Guest Review: The Gender Game by Bella Forrest

Guest Review: The Gender Game by Bella ForrestThe Gender Game by Bella Forrest
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, dystopian, science fiction, young adult
Series: Gender Game #1
Pages: 418
Published by Nightlight Press on November 24, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A toxic river divides nineteen-year-old Violet Bates's world by gender. Women rule the East. Men rule the West.

Welcome to the lands of Matrus and Patrus.

Ever since the disappearance of her beloved younger brother, Violet's life has been consumed by an anger she struggles to control. Already a prisoner to her own nation, now she has been sentenced to death for her crimes.

But one decision could save her life.

To enter the kingdom of Patrus, where men rule and women submit.

Everything about the patriarchy is dangerous for a rebellious girl like Violet. She cannot break the rules if she wishes to stay alive. But abiding by rules has never been her strong suit, and when she is thrust into more danger than she could have ever predicted, Violet is forced to sacrifice many things in the forbidden kingdom ... including forbidden love.

In a world divided by gender, only the strongest survive...

Guest Review by Amy:

Our story opens with young Violet Bates trying to smuggle her brother across a toxic river in the dead of the night. They’re caught, and Violet’s life is forever changed. Some time in our future, in the devastation of our world, men and women move apart, and try two different ways of running a society. In Patrus, the men rule; in Matrus, the women are in charge. There are some folks who go back and forth, of course, and a few who have stayed on the “wrong” side of the river, for an assortment of reasons.

After much of her youth is spent in prisons, Matrian youngster Violet is recruited for a dangerous mission–go to Patrus, and steal something back that belongs to the Queen!

Escape Rating: B+. Dystopian fiction interests me. There’s a lot of it that is pretty consistent meat-and-taters: downfall of society for some reason or another, utter lawlessness, the fight for survival, the whole Mad Max vibe, you know? But once in a while, an author gives us a new spin, and here we have one. Some of the reviewers have compared this to The Hunger Games, but I don’t think the comparison does either tale justice, really; this story pokes rather firmly at things that most adults have pretty firmly settled in their mind: gender, and how the genders behave.

In The Gender Game, we’re introduced to a society split along gender lines. In Patrus, women are essentially enslaved to their fathers and husbands, and have almost no rights. In Matrus, men are carefully watched for aggressive tendencies, and sent to the mines or killed as soon as they don’t toe the line drawn by the women who run things.

Violet’s story is interesting, growing up jailed, and how she learned to survive in a system that just could not embrace her, after her failure to crack down on her own brother. When she’s whisked away from all that, and offered a deal that she can’t refuse, we’ve got a whole new story to digest.

As I read through The Gender Game, I looked at my e-book reader and saw I was near the end. I thought about not finishing it, because it seemed kind of predictable in the early pages – Violet trains up for the heist, she and her Patrian ally decide who to frame, she interacts with the scapegoat – I don’t really need to go on, do I? But I’m glad I read all the way to the end! We get a plot twist right in the final pages that sets up the second story in this series, The Gender Secret, where (presumably) we’ll explore more of this world that Bella Forrest has created.

It’s that plot twist, in this reviewer’s mind, that saves this book from a lower rating. I liked the story well enough, and Violet was a good enough heroine, with a very realistic set of struggles to go along with the big plot problem, but it just didn’t excite me early on. The strangeness of the Matrus/Patrus setting took a little explaining, so it took a while to ramp up the character development and conflict. It made for a little bit of slow going at first, but this series is now standing at seven books, so I would presume that there’s a bit less exposition about this curious setting in later volumes.

Another problem that I have is…well, let me remind you that I’m a transgender woman. Gender is not binary, not A or B, but a spectrum of in-betweens and even a few folks who eschew it altogether. The Gender Games utterly ignores this, firmly asserting a very heterosexual, very traditional binary gender system. Living in a world like we do, where we are somewhat more liberal-thinking than that, this story feels like a step backward to me, because of that glaring discrepancy.

It’s a good story, though, and I’m strongly considering picking up more of the series, just to see if our heroine manages to be the catalyst for change in this strange society she lives in. If you like dystopian fiction, and want a piece that is outside the norm, it’s certainly worth a look.

 

 

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Reception by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Reception (The Wedding From Hell, #2; Firefighters, #0.6) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.6
Pages: 39
Published by Gallery Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Rehearsal Dinner
is the exciting second adventure in J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed's storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 2: The Reception: As the wedding from hell continues, Anne and Danny find themselves walking the delicate balance between professional distance and explosive attraction. Will the desire they feel last through the night and change their lives? Or are they doomed to part after one night of passion?

