Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseBlack Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Pages: 464
Published by Saga Press on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will returnWhen the earth and sky convergeUnder the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

My Review:

Start out by throwing out any expectations you might have about good versus evil and/or heroes versus villains that might have popped into your head because this Black Sun is labelled as high fantasy or epic fantasy.

We have protagonists here. Points of view. Perspectives. But strictly speaking all of the characters are operating somewhere in the grey, in the shadows created by the solar eclipse that produces the “black sun” of the title.

Everything in this story is on a collision course with that eclipse, an event that the Sun Priests of the great city of Tova call the Convergence. This particular Convergence is going to occur on the Winter Solstice, as the moon eats the sun on the shortest day of the year. And the Sun God is at the lowest point of his power. A point where he might be challenged.

An event that this time, on this once in a lifetime occasion, could result in overturning the balance of the world.

But we begin at the beginning, when a woman sacrifices her life to make her son into an offering – or an opening – for the god of her people. Now blind, scarred and rejected by his father, Serapio faces a series of cruel tutors who prepare him for the role that his mother ordained for him.

This is the story of his journey to meet his destiny. But he is not the only person who will rise or fall on the prophesied day.

His story intersects with two others, a disgraced ship’s captain and the deposed leader of the Sun Temple.

And this is the point where the story could go any number of typical directions – but doesn’t.

Serapio could be the hero – but he can only achieve his destiny by killing the entire hierarchy of the Sun Temple. The Sun Temple should be the forces of good, but they have been corrupted by power and cast out the only truly good person among them.

Captain Xiala should be entirely self-serving, but instead shows Serapio the wonders of the world, just as he is about to leave it.

This is a story where nothing is as it seems – and marvelously and magically so.

Escape Rating A: Epic fantasy, which this oh-so-very-much is, usually wraps its dramatic tension around an epic – hence the name – battle between good and evil. That just doesn’t happen here, and now that I think about it, that feels like something that’s not been happening for a while, in spite of the genre’s reputation for it. And I don’t expect one here, not even later in the trilogy. In spite of this being epic fantasy rather than space opera, Black Sun is very much a romance of political agency.

Not that there isn’t plenty of evil – and a smattering of good – but it’s human scale evil and human-shaped and sized good.

The one unequivocally “good” character in this story is Naranpa, the Sun Priestess of Tova and the leader of the world-spanning religion that is centered in the city. She knows that her order has stopped serving its people, becoming isolated and insular in their literal ivory towers, spending all of their time and energy on petty, political squabbles amongst themselves.

The Sun Temple hierarchy is “evil” but it’s the human evil wrapped around the aphorism about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The Sun Temple has had nearly absolute power and it has corrupted them. It has corrupted them so deeply that they depose and attempt to murder the one person within their ranks who even attempts to call them on it.

Part of that evil is that they conducted a purge, essentially a pogrom of religious persecution, against one of the population groups within the capital that did not completely bow down to the supremacy of the Sun Temple. And they are planning to do it again in order to remain in power. Serapio’s quest, the duty that he was created for, is to give his people, the Carrion-Crows, vengeance for that purge – and to prevent a repeat by purging the Sun Temple first.

But we follow Serapio’s and Naranpa’s stories, giving both dimensions a human face and a human scale. In spite of Serapio’s purpose as the avatar of his people’s god, he’s still very human, and we feel for him on his journey, just as we suffer along with Naranpa’s hopes and fears as her hopes for her temple are dashed and her fears are made manifest.

As I read Black Sun, I kept having this feeling that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first I thought it was Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey. That duology was one of the best presentations about “good” and “evil” being in the eye of the beholder – along with the eye of the victorious historian – that I have ever read. Those books always come to mind in situations like this one, where those concepts feel more like a wheel where the perception of which is which depends on the position from which they are viewed.

But in the end, and after much discussion, I was presented with the possibility that the story this most reminds me of is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, even though Empire is space opera and Sun is epic fantasy. Those two genres are so far apart as to come together on the other side of the wheel, after all.

It’s not just that both Black Sun and A Memory Called Empire are utterly awesome, although they both certainly are. Nor is it that both have their mythological underpinnings somewhere other than the much too familiar trappings of Western European mythology.

