Review: Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Vendetta in Death by J.D. RobbVendetta in Death (In Death, #49) by J.D. Robb
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: In Death #49
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The predator becomes the prey in the newest thriller in the #1 New York Times bestselling series featuring homicide detective Eve Dallas.

She calls herself Lady Justice. And once she has chosen a man as her target, she turns herself into a tall blonde or a curvaceous redhead, makes herself as alluring and seductive as possible to them. Once they are in her grasp, they are powerless.

The first victim is wealthy businessman Nigel McEnroy. His company’s human resources department has already paid out settlements to a couple of his young victims—but they don’t know that his crimes go far beyond workplace harassment. Lady Justice knows. And in one shocking night of brutality, she makes him pay a much steeper price.

Now Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke, are combing through the evidence of McEnroy’s secret life. His compulsive need to record his misdeeds provides them with a wide range of suspects, but the true identity of Lady Justice remains elusive. It’s a challenging case, made even more difficult by McEnroy’s widow, who reacts to the investigation with fury, denial, and threats. Meanwhile, Lady Justice’s criminal crusade is escalating rapidly, and if Eve can’t stop this vigilante, there’s no telling how much blood may be spilled…

My Review:

It’s strange to say that a series that always begins with a dead body is a comfort read, but the In Death series has always been one for me. The series is now 49 books in, and at this point I’m reading it more to catch up with my “friends”, the characters in this long-running series, than I am to see whodunnit – or how or why for that matter.

This one begins with more than a bit of schadenfreude. While the killer seems somewhat righteous albeit more than a bit off the rails, the victim, well, the victim was no innocent. His death seems like a case of evil getting its just desserts. The more we find out about the scumbag, the less we sympathize with him.

But this series, is not, and never has been, about vigilantism. There’s a motto on the door of Eve Dallas’ Homicide squad room that reads:

NO MATTER YOUR RACE, CREED, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR POLITICAL AFFILIATION, WE PROTECT AND SERVE*, BECAUSE YOU COULD GET DEAD.
*EVEN IF YOU WERE AN ASSHOLE.

All of the victims in this entry in the series were definitely assholes. The serial killer taking them out got their names – and the nature of their crimes – from their victims, the members of a support group for women who have been harassed, abused, raped or otherwise victimized by men.

Eve Dallas knows how those women feel firsthand. It’s part of her own history that her father raped and beat her until she killed him when she was 8, completely, totally, utterly and absolutely in self-defense. At the age of eight she had already been on both sides of this case, as the victim of the abuser and as the killer of same.

But as much as she empathizes, she’s a firm believer in the rule of law. For her, vigilantism is never the way.

So she hunts down a killer who expects to find in Eve a kindred spirit. And is instead uncovered by a righteous cop.

Escape Rating B: This was the book I wanted to read this week. The book I’m listening to has its sad and serious aspects, so I was looking for something that would sweep me away to something not-so-heartbreaking for a little while. The irony is that this series, steeped in tragedy and death, does that for me.

The appeal of this series is in the characters. Part of the appeal of police procedurals in general is the ambiance of the cop shop that lies at its center. In the case of the In Death series, I just plain like these people. It’s not that they are all nice – because some of them certainly are not. It’s that they are interesting, they do their jobs well, they care about each other, and they all have a terrific line in snarkitude. Even Galahad, Dallas’ and Roarke’s cat, has snarkitude to spare. Although his is probably more cattitude. But he’s definitely a scene-stealer – and he humanizes people who might otherwise be either too perfect, too broken, or too perfectly broken to otherwise work.

So I read this series just to catch up on the gang. That being said, there isn’t anything particularly special about this entry in the series. Which doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed spending time with them.

There’s always a case. This time around the case feels more a part of our early-21st century than Dallas’ mid-21st century – or attitudes don’t change much in the intervening 40 years. And probably the latter, damn it.

The spree killing that Dallas has to stop feels like a direct response to the #MeToo movement, and the idea that it has to have failed, again, to change much is a bit depressing. On the other hand, so far we haven’t had the Urban Wars that her world went through, so there’s that.

But we don’t feel for the victims in this one. They are all scum. It’s easy to see what sets the killer over the edge. All victims had first victimized the women in their lives – and they all got away with it. And for all the reasons that women who report being raped or abused don’t get justice in the real world. The men have more power and society is predisposed not to believe us because we’re women.