My Review:

This really is the wedding from hell. It’s so obvious that it should not be happening, that everyone involved has to grit their teeth to get through it – including the bride and the groom.

But this little prequel to the author’s upcoming book Consumed does not, thank goodness (or possibly thank badness, because this wedding is really, really awful) feature the bride and groom.

Instead, it revolves around two members of the groom’s firefighting company, who are both serving as groomsmen at the wedding. They may possibly be two of the most ironic characters to serve as groomsmen, possibly ever.

Anne Ashburn isn’t actually a groomsMAN after all. But the rest of their fire company are groomsmen, so she is too. And happy to be so. She has no desire to descend into the snakepit that is the cookie-cutter bridesmaid clones – and she doesn’t fit in with the clones, either. And also thank goodness for that – because none of that bunch would make remotely sympathetic characters – although possibly bad henchwomen with the bride being the evil villainess.

I digress… just a bit.

The other groomsman featured is Danny McGuire. Unfortunately for everybody concerned, he met the bride first and made the mistake of having a one-night stand with the….hellspawn. She turned to her poor groom in order to make Danny jealous and it backfired spectacularly. Which didn’t stop her from propositioning Danny one last time the night before her wedding.

Danny turned her down. Not just because she’s marrying his friend. Not even just because she’s evil, although both of those things are certainly true. But Danny turned her down because the only woman he wants is Anne.

It seems like Anne has finally stopped fighting the epic attraction between them – or at least she’s willing to for just one night. She’s right that any relationship between them will have long-term consequences to her career and her life, and that all those consequences will fall on her.

Life isn’t fair.

But when the fire burns as hot as it does between Anne and Danny…once is never going to be enough.

Escape Rating B+: This is a direct follow up from the first prequel novella, The Wedding from Hell, the Rehearsal Dinner. The character development and situational setup are all in that first prequel, so grab that before heading to The Reception. Both novellas are short, and both are FREE, so there’s no excuse not to indulge in the whole steamy story.

Now that the prequel is finished, we get a glimpse of where the first book in the series will be going. Danny and Anne have incredibly hot chemistry, and their work partnership is so solid that they can practically read each other’s minds on the job.

They need each other, both personally and professionally. But Anne is also correct that they aren’t supposed to have both. There are rules about fraternizing within a fire company. If they want to have a relationship, one of them has to transfer to a different company.

While that sounds simple, it actually isn’t – because nothing is ever that easy. Right now, they both work in the premier company, the one that gets all the hard jobs and does all the biggest, hottest and most dangerous fires. It’s a step down for the career of whichever one transfers out.

Which would be Anne, not because she’s the woman but because she has less seniority. All of the rest of the crap that would follow would all be because she’s a woman. Once it becomes known that she is in a relationship with one firefighter, her professionalism will be questioned at every turn. She’s worked hard to get where she is, and she’s not willing to lose the respect she’s earned for good sex. Or even epically fantastic sex.

Whether they’ll be able to keep away from each other, and keep their hands off each other, when Anne runs headlong into the danger that makes up the suspense part of the first book in the Firefighters series, Consumed, is something that we will all find out in October.

After these hot, steamy teasers, I can hardly wait!

