Review: Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley

Review: Game of Hearts by Cathy YardleyGame of Hearts (Fandom Hearts #3) by Cathy Yardley
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Fandom Hearts #3
Pages: 236
Published by Cathy Yardley on January 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyla Summers has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime to get her cosplay business off the ground, and only one thing stands in her way. She needs someone to take over the auto shop, and there’s only one person she can think of to call…

Jericho Salomon hasn’t been back in his home town since he joined a biker gang and rode off nine years ago. When his best friend’s kid sister calls begging for help, he knows that he owes the family a debt and he intends to pay. This is easier said than done once he finds that the kid is all grown up…

She needs a pair of skillful hands. He needs to keep his hands off. When sparks begin to fly, can they keep things strictly business, or will their hearts get hopelessly tangled? No more games, it’s time to play for keeps.

My Review:

In the first two books in this series, Level Up and One True Pairing, the fandom in the heroine’s heart was pretty much front and center in their lives. But Kyla Summers’ love of cosplay reads as more like an afterthought in hers – because that’s the way that Kyla treats it.

Or rather, that’s how she lets other people, particularly her brother, guilt her into treating it.

Then again, Kyla lets her selfish and self-centered brother Billy guilt her into pulling all of her weight and most of his in the operation of the family auto repair business that they inherited from their parents.

Not that their parents are dead – it’s not that kind of inheritance. But their parents are off RV’ing on their earned and deserved retirement, leaving both the business and the operation of it to Kyla and Billy.

The problem is that Kyla is the one doing the lion’s share of the work. Not that Billy and Kyla aren’t both excellent mechanics. But Kyla has to be both mechanic and business manager, while Billy is the one who takes vacations while telling Kyla that whenever she wants to take a couple of days its never a good time.

And yes, there’s a problem there in that Billy TAKES vacation while Kyla ASKS for vacation – and gets shot down every single damn time.

Obviously, I don’t like Billy much and nothing that happens in the story makes me warm up to him at all. He’s not evil, but he’s self-absorbed and self-centered and it takes a mammoth amount of swallowing her justified and utterly righteous indignation for Kyla to finally call him on all his shit – of which there is a metric buttload.

When Billy comes back to town a day late after yet another vacation and with a broken arm, no less, Kyla is pretty much at her wit’s end. He can’t work on cars one handed, and the place needs two mechanics to keep up with the business they have and honestly need.

But Kyla was planning on taking every spare minute she could to work on costumes ahead of a Con that’s only a month away. There’s a costume contest, and if she wins it’s $10,000 and publicity for her dream costuming business AND an in with a big costume and geekwear company like Her Universe, but not actually them, of course.

With Billy’s broken arm, along with his unwillingness to learn any of the business side of the garage, Kyla knows it will take her every waking minute – along with any minute she might collapse from exhaustion – to keep the business afloat.

Like always, Billy minimizes and dismisses her cosplay. And pretty much everything else that Kyla wants, needs, or says. So, after a night of drinking and crying on the shoulders of her besties, the sisters who run the bookstore and collectibles shop that serves as an anchor for this entire series, Kyla drunk calls her teenage crush, Jericho Salomon.

Not because it’s a drunk booty call or even just a maudlin, drunk call to an ex-lover, because they never were that, but because Jericho spent his growing up years right beside Kyla and Billy in the Summers’ auto repair shop, and learned how to fix engines right beside them.

With Billy out of commission, Kyla needs another ace mechanic to keep up with the garage and maybe let her carve out enough time to finish the costumes she needs for the contest.

When Jericho comes back to Snoqualmie to help her out, she gets a whole lot more than just a great mechanic, and even more than a man who is willing to work on Kyla’s personal engine until it’s humming a very happy tune indeed.

As much as Jericho and Kyla enjoy each other’s company, both in bed and out, and as much as he wants to support her, not just with the repair shop but with everything in her life, he has too many bad memories in Snoqualmie and too many commitments outside it to ever plan on staying.

And Kyla is much too used to having no one to rely on to trust that he’ll ever come back once he’s gone.

Escape Rating B: I read the second book in this series, One True Pairing, a few years back and absolutely adored it, so I was all in to go back and read Level Up a few weeks ago when it popped up for a tour, and I’m back in Snoqualmie for Game of Hearts.

The title of which, I just realized this minute, is a play on Game of Thrones. Not that there is a Red Wedding or anything remotely like one, but rather that the signature costumes that Kyla works on for that contest are based on GoT.

