Blogo-Birthday Birthday Book Celebration and #Giveaway!

It’s snuck up on my again. Today is my 67th birthday.

Today is also “First Contact Day” in the Star Trek Universe, which is fitting as I’ve been a fan since I first watched the show with my dad as it was originally broadcast. To paraphrase another ‘verse, that’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The past is another country, and they do things differently there.

Referring to another fandom I fell into at about the same time, I’m having a Hobbit birthday, meaning that I’m giving away presents instead of getting them. (Galen and I aren’t doing presents this year, as we’re rolling all of this year’s presents into a later trip, but I did finally get myself a set of AirPods.)

Spring has officially sprung, and 2024 is one quarter over. Meaning that enough reading has happened here at Chez Reading Reality to make a giveaway of my favorite books of the year so far a VERY reasonable possibility.

So I’ll be giving the winner’s choice of one of my favorite books this year so far to one lucky commenter on this post. I’m going to be a bit loosey-goosey about it this time around, because 1)all the books in the Barker & Llewelyn series have been Grade A books so far, so this is another bite at that apple, and 2)two of this year’s bests are book two in their respective series so if you haven’t read the first book yet it will also be available.

This giveaway is open internationally. If the winner is in the US, the books will be shipped from Amazon or your local bookshop if you have one that can handle this business over the interwebs. But if the winner is outside the U.S. and not in one of the other countries where there’s a ‘zon outpost, books will be sent from Wordery, which ships worldwide for free.

The list to choose from is (drumroll, please):

The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen
The Bezzle by Cory Doctorow
The Black Hand by Will Thomas
Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster Bujold
Gryphon by M.L. Buchman
The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas
Holmes, Marple & Poe by James Patterson and Brian Sitts
The Imposition of Unnecessary Obstacles by Malka Older
The Lantern’s Dance by Laurie R. King
Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi
Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge
The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known by Seanan McGuire
The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan
Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow
The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett
These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart by Izzy Wasserstein
The Truth of the Aleke by Moses Ose Utomi
What You Are Looking For Is In the Library by Michiko Aoyama

I went diving a bit deeper in order to pick multiple genres to make sure there’s something on this list for everyone, but clearly it’s been a very murder-y, fantasy, SF-y year so far. So if I’ve missed your favorite genre and there’s a book you’re dying to read, I’d be happy to share that with you (up to $25 US) instead.

Just let me know in the rafflecopter what book you’d most like to have your very own copy of, from my list or yours, in whatever format suits you best. Someone is going to get very lucky, at least reading-wise!

This post ends this Lucky 13th Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. If you haven’t checked out the rest of this week’s posts, there’s been a giveaway every day, so be sure to enter any and all that look like your jam.

Next year – OMG it’s wild to be talking about NEXT year when it seems like this year has barely begun – the Celebration will take place the week of March 31-April 5. Come one, come all, and be sure to come back over the year between to see what fabulous books and fantastic giveaways happen in all the months between now and then!

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LUCKY THIRTEENTH Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration and #Giveaway!

Today is the LUCKY 13th anniversary of the very first post on Reading Reality, then called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction.” I think the t-shirt that inspired that name is still hanging in the back of my closet.

I’ve been referring to this as the “Lucky 13th” anniversary because I do feel lucky to have lit on the idea of a blog thirteen years ago, and even though blogs are not the force that they were back then, I still feel very lucky every day to have meaningful work to do – even if I had to invent the job myself!

I feel especially lucky this year to be a recipient of the ALA RUSA CODES Louis Shores Award for “excellence in book reviewing”. The award is in recognition of my work here at Reading Reality, my contributions to Library Journal, and my service on several of the Reference and User Services Division’s adult book awards committees over the past 11 years and counting.

 

And I always feel lucky, that all of you who read my reviews and comment on my posts – and participate in the giveaways! – are out there making this whole thing worthwhile. I appreciate all of you more than I can say.

Which is why Reading Reality’s blogoversary, my own birthday tomorrow, and this whole entire week, are Hobbit birthdays. Meaning that I’m giving away presents every single day as part of the celebration.

