Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton

Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. DentonGlory Road by Lauren K. Denton
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Southern fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Written in Lauren Denton's signature Southern style, Glory Road tells the story of three generations of women navigating the uncertain pathways of their hearts during a summer that promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

At thirty-eight, garden shop owner Jessie McBride thinks her chances for romance are years behind her and, after her failed marriage, she's fine with that. She lives contentedly with her fiery mother and her quiet, headstrong daughter. But the unexpected arrival of two men on Glory Road make her question if she's really happy with the status quo. Handsome, wealthy Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter's wedding, and Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. And Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school days who's known her better than anyone and whom she hasn't seen in years, moves back to the red dirt road. Jessie finds her heart being pulled in directions she never expected.

Meanwhile, Jessie's fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and trying to navigate a new world of identity and emotions--particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who's moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie's mother, Gus, increasingly finds herself forgetful and faces a potentially frightening future.

As all three women navigate the uncertain paths of their hearts and futures, one summer promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

My Review:

Good things come in threes, and so it proves in this lovely story of three generations of the McBride women. Take that as a hint that, in spite of Goodreads characterizing this as a romance, it’s really women’s fiction or relationship fiction. While romances do occur within the pages of this book, the backbone of the book is the relationship between the women and not the men who find their way into – or back into – their lives.

Also, in spite of the Amazon classification of Glory Road as both “Christian” and “Historical”, it isn’t either. This is a contemporary story set in a small (very small) Alabama town. And even though the book is published by noted Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, there’s nothing particularly religious or inspirational in the story, although the romantic aspects are downright squeaky clean.

I like a good romance. It doesn’t have to get to the bedroom to qualify as romance – and I like a well-written “fade to black” better than a risible risque scene. I didn’t notice that no one did anything more than kiss, and very little of that, until I finished and thought back on the story. So it works.

But what is it?

The McBride women all live on Glory Road just outside tiny Perry Alabama. They are all at crossroads in their lives. How those crossroads intersect, and how they walk along after, both together and separately, is what makes the story.

Gus McBride is nearly 70. She’s happy to have her daughter Jessie and granddaughter Evan back on Glory Road, but at the same time has become aware that proximity means that the secret she is trying to hide even from herself will be exposed sooner rather than later. Gus isn’t ready to deal with the Alzheimer’s disease that took both her mother and grandmother, and is now overtaking her.

Evan is about to enter 9th grade – she’s starting high school. It’s a new school and a whole lot of new opportunities. She’s growing up and starting to push boundaries. And she’s making new friends, including the older boy who has just moved into Perry with his dad. Evan has her first crush on Nick Bradley, not knowing just how history is both repeating – and not.

Jessie is the sandwich between her mother Gus and her daughter Evan. She has put behind her past with Evan’s wayward father, and has figured out why her marriage didn’t work. She spent her high school years pretending to be someone she wasn’t, and her ex fell in love with that pretense and not the person she really is.

The person Jessie really is isn’t that perky, blonde, highlighted cheerleader. She’s the quietly introspective woman who owns Twig, the local gardening shop. And she’s the person her best friend all those years ago, Ben Bradley, fell in love with.

Ben has returned to Glory Road, and has brought his son Nick. A boy who would have been theirs if things had gone differently. There’s a chance they might this time. Or it might be too late. Or Jessie might make the same mistake all over again.

Escape Rating B+: This was, just like my reading of The Hideaway a couple of years ago, lovely. Not quite as unexpected this time around.

Three is a powerful number, and the three McBrides are powerful women, albeit in different ways. While their stories are individually interesting, the relationship between them powers the story as it switches perspectives from one to another but always making clear the depth of the bond between them.

Evan’s story is the easiest. She’s only 14, her entire life is still before her. This is the summer of her first real crush, her first serious testing of her mother’s boundaries, the deepening of her quest to discover the person she’s meant to be … and the escalating fear over her grandmother’s badly hidden illness.

Gus’ story is both tragic and uplifting, as she faces both the fear that has dogged her for her entire adult life – and the man who is willing to stand beside her in the dark days ahead. She both comes to terms with what the future will bring her, and reaches out to wring all the happiness possible from the days yet to come.

But the lion’s share of the story is Jessie’s. She is caught at multiple decision points, and the crises they bring to her life make her examine who she’s been, who she is, and who she wants to be. They also make her both appreciate her comfort zone and make her willing to step out of it.

She’s worried about her mother’s increasing forgetfulness. She’s also worried about her business, as a nearby “big box” store has opened and is stealing more than a few of her formerly faithful customers.