As I said, I loved One True Pairing, and really liked Level Up. But I had some seriously mixed feelings about Game of Hearts for at least half of the book. Because I wanted to rant and rave about the patriarchy that had conditioned Kyla to believe that her wants and needs always had to take second place to Billy’s.

Not that Kyla isn’t a grown-ass woman who needs to take control of her own life and put herself first because no one else is going to, but I was watching her internal dialog and desperation and wanted to shake her until some backbone filtered in – which it finally did and hallelujah for that.

Let’s just say I REALLY didn’t like Billy because he just never gets hit by a big enough clue-by-four – and not that both Kyla and Jericho didn’t try. Billy’s sense of entitlement was pretty epic.

So this was a really hard read for me until Kyla started to use her own voice and take charge of her own life and stand up for her own self when it came to her brother.

Once Jericho enters the picture the story changed for me, a whole lot and very much for the better. Because Jericho believes in Kyla and does his level best to enable her to fulfill her dreams. That he also falls in love with her and vice versa was just delicious icing on what suddenly became a rather tasty cake, because his belief and real support was the most important thing.

When he does fall down and does disappoint her and doesn’t fulfill all of his promises – which becomes the central dramatic tension in the story, he still never minimizes her dreams or her desires. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t screw up and screw things up, but it happens because he has a lot of his own crap to deal with and doesn’t handle it well at times because he’s human like the rest of us and not ever because he thinks she’s less than.

So, as much as my teeth ground on this one in the beginning, I was definitely cheering for Kyla and Jericho by the end. So now that I’m three books in, I’m hoping that the rest of this series is going to turn up on tour in the months ahead. It feels a bit like someone is capitalizing on the overwhelming success and utter wonderfulness of Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert, and I’m just fine with that if it means more books like the Fandom Hearts series get more attention.

Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to the next book in THIS series, What Happens at Con the next time my own fannish heart needs a bit of a tune-up.

 

Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Since this is the Honey Bunny Hop, let’s talk about bunnies! Specifically, let’s talk about CHOCOLATE bunnies. And chomping down on them for Easter. Or just because you like chocolate, shaped like a bunny or not.

Where does one begin to eat a Chocolate Rabbit?

It’s been studied. Of course it’s been studied. Because, well, humans. The study was not exactly serious, but it was published in an otherwise respected publication. (If you’re curious, it’s titled “Seasonality of auricular amputations in rabbits“, published in a professional journal for Otolaryngologists (that’s what ENTs, ear, nose and throat doctors are officially called). That journal is The Laryngoscope.

So the article is real – or real-ish – but the study wasn’t exactly on the up and up. Rather more on the tongue in cheek.

It’s been a while since I had a chocolate bunny, but I know I went for the ears first. Most people do. What about you? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at your choice of the usual prize, a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open everywhere the Book Depository ships.

Hey, if you win the gift card, you could even get some chocolate bunnies and test it out yourself!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous prizes, be sure to hop on over to 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 Specialist by Anna Hackett

Review: The Specialist by Anna HackettThe Specialist (Norcross Security #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Norcross Security #3
Pages: 322
Published by Anna Hackett on March 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

She’s in danger and now her personal protector is her too handsome, totally aggravating billionaire boss.
Executive assistant Harlow Carlson is having a very bad week. Firstly, she’s been temporarily reassigned to work for bossy, workaholic tyrant, Easton Norcross. He might be sex in a suit, but mostly she just wants to stab him with her stylus. Secondly, her father’s in trouble and has gone missing. Lastly, when a strange man attacks her on the street, Harlow knows she’s in over her head.
That’s when Easton steps in. Now her boss is her own personal protector and he isn’t taking no for an answer.
After he left the Army Rangers, Easton Norcross found a purpose in building his company, Norcross Inc. He works hard, likes control, takes care of his family and employees, and thrives on making money. But his new assistant pushes buttons he never knew he had. Harlow’s smart, efficient, and not afraid to speak her mind. And her curvy body makes it very hard to remember that he’s her boss.
But when he sees she’s in danger, Easton is willing to break all the rules to keep her safe.
As danger swirls around Harlow and she’s sucked into her father’s dangerous dealings, Easton knows he’ll need all the specialist skills the Army gave him to protect her, as well as pulling in his brothers at Norcross Security. But the toughest job he’ll have is convincing his beautiful assistant to take the biggest risk of all—falling in love.
Note to readers: This is a sexy, fast-paced romance with lots of action-packed suspense, a heroine in danger, and a hot, billionaire boss who’ll do anything to protect her.
**Each book in this action-packed romance series can be read as a standalone.