Without further ado, in thanks and appreciation to all of you, on this fourth day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week I have a giveaway, just as I have every day this week and will tomorrow. Today’s giveaway is for a $25 (US) Gift Card for Amazon or to a bookstore of your choice if you have a local that sells gift cards over the interwebs. (If you live outside the US and have a local Amazon, the gift card will be the equivalent of $25 US from your country’s Amazon.)

I also have FOUR $25 Barnes and Noble Gift Cards to give away as well. These are physical cards that I’ll mail to the lucky recipients. They are a lucky find from one of my desk drawers, but they are unused and don’t expire so several people will get the benefit of them this year.

As always, from the bottom of my bookish and cat-loving heart, my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who has been part of this journey. There’s more to come!

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A+ #BookReview: The Black Hand by Will Thomas + #Giveaway

A+ #BookReview: The Black Hand by Will Thomas + #GiveawayThe Black Hand (Barker & Llewelyn, #5) by Will Thomas
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Barker & Llewelyn #5
Pages: 289
Published by Touchstone on July 1, 2008
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When an Italian assassin's body is found floating in a barrel in Victorian London's East End, enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn are called in to investigate. Soon corpses begin to appear all over London, each accompanied by a Mafia Black Hand note. As Barker and Llewelyn dig deeper, they become entangled in the vendettas of rival Italian syndicates -- and it is no longer clear who is a friend or foe.

My Review:

So far, at least, the Barker & Llewelyn series is a bit like a caper movie. Not that Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn are committing capers – their job is to either thwart or investigate such goings-on. Instead, just like a good caper movie, the story opens at a climactic moment and then rewinds to the beginning of the story we’ve just been dropped into the middle of so we can see how things came to such a desperate pass.

As those climactic moments are generally life-threatening, and specifically threatening to the life of Thomas Llewelyn, it’s a good thing that we go into that pulse-pounding scene knowing that Llewelyn must have survived. After all, part of his job as private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker’s assistant is to chronicle Barker’s cases – and dead men tell no tales.

The tale that Llewelyn has to tell this time around is the story of a brewing turf war among London’s criminal underbelly. There’s a new player in the old game of gangs and turf and money, but a new player under a very old and familiar name – the Sicilian Mafia.

Muscling for territory in wide-open London with their signature stilettos against native gangs and older immigrant groups who rely on fists, brickbats and other coshes to get their dirty work done, the incomers cut a wide swath, literally, through the forces scrambling to array against them.

Including both Scotland Yard and the Home Office, which is where Barker and Llewelyn get dragooned into the fight. A fight that Barker most certainly did not start, but is utterly determined to finish – no matter how many favors he has to call in, how many compromises he has to make, or how many of his own hostages to fortune he has to put in harm’s way.

Escape Rating A+: There are three – well, at least three – things going on in this book, and every single one of them just adds to the reader’s compulsion to keep turning the pages, starting from that chilling, riveting opening.

The first thing, of course, is the case itself. The Mafia – or at least one arm or finger of that organization – is doing its damndest to carve out a toehold for itself in London – by carving up as many as possible until they get their way.

Barker’s remit – to be handled however he sees fit – is to make London so hot for the Sicilian gangs that they go back to Sicily, before their brand of bloody assassination becomes the norm in London.

But just because Barker has carte blanche from the Home Office, that doesn’t mean they’ll provide him with anything else, and certainly not any of their own forces. They don’t even want Scotland Yard involved but have left Barker to do things as he sees best. After all, they can always blame him for whatever goes wrong after the fact.

He sees best to call in a whole lot of favors, which means that the reader, through Thomas Llewelyn’s eyes and pen, gets to learn a whole lot more about who Barker really is under the persona he has created for himself, where he comes from, and who and what he holds dear. As well as how many rules, regulations, laws and ethics he is willing to bend if not outright break to see this thing through.

Those revelations rock Llewelyn to his foundations but don’t change his mind one single bit about following the man he refers to as ‘the Guv’ anywhere he leads – even into the jaws of hell.

So, there’s the case. Then there’s the deeper dive into Barker’s secrets – a set of revelations that should continue as the series progresses.

Last but not least there’s the resonance to the now in this story that is very much steeped in the ‘then’. Because while the case may be about the Mafia, what’s behind their advent into London is a debate about immigration and immigrants and just how easy or difficult it should be and just how much enforcement is necessary and which way and upon whom the economic impacts have and will fall.

