Review: Free Space by Sean Danker + Giveaway

Review: Free Space by Sean Danker + GiveawayFree Space (Evagardian #2) by Sean Danker
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Evagardian #2
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the follow-up to Admiral, the intergalactic war has ended and hostilities between the Evagardian Empire and the Commonwealth are officially over, but the admiral is far from safe. . . .
"I'd impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn't have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.
However, some corners of the galaxy aren't as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren't universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.
Their timing couldn't have been worse. I'm not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they're dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date."

My Review:

What kind of story do you get when a completely unreliable narrator attempts to be at least semi-reliable? And when the rest of the story is from the perspective of someone who always plays it straight but in this case just doesn’t know what part or game she is playing?

It makes for one hell of a wild and crazy ride, in some ways even crazier than the ride in the first book in this series, Admiral.

We still don’t know the man’s real name. We know that he spent quite a few years pretending to be Prince Dalton of the Ganraen Empire. We know that he used to be an Evagardian Imperial Agent, and that now he is on the run from everyone on all sides. The Ganraens would execute him as a traitor. The Empire just wants to clean up their very loose end.

Whoever he is, he wants to live. But first, he wants one last chance with Jessica Salmagard, one of the three cadets he both bamboozled and helped rescue in Admiral.

But like so many of his plans, this one goes very, VERY “gang aft aglee”. Because the Admiral and Jessica get themselves kidnapped. By accident.

And that’s where all the fun and adventure really begins.

The story is one of those “out of the frying pan into the fire” and then into the oven and then into the blast furnace kinds of things. Events are always on the brink of disaster, it’s just that the disaster they are on the brink of gets bigger and bigger as they go along.

Until the disaster is so big that the only thing bigger is a black hole. And look, there one is, right on the event horizon!

And we’re left wondering who exactly ended up saving whom in this insane adventure. Not to mention, we still don’t know who the Admiral really is. And neither does Jessica. Possibly at this point neither does the Admiral himself.

We’re all left hoping that someday we’ll find out. If the Admiral can manage to escape, yet again, from whomever has captured him. This time.

Escape Rating A-: At the start of this book, there’s a brief portion where events seemed to take a bit to get going. And it takes the reader a bit to catch themselves back up on previous events. So much of Admiral was kind of a locked room (or locked ship) mystery, and it happened so much in isolation that we don’t get much of a handle on events in this universe.

And just like in Admiral, we pretty much get dropped into the middle of the story yet again.

But once this thing takes flight, meaning once they get kidnapped, the ever escalating sequence of perils keeps the reader hanging on tight until the very end.

Unlike in Admiral, the narrative here is split between the Admiral and Jessica Salmagard. The Admiral is a completely unreliable narrator. He never reveals what he’s thinking, what he’s doing, or who he is. He embodies the idea of wheels within wheels within wheels. He’s always playing a part. But in this book we start to get the sense that even he is no longer certain exactly what part he is playing.

But very early on in the story the Admiral and Salmagard are separated. This leaves part of the story tied to her separate actions and events. Unlike the Admiral himself, we don’t see Jessica’s story from inside her head, but rather in an omniscient third-person. We really don’t need to see inside her head, because she is much more of “what you see is what you get” kind of person. She’s mostly straightforward in her actions, even if she is starting to wonder about a whole lot of the things she’s been taught to believe.

The universe, and the people in it, do not conform to the simple stereotypes that she was trained to expect. The experience for her is both unsettling and eye-opening, often at the same time.

One of the great things about the way that Free Space progresses is that the separation works to throw some of the usual expectations on their heads.

Once they are separated, it’s Salmagard and another female soldier who break themselves out of captivity, shoot up a couple of space stations, steal a ship, and generally commit all the mayhem and badassery that is usually reserved for the male protagonists in this kind of story. The two women become the rescuers, and the Admiral and a male soldier kidnapped with them become the rescuees.

Also, it’s the men who suffer from the comedy of errors, falling from one bad situation to an even worse one, tied up, gagged and often drugged through the entire mess as they descend through what feels like, instead of a descent through the seven circles of hell, a descent through the seven circles of illegal intergalactic human trafficking as perpetrated by a pair of unprepared idiots.

This is an adventure where not only does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing, but all the participants are either incapacitated, incompetent, or just plain lying every step of the way. Including the hero and heroine.

At the end, we’re left gasping, wondering if this was a real rescue, or just a setup for even more (and probably worse) yet to come.

In the next book. May it be soon.

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

I really enjoyed Free Space (and Admiral) so I am very pleased that the publisher is letting me give away one copy of Free Space to a lucky US/Canadian commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Hell Squad: Theron by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Theron by Anna HackettTheron (Hell Squad #12) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #12
Pages: 223
Published by Anna Hackett on April 30th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Squad mates, best friends, and fighting to survive in the middle of an alien invasion. Can she make one stubborn alpha male soldier see her as something else?

Sienna Rossi has always been a mix of contradictions. She loves ice cream, likes cooking, and is skilled at taking down aliens with her squad. Sweet and tough, soldier and woman, most people can't seem to make sense of her...even the loving family she lost in the invasion and especially men. One man accepts her as she is, her best friend Theron. But the big, silent, muscled soldier has her firmly in the 'friends' zone...except that Sienna knows he wants her, and she's determined to claim the stubborn man as hers.

Theron Wade lives to fight aliens. They killed his parents, his foster siblings, and his fellow Rangers. Now he has a new team--the tough, mostly-female Squad Nine. But one certain female haunts his dreams and stars in his darkest fantasies. Sienna is his sunshine in the darkness. He wants to her to be happy...and he knows that would never be with a man like him. A man with darker, rougher tastes that would shock her.

As Squad Nine works to track and destroy a dangerous alien device, best friends collide. Theron introduces Sienna to a world of rough, edgy passion that she craves. But as a mission goes off track, the two of them will risk everything for love, for their lives, and to save the world.