My Review:

As much as I love this author’s blend of action adventure and romance, there’s always a special spot in my heart for the romance in each series where the boss of whatever the group is finally takes the fall into love. Ready or not, willing or unwilling.

Considering that being the bosses that they are, they are generally neither ready nor willing, it makes their inevitable fall all that much more delicious.

I also have a sneaking fondness in general for the slightly taboo thrill of workplace romance, particularly when that romance is between the hard nosed man in charge and someone he knows he really shouldn’t touch – like the assistant he can’t live without in the office but finds himself unexpectedly wanting to live with outside it.

The Specialist does a fantastic job of combining both of these romantic pleasures into one terrific story!

Escape Rating A-: I’m coming to the rating early because there was so much of this one that I so hard (there’s a pun intended here) and can’t wait to talk about the parts I loved.

Number one, in Easton Norcross the author has combined two of my all-time favorite romance heroes into one marvelous – and generally marvelously tailored – heartthrob.

As I said, I love this combination of tropes, the boss of bosses of an entire series (Team 52’s Jonah Greyson in Mission: Her Justice or Holmes in Hell Squad) with the falling for your boss, however reluctantly, trope. So this entry in the Norcross series gave me vibes of a story that I loved so much in this exact same vein – Rock Hard from Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series.

For anyone who read that series – and if you haven’t please take a look! – Easton Norcross and T-Rex, AKA Gabriel Bishop, would be besties – once they stopped fighting over who was alpha.

But the descriptions of Easton, not just the way he looks but also the way he works, read like Easton is an Italian-American Roarke (of the awesome In Death series), just 40 years earlier and without the Urban Wars in his past. Just a different war.

So this is one where I fell hard for the hero. Maybe not as hard as the heroine, but damn close.

I also loved parts, but not all, of the heroine, Harlow Carlson, for her ability to stand in the face of Easton’s distracting, demanding, over-working and over-achieving hard-headedness in the office. In spite of the mess in her personal life, Harlow remains in control at the office, and never lets Easton steamroller her on the job.

As much as I enjoyed Easton, the one niggling little thing that keeps me from bumping this up to an A has to do with the pattern that is emerging in this series in regards to the heroines. Individually they’ve all been both likeable and worthy of the heroes, but they ALL seem to get in over-the-top, over-their-heads trouble from which they have to be rescued by the heroes. All of them seem to have either family or friends who do really dangerous and stupid shit that they can’t resist getting in up to their necks.

I really want to see at least one story where the heroine is equally – even if differently – badass, because these women, even Gia Norcross, veered a bit too close to damsel in distress territory.

But Easton was such an irresistible combination of Roarke and T-Rex that pretty much ate this story up with a spoon in a couple of very enjoyable hours.

This is a series where each story does stand alone, at least so far, but they are so long on fun and short on length that reading them all is a great binge-read for a rainy weekend. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here waiting for this author to give me her take on another one of my favorite romance tropes.

The next book in the Norcross Security series is The Bodyguard, taking up his duties in late April. I have a feeling that this will be grand!

Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak

Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda NovakThe Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 448
Published by Mira on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A page-turner with a deep heart."—Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author of
Girls of Summer

How do you start a new chapter of your life when you haven’t closed the book on the previous one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers, and she can’t imagine moving forward without him. But for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort working alongside her mother and aunt at their bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a huge life change and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into the boy who stole her heart in high school, old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray.
"A heart-tugging romance. Readers are sure to be sucked in.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review  

My Review:

The bookstore on the beach in Sable Beach belongs to, let’s call them late-middle-aged sisters Mary and Lauren. As this tumultuous summer opens, Mary is waiting for her grown-up daughter Autumn to arrive for one last summer with her kids, her daughter Taylor and son Caden.

There’s more than a bit of bittersweetness in Mary’s anticipation, and in Autumn’s as well as she makes the drive up from her home in Tampa. Taylor will be a senior in high school in the fall, and Caden will be a junior. This is probably the last summer of their, not exactly childhood, but the last summer when they’ll all be together as a family before Taylor and Caden accelerate their inevitable pull away into adulthood, with jobs, college and relationships speeding up that separation.

But it’s also a first summer for Autumn. This is the first summer she’s come home to the beach without even the prospect of her husband dropping in for a week or two of vacation. Not because they are divorced, and not because he’s dead.