There were two factors that contributed to that nagging sense that the books had more in common than met the eye. One was the portrayal of the empires, because yes, the Temple of the Sun is the heart of its own kind of empire. Both empires publicly espouse the idea that they serve their people, perversely by deciding things for them and suppressing any dissent. Both are actually completely insular and riddled with backstabbing politics and double-dealing corruption. And both are shaken to their foundations by an internal reformer at the top who is ruthlessly suppressed by the political insiders.

At the same time, both stories also feature a journey by someone who must travel from far outside into the dark heart of that empire, someone who has faced opposition to their mission from before its beginning, and someone whose mission is not entirely clear to them even as they carry it out.

And both stories end in ways that none of their protagonists expected at the beginning, in ways that none of them even believed were possible, let alone likely, but ways that are going to fuel the action in the next chapter of their respective sagas.

I don’t know when the second book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy will be coming out. But I already can’t wait to see what happens next!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-18-20

Sunday Post

Election Day in the U.S. is just 15 days away. Have you voted yet? If not, do you have a plan for voting? You may think that your vote doesn’t count, but it does. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to discourage you from voting. Think about it. Please!

Current Giveaways:

Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Meowloween Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card from the authors of Bad, Dad and Dangerous is Erica F.
The winner of the Color Me Lucky Giveaway Hop is Shannon P.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway
A- Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway
A+ Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara
A- Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (414)

Coming This Week:

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (review)
A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett (review)
The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd (blog tour review)
Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis (review)

Stacking the Shelves (414)

Stacking the Shelves

Since I just got home from Pilates, here’s a picture of George practicing yoga. While napping, of course!

And, I have books, most of which came at the last minute for this post. Some weeks are just like that.

For Review:
Beauty Among Ruins by J’Nell Ciesielski
Chaos on CatNet (CatNet #2) by Naomi Kritzer
The Dating Plan by Sara Desai
The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell
Legacy by Nora Roberts
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne
Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli
Storing Up Trouble (American Heiresses #3) by Jen Turano
The Troubleshooter (Norcross #2) by Anna Hackett
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter
Masquerade in Lodi (Penric & Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold



Thanks A Latte Giveaway Hop

Welcome to Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those “instant human, just add caffeine” people. But not coffee.

The first time I ever had a Chai Latte I thought I was in heaven. It was everything I wanted, hot tea with lovely spices, just the right amount of sweetness and just enough milk to add a smooth deliciousness. I was hooked!

I still don’t like coffee. Or coffee-type lattes. Not even mocha – as much as I love chocolate. I’ll drink coffee if I’m desperate for a serious jolt of caffeine, or if that’s all the caffeine available, but if there’s a tea option or especially a chai latte, that’s my drink of choice.  Hot or iced, chai latte is perfection.

But most people drink coffee. As that saying goes, one person’s drink is another person’s poison, or something like that. To each their own.

Tell me what your caffeine of choice is in the rafflecopter for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10, from the Book Depository. And THANKS A LATTE for reading and following Reading Reality!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more great prizes, caffeinated or otherwise, 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.

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. LembergThe Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Birdverse
Pages: 192
Published by Tachyon Publications on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Thoughtful and deeply moving, The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.”-Annalee Newitz, author of The Future of Another Timeline
[STARRED REVIEW] “A beautiful, heartfelt story of change, family, identity, and courage.”-Library Journal
Wind: To match one's body with one's heartSand: To take the bearer where they wishSong: In praise of the goddess BirdBone: To move unheard in the night
The Surun' do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.
As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.
Set in R. B. Lemberg's beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one's identity in a hostile world.

My Review:

The Four Profound Weaves has the feel and the sense of a myth in the making, or perhaps a fairy tale. Reading it has filled my head with a weave of more thoughts – profound or otherwise – than one would think that a book this slim would hold between its pages.

It’s the kind of story that, although I’ve finished reading it, I feel like it hasn’t finished with me yet. Perhaps its that the lesson of the fairy tale is still being absorbed.

On the surface, this is a story about two people who want to be different, or want the world to be different, or both, than they or it is. The initial part of the story is their recognition that they have, in their own completely separate ways, handed control over themselves and the changes they wish to make to others.

The beginning of this story, their initial quest, is to take back that control.