My Review:

I absolutely adore this series. I open each entry with the sure and certain knowledge that I’m in for a good time. But I think it’s time for the series to end.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a rip-roaring good time with Theron and Sienna, because I most certainly did.

The Hell Squad series, which begins with a roar and a bang and a whole lot of gunfire in Marcus, is post-apocalyptic science fiction romance. The apocalypse that these events are post of is the invasion of the alien Gizzida and their ongoing attempt to bomb Earth back to the Stone Age while capturing and converting as many humans as possible into Gizzida.

Think Borg, but with more individual free will. Which often translates to even more cruelty and ambition, and even less conscience. And I never thought I’d say that anything had less conscience than the Borg. But individual Borg aren’t aware of the horror of their actions, and individual Gizzida are.

Each story in this series pushes the human agenda of getting the Gizzida off our planet just a tiny bit further, while featuring a romance between two of the many characters who are fighting back against the invaders with everything they have.

In Theron, the alien invasion part of the story revolves around a daring raid on the Australian Gizzida headquarters, with the first order of business to destroy the alien mind control device they are building, and the second order to investigate the rumored superweapon that the Gizzida are developing. The scary thing is that the giant mind control weapon is not the superweapon.

The romance is between Theron and Sienna, two members of Squad Nine. The Squads are the military arm of the resistance, and Theron and Sienna are two of their best. They are also partners in the squad, best friends, and always have each other’s backs in a fight.

And they not-so-secretly want to bang each other’s brains out. I’d say they were also secretly in love with each other, but part of the secret is that neither of them is willing to explore those feelings. They are both suffering from a whole lot of survivor’s’ guilt like pretty much everyone in the Enclave, and they are rightfully afraid that attempting to be anything more to each other will mess up their friendship.

There’s a betting pool on whether and when they will finally give in to each other. Can someone manage to win the pot before it’s too late for them all?

Escape Rating B+: I enjoy each outing in this series, but I can kind of see the patterns coming. Theron and Sienna’s story is a combination of the romances in Marcus and Shaw. Marcus thinks he’s too big and bad-assed for former society princess Elle, and Shaw and Frost are squad partners and friends who are afraid to mess up what they already have for something that might not work out.

Theron is sure he’s too rough for Sienna, and they are both afraid of messing up their partnership for a relationship that might not work out. While I’ve enjoyed each individual relationship, the predictability of the patterns is getting to me. I’m glad there was a few months break between Devlin and Theron.

So it’s the science fiction aspects of this SFR series that keep me going. I really, really, really want to see the Gizzida get kicked off of Earth. And I read each book in the series for the clues about how that longed-for event is finally going to happen.

But there’s something about the Gizzida that made me think. I compared them to the Borg, because that’s who they initially reminded me of. Both species conquer planets purely so they can mine those planets’ resources, and in both species those resources include any desirable DNA characteristics they can add to their own species to upgrade it. In both cases their process is to turn the conquered people into themselves. Borg make more Borg by turning other species into Borg, and Gizzida do the same thing.

Science fiction has managed to discover what feels like a literal “fate worse than death”. Not to be killed, or to suffer a terrible trauma that changes you forever, but to have your entire selfhood erased and converted to the enemy. I’m playing Mass Effect Andromeda right now, and it also explores this same theme, as did the original Mass Effect Trilogy. The worst fate in the universe is not to die, but to be permanently and irrevocably converted into the enemy.

The Gizzida are part of a fine and frightening trend in SF, and I want them kicked off Earth ASAP. But I suspect that our heroes are going to have to suffer through even more awful revelations before that glorious day.

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kiernan

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P KiernanThe Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day
On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.
Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.
But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.
But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.

My Review:

The Baker’s Secret might have been more descriptively titled as Emma’s War. Or perhaps Resistance is not Futile, or even How to Resist without Joining the Resistance. Or simply, Survival.

Because the story encompasses all of those things, and more.

From first to last, this is Emma’s story. And it is the story of the frog who dies by degrees as his cool pan of water heats up and boils. But unlike that proverbial frog, neither Emma nor her coastal French village actually die during the German Occupation, although they often wish they had. And all too many individual citizens actually do die, whether directly for German atrocities or less directly by being conscripted or simply by being unable or unwilling to drudge through another day.

Emma is the town baker. She has a gift for baking, and that gift is both blessing and curse. It is because of that gift that the occupying Germans discovered her tiny village. And it is that gift which keeps her relatively safe. The Kommandant doesn’t want his baker unduly harassed, or raped, and certainly not killed, without good reason. For admittedly select values of reason.

He wants his morning bread, and for that reason, gives Emma enough of a flour ration to bake a dozen loaves for himself and his officers.

That bread makes Emma the center of a ring of resistance. Not THE Resistance, but a resistance. Emma manages to make those dozen loaves into 14, with just a bit of subterfuge. And with those two extra loaves, she has something to trade. Because everyone wants just a little bit of solace in what are very dark times. So she has her circle of bread for eggs for tobacco for oil for fish for bread. Around and around the village she goes, keeping everyone, if not well fed, at least alive for the duration.

Because Emma brings not only food, but just a tiny bit of hope. Which is ironic, because Emma has none of her own. While everyone around her is certain, to varying degrees of informed certainty, that the Allies will come to rescue them, Emma is not. She hates the occupying army, but also believes that no one will come. Survival is all they have.

Until June 6, 1944, when the Allies storm the nearby beaches. And bring a hell on earth to everyone left in their way.

Escape Rating A-: The Baker’s Secret is a quiet book, and with good reason. For most of the occupation, life goes on, however badly. Emma’s days acquire a dull, unending sameness, only broken by incidents of brutality or audacity, either the Nazis’ brutality or her own audacity. She lives because the village depends on her, and in turn, she helps keep them alive.

We see the village in all its sadness. Too many are gone. Too many have been murdered out of brutality or caprice. And, although it is just a few, too many who have decided, like Emma, that the occupation is forever have also determined that the best way to survive is to capitulate, to cooperate, to collaborate with the enemy.