The killer is easy to spot, and relatively easy for Dallas to catch. The only thing that allows the spree to stretch to four victims is that the killer strikes every single night. This story is fast, taking place over four short but jam-packed days and nights.

Good does triumph and evil does get its just desserts. But this is fiction, so there will be a part of many readers, including this one, wondering if the killer should have been allowed to go on just a bit longer. And that’s a scary thought in a way. It turns out that the lesson is that vengeance is easy, but that justice is very, very hard.

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sapphire Flames by Ilona AndrewsSapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #4
Pages: 393
Published by Avon on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrew comes an enthralling new trilogy set in the Hidden Legacy world, where magic means power, and family bloodlines are the new currency of society…

In a world where magic is the key to power and wealth, Catalina Baylor is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, and the Head of her House. Catalina has always been afraid to use her unique powers, but when her friend’s mother and sister are murdered, Catalina risks her reputation and safety to unravel the mystery.

But behind the scenes powerful forces are at work, and one of them is Alessandro Sagredo, the Italian Prime who was once Catalina’s teenage crush. Dangerous and unpredictable, Alessandro’s true motives are unclear, but he’s drawn to Catalina like a moth to a flame.

To help her friend, Catalina must test the limits of her extraordinary powers, but doing so may cost her both her House–and her heart.

My Review:

Sapphire Flames represents a pivot in direction for this series, after the events in Diamond Fire. The focus has shifted from Nevada Baylor, the heroine of the first three marvelous books (Burn for Me, White Hot and Wildfire) to her sister Catalina Baylor, now the Prime of House Baylor.

The shift was necessary on multiple levels. First, the whole point of Diamond Fire was wrapped around Nevada finally marrying Connor Rogan, Prime of House Rogan. And possibly the only person who could really outstubborn Nevada – and vice versa.

But that means that Nevada has found her happy ever after – for occasionally explosive definitions of all the words in that phrase. She can only be loyal to one House. Not only is it natural for her to switch her primary focus to Rogan, but she and Rogan are still cleaning up the high-stakes political mess that brought them together in the first place.

So sister Catalina is now the Prime for House Baylor, a fledgling House that consists of her youngest sister – the next Prime – and the rest of their family including their mother and grandmother. This is a world where the Head of Household status rests with the person with the most supernatural power – and that’s neither of the women in the previous generations.

That family tug of war between Catalina needing to step up and be Prime and her mother and grandmother still having family power over her as the women who raised her is just one of the many interesting tensions that arises in this story, the first of what looks like a trilogy (at least) of books focusing on Catalina.

Catalina is in a similar position to the one that Nevada occupied in Burn for Me. She’s suddenly in charge of the family, forced to make decisions that affect everyone who depends on her, and isn’t sure that she’s the right person for the job that she doesn’t actually want anyway. And, to cap it off, she’s stuck working with a man who pushes all her buttons – of every possible kind – and who wants to take care of everything for her so that she doesn’t have to worry her pretty little head about it.

Not quite. More in the sense the the very Prime (in multiple senses of THAT work) Alessandro Sagredo, when he can’t manage to warn Catalina away from a case that will involve her House in warfare above their paygrade and way over their capabilities, offers to take care of things for her in order to keep her and hers out of the inevitable crossfire.

But that has never been the way that the Baylors roll. The pay their bills, they honor their contracts and they always get their man. Eventually.

Escape Rating A-: I have loved all of the previous books in this series, so I was thrilled to see that it was being continued with another of the Baylor sisters.

Part of what makes it so much fun is that it sits right on the border between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but with a science fictional twist. In this near future, there has not always been magic in the world. But there sure has been science. And that’s how magic came into this world, via science.

Somebody invented a superhero/supersoldier/supervillain formula, and just like any other arms race, every country on the planet decided that their needed their own super-army. But, and there’s always a but in cases like this, those super-people had powers that could not be contained by any government – and those powers bred true.

Decades later, the formula is supposed to be under wraps, and those with powers, the Houses, exist not so much above the law as outside it. And that’s where this story comes in.

House Baylor has just begun as a House. The process from forming a House to surviving as a House is long, arduous and deadly. Few survive intact and independent. A narrow path that Catalina is determined to walk.