Which leads them, directly and almost inexorably, into the path of a ruler who wants the world and everyone in it to remain unchanged, exactly as they are, precisely as he wills it. And them.

This is a world where, as Emily Dickinson once said, “Hope is the thing with feathers”. But this is Birdverse, where so, also, is death. A place where a master weaver can take them both and weave them together into a cloth, and a song, and change, if not the world, than at least one corner of it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m all over the map about this one. In the end, I loved it, but the beginning was slow. I think that part of that was because this was my first trip to Birdverse, and it took me a while to get my bearings in it.

Also, the story begins slowly because it feels like it is meant to. Both of the protagonists have spent 40 years not living their truths. That’s a long time to wait for anything, let alone wait to fulfill their dreams. But they’ve been holding themselves back, so it seems natural that it would take them a while to get moving toward a future that they’ve been inching towards at a snail’s pace for so many years.

Once they finally begin their journey, it initially seems like a lesson in being very, very careful in what you wish for, because when you get it it isn’t anything like you imagined while you were wishing your life away to get to it.

Which is another lesson.

The thing that I kept coming back to while reading was the contradiction and the interchangeability – and the contradiction of that interchangeability – between change and death.

Both Uiziya and the Nameless Man want to change. And they both want that change to be both accepted and acceptable. The irony is that the people having the most difficulty accepting their changes is themselves.

But the Collector of Izya refuses to accept any change, of anything. And he believes that the only way to protect things from changing is to hide them away where only he can see them. He believes that death is the ultimate preservation. The dead, after all, stop changing.

At the same time, change is itself a death. When something or someone changes, it kills the thing or person that came before, even if, or perhaps especially because, the new thing or person marches on. And continues to change.

As my thoughts about this book kept spinning, the image I was left with was the Tarot card of Death, which represents both death and change. The most familiar rendition of Death in the Tarot is of a skeleton riding a pale horse as it steps over a fallen king. Which feels like a piece of the literal interpretation of this story, that not even royalty can stop change.

But this is a story that feels open to as many meanings as any myth. It’s a story about not just discovering your authentic self, but becoming that self and accepting that self, no matter how much childhood programming, loved one’s attempts to call back your tide, or social opprobrium stand in your way. And no matter how much you stand in your own way.

It’s also a story about the price of change, and the cost of redemption. And that the sins of the past may be halted but not eliminated. And that sometimes that’s all you can do, and that it’s enough.

I think there’s more in this story, and more in Birdverse. I look forward to going back and discovering it.

Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara

Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle SagaraThe Emperor's Wolves (Wolves of Elantra #1) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Wolves of Elantra #1, Chronicles of Elantra #0.1
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

At the Emperor’s command
Multiple races carefully navigate the City of Elantra under the Dragon Emperor’s wing. His Imperial Wolves are executioners, the smallest group to serve in the Halls of Law. The populace calls them assassins.
Every wolf candidate must consent to a full examination by the Tha’alani, one of the most feared and distrusted races in Elantra for their ability to read minds. Most candidates don’t finish their job interviews.
Severn Handred, the newest potential recruit, is determined to face and pass this final test—even if by doing so he’s exposing secrets he has never shared.
When an interrogation uncovers the connections to a two-decade-old series of murders of the Tha’alani, the Wolves are commanded to hunt. Severn’s first job will be joining the chase. From the High Halls to the Tha’alani quarter, from the Oracles to the Emperor, secrets are uncovered, tensions are raised and justice just might be done…if Severn can survive.
The Wolves of Elantra
Book 1: The Emperor’s Wolves

My Review:

In the beginning, a 5-year-old girl named Elliane and a 10-year-old boy named Severn were two scared orphans doing the best they could to raise each other in a place so dangerous that no one expected them to live another year. And no one could afford to care because everyone was too busy attempting to make their own survival last more than another day, another hour, another minute.

That dangerous place was the fief of Nightshade, in the no-being’s-land that surrounds the city of Elantra. A place entirely designed and maintained as a buffer zone between Elantra and the Shadow at the heart of the world.

Their lives and their story should have been both brutal and short. It was often brutal, and always on the knife’s edge of destruction.

But it was not short.