And her ancient laptop computer gives up its ghost in the middle of it all. Thanks to the aforementioned big box store, money for a replacement is absolutely nowhere in the budget. Then Ben comes back to town and offers to fix it.

Jessie’s relationship with Ben Bradley recalls the famous quote by John Greenleaf Whittier, the one that goes, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” Back in high school, Jessie and Ben were best friends. He was the only one besides her family who knew the real Jessie McBride. But their comfortable friendship ended when Ben confessed that he loved Jessie – and she didn’t respond. Instead, she let her popular friends pull her away from the man who loved her and the life that might have been.

A life that would probably have worked out better than her marriage to a man who wanted the perky, popular Jessie she pretended to be. A road not taken that Jessie has never stopped thinking about.

Now Ben is back in Perry, and they might have another chance to see what they might be. But Jessie is also involved with another flashy charmer like her ex – admittedly one who’s a bit more down to earth and sees the person Jessie is now a bit better. But someone who represents a life bigger and brighter than Perry, and a life she left behind.

With everything else going on in her life, the world outside of Perry seems mighty tempting for a brief while.

It’s pretty obvious to the reader who represents Jessie’s best future and happiest self. Watching her figure that out for herself is the charm of the story. And this reader was definitely charmed.

TLC
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Review: Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra

Review: Mahimata by Rati MehrotraMahimata by Rati Mehrotra
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Asiana #2
Pages: 480
Published by Harper Voyager on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young female assassin must confront the man who slaughtered her family, risk her heart, and come to terms with her identity as a warrior and as a woman in this thrilling fantasy from the author of Markswoman.

Kyra has returned to the caves of Kali, but her homecoming is bittersweet. She no longer knows what her place is. Her beloved teacher is dead and her best friend Nineth is missing. And gone, too, is Rustan, the Marksman who helped her train for the duel with Tamsyn--and became far more than a teacher and friend.

Shaken by his feelings for Kyra and the truth about his parentage, Rustan has set off on a quest for answers. His odyssey leads him to the descendants of an ancient sect tied to the alien Ones--and the realization that the answers he seeks come with a price.

Yet fate has plans to bring Kyra and Rustan together again. Kai Tau, the man who slaughtered Kyra’s family, wages war on the Orders of Asiana. Hungering for justice, Kyra readies herself for battle, aided by her new companions: the wyr-wolves, who are so much more than what they seem. And determined to keep the woman he loves safe, Rustan joins the fight to ride by her side.

But will this final confrontation ultimately cost them their love . . . and their lives?

 

My Review:

The Asiana duology (yes, this is the second of two and there are only two) is set 800 plus years after a global catastrophe on our Earth. This is the story of the fantasy-like (or fantasy-lite) “civilization” left behind after a war that almost literally ended all wars – by wiping out a huge chunk of any population that might fight those wars.

But human beings are stubborn, in both good and bad ways. We came back as a species, and as this story begins, it looks like yet another war to end all wars has already begun – complete with weapons of mass(ive) destruction.

That the guns are called “kalashiks” is kind of a dead giveaway that this is our Earth and not someplace else. It’s not that another race of bipeds won’t/wouldn’t/hasn’t come up with the equivalent of assault weapons, it’s that this reader doubts that said other race would also spawn the languages that gave birth to the name “Kalashnikov”.

I digress and yet I don’t. The long-ago and long-lost past is part of the deep background of this story – and in a strange way also a part of its future. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The story in Mahimata is a continuation of the story from Markswoman, and this can’t be read without having read the previous. Nothing will make sense otherwise. I’m actually glad that my reading of Markswoman wasn’t all that long ago, because Mahimata drops the reader right where that book left off.

This is a story where what goes around ultimately comes around, and karma is indeed a bitch. But our heroine Kyra is as much its victim as anyone else in the story.

Once upon a time, a man kidnapped and raped her mother, resulting in, well, Kyra. That same man returned to her mother to kill everyone in her clan, except Kyra. Who is, in the way of such stories, fated to kill him in his turn.

It’s what happens in the middle that makes the story. And one hell of a story it is.

Escape Rating B: I’m giving the rating early so that I can talk about what I did and didn’t like about the book. Because there’s a whole lot of like and not much dislike, except for one thing – which I’ll get to in a minute.

This is a story that put me in that rare approach/avoidance trap. I desperately wanted to know how it ended but I didn’t want it to end. The world that has been created in the wake of exactly whatever the apocalypse was is fascinating. The Orders of Peace, of which our heroine’s Order of Kali is just one of several, are dedicated to keeping the general population of the tribes safe from predators both without and within.