But when a friend comes to her for help, she can’t refuse. No matter how dangerous or how high the cost. At first it seems, while not cut and dried, fairly standard for House politics. Nasty, dirty, deadly, but for all that business as usual among the Houses.

Until Catalina kicks over the anthills, and discovers not just entire companies filled with assassins for hire, but an actual threat not just to the houses, but to the world itself. Someone has opened the Pandora’s Box of the super-formula, and it’s up to Catalina to stop it. And to stop herself from falling for the one man who seems to be able to resist her quite literal siren’s allure.

As always in this series, political machinations are simply war by other means, and as dirty as they come. Catalina, just like Nevada before her, shines as a character who is willing to play the game, but still manages to compromise herself but so far and no further. She’s a survivor, but there are lines that she just will not cross. Watching her figure out what those lines are adds depth to a character that began the series as a shy, retiring little wallflower, but who now commands the stage, even as she’s not sure she’s ready for the role she’s been thrust into.

At the same time that Catalina stands more clearly in the light, Alessandro steps even deeper into the shadows. Who he really is, what truly motivates him, is obviously just a part of what will be revealed in future entries in the series.

And I can’t wait to read them.

Review: The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul

Review: The Lost Daughter by Gill PaulThe Lost Daughter by Gill Paul
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 496
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

If you loved I AM ANASTASIA you won't want to miss this novel about her sister, Grand Duchess Maria. What really happened to this lost Romanov daughter? A new novel perfect for anyone curious about Anastasia, Maria, and the other lost Romanov daughters, by the author of THE SECRET WIFE.

1918: Pretty, vivacious Grand Duchess Maria Romanov, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the fallen Tsar Nicholas II, lives with her family in suffocating isolation, a far cry from their once-glittering royal household. Her days are a combination of endless boredom and paralyzing fear; her only respite are clandestine flirtations with a few of the guards imprisoning the family—never realizing her innocent actions could mean the difference between life and death

1973: When Val Doyle hears her father’s end-of-life confession, “I didn’t want to kill her,” she’s stunned. So, she begins a search for the truth—about his words and her past. The clues she discovers are baffling—a jewel-encrusted box that won’t open and a camera with its film intact. What she finds out pulls Val into one of the world’s greatest mysteries—what truly happened to the Grand Duchess Maria?

My Review:

“Into each life some rain must fall,” or so goes the old song. But into the lives of the characters in this story, not just Maria and Val, but nearly every one, seems to be inundated with that rain – as if they were each beset by their own particular – and misery-making – hurricane.

As this story begins, there are, not one, but two lost daughters, more than half a century apart, and seemingly no link between them.

These two women shouldn’t have much to do with each other. Maria is one of the lost Romanov princesses, presumably killed at Yekaterinburg along with her brother, her sisters, and her parents, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, Nicholas and Alexandra. Or so history tells us.

But in this story, Maria is one of those lost daughters. She survives, through a series of nearly miraculous events, and by the hands of two men, one who was obsessed with her, and one who loved her. Both were her guards, and both were supposed to participate in her execution.

Instead, one misdirects the other guards, and one spirits her away, to a life of, if absolutely not luxury, then a life of, well, life, with all of its joys and sorrows, hidden in plain sight in the Soviet Union. While she mourns her family and always wonders if her sister Tatiana escaped (that story is in The Secret Wife) she marries her guard, raises a family, and pretends to have never been a Grand Duchess, a life that fades into her past more thoroughly each passing year.

Val, on the other hand, is an abused wife in Australia in the 1970s when her estranged father dies in a nursing home, suffering from dementia, crying out at the last that “I didn’t want to kill her,” leaving Val with no idea who it was that he didn’t want to kill, and what it meant.

In searching for the truth about her father, Val manages to finally break away from her abusive husband. At first, all she finds is a bigger mystery, but the pieces begin to come together as she puts her life back together. That search leads Val back into the past, to her father’s early life as a guard at Yekaterinburg. And forward, into her own career as a historian, specializing in the Romanovs.

And eventually leads her back to Maria. To the tie that binds them both.

Escape Rating B: It seems that The Lost Daughter is a loose followup to one of the author’s previous works, The Secret Wife. Which I have not read – and didn’t miss in the reading of The Lost Daughter. There have been plenty of books speculating, or fantasizing about the escape of one or more of the Romanov princesses over the past century, so the concept wasn’t exactly hard to swallow, even without the previous book.