At least not as far as Autumn knows.

Autumn is stuck in a hellish limbo. Her husband went on a business trip to Ukraine, the country his family immigrated to the U.S. from. He left 18 months ago, without telling Autumn he was going. He seems to have gone at the behest, or under the aegis, or at least with the knowledge of, the CIA and/or the FBI or one (or possibly more) of the alphabet agencies.

Nick Divac disappeared somewhere in Ukraine. Or in Russia. Or into an unmarked grave. Or a prison. Or a cave. Autumn doesn’t know and hasn’t been able to get anyone at any of those alphabet agencies to give her much in the way of information. Even the private investigator she hired in Ukraine has found nothing but dead ends. But also no confirmation of Nick’s actual death.

But this isn’t just Autumn’s story. All of the women in her family, her mother Mary, her daughter Taylor, and certainly Autumn’s self, have something huge hanging over them this summer. Some of those things, most of those things, are secrets. All of them have the power to change their lives, when, and not if, they come crashing down.

They can’t go back to the way things used to be. The only question is how they go forward, and whether they can manage to hold on to each other and do it together.

Escape Rating B-: The Bookstore on the Beach is one of those stories where not a whole lot happens, while at the same time a whole lot that might happen or probably will happen is being worried over or anticipated – if not exactly eagerly. The eventual happenings are more of a relief – mostly – than the waiting.

Every woman in the family spends the entire book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that the first shoe has actually dropped. They each have something HUGE hanging over their heads. I found myself looking for the collective noun for swords – like a murder of crows, a leap of leopards, an unkindness of ravens. Because this is story about a family walking around with their very own separate and individual Sword of Damocles hanging over their head and following them around.

A cache of Swords of Damocles? A store of Swords of Damocles? Perhaps even an Armory of Swords of Damocles?

Mary is on tenterhooks expecting someone to expose her past – a past she has never revealed to her daughter. Taylor is unsuccessfully pretending that she’s not avoiding even thinking about the secrets in her present. And Autumn lets herself start a new relationship with her biggest teenage crush, all the while caught between hoping and fearing that her missing husband will return – just when she’s given up and moved on.

All of their fears are very, very real, even if the situations that both Mary and Autumn are in stretch the bounds of credulity just a bit. Not that what happened to them doesn’t happen in real life, more that it’s a stretch that both things happened in the same family.

The size of the cria herd of drama llamas (yes, I looked it up, “cria herd” is the collective noun for llamas) is so large as to stretch the pasture that holds my willing suspension of disbelief.

Because this story begins with Autumn’s husband already missing, I felt a bit like I’d been dropped midway into a series. Like I should have read the earlier parts of Autumn’s story as background in someone else’s. But this is a standalone, so no.

Also, because Autumn’s husband has been gone for quite a while at the beginning, her memories of him and their life together have been overlaid or muted by time, confusion and grief. He’s not present enough even in memory for him to really be missed. And her descriptions of their life together, while they don’t paint him in exactly a bad light, don’t give the reader enough to really buy into the romance they are supposed to have had.

Unlike her romance in her present with Quinn, which is lovely and heartfelt and heartbreaking in all of its glory – of which there is quite a lot. The combination of these elements made the ending a bit abrupt. It’s the ending the reader wants, but it’s sharp and hard and doesn’t really feel earned. It’s a situation where a true HEA doesn’t feel quite right, because it’s they are caught up in a mess where someone is bound to end up very unhappy indeed.

But I really liked all three, Mary and Autumn and Taylor. I loved the town of Sable Beach, and felt very envious of the bookstore itself even though I know it’s a much harder and more precarious way to make a living than the book can or should get into. It’s a lovely place, a beautiful haven, and I wouldn’t mind visiting again.

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

Review: Tell No Lies by Allison BrennanTell No Lies (Quinn & Costa Thriller, #2) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, romantic suspense, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #2
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the mountains just south of Tucson. When a college intern turned activist sets out to collect her own evidence, she, too, ends up dead. Local law enforcement is slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and its copper refinery in search of possible leads.
Quinn and Costa find themselves scouring the desolate landscape, which keeps revealing clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking and more death. As the body count adds up, it’s clear they have stumbled onto much more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.

My Review:

There’s a reason why so many jokes about how good a friend one is or has begin with something about moving, burying or just hiding bodies. As in the dead body or body of the enemies that you’ve killed. It’s usually a joke.