But while their purpose is a noble one, so much of their origin and history has been lost that much of what they have come to believe is neither true nor in the best interests of either the orders or the general population. They’re slowly killing themselves off, leaving the field wide open for a tyrant to bring unity through subjugation. The Orders are no longer strong enough to take care of such problems before they become big ones.

Which leaves our heroine and her friends and companions in a position where they will have to throw away much of what they think they know in order to face a danger which will overwhelm their world if they don’t act.

At the same time, the Asiana duology is also Kyra’s coming of age story. When we began in Markswoman, she was just about to take the step that graduates her from apprentice to markswoman. As her story continues, she finds herself in almost a constant state of examining the acts she has already committed with eyes that have become sharpened by experience.

An examination which often leaves her wondering just how she could have made so many huge mistakes, or have been so much of a fool. Her experiences may not have brought wisdom, but they have certainly brought clarity – even if nearly always too late.

However, and this is where we get to the things that gave me mixed feelings, while the epic battle and everything that led up to it was awesome and fascinating and grabbed me completely, the SFnal elements that underpin the way this world works felt more like a tease than anything that gelled into coherence.

I realize that is also how it is for the people of Asiana, that their scientific past has moved into myth and legend, but the way that Mahimata comes to its epic conclusion relies on those SFnal elements – and it didn’t stick the dismount. The story is great, the war has consequences, evil is vanquished – in a way that was very cool – and good, or at least not-evil triumphs.

But the extremely understated romance between Kyra and Rustan came to a kind of forced happy ending, using those SFnal elements as a kind of deus ex machina. It would have felt better, or truer, or more realistic, if one of them had paid the ultimate price for their victory. Or at least that would have made more sense.

Your mileage, as I always say, may vary.

The ending doesn’t erase just how much I loved 90% of the story. In the end, in comparison with an Olympic gymnastic routine, the routine was beautiful, but viewing this story as the gymnast in the analogy, it just didn’t stick that dismount.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-10-19

Sunday Post

Did you remember to “Spring” your clocks forward last night? Or did your clocks take care of that themselves? And isn’t the whole concept of “Daylight Saving Time” getting just a bit ridiculous?

Review-wise, this week turned out to be pretty interesting, just not necessarily in a good way. It began and ended with books that I much anticipated – only to have them both fall more than a bit flat. C’est la reading vie. Your mileage, of course, may vary. A tremendous number of people thought that both books were the bee’s knees, but for me they just didn’t live up to their predecessors.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B Review: Wild Country by Anne Bishop
A- Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford
B+ Review: Hunting Game by Helene Tursten
B+ Guest Review by Amy: Orb by Gary Tarulli
C+ Review: The True Queen by Zen Cho
Stacking the Shelves (330)

Coming This Week:

Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra (review)
Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton (blog tour review)
Titanshade by Dan Stout (review)
The Last Act by Brad Parks (review)
Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (330)

Stacking the Shelves

There’s a part of me that is afraid, very afraid, that the stacks for the rest of the year are all going to look like this. I have things for my committee, things to review for the LJ and thing that just looked good. And I have a lot of them.

So many books, so little time!

For Review:
The Assassin of Verona (William Shakespeare Thriller #2) by Benet Brandreth
The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Forever Wolf (Legend of All Wolves #3) by Maria Vale
The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
Little Darlings by Melanie Golding
Never Deny a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society #3) by Madeline Hunter
The October Man (Rivers of London #7.5) by Ben Aaronovitch
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Run Away by Harlan Coben
Seven Blades in Black (Grave of Empires #1) by Sam Sykes
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Theater of Spies (Tales from the Black Chamber #2) by S.M. Stirling
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker, read by Tom Baker! (audio)

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Review: The True Queen by Zen Cho

Review: The True Queen by Zen ChoThe True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Sorcerer Royal #2
Pages: 384
Published by Ace Books on March 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the follow-up to the "delightful" regency fantasy novel (NPR.org) Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae.

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she's drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

My Review:

Sorcerer to the Crown was one of my favorite books of 2015. From the joint review Lou and I did at The Book Pushers in 2015, it’s pretty obvious that it was one of her favorites too. The hoped for sequel has been on my most anticipated list ever since.

That long awaited sequel has finally arrived in the manifestation of The True Queen. I wanted to love this book. I expected to love this book. And I’m SO disappointed that I didn’t.

It’s not a bad book. It certainly has some interesting moments. But, and in this case it’s a very large but, it just doesn’t have the same verve as the first. Sorcerer to the Crown was epically readable, because there’s just so much going on from the very first page.

Definitely on the other hand, The True Queen just doesn’t have that compulsive readability.

Instead, the first half of the book plods. It’s slow. Not much seems to happen.