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Reception

Saturday, October 31
T minus 2 hours ’til blastoff
St. Mary’s Cathedral, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Anne Ashburn had never had veil envy, as they called it. As a young girl, she had never pictured herself walking down an aisle in a white dress, ready to be rescued by a knight-in-shining-armor groom who was going to take charge and take care of her for the rest of her life.
Nope. Anne had wanted to fight fires like her father and then her brother. Even though she no longer respected the former, and had a strained relationship with the latter, she’d wanted to pull on turnouts and strap an air tank to her back and breathe canned air as she ran into open flames dragging hundreds of pounds of charged line with her. She’d wanted to rescue grandmothers, and children, and people who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. She’d been ready to cut open crumpled cars and drag broken bodies out of wreckage at the sides of highways. She’d been determined that the extremes of cold winter nights, hot summer days, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue would never keep her from doing her job.
So, yup, the old fashioned Mrs. degree had never held any fascination for her. There was no way in hell she was going to be like her mother, living a derivative, nineteen-fifties version of life, nothing but a pretty blow-up doll that was expected to cook, clean, and cut the yapping.
On that note, as she pulled into St. Mary’s parking lot and looked up at the great cathedral’s stained glass windows and lofty spires, she decided it made sense that not only was she not the bride, she wasn’t even a bridesmaid.
Like the rest of the crew down at the 499 firehouse, she was a groomsmen in the impending nuptials of Robert “Moose” Miller and Deandra—what the hell was her last name anyway? Cox. That was it.
Anne was thinking groomsmen was a role she might as well get used to. Not that Duff, Emilio, Deshaun, or any of the other men she worked with were settling down anytime soon.
Especially not Dannyboy Maguire.
Right on cue, a Ford truck entered the parking lot, the late afternoon sun flashing across its windshield.
As Anne’s heart kicked in her chest, she was tempted to hustle in the side door of the church—but she had never been one to run from a challenge.
Danny was more than just a challenge, though.
And okay, fine. So maybe she had already run out of his way at least once: Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, she’d positively bolted after he’d made that speech of his.
I never believed in love . . . I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.
Now I know it can happen between two people. And it doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not about logic. And it doesn’t have to have good timing because forever is like infinity, without beginning or end. And it doesn’t have to be defined because truth is like faith—it just is.
So, let’s toast to love.
He’d looked at her while he’d spoken. He had been talking . . . to her . . . in that slow, deep voice.
Everybody else had toasted Moose and Deandra. But Anne had known it hadn’t been about them. Danny, ever the ladies man, king of the one-night stand, he who shalt never be tied down . . . seemed to be suggesting not just that he’d had a change of heart.
But that he might have given his own to Anne.
Unless she was misreading everything? Then again, they had kissed the night before that. In her living room. While riding an adrenaline high after they’d saved a life in an alleyway.
And lips-to-lips had been better than good, the rare circumstance when reality had improved on a fantasy. After two years of attraction and sizzle and unacknowledged heat, that which had been pushed under the rug was exposed now. And there was no going back.
Especially as she felt the same way.
So hell yeah she had bolted out of that restaurant. The second she had been able to get up from her chair, she had hit the exit and left Danny without a ride home.
He’d called two hours later. He’d been in a bar, probably
Timeout where the crew always went, the noise in the background loud and raucous.
She had not answered. He had left a short message, but not called again.
Anne just wasn’t sure what to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were plenty of things she wanted to do to him, with him, on him—all of which were naked and erotic and not necessarily only horizontal.
Refocusing, she watched Danny’s truck pass by. From behind the wheel, he looked over at her.
She waited for him to find a space and get out, and as he walked across to her, she tried—tried—not to go sixteen-year-old girl at the sight of him in a tuxedo.
#epicfail
He was very tall, over six feet five, and he was built hard and muscular, his shoulders so wide, his chest so broad, his waist the point of the inverted triangle of his torso. His jet-black hair was still damp, and what sunlight there was in the mostly cloudy sky flashed blue in its depths. He was freshly shaven—his cologne reaching her nose even before he stopped in front of her—and his eyes were that brilliant blue that had always arrested her. Irish eyes.
But they were not smiling.
For a man who was rarely serious, he looked positively grim, and she frowned.
“You okay?” Stupid question. “I mean—”
“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”
Standard answer for firefighters when they were in pain. And she wondered if it had to do with that speech of his, and what she could have sworn he had been telling her.
His eyes shifted off to the side and then his mouth got thinner.
“And here’s the blushing bride.”
A stretch limo entered the parking area and made a fat turn toward the back door of the cathedral. When it stopped, its driver got out and went to the rear door.
Seven all-in-pink, spray-tanned, body-glittered, and blond-streaked women got out one by one, a clown car of bridesmaids who were such carbon copies of each other, it was like they had been ordered out of a catalogue.
And then the white dress emerged.
Deandra, Moose’s intended, had her blond-streaked hair—natch—piled up on her head in an organized, sculpted waterfall of curls. Her veil was a gossamer fall over her tiny waist and her big skirt, and the shimmer of crystals across the bodice and down the front and sides of the gown made her look like a princess.
Provided you didn’t catch her expression.
She was sour as an old woman with gout and shingles. In spite of the fact that she was supposedly marrying her true love, she looked downright nasty as she snapped at the driver, glared at her maid of honor, and yanked her skirting up to march into the back of the church.
“Wow,” Anne muttered. “That’s a happy bride.”
“Whatever. They’re on their own with this dumbass idea.”
“Did you happen to talk to Moose last night?” she blurted.
“As in out of this? Or would that be considered tacky given it was less than twenty-four hours before the priest hit the altar with them.”
Danny rolled his eyes. “He’s bound and determined to ball-and-chain himself. Personally, I’d be running in the opposite direction.”
And then there was silence between them. Tension coiled up quick, and as Anne’s temples started to pound, she decided it was going to be a long night, just not for the reasons she’d assumed at the beginning of the weekend.