And doesn’t all of that sound bloody familiar?

I’m here for all of the above, but even if just one part of that appeals to you, the fully realized historical setting, the whodunnit, the network of ‘Irregulars’ that Barker and Llewelyn are developing, Llewelyn’s continued training, OR the way that the past links to the present, this series is utterly fan-damn-tastic every single step of the way.

The deeper I read into this series, the better it gets. Each book in the series has been tight, taut, thrilling and compelling, all at the same marvelous time. They’ve just been awesome so far, and I can’t recommend the whole thing highly enough – although I plan to keep trying. I also, of course, plan to keep reading, and suspect that it won’t be long before I pick up the next book in the series, Fatal Enquiry.

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

Because I’ve enjoyed this series so much so far, it was an obvious choice for one of this week’s Blogo-Birthday giveaways – especially as the latest book in the series, Death and Glory, is coming out later this month!

Drumroll please! On this third day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, today’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of ANY book in the Barker & Llewelyn series in any format, up to $25 (US) which should be enough to get even Death and Glory if you’re already caught up!

Good luck with today’s giveaway and remember that there’s more to come!

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A- #BookReview: A Body at the Dance Hall by Marty Wingate + #Giveaway

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Dance Hall by Marty Wingate + #GiveawayA Body at the Dance Hall (London Ladies' Murder Club #3) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: London Ladies' Murder Club #3
Pages: 304
Published by Bookouture on April 8, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.org
Goodreads

1922. Amateur sleuth Mabel Canning is surrounded by the bright lights of London as she chaperones a young American woman to a dance. But when someone is murdered, a deadly tango begins…Meet plucky woman-about-town Mabel Canning, leader of the London Ladies’ Murder Club and trusted assistant to gentlewomen. When she is tasked with accompanying Roxy, a fun-loving heiress, on a glamorous night out, Mabel can’t wait to sip champagne and practice the foxtrot. But just as Roxy sashays out of sight, a mysterious man warns Mabel that the feisty young redhead is in danger. And someone is dead before the music stops...Roxy was the last person to see the victim alive, and she stumbles into Mabel’s arms with her daffodil-yellow dress splashed with blood. Determined to protect her ward, Mabel gathers her dashing beau Winstone and her pals from the murder club. Together they trace the weapon back to the ballroom, but when its twin goes missing, it is clear time is running out to prevent another murder on the dance floor…The police conclude the killer is in Roxy’s family, but Mabel finds herself spinning between a motley troupe of suspects. Mr Bryars, the anxious ballroom manager, is constantly tripping over himself to hide his secrets. But would he kill to protect his reputation? And young Ned Kettle may have looked dashing while waltzing around with Roxy, but he was once a notorious thief. Is the sticky-fingered rogue also a dab hand at murder?Just as Mabel and her murder club friends quickstep closer to the truth, Roxy is kidnapped, and Mabel comes cheek to cheek with the killer. Can she save poor Roxy and herself? Or has she danced her last dance?A delightfully witty and utterly addictive whodunnit absolutely bursting with 1920s sparkle, from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

As a member of Miss Kerr’s Useful Women Agency, Mabel Canning has taken on all kinds of jobs and been useful to many different people, from helping someone decide on wallpaper to delivering packages to making sure that certain young scamps really do board their trains back to school.

It’s not at all outside the bounds of the services offered by the Useful Women Agency for Mabel to accompany a young American woman on outings and excursions, to be her tour guide while keeping an eye on her, and doing her best to keep Roxanne Arkwright out of trouble.

But trouble finds Mabel, as it has in her previous adventures, A Body on the Doorstep and A Body at the Séance, in the form of, well, a dead body – this time on the floor of the Hammersmith Palais de Danse.

(Yes, it’s a new face on the ballroom floor, which is how I always heard the phrase, “new face on the BARroom floor” as a child. I’m both tickled at the reference and chagrined at how long it took me to figure it out – albeit not THIS long.)