Part of that is that we need to be re-introduced to this world and its characters. 2015 was a long time ago, even if not much time has passed within the series.

But a lot of it is that the protagonists of The True Queen are passive, where the protagonists of Sorcerer to the Crown were both very active participants in the story. Instead, one of the main characters of The True Queen is fridged for a big chunk of the story. And while Sakti is frequently annoying, especially to her sister Muna, she is also the more active of the pair.

Of the sisters, Sakti is proactive – even if usually wrongheaded – while Muna is reactive. Unfortunately, it’s Muna the passive that we end up following for the first half of the story. And while Sakti always overestimates her capabilities, Muna underestimates hers. As a consequence, Sakti is the one who makes things happen – even if they are often the wrong thing.

Muna usually cleans up after Sakti. Without Sakti around to push her, she spends a lot of time waiting for something to happen, for someone to help her, or for the situation to become clear.

The two very active protagonists of Sorcerer to the Queen are relegated to background roles, and the story misses their drive immensely. Instead, the true standout character in The True Queen is Prunella’s shy and retiring friend Henrietta.

About halfway through the book, once all of the situations are set, the action finally kicks into gear. That’s the point where Henrietta finally takes her courage into her hands, and Muna sets plans in motion to rescue her sister instead of waiting for someone else to tell her what do it and how to do it.

From the point where the action moves to the court of the capricious Queen of Fairy, the situation becomes both more interesting and more dangerous. Not just because Henrietta manages to find out what she’s really made of, but because Muna takes the lead and figures out who she really is and what she’s been meant to be all along.

Escape Rating C+: This is a book that does reward sticking with it, but it takes a lot of stick. The action does not really get going until the book is half over, and that’s a lot of set up. In the end, it makes sense that Muna is as passive and reactive as she is – but it still makes The True Queen a disappointment in comparison with its predecessor. And I’m so, so sorry about that.

Guest Review: Orb by Gary Tarulli

Guest Review: Orb by Gary TarulliOrb by Gary Tarulli
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 322
Published by Gary Tarulli on November 16, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three months outbound from Earth and the starship Desio approaches its planetary destination, her crew eager to commence a mission of scientific discovery. Kyle Lorenzo, however, has a personal reason for being on board--an inner conflict that will ultimately propel him to explore not only of the furthest reaches of an enigmatic ocean world but the nebulous recesses of his inner psyche.

During the long and isolating interstellar journey a physical relationship develops between Kyle and the ship's physician, Kelly Takara. That part is easy. Understanding the reasons for avoiding the emotional commitment desired by Kelly is harder. So, too, is trying to penetrate the mind of Larry Melhaus, the mission's brilliant and reclusive physicist - a failure to communicate made exponentially more troublesome when the scientist's disturbing behavior begins to threaten the crew.

While Kyle struggles to comprehend himself and Melhaus, the ship's crew, led by their strong-willed commander, Bruce Thompson, attempt to fathom a planet where none of the precepts of science seem to apply. A world where every preconceived notion of what constitutes life must be re-examined and challenged.

Two journeys: One inward, one outward.Culminating at the same destination.

Guest Review by Amy:

Interstellar exploration is hard, even if you have a wormhole to make the trip shorter. They only pick the best of the best, but the first crew that went to the planet labeled “231-P5” … had problems. The stress of the trip, being alone with only each other for months on end, the situation they found themselves in, no one’s entirely sure. This crew is carefully hand-picked: five scientists, one…wait, what? A writer? And a poodle?

Months out there in space, and our intrepid wordsmith has fallen for the ship’s doctor, one Kelly Takara, but Kyle Lorenzo is sort of afraid of commitment. Things are tense, and only get more so as the expedition’s physicist, Dr. Larry Melhaus, starts acting even more strange than usual.

Escape Rating: B+. The first chapter or two of this book didn’t quite grab me the first time I picked it up about a year ago. I chalked it up to the mood I was in at the time, and threw it back on my TBR heap for later consideration. When I decided to give it another whirl last week, I discovered that the problem with the book wasn’t me. Well, not exactly.

I’m reminded of the first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. While visually stunning, there is an awful lot of the early part of the film that, to me as a then-very-young person, just didn’t serve the plot in a meaningful way. That’s the problem I had with the first couple of chapters of Orb. Author Gary Tarulli gets us deeply into the head of a literary-minded person, and it reminded me rather a lot of the existential maunderings I had to read in freshman lit classes in the late 1980s: slightly less-exciting than cold oatmeal with no butter.