Emma’s story is about the courage of the small things in the face of the large disaster. She can’t kill all the Nazis, but she can hide a pig from them, getting meat into everyone’s pot for at least a month. She can’t stop baking, but she can stretch the ration by adding straw. It’s a life of tiny but important defiance.

What makes this a hard book is the description of the Nazis’ brutal treatment of the village and its inhabitants. There is no individual evil at work in the village (Hitler may be both individual and evil, but he is not personally present in the village), but there is great evil nevertheless. The way that the Nazis are portrayed in this story feels like a meditation on the saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. These young men, and they are mostly very young, however kind and gentle they might be to their families or their fellow countrymen, have decided to swallow the big lie that non-Germans are lesser forms of humans, and that some people, notably Jews and other minorities, are not human at all. And have chosen to use that power and that license not merely by following orders, but to seemingly go out of their way to grind every person down and then punish them both for being ground down and for resisting the grinding.

It does not make for easy reading, but it does make the reader think. It seems to have been so easy to reduce these young soldiers to brutal and brutish beasts. All that was necessary was to drum into them that everyone was less human than themselves. Once non-Germans were made into “the other”, any strike against them could be justified.

I want to say that Emma stands tall in the face of adversity, but she doesn’t. Instead, her posture is always bent over and straining forwards, pulling her cart of burdens behind her like a train. She resisted by hiding in plain sight. I also can’t say that she gets a happy ending, because when we leave Emma in June of 1944, the war is still going on, even if the front has moved until her village is behind it on the Allies side.

But chocolate does indeed sometimes taste like hope. And I hope that readers who loved The Chilbury Ladies Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will make a place in their hearts (and in their TBR stacks) for The Baker’s Secret.

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Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 356
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 7th, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.
Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.
In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.
Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her.
Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.

My Review:

The Illusionist’s Apprentice was utterly charming, and quite surprising. We’ll talk about the charming first, and get to the surprising at the end.

Just like last week’s Blood and Circuses, the story in The Illusionist’s Apprentice is set in a world that is gone. In this case, that world is the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville flourished during the period just before the American Civil until the 1910s, with the advent of movies. During the period of The Illusionist’s Apprentice, it is clear to the participants that vaude is dying, if not yet dead.

For our main character, the illusionist Wren Lockhart, vaudeville is the only life she’s ever known.

This is also a mystery, wrapped not so much in the proverbial enigma, but in a profound conundrum. Also in a web of contacts and enemies. A web that Wren entered as the late Harry Houdini’s apprentice, but must now maintain all by herself.

Or so it seems.

In the 1920s there was a rise in interest in spiritualism. Everyone had lost someone in recent memory, either to the Great War or the Spanish Influenza Epidemic. Lots of people were willing to latch onto any possibility of communicating with their deceased loved ones. And all too many con artists were willing to latch onto the money of those who grieved.

Harry Houdini in 1899

Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist and escape artist, had almost a secondary career in exposing fake mediums and spiritualists. Wren Lockhart was his apprentice, both as an illusionist and as a fake medium buster.

So she has come to see whether one of those fake mediums that she helped ruin, Horace Stapleton, really can bring the dead back to life. In a cemetery. It’s obviously yet another gag, but how did he do it? And why did someone put him up to it?

The FBI is watching Stapleton and the crowd, because it’s so obviously a scam even if they can’t figure out how. FBI Agent Matthews is watching Wren in particular, when the unthinkable happens. Twice. Stapleton, in a flourish of showmanship, seems to actually raise one of the corpses from the grave. Only to have the man walk a few steps and collapse, dead again.

Among the very meager evidence, Matthews finds a note linking the late Houdini and the still living Wren Lockhart to the crime, or event, or whatever-the-heck it was. And Matthews is all too eager to follow that trail, if only for a chance to speak with the woman who fascinates him.

Wren and Matthews find kindred spirits in each other. Both driven, both workaholics before the term was invented, both using their focus on their work to keep others at a distance. They discover that they need each other. At first, Matthews just needs an entree into the world of vaudeville. He needs Wren’s help to figure out just how Stapleton did whatever it was he did.

Wren needs Matthews. She’s not used to relying on anyone, keeping her feelings and her secrets carefully locked away. But someone is targeting her, and she needs an outsider, particularly a very protective outsider, to help her find the snake in the grass at her feet.

They manage to keep each other alive, long enough to dig up all the truths, not just the ones that Wren has been hiding, but also the ones that have been hidden around her, under the cover of illusion.

Escape Rating A-: This was absolutely charming from beginning to end. Just like a member of her audience, I was sucked into Wren’s illusions from the very beginning of the story. She is an absolutely fascinating character. She is so completely eccentric, so much “out there” even for a female vaudevillian, that one can’t help but be captivated. At the same time, her position in the world of vaude gives her the opportunity to be unconventional in a way that makes her easy for a 21st century woman to empathize with. Her perspectives feel like hers, but they also mirror ours.

FBI Agent Elliot Matthews wants to be a hero. More correctly, he discovers that he wants to be Wren’s hero. But in spite of his status as an FBI Agent, he is not a hero in the usual mold. While he’d like to protect her, he comes to recognize that what he wants isn’t what Wren needs, or is willing to accept. Wren is looking for a hero who will walk beside her, letting her fight her own dragons. And Matthews discovers that he is willing to be that person, even though it isn’t easy.

The story here is one of wheels within wheels within wheels. It’s not a traditional mystery, but it is a mystery. And it’s one with ever widening circles of puzzles as it unravels.

Initially the mystery is all about Stapleton and whoever it is that is or isn’t dead. Then it widens to include who wanted to link Wren to the stunt, and why. Then it’s who is trying to kill Wren, and why. And finally, what is the deep, dark secret in Wren’s past that she has spent so much time, effort and money in concealing, and that someone is trying so hard to expose.

The secret of Wren’s past, and her present, is a very slow reveal, as she comes to trust Matthews more and more over time, and she peels away some of her protective layers. Some of the way that this is done is by skipping backwards into Wren’s past, so that we see those events as they happened. The jumps back and forth are a bit disconcerting at first, but in the end it does work.

