Stacking the Shelves (313)

Stacking the Shelves

There’s a very tiny kitten trying to eat my ear as a type this. It’s very distracting – alternately ticklish and painful. I had to put her back in her playpen when she nearly succeeding in giving my ear another piercing.

It’s cold and rainy here in Atlanta, so it’s a lovely weekend for reading. And I have plenty of new stuff to choose from!

For Review:
Apollo to the Moon by Teasel E. Muir-Harmony
Cast in Oblivion (Chronicles of Elantra #14) by Michelle Sagara
Christmas Camp Wedding by Karen Schaler
Do You have Kids?: Life when the Answer is No by Kate Kaufmann
Mission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik

Purchased from Amazon:
Blackmark (Kingsmen Chronicles #1) by Jean Lowe Carlson
Bloodmark (Kingsmen Chronicles #2) by Jean Lowe Carlson
Debris & Detritus, the Lesser Greek Gods Running Amok by Patricia Burroughs (Editor), Rhonda Eudaly (Foreward), Max Adams, Toni McGee Causey, Mark Finn, Claire M Johnson, Jeanne Lyet Gassman, Michelle Muenzler , Robin D. Owens, Irene Radford, ChandaElaine Spurlock, Weyodi Squid, Beth Teliho, Antioch Grey, M.J. Butler
Goldenmark (Kingsmen Chronicles #3) by Jean Lowe Carlson
In the Stacks by Scott Lynch
Script of the Heart (Celta’s Heartmates #15) by Robin D. Owens
Unfettered by Shawn Speakman (Editor), Terry Brooks, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Jacqueline Carey, Tad Williams, R.A. Salvatore, Naomi Novik, Geno Salvatore, Peter V. Brett, Daniel Abraham, Lev Grossman, David Anthony Durham, Peter Orullian, Blake Charlton, Michael J. Sullivan, Eldon Thompson, Robert V.S. Redick, Carrie Vaughn, Kevin Hearne, Jennifer Bosworth, Todd Lockwood, Mark Lawrence
Unfettered II by Shawn Speakman (Editor), Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Michael J. Sullivan, Janny Wurts, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Mark Lawrence, Seanan McGuire , Peter Orullian, Aidan Moher, Erin Lindsey, John A. Pitts, Anthony Ryan, Scott Sigler, Django Wexler, Rachel Caine, Sarah Beth Durst, David Farland, Terry Brooks
Unfettered III by Shawn Speakman (Editor), Tad Williams, Naomi Novik, Megan Lindholm, John Gwynne, David Anthony Durham, Katherine Arden, Callie Bates , Jason Denzel, Carrie Vaughn, Deborah A. Wolf, Anna Stephens, Patrick Swenson, Ramon Terrell, Peter Orullian, Terry Brooks, Lev Grossman, Seanan McGuire, Delilah S. Dawson, Mark Lawrence (preorder)

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery

Review: Why Not Tonight by Susan MalleryWhy Not Tonight (Happily Inc., #3) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #3
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on September 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Susan Mallery welcomes you to Happily Inc, where true love isn’t just for fairy tales…

Natalie Kaleta will do anything for the artists at her gallery, including risk life, limb and the effect of humidity on her naturally curly hair. Braving a downpour to check on reclusive Ronan Mitchell, Natalie gets stranded by a mudslide at his mountain home, where the brooding glass artist reveals his playful side, sending her inconvenient crush from under-the-radar to over-the-top.

After a secret tore apart his family and made him question his sense of self, Ronan fled his hometown for Happily Inc, but the sunny small town can’t fix his damaged heart. He won’t give in to his attraction for beautiful, perpetually cheerful Natalie. She’s untouched by darkness—or so he thinks.

Natalie knows that when a heart goes through the flame, it comes out stronger. Life may not be a fairy tale, but sometimes dreams do come true. Why not this one? Why not tonight?

My Review:

Although this story, and the entire Happily Inc. series so far, are definitely contemporary romances, this entry in particular has every bit as much to do with family as it does with romance.

Not that hero Ronan Mitchell doesn’t need his family to find his HEA. Because he’s cut himself off from his brothers and his parents, and without them he can’t seem to find the inspiration he needs – and he does need it. Ronan, just like his brothers Nick and Mathias (and their piece of work father) is an internationally acclaimed artist.

Cutting himself off from the people who care about him – and who he’s currently unwilling to admit that he cares about as well, is also cutting him off from the wellspring that lets him create.