Although, come to think of it, that one of them escaped feels more plausible than that two of them did – the later discovered forensic evidence notwithstanding.

However, and somewhat ironically into the bargain, it wasn’t Maria’s miraculous escape that bothered me half as much as Val’s abusive husband. There was something about that part of the story that nearly turned me off from the whole book. It feels like too many stories take the easy out of giving their female protagonists more to overcome by placing them in abusive situations that add to the angst but don’t move the story forward.

Val has plenty of problems to work on without having her part of the story start with her husband beating her. That when she finally does manage to leave him he turns into a paper tiger and slinks away made that part of her story feel like a cheat. Particularly since Val has plenty of stuff to work through with her mother’s disappearance and her father’s death – along with the revelations that follow. The abusive husband read like a caricature and felt like “piling on.”

The meat of the story is Maria’s life in the Soviet Union. The beginning of that is more than a bit rocky, as it takes Maria what seems like a long time to grow up and accept that things are never going back to the way they used to be. Not that she ever puts on airs and graces, but that she seems to continue believing that rescue and acknowledgement are just around the corner for a lot longer than seems logical.

And her husband has the patience of a saint. Not that she doesn’t truly love him, and definitely vice versa, but he seems just a bit too good to be true. Their love story, in spite of its origins, makes a lovely contrast to Val’s arsehole of an eventual ex.

But it is mostly Maria’s long and frequently traumatic life that the story focuses on. Her story is the one with all the secrets as well as the really serious trials and tribulations. (I find myself wondering if Val’s abuse was intended to make her story more equal to Maria’s – but it just doesn’t come close.)

Life in the Soviet Union, especially under Stalin, was often brutal and always dangerous. It seems as if everyone informed on everyone else and no one could be trusted, not even one’s own children. However privileged her beginnings, it is impossible not to feel for Maria at every twist and turn of life, the Communist regime, and the impact on her family.

(If this is a part of the story that speaks to you, I can recommend another book that covers the same period (without the Romanovs) that I found even more compelling, On the Sickle’s Edge by Neville Frankel. But I digress.)

In the end, it’s Maria’s story that carried me through the book. Val felt more like the vessel for that story coming to light than a big part of the story itself. At the same time, when the link between them is finally exposed, it’s a revelation that changes everything. And it’s a wow.

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

Hello Autumn Giveaway Hop

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

Fall may not officially begin until September 23 this year, but now that it is after Labor Day it certainly feels like Fall – no matter what the weather might be. There’s something about the Labor Day holiday that just marks the beginning of the end of the year. Of course, that something probably has something to do with memories of going back to school, marking that the summer holidays were officially over even if the meteorological season was not.

Labor Day also used to signify a whole bunch of weird wardrobe do’s and don’t that have thankfully gone by the wayside over the decades. There used to be a whole crazy business of not wearing white – except of course for “winter white” – after Labor Day. Or before Memorial Day for that matter. The same rule applied to seersucker suits for men – not that one sees too many of those anymore, either.

So what’s your favorite thing about the change in seasons from summer to fall? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at a $20 Amazon Gift Card or $20 worth of books from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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


Labor Day 2019

Hurricane Dorian on 8/30/19 by NOAA – https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/GOES/index.php, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81729040

Today is Labor Day in the U.S., making this a three-day holiday weekend for those of us who either get paid for the holiday or receive time off to be taken later in exchange for working the holiday, or who get time-and-a-half or overtime pay for working the holiday. And for any of the above, thank the Labor Unions that this holiday was originally created to celebrate.

But when I looked back at my previous Labor Day posts, I noticed a second theme that I hadn’t expected, but is in full force – literally – this weekend as well.

Labor Day, in addition to marking the unofficial end of summer, seems to be Prime Time for Atlantic hurricanes. Hence the picture at the top of this post, Hurricane Dorian, which now looks like it’s going to head up the Atlantic coast. It could change course again, but it’s definitely going to do some folks a whole lot of damage along its way.

If you’re in the path of the Hurricane, take care and take shelter as needed. If you’re not, while you’re celebrating the holiday, spare a thought and a prayer or two for those who are spending this weekend battening down the hatches.