Elliane’s story has been told in the Chronicles of Elantra, beginning with Cast in Moonlight. It is the story of a young woman with a terrible gift and an equally terrible secret, set in the high-fantasy world of Elantra, but often told with an urban fantasy sensibility. It is the story Elliane, now called Kaylin Nera, as she becomes first the mascot of and later a Private in the Imperial Hawks who serve as the equivalent of police in the empire. (Occasionally she rises to Corporal in the Hawks, but usually not for long.)

Elantra is an empire that is ruled by a Dragon and protected as his hoard. An empire that contains citizens of all races, Barrani (read as Elves), Leontine (yes, they’re lions), Aerians (feathered and flying) and more humans than all of the above.

And the Tha’alani. The telepathic Tha’alani who serve as the Emperor’s inquisitors when the need is great – or desperate.

But The Emperor’s Wolves is not Kaylin’s story, although it touches on her story and will undoubtedly connect to it eventually. Because Severn always connects to Kaylin, whether she wants that to happen or not. And initially in the story from her perspective, it’s very much not.

Instead, this is the story of that once upon a time 10-year-old boy, Severn Handred. Severn swore an oath to Elliane’s mother before she died, that he would protect Elliane no matter what. When Elliane couldn’t live with the price of that protection, they separated, walking through very dark places on entirely different paths.

Paths that have now converged. Elliane – as Kaylin – is now 15 and the mascot of the Imperial Hawks. To keep watch over her, Severn, now 20, becomes a member of the Imperial Wolves, the branch of the Halls of Law that investigates major crimes – and serves as the hand of the Emperor when those criminals are brought to summary justice in his name.

The story of The Emperor’s Wolves is Severn’s story. A story that fans of the series have been waiting and hoping for since we first met Kaylin in 2001.

A story that was definitely, utterly, fantastically worth the wait.

Escape Rating A+: I finished this book and now I have a terrible book hangover. But then I always do after a trip to Elantra. This world feels so complex and so complete than when I’m forced to leave it at the end of a story a part of me feels like it’s still back there and doesn’t want to come out.

As if part of my memory has been captured and held by the telepathic gestalt of the Tha’alani.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraThe Emperor’s Wolves is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It is, without a doubt, the first book in the author’s new Wolves of Elantra series. It is also a prequel for nearly all of the Chronicles of Elantra series, taking place between the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, and the first novel in the series, Cast in Shadow.

But this book doesn’t feel like either a prequel or the opening of a new series. Instead, it feels like…enlightenment. Those of us who have followed the Chronicles have already met Severn Handred. We’ve witnessed most of his protective partnership with Kaylin Nera – a partnership that involves a great deal of love but no romance at all – through that series. We’ve also become immersed in Elantra and traveled much of the city and the places outside of the Emperor’s Hoard in Kaylin and Severn’s company.

But Severn, well, Severn is a man of much depth and very few words. He’s an enigma in pretty much everything except his tie to Kaylin – although that has plenty of enigma-ness in it, in ways that neither Severn nor Kaylin understand – at least not yet.

And the period of Severn’s life when he became one of the Imperial Wolves – the time that he spent without Kaylin – has been the biggest enigma of them all. He doesn’t talk about this time period, and we haven’t heard much about what he did – although there have been plenty of enigmatic hints. So this story, and whatever follows it, sheds light on an otherwise dark corner of the history of Elantra – or at least of the people we have come to know and love there. And provides a few tantalizing hints of events that we already know but are yet to come from Severn’s perspective at this point in his life.

Which means that, in spite of seeming like a beginning, The Emperor’s Wolves really isn’t. It’s a missing piece of the complex puzzle that is Elantra, and will be best appreciated – and enthusiastically so – by those who have already made the journey. If you’ve never been to Elantra and are thinking of going there, it’s a marvelous trip but this is not the place to begin.

If you’re already acquainted, however, one of the things that The Emperor’s Wolves does well is return to some of the elements that made this series so fascinating in the first place. As the longer story has continued, while Kaylin is still a member of the Imperial Hawks, her world has expanded beyond the streets of the city and she has become, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming, a power in this world and has moved among the high and mighty – although she would be the first to admit that she herself is neither.