Natalie Kaleta crashes into his solitude and changes, well, everything. For the better. Not that it doesn’t take Ronan a while, a long while, to admit it.

Natalie, the office manager of the gallery where Ronan and his two artistic brothers all display their work, is also an artist herself. And she’s one of those people who cares deeply about the people in her life.

Unlike Ronan, Natalie has no surviving family-of-birth. Her father died before she was born and her mother raised her alone. They were two against the world until her mother died of cancer. But Natalie is not alone, finding herself stranded in Happily Inc. she found herself a job that gives her time to create and created a family-of-choice that sustains her.

She envies Ronan for his close-knit family, and thinks he’s a fool and an idiot for turning his back on them. And she tells him so when she gets stuck in his mountain house during a storm.

He still has a chance to mend fences with his family, fences that he tore down. His struggle is not unreasonable, but his continuing to be a butt-head about it certainly is.

Their forced proximity during the storm gives the sparks between them a chance to rise to the surface, so even though Ronan claims not to want a relationship with anyone, and Natalie is interested in finding commitment, they make a mutual decision to have fun while whatever they have lasts.

When Natalie figures out that she wants more – Ronan does what he does best these days and retreats to his castle, pulling up the figurative drawbridge behind him.

It takes some brotherly intervention to crowbar Ronan’s head out of his ass. But when he finally does, his new perspective lets him figure out what’s been right in front of him all along.

Escape Rating B: I returned to Happily Inc, in order to be taken away to a special little town populated with quirky people, based on an equally quirky PR stunt. There was no wagon train, there were no stranded brides – at least not in the 19th century.

Natalie, however, was a stranded bride in the 21st century – one who decided to make a life for herself in this little wedding destination town. She’s found a family-of-choice and a job that lets her focus on her art.

Ronan, on the other hand, came to Happily Inc. to hide away from his family in Fools’ Gold after a family mess came to light. Ronan’s father, the famous glass artist Ceallach Mitchell, revealed that Ronan was his biological son by someone other than his wife. That means that the four brothers that Ronan believed were his full brothers are only half brothers. That the brother he thought was his fraternal twin isn’t. And that the woman he believed was his mother has been lying to him all these years.

Ronan’s response is to run, hide and brood in Happily Inc. Two of his brothers, Nick and Mathias, follow him there. Their stories are marvelously told in You Say It First (Nick) and Second Chance Girl (Mathias). (As an aside, both of those titles make complete sense in the context of their stories. this one doesn’t and it’s driving me crazy.)

When Natalie gate crashes his solitude, he finally starts to realize that he needs people. She is well aware of it, but his head is too far up his fundament to see the light – figuratively and literally.

For this reader it felt like the romance took a back seat to the family drama – and that felt right. Ronan has to figure out his place in the world again, mend his fences with his family, and most importantly learn to trust himself and others again before he can even like himself enough to love someone else. Even someone has completely awesome and totally right for him as Natalie.

It’s an important part of the story that Natalie doesn’t try to “fix” Ronan, because you can’t really fix someone else’s problems. She does provide him opportunities to fix things for himself, and she does create situations where he can work on fixing things if he wants to try, but she doesn’t mend his fences for him – and she isn’t willing to settle for someone who always has one foot out the door.

And she repeatedly calls him on his bullshit – because it needs to be called.

In the end, Why Not Tonight was a heartwarming story about family, where the romantic happily ever after was the reward for the journey and not the central point of the book. I really like these people and especially this place and can’t wait to go back with Not Quite Over You.

Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate

Review: Midsummer Mayhem by Marty WingateMidsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Potting Shed #7
Pages: 278
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Shakespeare comes to Hampshire—and Pru Parke is cast into the role of cunning detective gardener once again.

Pru’s friends and neighbors are abuzz with the news of an acting troupe putting on an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And while many are eager to catch a glimpse of famed actor Ambrose Grant, Pru can’t wait to finally see the spectacular gardens of the private estate where the play will be performed. When the estate’s gardener abruptly quits—frustrated with actors trampling his beloved plants—Pru is called upon for her gardening expertise. She throws herself into creating magical woodland forest scenes, and is quickly drawn into the excitement of putting on a play, as she watches the drama on and off the stage. But the play’s suddenly no longer the thing, when one of the actors turns up murdered. 

Pru’s husband, Detective Inspector Christopher Pearse, relies on Pru’s knowledge of all the players in this particular intrigue, and Pru finds herself using rehearsals to investigate. But playing the role of private eye could prove perilous for Pru, as she closes in on a murderer who won’t let anyone—least of all the gardener—keep him from stopping the show . . . dead.