Again.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-1-19

Sunday Post

It’s hard to believe that it’s already September 1, that this is Labor Day Weekend in the U.S. and that summer is unofficially over. I say unofficially because it’s still going to be in the low 90s here in Atlanta for most of the week. While one of the things I love about living here is that winter mostly skims by us – at least compared to other places I’ve lived – summer most definitely does not.

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest is Danielle H.
The winner of the Back to School Giveaway Hop is Sharon B.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Spaceside by Michael Mammay
A+ Review: The Passengers by John Marrs
B- Review: The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen Brooks
A- Review: Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
A+ Review: A Better Man by Louise Penny
Stacking the Shelves (355)

Coming This Week:

Hello Autumn Giveaway Hop
The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul (blog tour review)
Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (review)
Cold Storage by David Koepp (review)

Stacking the Shelves (355)

Stacking the Shelves

A considerably shorter stack this week. Jet lag is still beating me and I barely started going over all my notes from Worldcon – which will certainly produce yet more books, as this week’s entries from C.E. Murphy can attest. That’s my project for this weekend, along with possibly the Decatur Book Festival. Dragon Con is also this weekend, but a crowd of 80,000+ in 90°+ temperatures is too much on too many levels for my comfort.

For Review:
The Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential #3) by Diana Muñoz Stewart
Kingdom of Souls (Kingdom of Souls #1) by Rena Barron
The Last Smile in Sunder City (Fetch Phillips #1) by Luke Arnold
A Longer Fall (Gunnie Rose #2) by Charlaine Harris
The Painted Castle (Lost Castle #3) by Kristy Cambron
A Pale Light in the Black (NeoG #1) by K.B. Wagers
There Will Come a Darkness (Age of Darkness #1) by Katy Rose Pool
Upon the Flight of the Queen (Ring-Sworn #2) by Howard Andrew Jones
Word to the Wise (Library Lover’s #10) by Jenn McKinlay

Purchased from Amazon:
Atlantis Fallen (Heartstrike Chronicles #1) by C.E. Murphy
From Coffin to Grave (Heartstrike Chronicles #2) by C.E. Murphy

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Review: A Better Man by Louise Penny

Review: A Better Man by Louise PennyA Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #15) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15
Pages: 448
Published by Minotaur Books on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Catastrophic spring flooding, blistering attacks in the media, and a mysterious disappearance greet Chief Inspector Armand Gamache as he returns to the Surete du Quebec in the latest novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny.

It's Gamache's first day back as head of the homicide department, a job he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Flood waters are rising across the province. In the middle of the turmoil a father approaches Gamache, pleading for help in finding his daughter.

As crisis piles upon crisis, Gamache tries to hold off the encroaching chaos, and realizes the search for Vivienne Godin should be abandoned. But with a daughter of his own, he finds himself developing a profound, and perhaps unwise, empathy for her distraught father.

Increasingly hounded by the question, how would you feel..., he resumes the search.

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught against Gamache becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And in the tumult, mistakes are made.

In the next novel in this "constantly surprising series that deepens and darkens as it evolves" (New York Times Book Review), Gamache must face a horrific possibility, and a burning question.

What would you do if your child's killer walked free?

My Review:

Just as the massive spring flooding brings massive destruction and wipes all away in its wake, so does the story in A Better Man sweep away what has come before it in this series and returns much (and many characters) back to the places where they began.

So, in spite of this being the 15th book in this marvelous series, it also feels like a great place for new readers to step into Three Pines and see what it’s all about.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, after the harrowing events at the end of The Long Way Home, is back where he began at the beginning of the series, Chief of the Homicide Bureau of the Sûreté du Québec. But this time his position is a demotion, as he had been Chief of the entire Sûreté, until his horrendous gamble nearly put millions of dollars of drugs back on the streets.

It’s supposed to be a humbling experience for him, so humbling that he wasn’t expected to accept it. Particularly as the outgoing Homicide Chief is his son-in-law and former second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir. But Jean-Guy is moving to Paris and leaving not just the Sûreté but his time as a police detective behind.

So Jean-Guy’s last case as Chief becomes Gamache’s first case, the disappearance of a battered young woman, a disappearance most likely caused by her violent, abusive husband, and most likely a fatal one.