Scotland Yard, in the person of Detective Inspector Tollerton isn’t nearly as surprised as he’d like to be to discover Mabel on the scene of yet another murder – but Mabel has been useful to Scotland Yard in two previous cases, so Tollerton seems to have reached a position of tolerance, at least, on the subject of Mabel and her penchant for being on the scene when a body drops at someone’s feet – whether those feet are her own or not.

At least this time around Mabel can’t possibly be a suspect, as she was locked in the Palais’ larder at the time. And neither can her charge, Roxanne Arkwright, be in this particular frame. Although Roxanne’s father certainly could be. And briefly is as the case unfolds.

That the murder victim, Oswald Deuchar, was a private investigator in the employ of Roxanne’s father, Rupert Arkwright, for the purpose of watching over Roxanne – along with Mabel but without her knowledge – adds both to the confusion and to the potential motives for his death. After all, private investigators, even ones as quirky and eccentric as Deuchar often accumulate enemies.

Unless the poor man’s death wasn’t about Oswald the investigator and protector, but instead had everything to do with his protectee – and Mabel’s – Roxanne Arkwright.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve already reached the point in Mabel’s adventures where I’m here specifically for her, and the particular case she’s working on is just extra. A compelling extra in the case of A Body at the Dance Hall, but still extra. I’m here to see how Mabel and her friends are doing, and to watch as she learns more about London, her assigned jobs for the Useful Women Agency, and the progress of her romance with her neighbor, Park Winstone. I’m especially here for the way that she keeps learning how to be a good investigator as well as an independent woman, a good worker and a good friend.

What I really like about Mabel and her adventures is that Mabel comes into the story both by agency and with agency and that it doesn’t feel anachronistic that she does.

In the first book in the series, A Body on the Doorstep, Mabel comes to London from the tiny village of Peasmarsh. She’s in her early 30s, never married, and has always dreamed of being on her own. She loves her father dearly, but Peasmarsh is a small, insular town and she’s not ready to settle into the plans it has for her.

Mabel’s comes to London after both the Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic. An entire generation of young British men died in the trenches, to the point where Mabel is one of many women who may have to make their own ways in the world because of those losses. The idea that she might be on her own, that her father may worry about her – he does – that the doorman at her building looks out for her on his behalf and sends back reports – which he does – does not mean that Mabel isn’t completely independent. It just means that he loves her and wants to know someone is looking out for her, but even that doorman abides by the principle that what her dad doesn’t know won’t hurt anyone. No one is supporting Mabel except herself and she answers to no one except Miss Kerr at the Useful Women Agency.

Mabel’s life is a far cry – and a delightful one – from women in quite a lot of historical mysteries (including the one I bailed on last week in a rage). Mabel’s world isn’t fair to women – the world STILL isn’t – but her times and her circumstances allow her to be in a position to answer to herself alone and not be forced to kowtow to the men in her life for every second of her existence. Which was a true experience but isn’t any fun to read and too many female-fronted historical mysteries spend the first third of the book if not more showing all the ways that the world forces them to conform and how they, in turn, are forced to work around all those restrictions.

This series is a breath of fresh air because Mabel doesn’t have to do all of that heavy lifting just to be about her business. And I’m so very happy that is so and honestly relieved to start another of her cases.

And I’ll get down from my soapbox now.

The thing about this particular case is that both Roxanne and the villain have daddy issues. Their fathers have been missing from their lives from about the same age – but the reasons for their absence are quite different, and the results, well, the results are about as diametrically opposed as they could get – very few of which have to do with their positions at nearly opposite ends of the socioeconomic ladder.

Because I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, let’s talk about Roxanne’s issues because, well, her issues have issues and not a one of them is her fault. Her parents are divorced, her mother left England for America eight years ago, when Roxy was just ten years old. And her mother has been gaslighting her ever since about pretty much everything to do with her father, to the point of outright parental alienation so severe as to constitute emotional abuse while demonstrating EXACTLY why parental alienation is considered emotional abuse at the same time. Roxanne comes to London expecting to find a monster, only to discover a father who loves her very much and has missed her terribly, and a stepmother who can help Roxy heal from her mother’s treatment and build up faith in herself and her own judgment – because that’s exactly what her own mother has been tearing down all these years.