My Review:

The title of this one seems like kind of a double-pun to me. First, the mystery takes place during the rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I also have the feeling that Greenoak, where amateur sleuth Pru Parke and her husband, D.I. Christopher Pearse, live, runs just second to the more famous Midsomer County in the number of murders per capita.

The Midsomer connection feels particularly apropos for this entry as one of the more famous members of the Shakespeare troupe has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times. (Truthfully, I suspect that every working actor in Britain has appeared on Midsomer Murders multiple times, whether on the way up, or on the way down. Just as every working New York actor has had multiple appearances in the Law & Order franchise!)

Pru Parke may have been bitten, just a bit, by the acting bug back when she was in school, but she makes her living as one of the estate gardeners at Greenoak, along with her older brother Simon.

Still, that long-ago bit of wishful thinking makes Pru an excellent candidate for set decorator/gardener/general dogsbody for the outdoor Shakespeare production that has taken over the extensive gardens of the closed-up estate next door.

That estate’s regular gardener is a bit of a recluse, and not all that fond of people in general – or actors in particular – and has taken himself off in a huff, leaving the Shakespeare company in the lurch and the estate’s owners in a bit of a pickle.

Pru steps in to fill the breach, with no idea what she’s letting herself in for. Only that one of the stars of the production is an actor that not only her late mother, but every woman of a certain age in town, had a crush on back in the day. (And if Ambrose Grant isn’t intended as an homage to Hugh Grant, I’ll eat a bouquet.)

While Pru is an expert gardener, she is in a bit over her head with the set design, at least until murder enters the scene. When it comes to figuring out whodunit, Pru has become rather expert – a fact that her police detective husband both adores and regrets.

He’s happy that they met in the middle of Pru’s first murder investigation, but always worried when she finds herself in the middle of yet another case.

Because her investigations, as helpful as they usually are, also usually put her right in the middle of the murderer’s path. A path that the murderer is usually determined to clear of all impediments – especially Pru.

Escape Rating B: The Potting Shed mystery series has been fun from Pru’s first outing in The Garden Plot. One of the things that makes this cozy mystery series so enjoyable, at least for this reader, is the character of Pru herself.

The series is Pru’s journey, and it’s been a fascinating one so far. It’s all the more lovely for it being a journey of a woman of a certain age starting her life over at midlife. Pru left behind a successful career in Texas to follow her heart, and to follow her mother’s footsteps back to England.

Along the way, Pru found a new life, fell in love and married, and discovered her long-lost brother. For those of us who are also of a certain age, it is fantastic to have a heroine who represents us, and who exemplifies all of those old cliches about being as young as you feel and that life begins at any age.

The background of this particular case was interesting. Putting on a play, or filming a movie, always makes for a scene rife with over-the-top personalities under high pressure, and provides a backdrop where a disparate group of people congregate to accomplish a goal without necessarily knowing each other.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream itself is a play within a play, and Midsummer Mayhem comes very close to being a play within a play within a play. There are certainly lots of players who know of each other if not actually know each other, lots of pressure, plenty of secrets, several illicit affairs and even long-lost lovers – and that’s just among the cast.

In that hothouse environment, it’s not really a surprise that someone ends up dead. Especially someone who seems to have been an complete ass – and not the kind portrayed by Bottom in the play.

It’s not a question of why the man is dead – it’s more a question of winnowing down the rather long list of suspects. I’ll admit that I guessed whodunit fairly early on. The fun in this particular case was in figuring out whether those two long-lost lovers would manage to figure out that they belonged together after all.

Just as in the play, a good time was had by all – except the murderer and his victim – and in the end, a lovely story is told, both to the audience watching the production and to the readers of Pru’s latest adventure.

Review: Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Review: Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.Imager (Imager Portfolio, #1) by L.E. Modesitt Jr., William Dufris
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Imager Portfolio #1
Pages: 432
Published by Tantor Media on April 13, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L'Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist and is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan—in another two years. Then, in a single moment, his entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire, and Rhenn discovers he is an imager—one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who can visualize things and make them real.

Rhenn is forced to leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle. Because of their abilities (they can do accidental magic even while asleep) and because they are both feared and vulnerable, imagers must live separately from the rest of society. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the "truths" he knew were nothing of the sort. Every day brings a new threat to his life. He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong, and he begins to learn to do magic in secret. Imager is the innovative and enchanting opening of an involving new fantasy story.