And keeps the reader on the edge of their seat until the very end. Just like one of Wren Lockhart’s performances.

Now for why I was so surprised that I loved this book. Like The Hideaway, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, The Illusionist’s Apprentice was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, a well-known and well-respected publisher of Christian inspirational literature, both fiction and nonfiction. And also like The Hideaway, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is not inspirational fiction, even though it is billed as such. And I was wary of it, like The Hideaway, because of that billing and that publisher. So I am left, as I was after reading The Hideaway, both confused and concerned. It is quite possible that people looking for inspirational fiction will be disappointed by this book. It is excellent historical fiction, but not inspie. It is also very possible that readers like myself, who steer far clear of inspirational fiction, will miss this book because of the publisher. I want this book to find its much deserved audience, and I worry that it won’t.

If you love historical fiction, particularly set in the 1920s (which is a fascinating period that’s getting a LOT more love since Downton Abbey), The Illusionist’s Apprentice is marvelous. And that’s no illusion!

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

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Review: Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Blood and Circuses by Kerry GreenwoodBlood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher, #6) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #6
Pages: 208
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 1st 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Phryne Fisher is bored. Life appears to be too easy, too perfect. Her household is ordered, her love life is pleasant, the weather is fine. And then a man from her past arrives at the door. It is Alan Lee from the carnival. Alan and his friends want her to investigate strange happenings at Farrells Circus, where animals have been poisoned and ropes sabotaged. Mr. Christopher has been found with his throat cut in Mrs. Witherspoon s irreproachable boarding house and Miss Parkes, an ex-performer, is charged with his murder.Phryne must go undercover deeper than ever to solve the circus malaise. She must abandon her name, her title, her protection, her comfort, even her clothes. She must fall off a horse twice a day until she can stay on. She must sleep in a girls tent and dine on mutton stew. And she must find some allies.Meanwhile, in Melbourne, the young and fresh-faced policeman Tommy Harris has to solve his own mysteries with the help of the foul-spoken harridan Lizard Elsie, or Miss Parkes will certainly hang. Can Phyrne uncover the truth without losing her life?"

My Review:

There are two crimes to be solved in this story. Or is it three?

The first one is easy. Phryne begins the story feeling bored to death. Diving headfirst into solving the second crime takes care of that. If she doesn’t discover the perpetrator in time, she won’t be merely bored to death. She’ll just be dead.

But just as Phryne is screwing up her own courage, there’s a murder. And this one isn’t Phryne’s case. At all. At least at first.

Mr. Christopher has been found murdered in his bed at his boarding house. Nothing about this case is exactly as it appears. Not even the corpse.

Mr. Christopher was also Christine. He was a member of Farrell’s Circus, performing as the half-man/half-woman. The circus was the one place where his accident of birth afforded him some respect and a reasonable living. Mr. Christopher was a true androgene. He was born intersex, with both male and female sexual characteristics. He lived his life as Mr. Christopher, and that is how he shall be referred to.

Mr. Christopher’s death is a locked room mystery. And there is only one person in the boarding house who could possibly have entered his second-story room from the window. Miss Parkes, formerly known as Mrs. Fantocci, used to be a star performer in a circus trapeze act. She just got out of prison for murdering her disgusting, abusive husband ten years ago. Some of the police are all too ready to believe that a woman who has murdered before would all too easily murder again.

Jack Robinson is not so convinced. He may not be the Jack we’re used to from the TV series, but he is still a very good, and very fair, cop. Something in the setup does not make sense, and Jack has all sorts of suspicions – he just needs some facts to back them up.

Phryne, meanwhile, is off to Farrell’s Circus. Not as a paying customer, or even as a patron. She is undercover, posing as a trick rider. And all too frequently falling down as a trick rider. It’s not easy to stand up on a horse while it is moving.

It’s also not easy for Phryne to investigate while pretending to be the lowest person in the group and stripped of all her resources. She doesn’t understand how the circus community really functions, not nearly well enough to guess at what is making this particular community suddenly not function. She’s also not used to not being able to bully her way to a solution, whether that’s through her considerable charm or by an application of her considerable fortune.

Phryne suffers from a surprising amount of self-doubt. It’s refreshing to see her have to reach into herself and see what she is made of on the inside.

But Phryne is at Farrell’s because some old friends are afraid for their lives and their livelihood. Whether it’s a curse, an against-the-odds string of very bad luck, or an active conspiracy at work, someone or something is driving Farrell’s into the ground. And it’s up to Phryne to figure out the true source of all their woes, and bring it to a halt.

It seems as if Phryne and Jack are investigating completely different crimes that just coincidentally take place among the denizens of Farrell’s circus. But this string of crimes is bigger than either of them imagines.

And Phryne gets saved by a bear.

Escape Rating B: I bounced off of three books this week, and finally ended with Phryne as my comfort read. However, this may be the least comfortable of Phryne’s books so far. She takes herself far out of her own comfort zone, and finds herself lost, alone and more uncertain of herself than has been shown in the previous books.

That makes the beginning of this story a bit rough going. Phryne isn’t acting like Phryne, and part of the comfort in these stories is that same cast of characters and all of their interactions.

Something that always leaves me thinking at the end of one of Phryne’s adventures are the attitudes portrayed towards sex and sexuality throughout the series. Although the series is set in Australia in the 1920s, the first book was published in the 1990s and the book series is still ongoing, although the TV series is unfortunately in hiatus.

But both the era it portrays and the era is was written in have a profound effect on the ways that sex, whether that be sex roles, sexual activity, sexual preferences or anything else that touches on sex and gender and the morality supposedly belonging thereto are often dealt with in layers.

Phryne can, in some ways, be seen as ultra liberal, for multiple versions of that word. Like male detectives, Phryne has a lover in every port, and in every book. Sometimes more than one. She likes men, she likes sex, and she’s not remotely interested in serious relationships. This has been true for many male detectives over the entire history of the genre, but Phryne feels unique among women.