Let me say right now that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Existentialist fiction, if I may paint it with that deliberately-broad term, isn’t by definition bad, despite what I just said about my poor freshman lit teacher’s choices. I just didn’t expect it to come at me in a book labeled “Science Fiction.” And far be it from me to dish on a self-published author–as self-published first works go, this one isn’t bad, really–it just took me a while to catch on to what Tarulli was trying to give us. I’m a slow learner, sometimes.

When our crew arrives, early-ish in the book, at the water world that they are there to explore, the sci-fi story starts to emerge, and it’s a good one. The intelligence that populates the planet is so wildly different from ours that our crew struggles with first-contact matters in unexpected ways, and watching Dr. Melhaus’ slow-motion implosion gives us a nice dose of tension, if not quite a villain. Kyle’s internal dialogue over his relationship with Kelly Takara is fairly-understandable, and watching him progress into that relationship is a sweet counterpoint to the precarious situation the crew is in.

“Not quite a villain,” I just said–there’s really no villain, as such, in this story. Our cast of characters spends the whole book discovering a place and flavor of life that is incomprehensibly different from ours, and spends even more time discovering … themselves. This is a book that, if you can digest it, will make you think about things rather a lot. It did me. This book is not escapist fiction, not like lots of other reviews I’ve brought you here at Reading Reality; it’s a thinker’s book. Read it with that in mind, and I’m sure you’ll get something out of it, as I have.

Review: Hunting Game by Helene Tursten

Review: Hunting Game by Helene TurstenHunting Game (An Embla Nyström Investigation #1) by Helene Tursten, Paul Norlén
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Embla Nystrom #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first installment in Helene Tursten’s brand new series featuring the strong, smart Detective Inspector Embla Nyström.

From a young age, 28-year-old Embla Nyström has been plagued by chronic nightmares and racing thoughts. Though she still develops unhealthy fixations and makes rash decisions from time to time, she has learned to channel most of her anxious energy into her position as Detective Inspector in the mobile unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, and into sports. A talented hunter and prize-winning Nordic welterweight, she is glad to be taking a vacation from her high-stress job to attend the annual moose hunt with her family and friends.

But when Embla arrives at her uncle’s cabin in rural Dalsland, she sees an unfamiliar face has joined the group: Peter, an enigmatic young divorcé. And she isn’t the only one to take notice. One longtime member of the hunt doesn’t welcome the presence of an outsider and is quick to point out that with Peter, the group’s number reaches thirteen, a bad omen for the week.

Sure enough, a string of unsettling incidents follow, culminating in the disappearance of two men from a neighboring group of hunters. Embla takes charge of the search, and they soon find one of the missing men floating facedown in the nearby lake, his arm tightly wedged between two rocks. Just what she needs on her vacation. With the help of local reinforcements, Embla delves into the dark pasts of her fellow hunters in search of a killer.

My Review:

A couple of years ago I reviewed Who Watcheth by this author for Library Journal. It was my first “real” dip into scandinavian noir, and I found the story really compelling, as well as a bit creepy. But I really enjoyed the main character, Inspector Irene Huss. Enough so that I picked up the short story collection An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good to get just a bit more of her. (She is not the elderly lady of the title, she is investigating the elderly lady of the title).

Inspector Irene Huss’ series has ended, but the author has begun a new series, and I decided to pick it up – from the beginning this time. And so we come to Detective Inspector Embla Nyström of the mobile crime unit, on her annual vacation at her uncle’s hunting cabin.

The moose isn’t the only creature being hunted. So when the human bodies start piling up, Embla finds herself back on the clock, investigating a group of men she’s known – and mostly respected – all of her life. Along with one charmer who might just be a bit too good to be true.

Only because he is.

Escape Rating B+: This isn’t so much of a whodunit as a whydunit, as has been pointed out by multiple reviewers. It is a bit obvious who must be the killer. There’s only one newcomer to this rather tight-knit group. If one of them had been a serial killer, the dead bodies would go back decades. And they don’t. Mostly.

The group, with the exception of 28-year-old Embla and the newcomer, are also middle-aged if not older. For the most part, they are successful and well-to-do. Embla and her uncle are definitely not in the same financial strata as some of the others. (Or come to think of it, I don’t think they are. We don’t actually know enough about her uncle’s situation to be certain. He does, after all, own a house in town AND a hunting cabin.)

Embla is a cop. And a good one. She’s just multiply conflicted on this case.

Not just because she knows everyone well, except that newcomer. On the other hand, she gets to know the newcomer in the biblical sense, creating yet more conflict. And this case echoes back to an unsolved and unresolved trauma in her own past.

She knows there’s something wrong, but has a difficult time putting all the pieces together. Just as with the issue in her own past, the criminal is acting out of his own unresolved trauma. This is a case that just isn’t going to be solved without digging into a whole lot of the dirty laundry of everyone involved.