All of which means that in the middle of her assignment to show Roxanne the sights of London, Mabel also has a ringside seat on the behavior of Roxy, her father and stepmother, her mother when she arrives from America very much like the avatar of DOOM in T. Kingfisher’s A Sorceress Comes to Call – albeit one without any actual magic but plenty of the same malice.

The closer Mabel gets to Roxy, the more she treats her as a bit of a ‘little sister’, the much harder it is to detach herself as the plot closes in and traps Roxy in its jaws. From that point, it’s a race to the finish, to save the young woman from an enemy that no one saw coming because there was so much enmity already floating around.

I had a ball with A Body at the Dance Hall, so I’m thrilled to say that there is a FOURTH book coming in December, Murder of a Suffragette. I’m already looking forward to it.

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

Because I really enjoy Mabel’s adventures, as I did the author’s Birds of a Feather and Potting Shed series, I chose this book for my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week, so that I could share that enjoyment with the lucky winner of today’s giveaway.

On this second day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, today’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of ANY one of Marty Wingate’s books, in any format, up to $20 (US).

Good luck with today’s giveaway and remember that there’s more to come!
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Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop

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

I’m trying to figure out how a bunny made of honey would actually work – and it’s not working for me. This gold bunny is the closest I could get to a honey bunny – but it’s more like a honey-colored bunny with chocolate inside. Mr. Dark Chocolate Bunny here is adorable, especially with his mini-me. Although their ears aren’t nearly big enough. After all, the ears are the best part!

A survey at Taste of Home for last year’s Easter proclaimed that the Lindt chocolate bunny was the best of the chocolate bunnies they tested, although they confessed that the bow might have influenced their decision just a teensy bit.

If I were in the market for a chocolate bunny, I’d certainly give this one a try – even if it is a bit lacking in the ear department. My preference would be the dark chocolate shown above, but Mr. Gold Bunny does also come in Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate.

What’s your preference in chocolate bunnies? Or just chocolate in general? Answer through the rafflecopter for you chance at winning the usual Reading Reality hop prize of the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

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

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-31-24

Today is Easter, so Happy Easter (or Hoppy Easter) to those who celebrate!

Speaking of celebrations, this week marks Reading Reality’s LUCKY 13th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration. Reading Reality began on April 4, 2011, as Escape Reality, Read Fiction. April 5 is my own birthday, hence “Blogo-Birthday”. This is, as it has been from the beginning, a Hobbit birthday for both the blog and yours truly, so I’ll be giving books and gift cards away every day this week, starting tomorrow with the Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop.

Today’s cat picture is a close up of Hecate and her very pretty copper eyes. It’s also as appropriate for Easter as anything ever gets around here. We have a ritual, involving eggs, that is ALL for Hecate. On Sunday mornings, Galen makes hard boiled eggs for us for breakfast, a process which involves a big bowl of chilled water. Hecate makes a bee line for the bowl of “egg water” the minute the eggs are out of it. It’s just water, with maybe the wisp of essence of egg, but no egg. No salt, no flavoring that we can sense. But it’s all hers! Unless she catches Tuna ‘poaching’ it, that is.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spring 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

Grade A #AudioBookReview: What You Are Looking For Is In the Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts
B+ #BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Cover Reveal: Shoestring Theory by Mariana Costa
A- #BookReview: The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang
A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
Stacking the Shelves (594)

Coming This Week:

Honey Bunny Giveaway Hop
A Body at the Dance Hall by Marty Wingate (#BookReview)
The Black Hand by Will Thomas (#BookReview)
THIRTEENTH Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration and Giveaway
Blogo-Birthday Birthday Celebration and Giveaway

Stacking the Shelves (594)

If anything turns out to be horribly awry in this post, I’m blaming it on Luna. She sat on the keyboard and somehow managed to both erase the graphic above AND reduce the display font by 50%. I think I caught everything she oh-so-helpfully did, but it’s hard to be certain when there is a feline agency involved with ANYTHING.