She also likes and respects everyone for who they are. She doesn’t pass blanket judgments on groups because of what society dictates. That includes whether the people she meets are gay or straight, cis or het, Australian or elsewise, communist or capitalist, and in the case of Blood and Circuses, vertically challenged or average height. Phryne judges people as she finds them individually.

At the same time, particularly in this book, other characters are used to voice the prejudices of society as a whole. The juxtaposition of Phryne’s views with that of conventional society is made clear without putting anything offensive in her mouth. But still portraying that in this era, attitudes were what they were. It’s a very useful way of not pretending that the past attitudes did not exist in all their disgustingness while also commenting on the possibility that at least some people thought otherwise even then.

This is also the second book I’ve read recently that delves into 20th century circus life. (The other book was The Orphan’s Tale). In both cases, it’s hard to let go of the sad irony that in both stories the circus performers believed that the circus, as a concept and way of life, even if not their particular example of it, was strong and would go on forever, no matter what. Even in 1994 when Blood and Circuses was first published, that probably still seemed true. The reality that in 2017 the circus as they knew it is about to raise its very last big top gave this reader more than a touch of nostalgia.

The circus may not be going on, but Phryne certainly is. The next time I need a comfort read, I know I’ll be pulling out Ruddy Gore.

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySlow Burn Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #7) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Copper Ridge, Oregon, a cowboy's best friend might turn out to be the woman of his dreams…
If Finn Donnelly makes a plan, he sticks to it. After his brothers left Copper Ridge, Finn stayed behind, determined to keep their ranch going by himself. And when he realized his feelings for Lane Jensen were more than platonic, he shoved that inconvenient desire away. It was easy…until it wasn't. Suddenly his brothers are coming home to claim their share of the property. And Lane is no longer just in his fantasies. She's in his arms, and their friendship is on the line…
He's been her buddy, her handyman, her rock. But until that one breathtaking kiss, Lane somehow overlooked the most important thing about Finn Donnelly—he's all man. They're right together, no matter how much his volatile past has bruised him. Finn wants to hold Lane's body, but he doesn't want to hold her heart. But Lane is falling fast and now she's got a plan of her own…to show Finn there's nothing hotter than friendship turned to slow-burning love.

My Review:

I loved Last Chance Rebel, and my friend Amy loved Hold Me Cowboy, so I expected to love Slow Burn Cowboy. But that’s not what happened.

Instead I have very much of a mixed feelings review on tap. Very mixed.

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favorites, so again, I was expecting to like the story line in this book. But something, actually multiple somethings, don’t quite work.

The set up is excellent, Lane and Finn have been best friends for ten years, ever since Lane left her parents’ home back East and moved to Copper Ridge to live with her brother Matt. At the time, Lane was sixteen and obviously just a bit fragile. Finn was 23 or 24 and more than a bit too old for her.

But that 8 or 9 year gap closes pretty quickly after a few years. Now Lane is in her late 20s and Finn is in his mid-30s. They’re both adults. But they are both still awfully fragile.

They are best friends. Really, truly. They spend time together and they care for each other and they need each other. But they are filling the gaps in each other’s lives that would normally be filled by a spouse or significant other. Not that their relationship isn’t significant, but they have fallen into a situation where they are friends with a different set of benefits. She cooks and buys his clothes, he kills spiders, changes lightbulbs and fixes the porch steps. It works for them.

Until it doesn’t.

Finn’s grandfather has just died. Instead of leaving his ranch to Finn, who has been working with him for that same last bunch of years, the old man left it to Finn and his three half-brothers equally. The Donnelly Brothers are all at crossroads in their lives, and they all move back to the ranch, into the house and the land that Finn expected would be his.

All of their relationships are strained and distant, and no one seems to be happy about any of it. So Finn, in a crazed need to re-establish control over something, anything, in his suddenly chaotic life, decides that he wants more from Lane than he’s ever asked for. He wants to push past their carefully maintained boundaries and turn their relationship into that of friends with the usual benefits.

He thinks its possible to make love and not feel at least a little love. And he’s an idiot.

Finn’s perfectly happy to tear down all of Lane’s defenses and push for whatever he wants. But when Lane turns the tables on him and starts pushing him for what she wants out of a relationship, he pushes her away as hard and as fast as he can.

The question of whether Finn can get his head out of his ass long enough to figure himself out is an open one. Finn needs to open his eyes, and his heart, before he throws away his best chance at happiness. And he needs to grovel.

Escape Rating C+: There was so much potential in Slow Burn Cowboy, but it never quite gels into the book that I was looking forward to.

Both Lane and Finn are damaged people, and neither of them thinks that they are worthy of happiness or love. They protect themselves in different ways. Lane by walling off what hurts her, and Finn by pushing away anyone who might get close enough to hurt him.

It’s amazing that they have managed to sustain a friendship, but they definitely have.

While Finn is a bit of an arsehole about it, his trauma is understandable. His dad seems to have been a serial philanderer, leaving a string of exes with his sons all across the country. Dad left everyone. But his mom also abandoned him. And he’s just sure everyone else will too.

Lane’s trauma just isn’t one that was easy for this reader to identify with. Her sense of loss at giving a baby up for adoption when she was sixteen is understandable, but she’s been wearing the past like a hair shirt ever since, to the point where the hair felt like it had been woven from a drama llama rather than anything real. Her story felt like angst for angst’s sake.

Also, these are two people who live inside their heads an awful lot, which also doesn’t feel right for Finn’s character. It felt like there was much more internal dialog than actual dialog. And Lane tended to think and talk in circles a lot of the time. That’s a habit that drives this reader crazy in real life, not just fictional life.

There are a lot of moments when the reader wants them to just stop talking inside their heads and let those words out where they might do some good!

But, and this is where the good stuff comes in, Copper Ridge just feels like a wonderful place. I like the people a lot. One of the great things in this story is all about the enduring power of women’s friendships. Lane, along with her best female friends, have a terrific, supportive and caring friendship. One of the ways in which Lane comes out of this story stronger than she went in is the realization that she is so much better off than she was when she arrived in Copper Ridge because those friendships will always see her through. She’s not alone, with or without Finn.