It’s also deadly serious in this mystery thriller, as the case begins with dead bodies. Bird bodies, killed by toxic runoff from an illegal waste dump. Probably waste from the local copper refining operation.

But those poor birds’ bodies lead to the human corpse of a young conservationist who was frustrated with her boss’ unwillingness to investigate the cause of those birds’ death. Her freelance, solo investigation results in her own body at one of the sites she hoped might lead her to the culprit.

And it kind of does, just not in any way that she expected – or lived to see.

Tell No Lies is a story that definitely puts the suspense in romantic suspense, as the murder of Emma Perez sets in motion a chain of events that seriously stretches the long rubberbanding arm of coincidence, only for it to snap back and burn all the people got stuck in its path.

This is also a story about blood being thicker than water. Not just in the usual way that people will do anything for family but also in the way that people will end up in the middle of stupid shit for family. So both thick meaning close but also thick meaning dense – as in dealing with family makes people act like they are not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer – whether they normally are or not.

So this story begins with a murder. It middles as the FBI using the murder to do an investigation into illegal toxic waste dumping by a respected local company. It’s only as the bodies start piling up that the FBI puts the pieces together into a puzzle that is on a whole other level of awful from what they initially suspected.

While one of their own is caught in the trap.

Escape Rating A-: As far as genre goes, Tell No Lies is a bit hard to pin down – kind of like the problem they have figuring out the size and shape of the case that brings this FBI mobile response team to tiny Patagonia, Arizona.

Just as the story begins with illegal toxic dumping, quickly jumps to murder, then spreads tentacles into fraud, kidnapping, human trafficking, gun running, drug smuggling and back around to murder again, this book begins as a mystery, loops in suspense and thriller, and tacks on romantic suspense for spice (so to speak) not to mention a few more bodies.

What makes the story so compelling is those tentacles. The FBI, in the person of Agent Matt Costa and his undercover team, come to Patagonia with the intent of using the murder to find the illegal toxic waste dumping. At the beginning, they kind of think they know, if not whodunnit, at least who is involved in doing it.

But, just like every twist and turn in this case, they’re sort of right and also sort of wrong at the same time. Because the things they think are connected are not. But they also are. And that confusion leads to them getting in their own way, over and over again.

Which is what makes the story so damn fascinating. It’s one step forward, two steps back, three steps sideways in an ever-widening pattern. There’s an old saying that goes, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That’s what happens in this case. The FBI thinks they know a lot of things that just aren’t so. They think it’s all about the toxic dumping. The team has undercover agents in place to watch the people they believe are involved. They think their informant is acting on the side of the angels.

There are plenty of hints that make the reader aware that there is more going on than initially meets the eye. But the way that it explodes and the reasons for it confound everyone – including the reader. Or at least this one. Even though who was involved did eventually get clear enough, the why was not what anyone was expecting. At all.

Which is what made this an edge of the seat read from beginning to end.

One final note. This is the second book in a series that looks like its going to continue. I haven’t read the first book, The Third to Die, and didn’t feel like I’d missed much by not having done so. It’s pretty clear that this team is still in the process of jelling and it was easy to get into it. But it’s also clear that the sometimes resolved sexual tension between FBI Agent Matt Costa and LAPD Detective Kara Quinn began in that first story and at the moment in this one is just kind of a mess. I’m not certain that this one needs the romance angle, but that may be because I didn’t see it begin. Also because whatever relationship they sorta/kinda have is seriously awkward and messy at best at this point.

Hopefully their relationship gets, if not some resolution – because I suspect the on again/off again nature of it is going to be part of the suspense for a few books – at least becomes less of a mess in future books in the series. And I definitely want there to be future books in the Quinn & Costa Thriller series, because the mystery/suspense/thriller parts of this case kept me glued to the book from start to finish!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-28-21

Sunday Post

It’s difficult for me to believe, but Reading Reality’s 10th Blogoversary, and my birthday the day after, are coming in just a week. As usual, there will be giveaways all week long, so stay tuned and be sure to enter for the prize of the day!