Review: The Seas of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela

Review: The Seas of Distant Stars by Francesca G. VarelaThe Seas of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: coming of age, science fiction, young adult
Pages: 240
Published by Owl House Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth―of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.

My Review:

What if all, or at least some, of the alien abduction stories that regularly show up in some of the more, lurid tabloids were really true?

That’s just a small part of the premise of The Seas of Distant Stars, which combines that alien abduction scenario with a coming of age narrative and a search for identity in some interesting ways.

Agapanthus (born Aria on Earth) doesn’t really remember her home. After all, she was only two years old when she was taken.

But this isn’t the usual kind of alien experimentation story either. Agapanthus is being raised on Deeyae, among an offshoot of the human race who seem to have been seeded on a heavy gravity world with two suns.

She’s the foster child of a typical Deeyae family, loves her foster parents, and wants to follow in their footsteps – but she knows she can’t. She’s an Exchanger. It is believed that the parents of Exchangers willingly give them up for an unpredictable number of years in order to reap the benefits that will accrue to their less well-developed world.

Of course it’s all a lie, but we see this story from Agapanthus’ perspective, and at age four, six, eight, even twelve she’s not aware of the contradictions inherent in the story. Even her foster parents seem to believe a good bit of it.

And Agapanthus does get experimented upon, but it seems to be fairly benign. Exchangers are used to test new drugs, new treatments and new procedures, but Agapanthus is never harmed by the process.

Of course, she’s also very lucky. She is far from the only Exchanger on Deeyae, and not all Exchangers are fortunate to be placed with foster-families that care for them.

But as Agapanthus nears adulthood, the contradictions that restrict her life chafe and scrape. She can never become fully adult on Deeyae, but she can’t leave unless the “Gods” allow her to. She is looked down upon by most people, considered weak and ugly and childish. She cannot have a career – she will always be dependent on someone else.

She can’t make her own choices, and she is all too aware that she will always be a second-class citizen. And yet, becoming an adult on Deeyae, in spite of her limitations and restrictions, is what she strives for.

When she succeeds against all the odds, it is all taken away from her. Or is it?

Escape Rating B: While The Seas of Distant Stars is unquestionably science fiction, with its point of view character so very young for much of the narrative, it also feels like more of a young adult book than an adult book.

The story revolves around Agapanthus’ and later Aria’s search for identity. On Deeyae she is an Exchanger, and can never be more than she is. But when she is returned to Earth, she is equally out of place. She remembers her childhood and adolescence on Deeyae, even though she is not supposed to. She has to learn all over again how to function in this society that she does not feel part of.

Her Earth family, with their lost member now returned to them, is just as broken as it was when she was gone, but in completely different ways. The road back is difficult for all of them, and when the story ends they are still on that road.

This is a slow-building, slow-burning kind of story, as we see both worlds entirely through Aria’s eyes. On Deeyae, we learn and understand as she does, following her through the years of her childhood. On Earth, her reintegration into her birth world is equally slow, and in some ways more painful, as she is now aware of what she left behind.

But in the end, she is finally able to choose where and how she belongs.

Review: The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + Excerpt

Review: The  Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward + ExcerptThe Rehearsal Dinner (The Wedding From Hell #1) by J.R. Ward
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Firefighters #0.5
Pages: 63
Published by Gallery Books on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in October 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner: It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

My Review:

Because this is a short teaser of a book, it’s going to be a short teaser of a review, too.

I got into this tour, and the prequel novellas, because my curiosity bump itched something fierce. I loved Black Dagger Brotherhood way back when, although I didn’t finish the series because they started to get a repetitive for me. But I enjoyed the hell out of the early books in the series.

Howsomever, I DNF’d The Bourbon Kings at about the halfway point. The only reason I didn’t throw it against the wall was that my iPad is WAY too expensive to throw at walls. But I was still tempted.