Embla is an interesting character, and she’s going to be good to follow for a series. On the one hand, she is a bit of an outsider in this group. By the time the crimes start occurring, she’s both the only woman, and with the exception of the newcomer, the only person under 40.

Her profession makes her suspect everyone and everything, and at the same time it sets her apart, making some of the party members suspicious of her, because she’s a young woman in a man’s job, and in authority once the moose hunt turns into a manhunt.

As a championship boxer, she’s a woman used to and capable of taking care of herself – a skill that turns out to be necessary in the course of the story. One of the unusual things we see is that in her own small team, while she’s not the leader, she is the muscle. We don’t often see that in fiction in a mixed gender team and it’s refreshing.

Her past trauma makes this case more poignant for her, and provides avenues for the author to explore in future entries in the series. That this case is wrapped up entirely in a hunting trip and the hunting culture of Scandinavia may put some readers off. There’s a lot of detail about the process of hunting and the annual hunts. I found it interesting – not that I’d want to do it myself but just how much tradition and culture are still wrapped around it.

I certainly enjoyed Hunting Game more than enough to want to read the next book in the series when it’s translated into English. I like Embla and her team and want to see how they go.

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys FordJacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #3
Pages: 352
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 5, 2019
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Stalker Kai Gracen knew his human upbringing would eventually clash with his elfin heritage, but not so soon. Between Ryder, a pain-in-his-neck Sidhe Lord coaxing him to join San Diego’s Southern Rise Court, and picking up bounties for SoCalGov, he has more than enough to deal with. With his loyalties divided between the humans who raised him and the Sidhe Lord he’s befriended and sworn to protect, Kai finds himself standing at a crossroads.

When a friend begs Kai to rescue a small group of elfin refugees fleeing the Dusk Court, he’s pulled into a dangerous mission with Ryder through San Diego’s understreets and the wilderness beyond. Things go from bad to downright treacherous when Kerrick, Ryder’s cousin, insists on joining them, staking a claim on Southern Rise and Kai.

Burdened by his painful past, Kai must stand with Ryder against Kerrick while facing down the very Court he fears and loathes. Dying while on a run is expected for a Stalker, but Kai wonders if embracing his elfin blood also means losing his heart, soul, and humanity along the way.

My Review:

All the cats are jacked in one way or another on Kai Gracen’s latest stalker run.

That probably made no sense unless you’ve read the previous books in this terrific series. Start with Black Dog Blues and then dance on over to Mad Lizard Mambo. If you like gritty urban fantasy you’ll be glad you did.

I’ve also just made a bunch of puns based on the titles. They are all music-based in one way or another, from Blues to Mambo to Jive – another name for jazz. Cat is also part of the story, as the elfin, are often referred to as cats – usually in Kai’s case, cat-bastard.

Because he is. Both the sidhe and the unsidhe have some feline characteristics, and Kai is literally a bastard. As a combination of sidhe, unsidhe and who knows what else, mixed in a somewhat magical, semi-scientific blender, he’s a chimera – he fits in nowhere.

That part-magic, semi-scientific bit is also a metaphor for this post-apocalyptic version of our own world. The apocalypse is in the not too distant past, and it’s very specific. Suddenly the “underhill” of fairy stories, of the sidhe and unsidhe of Irish mythology, crashed up into the everyday world of humans – and changed everything for all sides.

The blend is the world that Kai lives in. It’s not a world where magic has always existed, but once the event happened, humans discovered that they had magic. The sidhe and the unsidhe, those perennial antagonistic elven courts, found themselves forced to deal with a world that includes humans.

Everyone thinks they’re the apex predators. That battle is still being fought. There are plenty on all sides who think that if they just kill enough of the others that things can go back to the “good old days”.

Those good old days were never very good for Kai. Not only is he a mix of sidhe and unsidhe, but he was raised human, so he has a foot in all camps but a place of his own in none.

Not that Ryder, the Lord of the Southern Rise Court of the sidhe based in San Diego, doesn’t want to make a place for Kai in his court. And not that he doesn’t keep trying.

But then Ryder is the one sidhe that we’ve met who has figured out that there is no going back, that the only way for his people to thrive is to learn to deal with the world as it is and not as they wish it would be – or that they pretend that it ever was.

This adventure begins when all of those worlds and wishes collide with their usual explosiveness.

Ryder has decreed that his court will accept all elven, sidhe and unsidhe alike. His grandmother has sent one of his more ruthless and less trustworthy cousins to attempt to wrest control of the court from Ryder by any means necessary, so that it can go back to her traditional, repressive ways.