But speaking of things that are just too good not to share, here’s Hecate bringing the cute, and she’s very, very good at it!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Chasing Rainbows Giveaway Hop (ENDS WEDNESDAY!!!)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Stills by Jess Montgomery is Carl

Blog Recap:

B Review: Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews
A- Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
C Review: The Final Dawn by Jess Anastasi
A Review: Chinook by M.L. Buchman
A+ Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter
Stacking the Shelves (417)

Coming This Week:

Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan (blog tour review)
The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak (blog tour review)
The Specialist by Anna Hackett (review)
Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop
Game of Hearts by Cathy Yardley (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (437)

Stacking the Shelves

Another rather tall stack for you to peruse – and for me to shake my head a bit over. As fascinating as EVERYTHING looks, the one I’m really excited for is the audio of The House of Always. Some things just work better on audio, and A Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons is one of them. Not that I don’t get impatient somewhere in the middle and switch to the ebook, because I most certainly do. This is a series that I cannot recommend highly enough – although I keep trying!

For Review:
Adulting by Liz Talley
All the Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter
Black Ice by Carin Gerhardsen
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
A Deadly Twist (Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis #11) by Jeffrey Siger
The Drummers (Josie Gray #6) by Tricia Fields
The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
Fresh Brewed Murder (Ground Rules #1) by Emmeline Duncan
The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson
A Good Day for Chardonnay (Sunshine Vicram #2) by Darynda Jones
The Hiding Place (Mercy Carr #3) by Paula Munier
Inside Man (Prospero’s Demon #2) by K.J. Parker
Island Queen by Vanessa Riley
It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
It Takes Two to Mango (Trouble in Paradise #1) by Carrie Doyle
The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis
M. King’s Bodyguard by Niall Leonard
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Malkranz
Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy
Sons of Valor (Tier One Shared-World #1) by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson
The Specialist (Norcross #3) by Anna Hackett
Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge
The Swimmers by Marian Womack
Too Good to Be Real by Melonie Johnson
Wayward by Dana Spiotta
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen
When We Were Young by Richard Roper

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The House of Always (Chorus of Dragons #4) by Jenn Lyons (audio)



Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith HunterJunkyard Bargain (Shining Smith #2) by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Shining Smith #2
Published by Audible Audio on February 25th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Sometimes before you can face your enemies, you need to confront yourself.

Time is running out for Shining Smith and her crew to gather the weapons they need to rescue one of their own. But will they even make it to the ultimate battle? First, they’ll need to hit the road to Charleston - a hell ride full of bandits, sex slavers, corrupt lawmen, and criminal bike gangs looking to move in on Shining’s territory.

Shining’s human allies will do anything to protect her - because they must. But will victory be worth it if she must compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and risk their lives? Or are they just in it for the kibble?

My Review:

Honestly, I picked up the audio of the first book in this series because of the title. Basically, I started Junkyard Cats for the cats. But I came back for Shining, her friends, her totally screwed-up world and her need to preserve her own little corner of it – and the cats.

OK, I’m still here for the cats. It’s actually the cats that Shining makes the junkyard bargain of the title with. Because she needs to take some of them away from the junkyard and with her and Cupcake on a dangerous and deadly mission – to Charleston, West Virginia.

A place which isn’t all that dangerous or deadly in our world. But in Shining’s world, post the apocalypse that punched a hole in the ozone layer, totally wrecked the planetary environment and brought alien peacekeepers to our solar system to keep us from screwing ourselves any further – every trip away from Shining’s base at the scrapyard is fraught with danger.

Especially this one. Because she’s preparing to take on and take out the one person who might be a bigger threat to the world than Shining is herself. Someone who is more than willing to take over the entire planet.

The world is literally not big enough for both Shining Smith and Clarice Warhammer. They may both be queens, but only one of them is out to rule the world. And the other is out to stop her.

Escape Rating A+: The first book in this series was very insular, while it still managed to introduce us to the mess of the world that is what Shining, and the rest of humanity, is left with. That insularity managed to introduce us to everything that’s going on because we spend the entire story – and this one as well – inside Shining’s head. And because the world comes to her, her sanctuary and her scrapyard, in order to take her out.

So in the first book the war came to her. This second book is about Shining getting ready to take the war out to the rest of the world – or at least out to the people who are after her. That she may have to take out at least a piece of a rival gang and possibly even part of the government along the way is just part of the cost to protect herself and those she sees as hers.

And that’s where this story goes to all kinds of interesting places. Because Shining is in the process of adjusting her perspective on exactly who and what she sees as hers and how it got that way. She wants friends – not too many but a few. What she’s afraid she has made is something else altogether.