The floodwaters are rising, Gamache’s career seems to be sinking, and the village of Three Pines stacks sandbags in a desperate hope to stem the rising tide. The solutions, to the murder, to the flood, to the seeming destruction of a storied career, and to the deep and difficult questions that always lay at the heart of ever story in this series, touch the heart at every twist and turn.

As the quote from Moby Dick that threads throughout this book goes, this is a story of “All truth with malice in it”. The truths are hard, and the malice is deadly.

Escape Rating A+: On the one hand, this entry in the series feels very much like a reset. When we began, all the way back in Still Life, Gamache was the Chief of Homicide in Montreal and Clara Morrow, one of the more interesting residents of Three Pines, was an unknown artist. When this book opens, Gamache is back to being Chief of Homicide, although he and his wife Reine-Marie now reside in Three Pines. And Clara has screwed up her once-thriving art career to the point where she’s back at her own beginning, certainly not unknown but definitely struggling again.

One of the threads of this story is Clara finally accepting that the terrible reviews she is receiving really are truth with malice in them, and that it is time to go back to the kind of brave work that she does best. Playing it safe will not serve her.

Just as playing it safe with the rising floodwaters will not save either Three Pines or Montreal, and it is up to Gamache to do the hard thing and risk his career (again) to save people’s lives.

It’s too late to save Vivienne Godin. It’s up to Gamache and Jean-Guy, together again one last time, to bring her justice. Not just for her murder, but for her life.

I’ll admit that I figured out part of the truth of Vivienne Godin’s murder fairly early on. But knowing the kernel of it did not make the story any less compelling, because as is so often the case in this series, it’s not about the murder. It’s about the human beings who are involved, the victims, the perpetrators, the bereaved family and friends AND the investigators.

It’s never just whodunnit and how they done it but more importantly why they did it – and that’s where Gamache and this series always grab the reader by the heartstrings.

One weird thought I had while reading this particular entry is that Gamache, in a very strange way, reminds me of Captain James T. Kirk. Not his swashbuckling cowboy persona, and not his lack of belief in the no-win scenario, because Gamache is all too aware that there are plenty of those, but in his eager willingness to take the demotion and return to the place where he could be his best and truest self. For Kirk it was being Captain of the Enterprise. For Gamache, it is just as clearly being Chief of Homicide of the Sûreté du Québec.

So as Jean-Guy flies off into the sunset, Gamache returns to the places where he belongs, the Homicide Bureau of the Sûreté and the town of Three Pines. And I can’t wait to go back there with him again.

Review: Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Review: Empress of Forever by Max GladstoneEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone, Natalie Naudus
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 480
Published by Audible Audio, Tor Books on June 18, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A wildly successful innovator to rival Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she tries to outrun people who are trying to steal her success. In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, she sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, she is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine. The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider--until Vivian Liao arrives. Trapped between the Pride—a ravening horde of sentient machines—and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.

My Review:

Empress of Forever is an intergalactic space romp with a lot of interesting things to say – and a whole lot of fun to read.

Part of that fun is in the person of its heroine, Vivian Liao. In the story’s near-future opening, Vivian reads like a combination of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all rolled into one hard-driving steamroller of a ball. Vivian is a rich and successful tech genius who may be distant from her friends but puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to her political viewpoints.

She’s made a lot of enemies, showing up the forces of the status quo for the greedy scumbags that they are. As the story begins, Vivian is on the verge of her greatest triumph. But she knows that it’s all just part of the show, to set her up for her greatest fall.

Vivian has a plan. Vivian always has a plan. She plans to wipe herself out of all the all-seeing eyes and all-knowing databases that her companies have created – and start again. In a new place, under a new name, building a new fortune.

Until her desperate raid of a Boston super-server farm brings her to the attention of the Empress of a galaxy-spanning empire that Vivian had no idea was even out there. A crystal jade goddess who literally plucks Vivian’s heart out of her chest and extracts her from the world she knows.

Vivian wakes up inside a viscous bubble, trapped in a world that might be the future. Or might be parallel. But is certainly deadly – and she has no way out except through the Empress who grabbed her in the first place.

So Vivian Liao does what she always does – she goes forward. Even when she has no idea where that forward will lead. She’ll figure it out. She always does. No matter what it costs. Or already has.