When I saw the info for The Wedding from Hell introductory novellas along with the blurb for the full-length Consumed, I decided to give this author another try.

And so far, I’m glad I did.

The Wedding from Hell, at least so far, combines some really terrific tropes. The romance, or at least the steamy and unresolved chemistry so far, is between two members of a small-town New England fire department. She’s the daughter of a local legend and the sister of a current commander. He’s the company man-whore. Or at least he used to be.

They work well together, seemingly able to sense what the other is thinking, and always managing to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.

But this assignment isn’t work. Not exactly.

A member of their company is getting married and he wants all of the “guys” from his station house to be his groomsmen. Including Anne Ashburn. That she’s not a guy pisses the bridezilla right off – not that that takes much. But Danny McGuire, the best man and Anne’s work-partner, knows that bridezilla should not be marrying one of his best friends. He won’t let Anne out of the wedding, because he needs the moral support.

And because he hasn’t been able to get Anne out of his head or his heart since the day she walked into the station. He’s got it really, really bad.

But no matter how much Anne is interested in him, she’s not interested in being another notch on his bedpost – especially once she figures out that bridezilla got there first.

Escape Rating B+: As a FREE teaser novella, this certainly does its job. I definitely feel teased, although I admit not nearly as teased as Ann and Danny are by each other.

I enjoy a good firefighter romance, I love to see the rake get reformed, and the wedding so far as produced oodles of cringeworthy scenes of epic bridezilla-dom, injecting just the right touch of sheer insanity into the story.

As short as this story is, we still get a good introduction to Anne and Danny and at least some of their crew. More than enough to want to find out just how long they manage to resist each other – and whether anyone else in the crew is running a betting pool on it.

I can wait to get to the next installment of The Wedding from Hell, The Reception.