Kai needs Ryder to come with him on a Stalker run out into the great wide desert spaces between the cities and the courts, in order to rescue a mixed group of sidhe and unsidhe who are trying to make the dangerous border crossing.

Everyone, Kai, Ryder, the reader and everyone aboard this crazy train all know that the run is going to go pear-shaped. The only question is how many ways and in which directions.

And it’s a wildly awesome ride every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve loved Kai from the very beginning, all the way back to the original publication of Black Dog Blues in 2013. My only serious complaint about his series is that its too long between books. And I’m betting that’s a complaint that most authors would love to hear!

Kai Gracen’s world is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy, which sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms. Post-apocalypse is usually SF, while urban fantasy is obviously fantasy. But this world is our world if magic didn’t so much develop naturally as crash land into it, hence the apocalypse.

While I haven’t read anything else quite like this, the DFZ of Rachel Aaron’s Heartstrikers series as well as the Atlantis-influenced world of K. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence both have a similar feel. So if you liked Nice Dragons Finish Last and/or The Last Sun you’ll probably like Kai Gracen and vice-versa.

Kai makes an interesting hero (sometimes anti-hero) because he has a foot in all of the various camps but a true place in none. Just as his name implies, he is “neither fish nor fowl nor good read meat”, but some of each and comfortable with none. He has an equally jaundiced view of all of the contenders as groups, while still loving, liking or detesting individuals within them all.

And he’s all snark all the time, which makes him a whole lot of fun to follow!

The world of this series is getting built layer by layer. The deeper we get involved with Kai, the more bits of the world around him are unfolded. And so far, it’s been fascinating all the way down.

Many of Kai’s stories are also road stories, and Jacked Cat Jive is no exception. Kai is a Stalker, his job is to go out into the wild places and hunt down the monsters that plague everyone. But this particular run is supposed to be a rescue – and it kind of is.

At the same time, it’s an opportunity for Kai to temporarily flee some of his own demons, while bringing one of Ryder’s along for the ride. Kai knows, and we know, that there’s going to be a betrayal somewhere along the way. That Ryder spends the trip hoping it will be otherwise does not make it so.

While I expected the betrayal, and while Ryder’s cousin Kerrick was a nasty piece of work from the second he stepped on the page, his constant reiteration of what he was going to do to/with Kai once he became Lord of the Court was not merely nasty but grating in its repetition.

Kerrick is looking for a slave, just one of the many reasons why he should never be Lord of the Court and why he needs to be sent packing at the first opportunity. The idea of forcing Kai is clearly part of his kink, particularly as Kai is still so messed up emotionally that he can’t even let himself give in to what he feels for Ryder – at least not yet.

Kai has taken a lot of damage and still needs a lot of healing. Watching that happen is one of the fascinating parts of his journey, and I can’t wait to see where the music takes him next!

If you want to read more about Kai and Ryder’s (mis)adventures there’s a blog tour for this book right now that includes all the pieces of a short story starring these fascinating characters along with a giveaway. I’m not part of the tour but I’m always happy to give this series more buzz!

Review: Wild Country by Anne Bishop

Review: Wild Country by Anne BishopWild Country (The Others, #7) by Anne Bishop
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: The Others #7, World of the Others #2
Pages: 496
Published by Ace Books on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this powerful and exciting fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, humans and the shape-shifting Others will see whether they can live side by side...without destroying one another.

There are ghost towns in the world—places where the humans were annihilated in retaliation for the slaughter of the shape-shifting Others.

One of those places is Bennett, a town at the northern end of the Elder Hills—a town surrounded by the wild country. Now efforts are being made to resettle Bennett as a community where humans and Others live and work together. A young female police officer has been hired as the deputy to a Wolfgard sheriff. A deadly type of Other wants to run a human-style saloon. And a couple with four foster children—one of whom is a blood prophet—hope to find acceptance.

But as they reopen the stores and the professional offices and start to make lives for themselves, the town of Bennett attracts the attention of other humans looking for profit. And the arrival of the Blackstone Clan, outlaws and gamblers all, will uncover secrets…or bury them.

My Review:

Having read the rest of the series, I’m still trying to figure out exactly where Bennett is in relation to the world we know. Lakeside is probably Buffalo NY. Lake Silence takes place in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, and I think that Hubbney is either Syracuse, Oneida, Utica or Schenectady NY. We don’t actually see maps.

Bennett is in the upper Midwest Region in this world, so it could be any small town. It’s certainly not Chicago, because that’s Shikago.

But the problem of where things are relative to where they are in our world is starting to feel relevant. Or, more to the point, the ways in which the World of the Others does and doesn’t match our world keeps getting both more interesting and more troubling at the same time.