Finn’s supporting cast is his family, his three half-brothers and his niece Violet. They have all moved into the ranch and are now part of his life, where they have all been separate and alone up til now. Finn is really, really bad at letting people in, but having them be part of his life, whether he originally wanted it or not, is terrific. They bite and snap and growl at each other all the time, but they are all great characters and I’m looking forward to their stories in future books in the series.

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

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Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg CoxThe Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #2
Pages: 288
Published by Tor Books on April 25th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
Stories can be powerful. In 1719, Elizabeth Goose of Boston Massachusetts published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.
However, strange things are happening, A window washer in San Diego who was blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, but miraculously survived by landing on a canopy over the building entrance. A woman in rural Pennsylvania who was attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes. And, a college professor in England who somehow found herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Fynn Carson AWOL once again, it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

My Review:

I read The Librarians and the Lost Lamp a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it because it felt so much like an episode of the show, including all of the madcap adventure and especially all of the banter. I had a great time, just as I do when I watch The Librarians. It was fun!

But The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase felt like it was more of a strain. The Librarians, of course, are always a bit strained in the midst of yet another hair-raising case, but there was something about this one that made it feel like a strain for the reader, too. Or at least this reader.

Fair warning, I may get a bit meta here. It’s hard to review a media tie-in novel without some references to the media it ties into, and how it “feels” related to how the original feels, And works. I would say or doesn’t work but the fact is that a person for whom the original does not work is unlikely to read novels based on it. My 2 cents.

Part of what makes The Librarians work as a show is their marvelous team dynamic. The Librarians and their Guardian are a close knit team and also kind of a family. What they do is designed to be a bit outside the mundane world, and they of necessity have bonded together. Along with Jenkins, the combination archivist, caretaker and zookeeper of the Library and the Library Annex in Portland they work out of.

On the one hand, parts of this story provide a marvelous and much broader view of just how big, how strange, and how magical the Library’s collections truly are. Nobody wants the job of cleaning the pen that holds the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs, but it’s a dirty job and somebody has to do it. Usually Jenkins.

On that other hand, the Librarians spend a lot of this story on separate parts of the quest. This group is stronger when it’s together. It’s also funnier and occasionally more heartwarming when it’s together. So for this reader story lost some of its steam when it separated the group, Also the way they were split up felt a bit contrived. Their separate quests seem to rely on their weaknesses more than their strength, and the individuals they were paired up with instead felt like contrivances designed to teach them each something rather than get the job done. As usual, my 2 cents and your mileage may vary.

And the action got a bit bogged down as it split into four separate stories, which at times felt a bit repetitious.

The concept that Mother Goose was not only real but a powerful witch who encoded her spells into nursery rhymes fits right into the mythos of the Library. That her magic could get out of hand if left in the hands of the “wrong people” could make an episode or a great story.

But the way that this one wrapped up, which unfortunately I did see coming a mile away, fell flat. Again, at least for this reader.

So, as much as I love The Librarians, I didn’t have nearly as much fun with Mother Goose as I did with the Lost Lamp.

Escape Rating C+: The scenes where Eve and Jenkins are chasing several of the Library’s more colorful (and volatile) exhibits around the Library are hilarious. My personal favorite is when Jenkins throws Arthur’s Crown at the Sword Excalibur and tells it to play “Keep Away” with the King of Beasts and the Unicorn. Eve’s solution to the problem of the Dead Man’s Chest was also lot of fun. But the gang spends too much time not being a gang, and I missed the way they play off of each other much too much.

Review: Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Review: Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonCold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Vatta's Peace #1
Pages: 448
Published by Del Rey Books on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with a thrilling series featuring Kylara Vatta, the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta s War sequence. After nearly a decade away, Nebula Award winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with this installment in a thrilling new series featuring the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta s War sequence. Summoned to the home planet of her family s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance. Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group s survival but her entire home planet.

My Review:

I finished up the Vatta’s War series nearly ten years ago, when the final and much anticipated book, Victory Conditions, was published. I enjoyed the series a lot, and while I was a bit sad to see it end, it did come to a completely satisfying conclusion.

I read Vatta’s War at the same time that I read two other military SF series with female protagonists, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, which I eventually got tired of but seems to have never ended, and Tanya Huff’s Valor/Confederation series (the official name is Confederation, I always think of it as the Valor series), which I loved and which also ended not long after Vatta’s War, and also with a satisfying conclusion.

Valor came back two years ago, and now it’s Kylara Vatta’s turn to return in a sequel series. While the first series was very appropriately titled Vatta’s War, this new series title, Vatta’s Peace, feels somewhat aspirational. Although there should be peace after everything Ky and her world went through in the first series, that peace is immediately disturbed at the beginning of Cold Welcome.

Grand Admiral Kylara Vatta is supposed to be returning to her home planet of Slotter’s Key for a ceremonial welcome and a whole lot of paperwork concerning the Vatta family’s vast mercantile empire. Instead, her shuttle is sabotaged and she and its crew find themselves stranded in the icy waters of the south polar sea just as winter is coming on, with no hope of rescue. Not because no one wants to look for them, although there are some who certainly don’t, but mostly because weather conditions are so horrendous that no one CAN look for them.

And no one expects anyone to have survived. The entire polar continent has been cemented in everyone’s worldview as a terraforming failure, and no one has gone there in centuries. There aren’t even any satellite scans of the place – something about Miksland interferes with any scanning equipment. Which should have raised someone’s suspicions at some point, but it’s become an accepted fact that Miksland is uninhabited and unlivable.

But Ky being Ky, she manages to scrape survival out of the jaws of certain death, and keeps right on doing so, one task at a time, keeping the crew together and getting them off the churning ocean and at first just onto dry land, and then into a secret base that isn’t supposed to exist. Knowing all the while that another saboteur likely hides among her battered survivors.