Escape Rating A-: I had an absolute ball with this. This was one of those books that I picked up in audio and was extremely glad I did. The story is told from Vivian’s first-person perspective, so we’re inside her head the whole way. And what a wild way it is.

The reviews are comparing Empress of Forever to Guardians of the Galaxy – albeit with a feminist bent. I’m not sure that comparison does either work justice.

Vivian certainly does collect a “Scooby Gang” of her very own, and some of the gang are a bit – or in one case much, much more than a bit – outside the law. And there’s a lot of manic humor in both stories. But Guardians has way more light-heartedness at its core (at least in the first movie) than Empress ever does. The humor in Empress has much more of a gallows tinge to it.

After all, the fate of the universe is at stake – even if Vivian doesn’t know it at first.

Then again, there’s a whole lot that Vivian doesn’t know at first, at second, or sometimes even at all. She is very much a fish out of water in this story – and we’re right there with her. For most of the story, she’s not sure whether the universe she has been thrust into is the future of the world she knew – or exists parallel to it. Either is possible, and both are completely alien to her.

She finds herself at the head of her little gang of outlaws, rather like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, trying to find her way home. But this is not a dream – and home isn’t quite what she thought it was.

Vivian thinks she’s trying to find a way back, but what she really does is find her way to friendship, one misfit at a time – with herself the biggest misfit of them all. Along the way, she tours this strange new galaxy that she has been thrust into, discovering both wonders and terrors, and learning so many ways that things have gone wrong.The story of Vivian’s exploration is a tour de force of as many SF tropes as the author could squeeze into one madcap adventure. It worked for this reader, but you have to be of the persuasion that too much of a good thing is wonderful, and not every reader is.

Instead of Guardians of the Galaxy, the story that Empress of Forever reminds me of the most is the Doctor Who episode Turn Left. This is a story where we get to see what would happen if one character made one seemingly insignificant choice differently – and the universe goes to hell in a handbasket.

The Empress is searching for an alternative to her own future, because her present has creatures like the Reapers in the Mass Effect Universe eradicating every galactic civilization that reaches a certain level of technological achievement being absorbed by the rapacious aliens – and they’re coming for the Empress.

Vivian has met the enemy, and to paraphrase the immortal words of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, “we have met the enemy and she is us.” I figured this out relatively early on, but was happy to settle in for the wild ride. What made this story special is that the big reveal was not the ending – only a spur to Vivian to go onward to a conclusion that I did not expect.

Vivian has the possibility of success because she turned left. It’s not the technological solution that the Empress expected to find. Instead it’s the human solution that she rejected long, long ago.

Like the Joe Cocker song made famous by the Beatles, Vivian gets by with a little help from her friends, because she finally figures out that she needs somebody to love. That home is where the heart is, and that she has one after all.

Review: The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen Brooks

Review: The Chocolate Maker’s Wife by Karen BrooksThe Chocolate Maker's Wife by Karen Brooks
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 608
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on August 20, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Australian bestselling novelist Karen Brooks rewrites women back into history with this breathtaking novel set in 17th century London—a lush, fascinating story of the beautiful woman who is drawn into a world of riches, power, intrigue…and chocolate.

Damnation has never been so sweet...

Rosamund Tomkins, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, spends most of her young life in drudgery at a country inn. To her, the Restoration under Charles II, is but a distant threat as she works under the watchful eye of her brutal, abusive stepfather . . . until the day she is nearly run over by the coach of Sir Everard Blithman.

Sir Everard, a canny merchant, offers Rosamund an “opportunity like no other,” allowing her to escape into a very different life, becoming the linchpin that will drive the success of his fledgling business: a luxurious London chocolate house where wealthy and well-connected men come to see and be seen, to gossip and plot, while indulging in the sweet and heady drink.

Rosamund adapts and thrives in her new surroundings, quickly becoming the most talked-about woman in society, desired and respected in equal measure.

But Sir Everard’s plans for Rosamund and the chocolate house involve family secrets that span the Atlantic Ocean, and which have already brought death and dishonor to the Blithman name. Rosamund knows nothing of the mortal peril that comes with her new title, nor of the forces spinning a web of conspiracy buried in the past, until she meets a man whose return tightens their grip upon her, threatening to destroy everything she loves and damn her to a dire fate.