My Review:

This was a re-read for me. I first read Imager when it originally came out in 2009 because the cataloger in the next office was cataloging it and said it looked good. He was right. In fact, he was so right that I continued to read the series over the next decade. I finished the current final book in the series, Endgames, last month, and just couldn’t let this world go.

I hope I don’t have to, but the jury is still out on that.

The Imager Portfolio was written in a different order than the events take place in the created world of Terahnar. In the internal chronology, Scholar is first and Imager’s Intrigue is last. As the stories were written, Imager is first and Endgames is last. The internal chronology has the events of the, let’s call it the Quaeryt Quintet, first, the Alastar/Charyn Quartet second and the Rhenn Trilogy third – even though Rhenn’s story was the first one written.

I found myself really curious to see if the circle closed, if the events that occurred in Quaeryt’s, Alastar’s and Charyn’s stories actually led to the situation that Rhenn finds himself in at the beginning of Imager.

Also I remembered the original trilogy as a damn good story, and wondered if that would be true on a re-read. Actually a re-listen, as this time I got the unabridged audio.

There are themes that occur in all three of the subseries. I remembered Rhenn as a young man who had already planned his life, and was executing that plan, when fate intervened and he discovered that he had imaging talent.

I’ve invoked Rhenn’s memory often over the years, because his story is an interesting variation on the coming-of-age theme that so often permeates epic fantasy. Neither Rhenn, nor the author’s other heroes in this series, come of age during their stories. They are already adults, albeit generally in their 20s.

Instead, these are coming-into-power stories, where the protagonists have to adjust life plans that they have not only already made but have already begun working towards. They find themselves in unanticipated situations and things go sideways. They have to adjust and change to survive.

Or they won’t.

Within the opening chapters of Imager, I was both pleased to learn that the earlier history of Terahnar, and the country of Solidar, was anticipated from the beginning. Rhenn tours the Council Chateau with his father, and sees portraits of both Rex Regis, the man who becomes Rex in the Quaeryt Quintet, and Rex Defou, the Rex who is overthrown in Madness in Solidar. He also eyes a bust of Rex Charyn, the last Rex, whose exploits are completed in Endgames.

I’ll admit this worries me a lot about the possibility for further crises in the history of this place to be explored. Because the circle does seem to close and the loose ends do seem to get wrapped up.

I can still hope.

On re-listening to the story, I discovered that while I had lost most of the details of the story over the years, the outline was still clear. And still wonderful to read – or have read to me.

While at times Rhenn feels a bit too good to be true, he is also an intelligent and likeable hero. We do see more of his early years than I remembered, but the story really kicks into high gear when Rhenn is in his mid-20s, at the point where he is forced to give up his dreams of becoming a master portraturist and crosses the Bridge of Hopes to Imagisle.

From there, the story is off to the races, almost surprisingly so for a story that goes into a great deal of detail about Rhenn’s training as an imager. If you enjoy books that cover intensive training periods, this one is a treat.

Because Rhenn is not just learning to become an imager, he’s learning to become a spy and assassin and whatever else the College of Imagers needs him to become to keep the College, and the country of Solidar that defends it and that it defends, safe.

If he can manage to survive all the assassination attempts on his own life, that is.

Escape Rating A: This was as good as I remembered it. The story spends a bit more time than I recalled on Rhenn’s early years as a journeyman portraturist, which are necessary but not nearly as interesting (or potentially deadly) as his life rising through the imager ranks while trying not to end up dead.

One of the themes that has carried forward through the entire series is just how important the female characters are to the survival and success of the male protagonist. Seliora, like the life-partners of the heroes of the other stories, is Rhenn’s equal – and he recognizes that.

On the flip side, one of the things that grates more than I remembered is the negative attitude that Rhenn’s mother in particular displays towards everyone of Pharsi origin, like Seliora. Her constant stream of prejudice wears on the reader’s ears every bit as much as it does Rhenn’s.

Scholar by L. E. Modesitt Jr.As much as I wanted to slap his mother silly, it’s Rhenn’s story that I came to see. Or rather hear. It does feel like it fits in its proper place in this history, and follows very well after finishing Endgames.

Anyone who loves epic fantasy and has not indulged in the Imager Portfolio could happily start here, as I did in 2009. Scholar would make an equally fine start, at the beginning of the internal history.