One of the things that makes this world so interesting is the way that human nature really isn’t any damn different in spite of all of the different ways that this world developed than our own. At the same time, that’s also one of the issues that keeps tripping me up.

I can accept that human beings would be just as self-centered as individuals in this alternate of our own history, and would also have just as short of a collective memory as they clearly do in this series. That really, really short collective memory is the thing that keeps getting them in trouble, over and over and over.

But this is a world where humanity did not evolve as the apex predator. The Others, especially the Elders of the Others, are the apex predators, and always, always have been. There is also a well-known long history of those Elders slapping humanity back into the Stone Age whenever they stop taking care of the planet and forget that they are not the ones in charge of this world.

The part of me that loves science fiction is becoming increasingly perturbed by this. If humanity is not the apex species, wouldn’t it have evolved differently? That the human race in this story is so much like us in spite of the differences is part of what draws readers into the story, but it’s also starting to make less and less sense overall.

YMMV

The story in Wild Country takes place simultaneously with the events of Etched in Bone. I don’t think you have to have read that in order to get into this one, however. The story in Wild Country is the story of a group of humans and terra indigene (The Others) starting over in the abandoned town of Bennett, somewhere in the upper Midwest.

The terra indigene are there to see if they can control a town that will mostly be populated by humans. It’s an experiment. It’s also a favor to their allies in the nearby Intuit town of Prairie Gold.

The humans who are drawn to the place are either there to make a fresh start, or are there because this empty little village at the edge of nowhere provides them with an opportunity that does not exist in the settled places that remain after events in Marked in Flesh, where the Elders got tired of the neo-Nazi shenanigans of the Humans First and Last Movement and simply decimated the human population. Again.

And there are a few who think they can take advantage of the unsettled conditions that exist at the margins of every human frontier – forgetting entirely that the humans are not in charge and never will be.

And that the Elders cannot be conned.

Escape Rating B: I couldn’t resist reading this book as soon as I received the eARC, in spite of not being able to post the review for two months. So far, every book in this series has been like reading crack, once I start I can’t stop until I finish.

The narcotic seems to be wearing off.

I still enjoyed this book, but it didn’t grab me the way the previous books have. It also didn’t hold me the way that the previous ones did. It turned out to be interesting but not compelling.

I think part of the problem was that there isn’t really a central character. Or there are too many characters contending for the position. It felt like we’re supposed to see either Tolya Sanguinati, Virgil Wolfgard or human police officer Jana Paniccia as the POV, but perspective seems to pass around a bit too much for it to work completely and there are too many others, like Jesse Walker vying for a position. Just as we start to get invested in one character we’re on the move to another.

One of the reasons that Lake Silence worked so well is that it did focus on a singular, sympathetic character. That’s missing here.

I found the whole setting up of the town to be complex, intricate and downright fascinating, but I also seem to be on a kick where complicated political stories are really working for me at the moment. There is a LOT of minutiae involved (driving Tolya Sanguinati bananas) and it doesn’t exactly make for a fast read. Interesting, but not quick.

And then there’s the Blackstone Clan invasion, along with the knot wrapped around one of the few family members to escape them. Abigail has been hiding in plain sight in Prairie Gold, but moving to Bennett has exposed all of her secrets just at the point where her nightmare of a family comes back into her life.

The invasion of the Blackstones provides a lot of danger and dramatic tension at the climax of the story, but their kind of evil didn’t feel like it fit into this world. Or possibly it’s that Abigail’s particular talent didn’t feel as well-thought-out as the other human talents we have seen.

All in all, an interesting outing in the series that kept me entertained but didn’t live up to its predecessors. Which doesn’t mean that I won’t be back for any future forays into The World of the Others – because I certainly will.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-3-19

Sunday Post

Once upon a time I read somewhere that if you have the opportunity to see a band you’ve always wanted to see, you should take that opportunity and go. So we’re going to see Fleetwood Mac tonight. Hopefully Galen has prepared himself for another singalong!

It’s March already, which is hard to believe. Has it come in like a lion where you are, or a lamb? I think we got the lamb. A fairly damp lamb (say that 3 times fast) but a lamb just the same. It’s spring here and a few things are blooming. I’m looking forward to the leaves filling in the trees in the backyard. It’s interesting to see the neighbors’ houses on the other side of the creek, but I prefer the tree canopy!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop is Gaby
The winner of the February of Books Giveaway Hop is Laura

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: California Girls by Susan Mallery
C Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
A Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long
A+ Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (329)

Coming This Week:

Wild Country by Anne Bishop (review)
Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford (review)
Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra (review)
Hunting Game by Helene Tursten (review)
If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo (review)