As she fights for her life and those she loves through the ravages of the Plague and London’s Great Fire, Rosamund’s breathtaking tale is one marked by cruelty and revenge; passion and redemption—and the sinfully sweet temptation of chocolate.

My Review:

The story of The Chocolate Maker’s Wife is every bit as lush and decadent as the bittersweet confection that she learns to make – and most definitely promote and sell – in her role as the young, pretty wife of an older man who owns both a revolutionary chocolate house and an entire bubbling vat of deep, dark, but not so luscious secrets.

As ubiquitous as chocolate is in the present day – and as much as its taste, aroma and flavor are loved or even craved, once upon a time in Europe chocolate was very much a curious novelty imported from the “New World” – as, for that matter, were both tea and coffee, although both had their origin in other places.

The Restoration period in England, the 1660s when The Chocolate Maker’s Wife takes place, was a time of great upheaval, of which the introduction of chocolate was perhaps the least if not the tastiest. This was the period when the monarchy was restored after Cromwell’s Protectorate, and Puritanism gave way to the Church of England.

Over 10 years of habits of life and thought changed overnight when Charles II took the throne that his father had been forced from – and later beheaded for occupying. This was a time when the universe as they knew it changed. And did again during the course of this story when the Great Fire of London consumed the city in 1666.

Each of these world shaking events had an equally cataclysmic effect on the life of Rosamund Blishwick, nee Tomkins. And it is her eyes through which we see this world, and hers, as it changes. And most definitely sparks.

At first it seems as if Sir Everard Blishwick is rescuing Rosamund not merely from tiny Gravesend, but also from multiple fates worse than death.

But of course, all is not as it seems. What seems like a rescue is only the first step in a long drawn out campaign of revenge that sucks Rosamund deeply into its web – and launches her into a future she could never have dreamed of.

Escape Rating B-: This is very much a mixed feelings kind of review. There were aspects of this book that I enjoyed, and others that drove me a bit bonkers. The Chocolate Maker’s Wife is the kind of lush, overblown historical epic that they don’t make any more. And as much as I loved just this kind of story once upon a time, it also reminded me both of why they don’t make them any longer and why I don’t look for them either.

(Something about this book reminded me a lot of Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen. Which I read decades ago. I think it had to do with the lushness of the setting, the darkness of the secrets, the disposition of the heroine and the more than occasionly repetitive and slightly overblown language. But it’s been a long, long time. Still, the impression lingers. Make of that what you will.)

The strongest part of the story is the period setting. The author’s research into the Restoration period is exhaustive – and occasionally exhausting for the reader. The early years of the Restoration were a period of great change, capped off by the Great Fire which wiped out so much of London and wiped so many slates clean – except for the ashes.

It is a fascinating period in so many ways, as the parliamentary experiment failed, the monarchy was restored and everyone tried to go back to the way things were. Except that the genie never goes willingly back into the bottle, too much time had passed and too much had changed. But this story takes place during that change and we see the effects on the ground, so to speak, through Rosamund.

She begins the story as a young woman slaving away for her stepfather, ignored by her mother and routinely sexually abused by her stepfather and two adult stepbrothers. It’s a brutal life that Sir Everard rescues her from. Her “family” seem to be trying to erase their past as loyal Cromwell supporters, even her stepbrothers’ names betray their earlier loyalties.

But Rosamund was used and abused by her family, and then used by her new husband as well. Not for sex, but in his schemes for his chocolate house and his revenge against a family he claims wronged him. That Rosamund’s advent as a woman in the public sphere invites at least attempts at abuse from every man at nearly every turn seems a bit egregious. Not that it wouldn’t have happened, but there is a point where one wearies of reading about it happening again. And again. And yet again. (Wanting to hex them all seems to be a common response.)

At the same time, Rosamund seems a bit too good to be true. Everyone who comes into her orbit either wants her, loves her, or both. The degree to which she charms nearly everyone gives her the aura of a “Mary Sue”. Her times absolutely fascinated me, but her personality just didn’t make me want to follow her through them.

In the end, as much as I loved both the concept of this book and its setting, I didn’t love the book because I didn’t find its central character compelling. Or perhaps I simply had enough of the frequent repetitive descriptions of her tinkling laugh.

Your mileage may definitely vary. Meanwhile, I’m going to have some hot chocolate.

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