As this story takes us out into Shining’s greater world, we get to see just how FUBAR’d everything really is. Humanity seriously screwed up. In a way, it reminded me of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. In both post-apocalyptic worlds, at first it seems as if it’s the machines who are the enemy of humanity, only to eventually realize that the situation is one that Walt Kelly’s Pogo recognized all the way back in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What makes the story, at least for this reader, is that we do spend all of it inside Shining’s head. This is a first-person singular perspective that is absolutely aided by the marvelous narrator, Khristine Hvam, who manages to perfectly convey Shining’s tired, sad, and generally world-weary voice in a way that made me really feel like I was listening to Shining think. That Shining is excellent at bringing on the snark provides a great deal of rueful laughter and gallows humor.

And yes, the cats are still part of the story. I suspect that the reader’s mileage on just how much they enjoy the cats’ participation in Shining’s not-so-little war is going to depend on just how much the reader likes cats, anthropomorphized or otherwise. I think the pack of little predators fits in really well, and adds to my enjoyment of the story quite a bit. Ailurophobes may feel differently.

Obviously I loved the entire experience of listening to Junkyard Bargain. At the end, it definitely feels like there are more parts to this story, and I’m really, seriously, absolutely looking forward to them. But as this episode in Shining’s saga came to an end, something happened that made me sit up and have a kind of a WOW moment. (Luckily I was sitting in my garage to finish and not still on the road!)

Shining is Galadriel. No, she’s not an elf queen and this is not an epic fantasy world. But Shining IS a queen. Not just figuratively but actually literally. And she has power in some of the ways that Galadriel has power. To the point where Shining is faced with the same choice that Galadriel is faced with when Frodo asks her if he should give her the One Ring. And like Galadriel, when faced with that ultimate test, Shining is not found wanting.

At least not yet.

Review: Chinook by M.L. Buchman

Review: Chinook by M.L. BuchmanChinook (Miranda Chase NTSB #6) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, suspense, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #6
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
When the fastest and most powerful helicopters in the US Army’s fleet start falling out of the sky, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB crash investigators are called in.
One crash leads to another and they are fast entangled in a Chinese conspiracy to start a war. Only Miranda’s team can stop the trade war from becoming a real one.

My Review:

Chinook is the second book in what looks to be the second quartet of Miranda Chase’s “adventures” as the lead investigator for the NTSB. There’s a lot to unpack in that description.

The NTSB is the National Transportation Safety Board. That’s the agency that investigates aircraft crashes. I say aircraft and not airplanes because the NTSB is called in for helicopter accidents as well as plane crashes. They’re the folks who determine how it crashed, why it crashed, whether any human agency is responsible for the crash and especially what can and should be done to prevent the same type of crash of the same type of aircraft happening again.

Miranda Chase, introduced in the awesome military suspense thriller Drone, is a lead investigator for the NTSB. She’s also THE lead investigator they have, the one who gets called in whenever a crash is particularly strange, particularly difficult to figure out or particularly or even tangentially involves the military. Not that the military services don’t have their own agencies to deal with this kind of thing, but when things get weird, or complicated, or just don’t seem to make sense at first glance OR (very big OR here) when the powers that be in Washington believe that there might be a coverup going on, Miranda and her team get called.

They’re the very best at what they do. And that’s all down to Miranda. Not just because she’s the best investigator they have, but because the team that has gathered around her are each the best at their parts of the investigation and the best at protecting Miranda and keeping her on task.

Miranda Chase is on the autism spectrum, and the hyperfocus that her place on that spectrum gives her is part of what makes her so very good at her job – and so very bad at dealing with the people and politics that want to either get in her way, derail her completely or just remove her from the picture – occasionally permanently.

The first four books in the series (Drone, Thunderbolt, Condor and Ghostrider) were all about putting Miranda’s team together and watching them work. Also, and mostly importantly watching them come together as a team and find the best way to work together, both in spite of and because of all of their collective quirks, idiosyncrasies and baggage from a set of generally messy pasts.

The second series which begins with Raider, at least so far, seems to be about adding the right people to the team and tying up the loose ends dangling after their previous adventures. Along with more than a bit of romance as each team member becomes confident enough of their place in Miranda’s world to reach out for someone who can make their life even more complete.

Even if, in the case of Miranda’s friend and chief geek Jeremy Tranh, the person he’s looking at to fill that kind of role in his life is supposed to be dead.

Escape Rating A: It’s not exactly a secret that I love this series, and this latest entry is absolutely no exception whatsoever.

One of the reasons I love it so much is that Miranda Chase and her team are high-grade (and high-octane) competence porn. They’re good at their jobs. They are, in fact, the best of the best at their jobs. They make an excellent team and they know it. They enjoy being good and capable and that part of the story is always wonderful.