For Review:
As A Burning Flame by Noa Mishkin
Blank by Zibby Owens
Children of the Dead by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Gitta Honegger
Exploring American Jewish History through 50 Historic Treasures by Avi Y. Decter
Fear the Flames (Fear the Flames #1) by Olivia Rose Darling
Green World by Michelle Ephraim
The Hebrew Teacher by Maya Arad, translated by Jessica Cohen
Herod the Great by Martin Goodman
Israel’s Black Panthers by Asaf Elia-Shalev
It Could Be Worse by Dara Levan
Mazaltob by Blanche Bendahan
My Dearest Mackenzie by Rachel Blaufeld
The Necessity of Exile by Shaul Magid
Out of the Darkness: The Germans, 1942-2022 by Frank Trentmann
The Terrifying Realm of the Possible by Brett Gelman
Traces of a Jewish Artist by Kerry Wallach
Unalone by Jessica Jacobs
Worry by Alexandra Tanner

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
Clockwork Cairo: Steampunk Tales of Egypt edited by Matthew Bright

Borrowed from the Library:
Iron Flame (Empyrean #2) by Rebecca Yarros


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee MohamedThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
Narrator: Eva Tavares
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 158
Length: 4 hours and 49 minutes
Published by ECW Press on September 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In post-climate disaster Alberta, a woman infected with a mysterious parasite must choose whether to pursue a rare opportunity far from home or stay and help rebuild her community.
The world is nothing like it once was: climate disasters have wracked the continent, causing food shortages, ending industry, and leaving little behind. Then came Cad, mysterious mind-altering fungi that invade the bodies of the now scattered citizenry. Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to get away - to move to one of the last remnants of pre-disaster society - but she can't bring herself to abandon her mother and the community that relies on her.
When she's offered a coveted place on a dangerous and profitable mission, she jumps at the opportunity to set her family up for life, but how can Reid ask people to put their trust in her when she can't even trust her own mind?

My Review:

There’s a deep, dark chasm between “the end of the world as they know it” and “the end of the world”. It’s a badly carved gorge where the steps going down are slippery, steep and riddled with stretches that have been completely washed out and strewn with sharp rocks and trail-obstructing boulders. The steps going up the other side are much too far away to see – and might not even exist at all.

In movies – one of the many, many things from the “Before Times” that no longer exist in Reid’s broken world – and books – of which there are some but not nearly enough – the end of the world is a catastrophic EVENT, a thing that happens or more likely that the brave heroes of the fictional narrative manage to stave off by luck, by ingenuity, by miracle, or all of the above.

But that’s not what happened in the world that Reid lives in. There was no singular event, no one, overwhelming catastrophe, no nuclear or meteor strike. Just a long, slow slide down the side of that chasm, as birth rates fell and climate change got more extreme and power sources dried up or died out or became too remote to access as the world fell back into its constituent parts.

Reid lives in a world of scarcity, in a ‘city’ that barely hangs on from year to year and from disaster to disaster, as a parasitic ‘disease’ ravages her body and her mind and increases its hold on the dwindling population year by year.

But there’s a light at the end of Reid’s dark tunnel – a light that’s just for her. A few places, former enclaves of the rich from back in the day when money still mattered – closed the gates of their domes, their pockets of science and tech and ‘civilization’ from the ‘Before Times” and kept the barbarians and the diseases and the wildlife OUT of their pristine sanctuaries.

One of those enclaves is Howse University. Every year, Howse sends out invitations to a privileged few graduating students in the remote cities to come to Howse and enter the next class. To enter a world where electricity still functions, where books are still printed and not merely preserved, where science still happens and knowledge is passed from teacher to students in the lap of safe, well-fed, climate controlled luxury.

A place where Reid might be able to find a cure for the disease that is taking over both her mother’s body and mind – and her own.

All Reid has to do is reach the assigned meeting place in the limited time available. All she has to do is get her mother to forgive her for leaving, for possibly turning her back on everything and everyone Reid has known and loved, on the people and the place and the community that has sheltered her for her entire life.

Traveling all alone through an unknown wilderness is going to be much, much easier than getting her mother – and the parasite that lives within her – to accept that their daughter is leaving them behind.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up this book because I read the sequel to this, We Speak Through the Mountain first and it felt like half a story. A very good half, but still a half and reading the second half without the first I felt like I was missing something. Which, as it turned out, I was. Not enough to prevent me from liking the other book, but enough to keep me from getting as invested in Reid’s journey as I did this time around – although I do feel that investment in the second book now in retrospect.