But the series began as an epic-set urban fantasy, and The Emperor’s Wolves returns fantastically to that kind of story. Severn’s first case as one of the Wolves is to solve a crime. To open a case that everyone thought was closed and cold. As part of his investigation, he is forced to navigate the Barrani High Halls, the telepathic mindscape of the Tha’alani group consciousness, the mean streets of the city and the Emperor’s Palace.

Along the way he discovers friends, obfuscates foes and is confronted yet again with the choice that he’s been forced to make over and over since his childhood. That there are all too many times when the cost of justice is more unjust than any crime.

When I picked up The Emperor’s Wolves, I looked forward to learning more about Severn. But now that I’ve seen this world through his eyes, I’ve discovered that I want more. I need it. I hope to see more of Elantra from both Severn’s and Kaylin’s perspectives as their series continue.

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + GiveawayReturn to Virgin River (Virgin River, #19) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Virgin River #21
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Robyn Carr returns to the beloved town of Virgin River with a brand-new story about fresh starts, new friends and the magic of Christmas.
Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.
Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.
Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

My Review:

The story in Return to Virgin River is all about Kaylee Sloan’s, well, return to Virgin River. But Kaylee was never a resident of that much-loved little town. Rather, Kaylee was an occasional visitor during her childhood, and her most recent visit was ten years in the past, during a previous crisis in her life. Because Kaylee has never really been a part of this community when she returns to Virgin River less than a year into her mourning for her beloved mother, she makes an excellent point of view character to introduce new readers (like me) to this well-loved place and series.

As Kaylee is introduced to everyone who has come to, or come back to, live in this lovely little place, we get to meet them for the first time along with her. For readers who have been here before, It’s undoubtedly lovely to catch up with old friends from previous books in the series.

But Kaylee’s advent makes this a great place for new readers to jump in without feeling like they missed the plot. I knew these people had history, as one does whenever one is introduced to new people in real life, but I didn’t feel like I had missed something important to this story by not knowing everyone’s past.

This turned out to be a great way of getting involved in Virgin River, right along with Kaylee.

And for any long-term readers who may have lost track of everyone in the 8 year hiatus since the previous book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, Kaylee’s arrival in town should serve as a great way to get caught back up!

Kaylee returns to Virgin River because she needs a long, quiet, productive getaway. She inherited her mother’s house, and has been living there since her mother’s death. She and her mom were very close, best friends, and Kaylee feels surrounded by her grief in that house – no matter how much she loves it.

Kaylee makes her living as a mid-list author of suspense thrillers, and she has a book on contract that is not merely due but overdue. She hasn’t been able to write since her mother’s diagnosis, but she has to get her own life on track in order to support herself. She has a cushion, but it isn’t infinite.

They seldom are.

So Kaylee returns to Virgin River, the place her mother took her to several times during her childhood, and the place her mother brought her to heal after her divorce. Kaylee comes to Virgin River to be close to her memories of her mother but not so close that she continues to drown in them.

She arrives to find her planned six-month rental house on fire. Literally on fire. She can’t go home because she’s rented out her own house until after New Year’s – and it’s currently AUGUST. She feels both overwhelmed and stuck.

And that’s where her life takes its unexpected turn. As one door closes – or catches fire – another door opens. The door to Landry Moore’s guest house.

As Kaylee’s life opens up and fills up, between her rescue of the orphaned kitten Tux, the abandoned dog Lady and her puppies, and everyone in the welcoming town of Virgin River – especially her handsome landlord – Kaylee discovers that her grief for her mom, while it hasn’t exactly gotten less has become a less all-consuming part of her much-expanded life.

And that those we love never leave us, not even when they’re gone.

Escape Rating A-: There’s definitely a life imitates art imitates life thing going on here. Kaylee is supposed to be writing a suspense novel – which she eventually manages to do. But she also begins a kind of fictionalized journal or a contemporary romance/women’s fiction novel, which is also the category that Return to Virgin River fits into.

Kaylee’s novel-of-her-heart is a story about a woman who comes to a small town for a fresh start after a death in HER family. Her fictional character falls for her equally fictional landlord – except that neither of them actually is. Fictional, that is. Kaylee pours her growing feelings for Landry into her character’s growing feelings for “Landon”. The disguise is adorably cute and rather “paper” thin. But fun and a great way for Kaylee to process both her hope and her grief.