We don’t celebrate competence and excellence nearly enough so it’s always a joy to read.

This series also reminds me of the best of Tom Clancy. The edge of the seat thriller-ness of really good people fighting the good fight on behalf of the actually decent folks in government and the military – while never implying that ALL the people in government or the military are good or even halfway decent. But also not claiming that they are all villains either. Just that they’re human with all the faults and virtues that can imply.

It also Clancy with either a sense of when to stop or a damn good editor or both. Clancy’s later books got to be extremely door-stoppy. This series – actually all of this author’s books – are tight and tense and never run on with themselves.

Another plus, at least so far, is that the individual stories do stand kind of alone, but they also hook back to previous events with at least enough backstory to bring readers for whom it’s been awhile or those new to the series, up to speed.

There are pieces of this particular case that go all the way back to the first book, Drone. And the new member of the team isn’t new to the series. She was on the sorta/kinda opposite side in Ghostrider – and she stole Jeremy’s heart along the way – unwilling to recognize that he kept hers as well.

But there is, as there always is, a crash investigation at the heart of this story, wrapped up in a whole lot of political shenanigans both here and especially in this case, in the highest echelons of a government who is not exactly numbered among the United States friends. It’s up to Miranda and her team to discover what is at the heart of not one but two crashes, a Chinook helicopter in the middle of an airshow in the U.S., and something bigger and considerably more deadly on a beach in Taiwan.

And it’s a tense and suspense-filled ride every step – and on every aircraft – along the way.

The next book in this series is Havoc, coming in late April. I’m already on the edge of my seat in anticipation!

Review: The Final Dawn by Jess Anastasi

Review: The Final Dawn by Jess AnastasiThe Final Dawn (Atrophy #5) by Jess Anastasi
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Atrophy #5
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled Publishing: Amara on March 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Rian Sherron is a lot of things. Captain of the spaceship Imojenna. Ex-war hero. Ex-assassin. For years, he's traveled from one end of the galaxy to the other, both trying to escape his demons and get revenge on the shape-shifting aliens responsible for his slow demise into hell.
That all changed the day Rian rescued an Arynian priestess from slave traders. Ella Kinton is everything Rian both fears and admires. Ella is everything he never let himself admit he wanted. Together, they must face a harrowing choice—come together and defeat Reidar, or fall apart, leaving the universe in total chaos.

My Review:

I picked up The Final Dawn because I enjoyed so much of the Atrophy series – to the point where I gave more than one entry in the series an SFR Galaxy Award.

The Atrophy series began as more than a bit of a Firefly-alike, and when it began back in 2015 with Atrophy, later republished as The Last Sky, it filled a Serenity-shaped hole in my heart as it had not been all that long since I finally got around to rewatching the oft-recommended and much-beloved TV series.

The series continued with Quantum in 2016 (now titled The Lost Stars), Diffraction in 2017 (now The Dark Moon) and then Entropy in 2018 (now The Empty Night). And then nothing. It was obvious from the ending of Entropy and there was more to come in the series, but real-life entropy set in and … crickets.

Until now. The Final Dawn is the final book in the series, but it’s been three years since the previous book. Long enough that I’m not entirely certain that the reason this book didn’t feel like it really followed on from the previous is because I’ve forgotten too much or because it doesn’t follow nearly as well or as tightly as the previous books did.

And that matters because the books in this series are not true standalones. The romantic pairing is different in each but everyone stays together to fight the good fight and all of the prior action and worldbuilding gets tied up in this final book in the series.

So this one follows everything that came before, and on top of that felt both rushed and like more than a bit of kitchen sink got thrown in. To reference another late and much-lamented science fiction TV series, it reminded me a bit too much of the way that Babylon 5 nearly ended at the end of season 4, so all the plot threads had to start closing in a hurry, only for there to be a reprieve giving us a season 5 after all, albeit one that had more than a bit of filler because so many plot threads had been closed.

As this series reaches The Final Dawn, the characters are separated, everything spins downward towards the dark, and it all takes on a spiritual/metaphysical direction that just did not feel like it was part of the original action/adventure story that I enjoyed so much.

Escape Rating C: In the end, The Final Dawn was a book that I so very much wanted to love, but just didn’t. And I’m rather sad about that. The first four books in this series were wonderful, the characters were fascinating, the worldbuilding was complex and the overarching story of an underdog crew fighting against an enemy that no one else even believes exists was compelling.

I’m still glad to know how it all ended. Mostly. At least I think I am.