In other words, don’t do what I did. If the premise of this book or We Speak Through the Mountain speaks to you, read The Annual Migration of Clouds first. They’re both novellas, so even together they are not a big read, but they are a deep one, and deeper when read together in the proper order.

I listened to most of this book, but had to finish in the ebook because as the story got closer and closer to its ending I felt compelled to discover how Reid managed to get to where we first met her in We Speak Through the Mountain – particular the disaster that her brain kept shying away from during that story.

However, the narrator for The Annual Migration of Clouds was excellent and did a terrific job of portraying Reid’s oh-so-real combination of angst and anger as she works her way through her present situation, the history she’s forced to inherit, the unfairness of the world to which she was born, her love for her mother and her community and her NEED to discover as much as she can of what’s been denied her. Even as her internal voice rants and rails at the parasite that influences her thoughts and controls her behavior to a degree that she only becomes conscious of when she fights it. Because it punishes her when she does.

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a coming-of-age story AND it’s a story about the survivors of the end of the world, making their way down that slippery slope of retreating technology and regressive knowledge, just trying to get through another day and another year in the hopes that someday it will all be better for someone – even though they all know that better day will not come for them.

If this part of the story, this description and setup of a world in decline in a way that is in no way the fault of anyone or anything mired in it grabs your imagination, if the way that Reid’s community has managed to survive, along with the many ways in which they demonstrate, as best they can, that survival is insufficient, reads as fascinating and entirely too plausible – as it did to this reader – there are other stories that take this same concept and follow it in different directions – or are nearer to or farther down the road from that initial slide – such as Lark Ascending by Silas House, The Starless Crown by James Rollins, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel may also appeal – and vice versa as well.

Reid’s experiences at Howse University, as related in We Speak Through the Mountain, ask a different set of questions, questions about what the haves owe to the have nots, and what happens when an outsider, repeatedly and often, challenges the smug elitism of their safe, secure, patronizing privilege. Now that I know how Reid came to those experiences, I may go back and experience them again for myself to see how much that story has changed now that I have more of this one.

A- #BookReview: The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang

A- #BookReview: The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian HuangThe Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, historical fantasy, M/M romance, magical realism, romantasy
Pages: 312
Published by Mira on March 26, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

“What if I told you that the feeling we call love is actually the feeling of metaphysical recognition, when your soul remembers someone from a previous life?”
In the year 4 BCE, an ambitious courtier is called upon to seduce the young emperor—but quickly discovers they are both ruled by blood, sex and intrigue.
In 1740, a lonely innkeeper agrees to help a mysterious visitor procure a rare medicine, only to unleash an otherworldly terror instead.

And in present-day Los Angeles, a college student meets a beautiful stranger and cannot shake the feeling they’ve met before.
Across these seemingly unrelated timelines woven together only by the twists and turns of fate, two men are reborn, lifetime after lifetime. Within the treacherous walls of an ancient palace and the boundless forests of the Asian wilderness to the heart-pounding cement floors of underground rave scenes, our lovers are inexplicably drawn to each other, constantly tested by the worlds around them.
As their many lives intertwine, they begin to realize the power of their undying love—a power that transcends time itself…but one that might consume them both.
An unpredictable roller coaster of a debut novel, The Emperor and the Endless Palace is a genre-bending romantasy that challenges everything we think we know about true love.

My Review:

Three roads converge in the midst of a labyrinth. Three fates collide in never ending repetition. No matter where or when the tragedy recurs, nothing ever makes a difference in the ultimate outcome.

In other words, no matter where you go, there you are.

An emperor and a clerk in 4 BCE, an innkeeper and a mysterious stranger in 1740, a medical student and an artist in the now. Three times, three places, three romances, three tragedies.

Different incarnations, different times, different lives but the same results. Because this isn’t just a story of love lost and found, but a story of love lost because it has been betrayed, over and over again. An eternal triangle that hinges on the heart of the one who always remembers everything, and yet can’t stop himself from repeating the same old mistakes. Over and over and over again.

Because even death seems incapable of doing their spirits apart. Perhaps next time, because even if nothing else is certain, there will certainly be one.

