. OwensHearts and Stones: Stories of Celta (Celta HeartMates) by Robin D. Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Celta's HeartMates
Pages: 286
Published by Faery Cat Press on July 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

BEFORE CELTA … Passage Through Stone: In the UStates Colorado Area, Levona Martinez is determined to find a berth on the starship, Lugh’s Spear, and escape the psi mutant ghetto for a new life on a new planet. But she’s missed her chance and the ship is full. The leaders might not consider her worth taking, but what about Pizi, her prodigy cat? CELTA, A PLACE OF MAGIC, TELEPATHIC ANIMAL COMPANIONS, AND ADVENTURE! Five stories highlighting some fan favorite characters: Homing Stone: As his magic emerges through fever fugues, nobleman Holm Holly fights death duels in the Downwind slums … and catches the attention of blacksmith Rand Ash, who needs a noble to help him with his revenge on an equally noble family …Fractured Stone: Struggling with his disinheritance and the loss of his identity, Holm Apple strives to make a new life in a new city with his HeartMate and their Fams. Hidden Stone: Garrett Primross didn't expect to be hired by a Cat, let alone two of them, and their idea of payment doesn't match his. When a GreatLord appeals for Garrett's help, he's reluctant to take the case, but finds that solving the mystery unexpectedly leads him to inner answers. HeartStones: Losing his sight and psychic power, treasure hunter Zane Aster wants to make one more score. He discovers a House on the cusp of sentience, but missteps might trigger their deaths. Stone in Zanth’s Paw: It’s time for the best FamCat on the world of Celta to return the irritating sea turtles to their mother in the ocean. Perhaps time to learn a big lesson, too.

My Review:

One of the things that keeps bringing me back to Celta, over and over and over again, is that it feels like a nice place to visit and a place that I would actually want to live in. Not that it doesn’t have its share of problems, if only because it was settled by humans and, well, humans gonna human in all sorts of ways both terrible and wonderful. But also because the place is more or less functional, with occasional hiccups because, again, humans.

So it’s a place where people can, do and will screw up their own lives and the lives of those nearest and dearest to them. A place where sometimes evil flourishes, and occasionally stupid holds sway, but for the most part things generally work. And that’s kind of a refreshing change from a lot of SF and Fantasy worlds where the story generally starts with everything going totally off the rails into situations where things are always darkest just before they turn completely black.

Celta is an SF world that reads like a fantasy world. It’s part of a tradition that includes Pern, Darkover and Harmony. These are all worlds that were settled by breakaway groups of humans that left Earth and were then lost or abandoned or a bit of both.

Celta is particularly similar to Darkover and Harmony in that the people who left Earth all had psi powers and were all persecuted for those powers.

But the first story in Hearts and Stones reminds me of a bit of science fiction romance I read years ago, Trancehack by Sonya Clark. In Trancehack, and in Passage Through Stone, we get to see conditions on Earth for psis before the migration, as opposed to the post-landfall stories we have for both Darkover and Harmony. And the conditions on Earth for psis are pretty bleak and generally awful. Conditions on Earth in general suck in this post-apocalyptic world, but it looks like the psis are getting all the blame for events they had no part of, as a way for the Earth governments to point fingers at someone else. Or to put it the way it was said in a different world, “the humans kill what they do not understand”. So this opening story to the collection, and to Celta as a whole, is downright bleak. It’s kind of a hard read, especially in the plausibility of the terrible treatment of those who are ‘different’, but that plausibility is what makes it sear.

The rest of the stories in the collection take place on Celta throughout its history as we’ve seen it through the course of the marvelous Celta’s HeartMates series. Most of the stories either provide insight into events that happened either before or after the books, or they provide further exploration into characters that we’ve otherwise seen only glimpses of through the main narratives.

The two stories that stand out in this regard are Homing Stone and Fractured Stone, as they serve as bookends on the life of Holm Holly, a character who appears multiple times through the course of the series.

But the first of those stories, Homing Stone, is also a prequel for the first book in the series as they were originally published. It’s the story of a young Rand Ash, the hero of Heart Mate, setting out to befriend Holm, the heir to one of the great families of Celta, in order to enlist Holm’s, and his powerful family’s, help in righting all the wrongs that were done to Rand and his family when he was a child. Now that he’s an adult, Rand is ready to deliver a cold serving of revenge and a hot slice of justice to the people who murdered his family and stole his birthright. This story serves as both the portrait of the beginning of a life-long friendship and an introduction to characters that series readers have long loved.

Fractured Stone, on the other end of the spectrum, shows Holm Holly, now Holm Apple, forced to make his own way for himself and his heartmate in a new city after having been disowned by his birth family as a result of the events in Heart Duel. Although there are, of necessity, references to events that occurred in that previous book, the heart of this story is wrapped up in its portrait of a man making his way in a direction he never expected to have to take, without the love and support he expected to have all of his life. Holm has lost a great deal of status, and now has to make a name for himself based solely on his own accomplishments. It’s a hard lesson in letting go, but very well done.

Last, but not least – if only because Zanth would NEVER allow himself to be the least of anything, there’s Stone in Zanth’s Paw. One of the loveliest things about Celta are its Fams, the psychically powerful familiar companion animals that provide so much of the heart – and comic relief – that imbues this series. Zanth is the FamCat of Rand Ash, the Fam of all Fams of the entire series. He’s also a great, big, egotistical cat who will remind catservants that as much as we wish we understood what our cats are trying to tell us that it would not be an unmitigated blessing. Zanth is not merely every bit as demanding as any cat you’ve ever met, he’s capable of expounding upon his demands and his rights and his status and his deserved privileges at every opportunity.

The story about the Stone in Zanth’s Paw is a slight story that might have been better served up in a previous Celta collection, Celta Cats, but it still serves as a terrific reminder of the wonder, occasional majestic and frequent sheer hubris of these telepathic animal companions.

Escape Rating A-: Hearts and Stones is a terrific collection for anyone who has already been to Celta and is just itching for an excuse to return. If you’ve never been to Celta, but are interested in taking the trip, start with Heart Mate.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-19-20

Sunday Post

In addition to being Sunday and George having an extreme case of the zoomies, today is also my husband Galen’s birthday. So Happy Birthday to the love of my life!

But speaking of birthdays, or at least of time passing, this new picture of George that shows just  how big he’s getting to be. This one looks like the way that George will look when he’s full grown, but he’s not quite 6 months old yet. Still, the way he’s sprawled is definitely the shape – and size – of things to come. Which is going to be a bit of an ongoing problem for me, as George likes to sit in front of my computer monitor and try to follow the cursor. The bigger he is the more of the screen he will block!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Feline Good Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop
$20 Gift Card from Rhys Ford and Silk Dragon Salsa

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Star Spangled Giveaway Hop is Wendy

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: Silk Dragon Salsa by Rhys Ford + Excerpt + Giveaway
Feline Good Giveaway Hop
B Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull
Seas the Day Giveaway Hop
A- Review: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Stacking the Shelves (401)

Coming This Week:

Hearts and Stones by Robin D. Owens (review)
The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (blog tour spotlight + excerpt)
Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees (review)
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (review)