Wherever you begin, there’s a LOT to love in this series, If you have not yet begun, I envy you the journey.

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1) by Charlaine Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, urban fantasy, Western
Series: Gunnie Rose #1
Pages: 336
Published by Pocket Books on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, and the Midnight Crossroad trilogy adapted for NBC’s Midnight, Texas, has written a taut new thriller—the first in the Gunnie Rose series—centered on a young gunslinging mercenary, Lizbeth Rose.

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life.

As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression, they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.

My Review:

There was a Red Dead Redemption soundtrack playing through the house this weekend as I was reading An Easy Death. And while Red Dead Redemption isn’t exactly the weird West that the book portrays, those homages to old-school Western TV music certainly created the right mood.

This first book in the Gunnie Rose series takes place in a dystopian, post-Apocalyptic alternate history weird, wild West. Yes, that’s kind of a mouthful. But it all fits.

The Apocalypse that this book is post of was definitely a turning point in history. As it would have been. First, the Great Depression happened. As it did. Second, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his first term as President in 1932. So far, so good.

But that’s where history goes off the rails. Everything up until 1932 happened the way it happened in our history – with one notable exception. The Romanovs, the Russian Imperial family, managed to escape the 1917 Revolution. Or, at least the Tsarevich and his sisters did, eventually settling in California at the invitation of the Hearst family.

However, in 1932, history goes completely off the rails when FDR is assassinated before he can take office. Then another influenza epidemic carries off his vice-president. And the U.S. fractures into pieces.

In the ensuing economic chaos, most of the original 13 colonies petition Britain to take them back. Canada and Mexico gobble up nearby territory. And the Romanovs establish the Holy Russian Empire in California.

Some places strike out on their own, like Gunnie Rose’s own Texoma, a semi-lawful (and semi-lawless) amalgam of Texas and Oklahoma sandwiched between Mexico and New America.

That’s where our story begins. Gunnie Rose is a member of a mercenary company that takes refugees from Mexico to New America. Mexico is throwing the gringos out. (Sound twistedly familiar?)

When her entire company is killed on a run gone wrong, Gunnie rescues the human cargo, takes the survivors to their original destination, and avenges her dead friends. Now she’s out of work.

And that’s where things get really, really interesting.

Two Russians show up on her doorstep, wanting to hire her for a manhunt. They’re looking for the last known descendant of Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. They need his blood to keep the Tsar alive.

Rasputin, after all, really did have a treatment for the Romanov family curse – hemophilia. The Russians in this story know that cure was in his blood, just as the curse was in the Tsar’s blood.

What they don’t know is that the man they are hunting is dead – because Gunnie Rose killed him. And that he was her father. That’s not the first lie of either commission or omission that the Gunnie tells her new clients, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Escape Rating A-: This is a fantastic setup for a series. There’s so much that has gone wrong, and the way that the wrongness has taken hold makes so much sense. It reminds me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – not for the steampunk, but for its focus on its kickass heroine, and for the way that its alternative history proceeds logically from its massive fork in the historical road.

The story has a “perils of Pauline” aspect, in that the gunnie is always jumping out of the frying pan and into yet another fire. The journey she undertakes is fraught with danger, some that she anticipates and some she can’t – because her employers are keeping just as many secrets from her as she is from them – and theirs are more dangerous.

But the “life and death on the road” aspects of the story allow the reader to become immersed slowly rather than have the entire misshapen history shoved at us at once. Gunnie and her employers are from different countries and different stations of life, so the things that they expect are vastly different than the ones that she does. That’s why they’ve hired her, because she is the expert on the things and places that they need to visit.

Admittedly, it also seems like Gunnie has way more common sense than they do. Life among the upper crust does not prepare one for dealing with common folks, especially common folks that are rightfully scared of you – if they don’t think you’re the devil incarnate.

There is magic in this world, and Gunnie’s employers are Russian wizards, whom most people outside the HRE (Holy Russian Empire) call “grigoris”. Grigoris are feared and hated, because they can do fearful and dangerous things, as well as powerful and healing things.

This is a world that I could talk about forever, because the way that history has forked and the results of the fork are endlessly fascinating. The more you read, the more you get sucked into this world, just as Gunnie gets sucked into her employers’ quest.

When the story ends, we readers feel just as “spit out” of the world as Gunnie does from the grigoris plots and counterplots. And we’re just as eager to get back in.

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Pages: 160
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.

My Review:

Although Nevada and Rogan’s wedding is the setting – or the excuse – for this story, this is definitely NOT Nevada’s story, unlike the rest of the Hidden Legacy series so far.