Escape Rating A-: This story walks three paths, and at first it doesn’t seem like one has much to do with the other. It reminded me of stories about walking a maze of trials that leads to a central point, a trail of trials that no matter which path is walked that ultimately leads to the same place – and all too frequently the same goal or battle or contest or tragedy. A progression that, as the path is walked and the spiral gets tighter, allows brief glimpses into the spirals on either side.

But at the beginning, the relationship between Dong Xian’s precarious climb up the ladder in Imperial China, He Shican’s nighttime wanderings in the woods around his remote inn in the mid-18th century, and River’s drug-induced hallucinations of the circuit party scene in today’s Los Angeles don’t have a connection that the reader can see.

It’s only in the dreams, nightmares and drug-induced ecstasy that the characters experience in each of the timelines that the stories begin, hazily at first, to reach out for each other – even as the contemporary characters in this never-ending story, River and Joey and Winston, come together and ultimately drive each other away.

Each of the stories begins slowly, but as they draw towards their individual conclusions that are all the same tragic ending, the inward spirals get faster and faster and tighter and tighter – like the loop of a noose closing around the throats of ALL the stories, leaving the reader breathless at the end.

An ending which may not be one at all.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this book, although a friend’s absolute rave about it induced me to give this debut novel a try. And I’m glad I did because in the end I was completely blown away by this sexy, queer romantasy AND that it’s the author’s first.

I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore!

Cover Reveal: Shoestring Theory by Mariana Costa

Cover Reveal: Shoestring Theory by Mariana CostaShoestring Theory by Mariana Costa
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 400
Published by Angry Robot on October 1, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A queer, madcap, friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers time travel romance with the future of the world at stake, this charming fantasy tale is sure to satisfy fans of Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree.
The kingdom of Farsala is broken and black clouds hang heavy over the arid lands. Former Grand-Mage of the High Court, Cyril Laverre, has spent the last decade hiding himself away in a ramshackle hut by the sea, trying to catch any remaining fish for his cat familiar, Shoestring, and suppressing his guilt over the kingdom’s ruin. For he played his part – for as the King, Eufrates Margrave, descended further and further into paranoia, violence and madness, his Grand-Mage – and husband – Cyril didn’t do a thing to stop him.
When Shoestring wanders away and dies one morning, Cyril knows his days are finally numbered. But are there enough left to have a last go at putting things right? With his remaining lifeblood, he casts a powerful spell that catapults him back in time to a happier period of Farsalan history – a time when it was Eufrates’s older sister Tig destined to ascend to the throne, before she died of a wasting disease, and a time when Cyril and Eufrates’s tentative romance had not yet bloomed. If he can just make sure Eufie never becomes King, then maybe he can prevent the kingdom’s tragic fate. But the magical oath he made to his husband at the altar, transcending both time and space, may prove to be his most enduring – and most dangerous – feat of magic to date…
Featuring a formidable Great Aunt, a friends-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romance, an awkward love quadrangle and a crow familiar called Ganache, this charming story is imminently easy to read and sure to satisfy fans of fanfiction who like their fantasy lite.

This is Luna’s SHOUTY face, because she can’t resist talking about it. After all, there’s a CAT in it – or there was and there will be. A cat named Shoestring and his person Cyril. Mustn’t forget Cyril, because he’s the one who catches Shoestring’s fish. When there ARE any fish, which is part of the problem.

Since George eats shoestrings (and sometimes even the shoes they’re attached to), so we’re ALL hoping he sleeps through this COVER REVEAL for Mariana Costa’s upcoming book Shoestring Theory. It’s about a mad king, a guilt-ridden mage, and a cat familiar who gives his life so his person gets off his duff and fixes things. Even if that fix needs to take them all back in time to a time before things went so horribly wrong that there are no fish left for Shoestring.

So here are Lucifer and Tuna, proudly displaying the complete, utterly gorgeous cover for Mariana Costa’s Shoestring Theory, coming on October 8, 2024 from Angry Robot Books. Preorder links are available HERE: https://angryrobotbooks.my.canva.site/shoestring-theory.

Just in case Lucifer’s implacable stare overwhelms the picture above, here’s a better picture – of the book cover at least!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to meet Shoestring!