It’s a race to the finish, with Ky determined to keep her crew alive and out of the hands of whoever has protected so many secrets for so many centuries at who knows what cost. And a race for her friends, family and loved ones to figure out just who is after Ky and everyone else yet again, before her luck finally runs out.

Escape Rating B: I expected to love this a lot more than I did. It was great slipping back into Ky’s world again, she’s a fascinating character and the Vatta family and their universe are always interesting, albeit deadly. Both the Vattas and whoever is out to get them.

But the story has a very slow start. The journey of Ky and her crew just to survive one day, and then the next, is cold and brutal, but wears on the reader almost as much as it does the characters. Ironically, except for the initial crash of the shuttle, the whole thing reads a bit like Ernest Shackleton’s famous journey. The cold is relentless, and the problems of surviving it don’t change much from planet to planet or century to century.

It’s only when Ky’s makeshift crew discovers the secret base that the story heats up, just as the crew finally gets thawed out. There’s more to do, more to see, more to explore, more to question, and the action starts to flow. Also, up until Ky discovers the base, we don’t get nearly as much leavening of the unrelieved hardship from Ky’s allies on the outside as we do once she finds that base.

The action heats up on all fronts at the same time and the story clips along at a pace that keeps the reader flipping pages at a rapid pace.

But as harrowing as Ky’s side of this journey is, the big questions are all on the outside. Someone, undoubtedly a lot of someones, have kept an entire continent secret for centuries. For that to be remotely possible, they had to have collaborators across all the offices of government and the military, and for centuries. Something very, very rotten is going on, and Ky has just exposed it. Whatever it is.

And the secret is still ongoing. The base is fully stocked, and the diaries of the base commanders going back centuries show that the base is staffed every summer for some unknown purpose. Last but certainly not least, whatever that purpose is, the base closed up early this year, just in time for Ky’s crash and intended mysterious and watery grave.

The problem I had with the book, as much as I was enjoying the action, is that it just didn’t stick the dismount. Ky does get rescued, which isn’t really a spoiler as there couldn’t be a series without her, but nothing else felt resolved. Ky is back, and in an even bigger soup than she was in the previous series, but so far no one seems to have any clues about who, what, when, where or especially why that base is there and what secrets it is intended to keep. It’s a giant black hole, waiting for future books in the series to fill it. And while there needs to be something for the series to focus on, some answers to some of the many, many more immediate questions would have brought this particular installment to a more satisfying conclusion.

Now we wait, with that proverbial bated breath, hoping that those future installments show up soon.

Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. FlynnThe Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, time travel
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Perennial on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world's most celebrated and beloved authors: two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel.
London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.
Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.
But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.
 
 

My Review:

It’s a very big butterfly, and it is impossible to keep it from flapping its wings for an entire year.

The problem with time travel is that it is incredibly difficult to spend any time at all in the past and not change something – possibly even something significant. But that’s the dilemma that faces researchers Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane. Their job, which they have chosen to accept, is to go back to the England of 1815 and quite seriously meddle with the life of Jane Austen – but leave no trace of their meddling.

This is truly an impossible mission. And so it proves. But the story isn’t in what Rachel and Liam change about Jane Austen, it’s what changes about themselves in the process.

Time travel always involves a bit of handwavium. In this case, it’s a scientific process that sends them back to a specific place and time, armed with the knowledge (and the money) that it is hoped are necessary to inveigle their way into Jane Austen’s circle, her life, and wherever she stashed her unpublished manuscript. Oh, and by the way, discover what mysterious ailment killed her.

That last bit is Rachel’s job. In her own time (possibly the late 21st or early 22nd century), Rachel is a doctor. But in 1815, all she can be is Liam’s spinster sister, while he pretends to be the doctor. Lucky for both of them if not for Jane, medicine was not all that far advanced. As a well educated man, with a little bit of coaching from Rachel, Liam can fake it. And he does. While Liam is faking being a well-to-do doctor and man about town, Rachel has the much harder task of pretending to be a woman of the early 19th century, shy, retiring, unambitious and unintelligent. She is not very good at it, and wonders just how smart women managed not to go completely insane.

In spite of many, many roadblocks, both expected and otherwise, Rachel and Liam do manage to accomplish their task. Mostly. Only to discover that it wasn’t quite what they thought it was. And now that they are back in their own time, neither are they.

Escape Rating A-: For anyone who enjoys time travel stories, this one is an absolute treat. It will also remind some readers of Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. There is a bit of that sense of madcap adventure, but not too much, as well as the difficulty of determining what about the past can be meddled with and what can’t. At the same time, the stakes don’t feel too high, or the situation too dire, as it was in Willis’ Doomsday Book.

In some ways, the task before Rachel and Liam seems like a fool’s errand, or an absolutely impossibly unresolvable conflict. To get close enough to the somewhat reclusive Jane Austen to have access to a document she kept well-hidden without affecting the lives of anyone around her is improbable from the outset. It seems impossible to get that close and not change something, and also not to leave evidence of themselves somewhere in the Austen family correspondence.

It is also beyond imagining to live an entire year of one’s life in the circumstances that Rachel and Liam insert themselves into without their coming out of it changed, whether the world they left behind (ahead?) changes or not. And so it proves. And that’s a big part of what I can’t stop thinking about.

The world is what the world is because of what has happened before we came into it. While we may discover documentation of history that we did not previously know, the moving finger has already writ that history, and the effects of whatever happened have already been built into our world. If there are effects of discovering the formerly hidden information (the recent discovery of Richard III’s body comes to mind) that discovery doesn’t change anything written or believed or assumed about Richard III in the past. Shakespeare still used him as the epitome of evil. Future biographies will be affected, but past ones won’t re-write themselves.

That’s not the case in Rachel and Liam’s world. When the past changes, everything between then and their now re-writes itself. In that world, history is a shared delusion, just like paper money. It is so because we all believe it is so, and not because the piece of paper has an intrinsic value. In their world, history changes and everything adapts around it. That particular aspect reminds me more of The Eyre Affair than time-travel. Change the source and everything that derives from the source shifts to match – no matter how disruptive those shifts might be.