This is Nevada’s sister Catalina’s story, which makes this novella a kind of bridge book in the series, as the focus switches from Nevada, who has found her happy ever after with Connor Rogan. Future books need to feature other characters, and it looks like we’re going to be treated to watch every member of the Baylor family come into their own and find their HEA, starting with Catalina.

The setup of this variation on our world began in the awesome Burn for Me. Diamond Fire is not meant to be read as a standalone, it is an integral part of the series and I think that too much is left to previous knowledge. After all, why would you care about Nevada and Rogan if you hadn’t watched their struggle?

Also, the house rivalries, politics and downright internecine warfare probably only make sense if you start at the beginning. This series is so awesome that it is no hardship whatsoever.

But this is Catalina’s story through and through, and it is not a romance. I think there’s going to be one on the horizon for her, eventually, but Catalina has to learn to love herself and accept her gift before she can manage to love anyone else.

That’s more true for her than most, because Catalina’s gift is love. Not real love, but obsessive love. Love-potion-type-love along with stalker-level obsession. Their world doesn’t have a name for her gift, but we’d call her a siren. When she lets her gift loose, anyone she focuses on is compelled to love her to the exclusion of all else.

Which means that Catalina is never sure whether someone likes her for herself, or because she wanted them to. The only people who seem to be immune are her family – but then, they love her anyway.

The story in Diamond Fire is all about Catalina protecting her sister from too many distractions while she’s playing bridezilla (just a bit) and to keep Nevada from using her invasive gift, truthseeking, to break the minds of her in-laws in order to find out just who wants to sabotage her wedding.

Instead, it’s up to Catalina to not just follow the more mundane clues, but to convince whoever those clues lead to to tell her everything she needs to know – by whatever means necessary – and whether she wants to know or not.

Catalina’s afraid that she’ll end up with a trail of mindless love slaves following her around – and that she’ll like it that way. But she’ll do anything for Nevada – no matter what dark places it leads her to.

There might even be something shiny and sparkly at the end.

Escape Rating B+: This is short, and in the end sweet – but not without plenty of interesting angst in the middle.

It is not a starting point for this series – so start with Burn for Me. Or wait for the first book in the Catalina trilogy that’s coming out in 2019. Just don’t start here. The world of the Primes, while it bears a superficial resemblance to our 21st century, certainly has some hidden depths that are not explained in this novella.

Instead, this one falls much more on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy divide. Catalina is the amateur detective, and she has a case to solve. Someone stole the heirloom tiara that Nevada is supposed to wear down the aisle at her wedding. The tiara isn’t worth much – relatively for this uber-rich family – but it is important. Also well-known, so it’s not an item that can be fenced.

It seems like the only people who would have any motive for the theft are Nevada’s in-laws. Because of their psychic powers, they are also the only people who could have done it. And they are all in attendance for the wedding – however resentfully or reluctantly.

So Catalina has to do what detectives do, sort through all of the possible suspects, suss out their possible motives, and eventually figure out whodunit – not that the result isn’t a complete surprise. And not that she doesn’t uncover a whole lot of other crap that the family wishes had remained unknown. But that’s what House Baylor Investigations has always done – discover the truth – even when it hurts.

But the point of the story is on Catalina coming out of Nevada’s very tall (metaphorically speaking) shadow. And it’s the making of her. She learns that she can trust herself, and that’s one of the hardest lessons of all.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

To celebrate the release of DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews, we’re giving away one paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2Nnhq6v

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/12/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-4-18

Sunday Post

Did you remember to set your clocks back? Did they all do it for you automagically? I just realized that my bedside clock is only semi-automagic – I have to sync it with my iPhone to get it to automatically reset itself. No wonder I feel like I got enough sleep!

If you live in the US and have not voted yet, don’t forget that this Tuesday, November 6, is Election Day. As a reminder to vote, and that your vote does count, I leave you with the immortal words of Lazarus Long, as promulgated by the late and often great SF writer Robert A. Heinlein:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There
may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for
… but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against.
In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you rarely go
wrong.

If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning
fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then
vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if
such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of
time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

Current Giveaways:

Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the November of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the October of Books Giveaway Hop is Patricia
The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is Lauren B.