But the course of true love never does run completely smooth, and in this story the waves are provided by Landry’s long-absent wife. Yes wife. He and Laura have lived apart for 10 years of their 11-year marriage, but neither of them ever bothered to file for divorce.

So naturally, just as Landry realizes that he wants a divorce so that he can become more involved with Kaylee, Laura decides that her acting career, the reason for their separation, isn’t going anywhere and that she wants Landry – or at least the security he can provide – back.

I have mixed feelings about this plot thread. Something had to derail what would have otherwise been Landry and Kaylee’s straightforward amble towards domestic bliss. But the Laura angle felt particularly tacked-on. It was so obvious that she only wanted the security, to the point where not even Landry took her “act” all that seriously.

On the surprising but definitely plus side of the reading equation, Return to Virgin River turned out to be an unexpectedly poignant counterpart to yesterday’s book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. Both stories are about mothers and daughters, but Kaylee and her late mother had the kind of mother-daughter relationship that Millicent and Jane had stopped dreaming of long ago. These two stories make a great back-to-back read if you are well-prepared with plenty of tissues.

Closing on a much happier note, I enjoyed my first trip to Virgin River and now that I’ve met everyone, I’ll be back. Whether by starting at the very beginning with the first book in the series, Virgin River, continuing on with the next whenever it comes around, or maybe BOTH!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Return to Virgin River to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + GiveawayMillicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three generations of women—and the love, loss, sacrifice, and secrets that can bind them forever or tear them apart.
Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden for too long. Maybe it’s time she shared something, too. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.
Sixty years ago Millie was living a dream. She had a husband she adored, a job of her own, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. They were the perfect family. All it took was one irreversible moment to shatter everything, reshaping Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.
As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

My Review:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: I am my mother after all.” There are whole Etsy shops devoted to pillows and wall hangings and samplers with this quote. It’s the title of a 2011 memoir by Susan Kane Ronning that revolves around a daughter’s resistance to repeating her mother’s mistakes.

It’s also the theme of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish, a story of the three – soon to be four – generations of Glenn women; the titular Millicent, the tense relationship she has with her adult daughter Jane and the terrific relationship she has with her granddaughter Kelsey – a relationship in which she sometimes feels that Jane, Kelsey’s mother, is intruding.

And Kelsey’s soon-to-be child, gender still unknown, who will make her, at 91, a great-grandmother. A child that all three women are over the moon about, regardless of the stresses in the relationship between them.

Stresses that lie in the past, in the secrets that are hidden in that past. Secrets that Millicent has held close to her heart and grieved over for decades, but that finally need to come into the light. She is, after all, 91, and feels every single one of those years. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t talk soon, her chance will be gone.

And she’s right, but not in the way that she expected. Because secrets come to light on their own time – no matter how much their keepers wish otherwise.

Escape Rating A-: First, this is a timeslip story, or perhaps it might be better described as a memory story. It operates in two timelines; its 2015 present and Millicent’s past in the late 1940s and 1950s, as she replays in her head the history that she has not shared with her daughter and granddaughter – and that she needs to rather desperately.

Initially, Millicent is desperate because of her own circumstances. At 91, even though she is healthy and active for her age, she can’t help but be aware that her time is running out. When Jane admits that she has discovered a lump in her breast, Millicent is suddenly faced with a more immediate threat. Her daughter, like Millicent’s husband, could have cancer. That fear overlays this story like a sword of Damocles.

In the present, Jane wants no muss and no fuss, she wants to take care of herself, as she always has. She certainly doesn’t want her mother to fuss over her as she feels like she has always had to take care of herself.

Through Millie’s memories, we get glimpses of why that is, although not the full story. The full story we do get is the story of women’s lives in the 1950s, the stresses and strains that led to Betty Friedan’s watershed book, The Feminine Mystique, the book that showed that so many women’s lives, lives that seemed perfect on the surface, were restricted in a straitjacket of competitive domesticity, and filled with frustration, boredom, tragedy and all too often, pills and/or booze.

Millie holds the tragic secrets of her own experience close, perhaps a little too close, just as she did Jane when she was growing up. At least some of the time. The rest of the time, Millie left her daughter to her own devices as she worked her way through her grief, her despair, and the pills she took to cope with both.