There’s also an attitude that it is possible to change the past and know, more or less, what the effects will be. I end up wondering about that. While there are some cases in their history that seem like there’s nowhere to go but up, how can one be certain? One of the short stories in John Scalzi’s Miniatures deals with this theme, as does Elleander Morning by Jerry Yulsman, a book I read long ago and have never been able to forget.

One part of the story that seems all-too-real and heartbreaking concerns the relationship between Rachel and Liam and the changes wrought both to themselves and to their past by their actions in 1815. We are the sum total of our experiences. The child, and everything that happens to that child, makes the man, or the woman. But they go back in time and experience a year together that does not happen for anyone else. They are both forced to play a part, and of necessity become some of that part in order to survive. At the same time, they are aware, and they are the only people aware, of the nature and the sheer magnitude of the lies that they are living.

But when they come back, the world they return to is not the same. They may be the sum total of their experiences, but the world they return to produced different versions of them than the ones they actually are. How does a person reconcile that? Is it better to remember, or is it better to conform and be, as a consequence, comfortable? And how does one decide which reality to accept, and which to reject?

This is the question that continues to haunt me, long after I closed the final page.

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + GiveawayAny Day Now (Sullivan's Crossing, #2) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The highly anticipated sequel to #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr's What We Find transports readers back to Sullivan's Crossing. The rustic campground at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails welcomes everyone—whether you're looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or a whole new lease on life. It's a wonderful place where good people face their challenges with humor, strength and love.
For Sierra Jones, Sullivan's Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She's put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn't yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.
Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she's always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it's a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan's Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.

My Review:

First of all, I love the places that Robyn Carr creates. Thunder Point was a terrific little town, and now Timberlake Colorado, the town near Sullivan’s Crossing, also seems like a fine place to get a fresh start.

And that’s just what Sierra Jones is looking for when she arrives in Timberlake in her beat-up orange VW Beetle, fondly known as “The Pumpkin” for obvious reasons. Nearly 30 and just 9 months sober, Sierra has come to Timberlake planning to spend some quality time with her brother Cal (hero of What We Find) and getting to know her new sister-in-law and the ‘bump’ that will become her niece in a few short months time.

Cal found a new life and fresh start in Timberlake, and healing in the beauties of nature that surround Sullivan’s Crossing at the conjunction of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. Sierra hopes for the same.

She ran away to rehab to escape something horrible, only to discover that the events that led up to her break happened, at least partially, because she really was an alcoholic, just like so many people, including Cal, told her. Running away from her messes into rehab was the first smart decision she had made in quite a while.

Sierra got scared straight. And she’s putting in the work to stay straight, one day at a time. But what scared her is big and bad and very, very real, and until she deals with it, she’s always going to feel just one day away from making more bad choices, or having her choices taken away from her, once and for all.

So Sierra comes to Timberlake for a fresh start where she can stand on her own two feet but still have support when she needs it. And so that she can be there for Cal when he needs her. It’s about time.

But just like her brother, Sierra comes to Timberlake looking to heal herself, and certainly not looking for a relationship. And that’s always just when you find one – when you are definitely not looking.

Conrad Boyle, (everyone calls him Connie whether he likes it or not), is a member of the Timberlake Fire Department. He’s also a paramedic who does search and rescue in his “off” hours. He doesn’t think he’s any better at picking the right partner than Sierra is. His last relationship ended in disaster, and he’s sure he’s better off not looking for love, because what finds him turns out to be anything but.

So of course Sierra and Connie fall for each other. Both unwilling at first to admit that what they have found is more than a fling. And Sierra more than a little bit afraid that when Connie learns the whole truth about her, he’ll run away as far and as fast as he can, leaving her devastated and alone. Again.

Instead, her past comes looking for her. But when it finally catches up to her, this time she doesn’t cave in. She nails it to the wall and beats it with a baseball bat.

Escape Rating B: I do love visiting Sullivan’s Crossing. It’s a great place, populated with a terrific bunch of people. Even the local bad apples are reasonably sympathetic and understandably human, if still a bit sour to the local taste.

I also like that the protagonists of the series are all adults with real adult problems. There’s plenty of angst at the right spots, but it’s real-life angst. Everyone has been banged around a bit in the school of hard knocks, and whatever they are agonizing over is stuff that’s really there, not made up drama. The series so far is also blissfully free of ridiculous misunderstandammits.

In spite of his spectacularly bad luck at relationships, Connie is a genuinely nice guy. He’s a good man who does some very hard things. Being a paramedic, even in a small town, means that he’s seen a lot of death and dismemberment, and had to rescue a lot of people from a lot of bad things. Sometimes he fails. So although his life looks mostly sunny, he understands in his bones that there are dark places and dark things in the world. He has the empathy to understand Sierra’s pain without either papering it over or rejecting it, and her.

Sierra, of course, is just certain that he can do better than her mixed-up self. But the heart wants what the heart wants.

The journey in this book is Sierra’s. She needs to decide she’s worthy, and she does it by facing the demons in her past. And that’s where things get both interesting and a bit murky.

I loved watching Sierra build a life for herself. Not just the romance, but everything that Sierra does to make herself part of Sullivan’s Crossing, and the way that it makes itself part of her. The mentor/father-figure relationship she builds with Sully is lovely. I’d say sweet but Sully probably wouldn’t approve.

But the more she reveals about herself, not just inside her own head but to Cal and eventually Connie, the more the reader is certain that her past is coming to get her. Literally. The story builds and builds the tension of Sierra waiting for that very dangerous other shoe to drop, to the point where I wanted to read ahead just to find out if they ever did get Chekhov’s gun down off the wall and just shoot it already.

When that climax finally comes, it gets wrapped up a bit too quickly. The way it gets wrapped up was wonderful, but that other shoe hung up there much longer than the actual drop got wrapped up.

But I loved my visit to Sullivan’s Crossing, and enjoyed it so much that I raced through the book just to see how everyone was doing and get to know the newbies. I can’t wait to go back!

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

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