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
B+ Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway
B+ Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green
November of Books Giveaway Hop
B Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Stacking the Shelves (312)

Coming This Week:

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews (blog tour review)
Midsummer Mayhem by Marty Wingate (review)
An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (review)
Want Me, Cowboy by Maisey Yates (review)
Why Not Tonight by Susan Mallery (review)

Stacking the Shelves (312)

Stacking the Shelves

OK, I know this shelf stack has a certain theme to it. Probably in celebration of the thirteenth and final book of the series coming out in January, the ENTIRE Charley Davidson series popped up on NetGalley this week. Since this is one of those series that has been recommended to me multiple times, I couldn’t resist the impulse to “collect the set” and started reading right away. Not that I’ll be caught up by January, but I’ll make at least a little dent.

So far, I do understand exactly why all the recommendations over the years. It’s a fun read!

For Review:
The Curse of Tenth Grave (Charley Davidson #10) by Darynda Jones
The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson #9) by Darynda Jones
Eighth Grave After Dark (Charley Davidson #8) by Darynda Jones
Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones
Fifth Grave Past the Light (Charley Davidson #5) by Darynda Jones
First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1) by Darynda Jones (review)
Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (Charley Davidson #4) by Darynda Jones
Second Grave on the Left (Charley Davidson #2) by Darynda Jones
Seventh Grave and No Body (Charley Davidson #7) by Darynda Jones
Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson #6) by Darynda Jones
Summoned to Thirteenth Grave (Charley Davidson #13) by Darynda Jones
Third Grave Dead Ahead (Charley Davidson #3) by Darynda Jones
The Trouble with Twelfth Grave (Charley Davidson #12) by Darynda Jones

Borrowed from the Library:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) by Darynda Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Pages: 310
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.Or a diagram of some kind.A flow chart would have been nice.

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she's been having about an entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can't she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?

With scorching-hot tension and high-octane humor, First Grave on the Right is your signpost to paranormal suspense of the highest order.

My Review:

This was a temptation I just couldn’t resist, in more ways than one.

The Charley Davidson series has been recommended to me multiple times, but I tend to have an approach/avoidance thing with books that too many people try to get me to read. Not that they’re not usually right, but sometimes I just don’t want to follow the crowd, or at least not right away.

But the thirteenth and final book in this series Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, is coming out in January. So I don’t think it’s exactly a coincidence that the publisher put the WHOLE SERIES up on NetGalley this week, hoping to generate some pre-finale buzz.

It worked for me. I can never resist “collecting the set” so here I am, fresh from finishing First Grave on the Right. And now I know what all the fuss was about.

Charley Davidson is a Grim Reaper. Actually she’s THE Grim Reaper, or at least the current incarnation thereof. It’s not just that she sees dead people, but that her job is to help them figure out why they haven’t crossed over, help them take care of their unfinished business, then lead them towards the light. Which happens to be, well, herself.

She sees dead people, and dead people see her as that light they’re supposed to go to. They pass through her on their way to heaven. As long as she manages to stay out of there herself.

Which doesn’t seem to be easy. Charley has a knack for getting herself into not just trouble, but downright dangerous trouble. Because she doesn’t just see dead people, she also interviews them for her Uncle Bob the police detective. His closure rate for homicides is off the charts – just like her dad’s was before him. (Don’t worry, Dad merely retired. Charley still sees him the usual way.)

In addition to helping both the cops and the dead people, Charley is also a private investigator. While that helps to give her a cover explanation for why the Albuquerque PD uses her as a consultant, she also has a dangerous sideline – she helps abused women get away from their abusers – some of whom go after her.

The case in Charley’s first recorded outing is a real doozy. Three lawyers appear in her office, all dead. All partners. All shot the same night. While some might call that a coincidence, and considering all the jokes about lawyers, some might call it a “good start”, Charley knows instantly that this bunch has unfinished business.

They need to see justice done in their multiple murders. And they need to get an innocent man off of death row. That their need for justice turns out to involve taking down the kingpin of a human trafficking ring is all in Charley’s day’s work.

That she has either a supernatural or extra-dimensional stalker who is invading her dreams and her waking life with irresistible sexual magnetism is either icing on Charley’s cake, or the beginning of her worst nightmare.

Or, with Charley’s luck, both.

Escape Rating B: There is a lot to love about this series opener. So far, at least, the Charley Davidson series sits right on that borderline between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Charley’s cases, for the most part, fall into urban fantasy. She not only sees and talks to dead people, but she uses their help to solve her cases, which also involve dead people. Sometimes they are the dead people, and sometimes they become the dead people.