When the secrets finally come out, the catharsis is both extended and delayed, as they still have to navigate through Jane’s health scare and Kelsey’s advancing pregnancy. In the end, there is healing – but it’s hard won and painful. The band aid over the past that Millie wanted to ease off gently gets pulled off with a hard jerk – and Jane thinks her mother was one.

And perhaps she was.

I ended up with a whole truckload of mixed feelings about this story for all sorts of personal reasons.

I think that people who don’t live somewhere storied or famous or both, like New York City, don’t expect to see their hometown portrayed in fiction. Millicent’s story takes place in Cincinnati, where I grew up. Millicent would have been part of my mother’s generation, and the Cincinnati she remembers from the 40s and 50s match stories my mother told me, or echo things that I remember being told were in the recent past when I was growing up in the 1960s.

If you are ever in Cincy, Union Terminal is every bit as magnificent as it is portrayed in the story, and well worth a visit for its museums and its gorgeous restoration. It was a building that needed to be preserved, but for most of my growing up years it was a white elephant that the city couldn’t find a purpose for. It was a relief when the museum complex moved in and turned out to be a fantastic use for the space.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center

But the Cincinnati described in the story is the place I remember. As much as I say that Cincinnati is a nice place to be FROM, I was happy to see the author do it proud. Although I still prefer Skyline Chili to Empress (or Gold Star),  Cincinnati chili really is ordered as described and they are all a taste of home, along with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Part of the poignancy of this story, at least for me, was how much the relationship between Jane and her mother Millie reminded me of the stresses and strains in my own relationship with my mother, although the causes were different. But that emotional distance, that chill that happens between two people who love each other but can’t quite reach each other was extremely real, and even cathartic that they managed to find a peace together that my mother and I never quite did.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming story about four generations of women, the secrets that kept them apart and the truths that finally brought them together.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-11-20

Sunday Post

It’s time for another cat picture. Here’s Freddie giving George a thorough cleaning – and George looking rather smug in return. And so he should be. He seems to have single-handedly (single-pawedly?) gotten every single cat in the house to snuggle with him. They still don’t snuggle with each other, but everybody snuggles with him – just not at the same time. Progress!

Speaking of progress, I had some fascinating books this week, spent a lot of incredibly good time with the Pets in Space, and have more great books to look forward to this week. AND I was able to verify that my mail-in ballot has already been accepted. Make sure your voice is heard this year. Your vote counts! VOTE!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Color Me Lucky Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Meowloween Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card from the authors of Bad, Dad and Dangerous

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + Giveaway
Meowloween Giveaway Hop
B Review: Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas
A Review: Pets in Space 5 by S.E. Smith and more
A- Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + Excerpt
Stacking the Shelves (413)

Coming This Week:

Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker (blog tour review)
Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr (blog tour review)
The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara (blog tour review)
The Four Profound Weaves by R.M. Lemberg (review)
Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (413)

Stacking the Shelves

YAY! A few more books this week!

For Review:
Domesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt
First Comes Like by Alisha Rai
Fortune’s Child by James Conroyd Martin
A Hanging at Dawn (Bess Crawford) by Charles Todd
It Had to Be You by Georgia Clark
A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark
Murder in the Margins (Open Book Mysteries #1) by Margaret Louson
The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson
No Holding Back (McKenzies of Ridge Trail #1) by Lori Foster
The Patriots by Winston Groom
The Queen of Izmoroz (Goddess War #2) by Jon Skovron
Symbiosis (Escaping Exodus #2) by Nicky Drayden
An Unexpected Temptation (Townsbridges #5) by Sophie Barnes

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Aleph Extraction (Galactic Cold War #2) by Dan Moren
The Bayern Agenda (Galactic Cold War #1) by Dan Moren
A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers
Duke I’d Like to F… by Sierra Simone, Joanna Shupe, Eva Leigh, Nicola Davidson, Adriana Herrera (pre-order)
The Duke Who Didn’t (Wedgeford Trials #1) by Courtney Milan
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline (audio/preorder)
Spellbreaker (Spellbreaker #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg
This Won’t End Well by Camille Pagan
What Unites Us by Dan Rather