There’s also a “romantic” element, for certain definitions of romance. I have to admit that this was where things didn’t quite work for me. This grim reaper has an equally grim stalker who has been intervening in Charley’s life on a regular basis – whenever she’s been in really, really, really big trouble. I repeat the really to emphasize that this being only shows up when Charley is in imminent danger of becoming her own client – because Charley seems to be in some kind of trouble all the time.

Because her stalker has amped up his “game”, he’s been showing up in Charley’s dreams and her waking life for the past month, taunting her with hints that he knows more about her past than she realizes, and ramping her libido up to the max just by appearing in the vicinity.

It’s not working as romance for me. I enjoy watching the chase, and this feels all about the catch. And the identity of her “mystery being” went a bit over the top. At least for moi. He felt more stalkerish than romantic.

Thjs may not have been helped by my sense that all of the men in this story are either Charley’s relatives or dead or douchecanoes, and sometimes two out of three. The ONLY good guys seem to be her Dad and her Uncle. While some of the terrible behavior can be attributed more to their reaction to Charley’s grim sideline than to simply her female existence, it would still have felt more balanced to me if at least some of the men were decent eggs.

None of this detracted from the book being terrifically fun to read. Charley is a very likeable character, particularly if you like your snark-o-meter set to high, which I do. I not only love the t-shirt quotes that serve as chapter openers, I know where nearly all of them come from!

The mystery that Charley needs to solve is as twisted and convoluted as anyone could wish. Her methods of combining info from her dead clients with standard PI techniques both ground the series in the real and give it the right touch of woowoo to put it firmly in urban fantasy territory.

But speaking of woowoo, this book reminded me of a couple of other paranormal-ish/urban fantasy-type series, and not the ones that people usually mention. While this series does have some of the madcap elements of Stephanie Plum, Charley seems to be way more competent than Stephanie, who was always much more lucky than good. Charley is both lucky and good, and that seems more reasonable over a long (13 book) haul. Stephanie is so hapless that she should be dead ten times over by now. Charley’s enemies are darker and deadlier, but Charley seems to have a better grasp on what she’s supposed to be doing – not that she still wouldn’t like an instruction manual.

Instead, what this series reminds me of most is the Anita Blake series – only the first few books before it got to be all about notching Anita’s bedpost as often as possible. Once upon a time, Anita was a kick-ass urban fantasy heroine who solved cases and righteously put bad guys away – or underground. Charley has some of that part of Anita in her. But this series also reminds me of Karen Robards’ Dr. Charlotte Stone series (start with The Last Victim), where her much-damaged psychologist not only sees dead people, but falls in love with one. Charlie Stone and Charley Davidson would have a lot to talk about.

I’ll be back with Second Grave on the Left the next time the mood strikes!

November of Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the November Of Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by It Starts at Midnight and Flylef!

The question, this month and every month, is what book or books are you most looking forward to this month?

Because of the publishing seasons, November is never as big a month as October, and December usually doesn’t have much at all. In theory, this gives me a chance to get make a tiny dent in the towering TBR pile, but the reality is that I just buy more books and/or get more books that aren’t due out for MONTHS!

Not that I don’t have at least a couple of books that I’ve just been dying for pretty much every month!

This month there are three, and they are all due out the same day, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Meaning I’ll have plenty of time to read them over the long Thanksgiving weekend – if I manage to resist temptation that long.

What are they?

First there’s Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny, the 14th book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. If you like psychological mysteries, combined with a bit of police procedural and featuring a fascinating cast of regulars, this series is a gem. The first book, the one I pretty much throw at everyone who even hints that they like mystery, is Still Life.

The second book is The Mortal Word, the 5th book in the awesome Invisible Library series. Of course I LOVE this series. But it’s not so much about the library as it is the librarian, Irene Adler, her over-the-top adventures and her finally recognized love affair with her supposed assistant, who is a DRAGON!

Last but certainly not least, the 5th book in Mary Balogh’s absolutely lovely Westcott series, titled Someone to Trust. Considering that this entire series begins in Someone to Love when it is discovered that a dead bastard in the metaphorical sense (the bastardy is metaphorical, the death is not) left all of his children bastards in the legal sense, this series has gone some very interesting places and had marvelously heartwarming stories. And the late Humphrey Westcott is still a bastard.

There are also two books that I admit I got for the titles; They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner and An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. Although completely different in genre, they both look like fun!

What about you? What book or books are you most looking forward to this month? Answer the question in the rafflecopter for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more terrific bookish prizes be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!