Excerpt from The Wedding from Hell: The Rehearsal Dinner

Thursday, October 29
T minus 48 hours ’til blastoff
College Row, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Because women are not frickin’ groomsmen! That’s why she can’t be in the goddamn wedding!”
As Anne Ashburn walked in the back door of the shotgun apartment, that happy little explosion was not only what she’d expected all along, it also offered her the out she’d been praying for. And it was probably the one and only time she was ever going to agree with the bride.
Not about the role of females in bridal parties, but that Anne wasn’t going to be in the “goddamn wedding.”
Everyone standing in the kitchen turned and looked at her: Deandra Cox, the impending wearer of the white dress; Robert “Moose” Miller, her exhausted fiancé and Anne’s fellow crew member down at the 499 fi rehouse; and . . . Dannyboy Maguire.
Who was the only one she really noticed and, for that reason, the person she refused to look at.
Too bad Danny always made an impression. Like most firefighters, he was in great physical shape, his big body thickly muscled and ready to snap into motion in an instant. With his heavy arms linked over that chest and his long legs crossed at the boots, he was leaning back against the chipped countertop, his too-blue stare missing nothing. He was fresh from a shower, his glossy black hair wet, and Anne tried not to picture him naked under the spray, his tattooed torso arching as he rinsed the shampoo out of his—
She put her hands up to stop herself as much as the argument. “Look, I don’t want to cause any problems. I’m happy to step aside—”
“And now I have one too many bridesmaids.” The bride-to-be refocused on her intended. “My count is wrong. You wait until two days before the wedding to tell me this when you know I’m not going to like it, and now my count is off!”
As the groom focused on the linoleum floor, it was impossible not to picture a wax version of the couple on a multi-tiered cake: Deandra in skinny jeans and that tight cashmere sweater, her dark hair streaked blond, her body cocked forward like she was going to throat-punch the man she was going to marry; Moose in his New Brunswick Fire Department T-shirt, all broad-shouldered and bearded around the face, easing back like someone with the flu was about to sneeze in his face.
Ah, true love.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” Moose muttered. “Anne’s a member of the four-nine-nine crew, and everyone else is with me.”
“She’s a girl.” Deandra pointed at Anne. “It throws off everything.”
“I really don’t want to cause any problems.” Anne put her hands up again. “So I’ll just be in the congregation. It’s perfectly fine—”
Deandra’s glare swung Anne’s way. “The count is still wrong. And my friends have already paid for their dresses. They were a hundred and twenty dollars apiece.”
And that’s my cue to go, Anne thought. Moose may have volunteered for this, but no one else had or needed to—
“I think women can be whatever they want.”
As Danny spoke up, everyone looked at him—including Anne, who suddenly felt shades of what Deandra was throwing out.
Don’t you dare, she mouthed at him behind the bride’s back.
Danny just shrugged like he’d thrown on a pantsuit and was channeling Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton all at once. “I mean, Deandra, you’re above all that sexism, aren’t you? No one’s going to tell you what’s right and wrong for your own wedding. You’re more secure than that.”
I am going to kill you, Anne vowed. “I think Deandra wants things done properly for her only wedding.”
Danny frowned in pseudo-confusion. “So you’re saying it’s okay to have a double standard for men and women? That’s a shocker given how you are at the station. I thought you believed in equality.”
“I do,” Anne snapped. “But this isn’t about equality.”
“You sure? I don’t know how you can support traditional gender roles when it comes to a wedding ceremony at the same time you defend the right for women to be firefighters, cops, and on the front lines in the military.”
“Spare me someone who’s never been in a dress having an opinion about women’s issues, okay?”
“I’m just pointing out that you don’t want women out of dresses.”
“It’s her wedding.” Anne jabbed a finger at Deandra. “She’s the bride. She gets to say what’s right and wrong for her, and she does not need some man telling her what to do.”
“Even if I’m defending the rights of women?”
“Until you grow a set of ovaries, you can shut the hell up about our rights!”
As Anne’s voice ricocheted around the kitchen, she realized that she’d marched right up to Danny—and that Deandra and Moose were watching the two of them in total stillness.
She cleared her throat and took a step back. “Anyway, Deandra’s made up her mind. And I support her decision.”
Deandra’s eyes narrowed on Danny, and something about the way the woman looked at him didn’t seem right.
“Actually,” the bride said, “maybe she should be in the wedding party.”
Anne prayed her expression stayed neutral. “Don’t compromise your vision on my account.”
“I won’t.” The woman stared at Danny. “Fine. Let’s put her in a tuxedo like the rest of the men. She can walk my sister down the aisle, just like a man should. Her shoulders are too big for a gown, anyway, and that way my count stays the way it should.”
Anne rolled her eyes. Let’s hear it for girl power.
“So it’s settled,” Deandra said with a tight smile. “You need a tux. Unless you already own one.”
For a moment, Anne waited for somebody to argue with the woman. Like Moose. But he was clearly done falling on swords over the wedding details, and Danny had just gotten what he wanted so he wasn’t going to say a damn thing.
And the truth was, after how many years of fighting fires with these men, they were her brothers in all but blood. Even though she thought Moose had lost his ever-loving mind marrying this beautiful but sour woman after knowing her for a matter of months, Anne was still going to stand up for the guy if he wanted her to—and he did. He’d asked her down at the stationhouse specifically.
“Where did you guys rent your suits?” Anne said to him.
“Tuxedoes,” Deandra corrected.
The groom blinked like he’d forgotten how to speak English. Then again, he’d been doing that a lot at the firehouse lately. “You’re actually going to wear one?”
“What the hell do I care?”
“Yes, she is wearing one,” Deandra cut in.
Danny spoke up. “I’ll go with you. I know where the place is.”

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Review: Trapped by Kevin HearneTrapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #5) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: borrowed from library, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #5
Pages: 290
Published by Del Rey Books, Random House Audio on November 27, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.   Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists.

My Review:

I really have a concentration problem this week. I hope it gets better soon, or next week is going to be hell. Then again, the house closing is this afternoon, so afterwards I’ll either have more concentration to read, or a whole lot less. OMG.

I bounced off of three books before I got a clue and decided to finish Trapped. I was in the middle of listening to it during workouts – Atticus certainly makes the treadmill fly by – but was figuring I’d finish in a couple of weeks, one way or another.

It’s now. As I was already literally at the mid-point, I knew I liked the book more than well enough to finish it. And I’m glad I did.

Although it’s really weird that even when I’m reading the book, I still hear it in Luke Daniels’ voice. His voice has become the voice of Atticus O’Sullivan, and I can’t get it out of my head.

Just like the title says, Atticus spends most of this book in one trap or another, and often hounded from one trap to another, and sometimes even trapped within a trap within a trap.

This is also a story about karma being a serious bitch. So many of the people setting traps for Atticus are people that he seriously pissed off somewhere along the way.

Not that the traps aren’t ingenious and that Atticus’ escape from them isn’t interesting and occasionally epic, but everything that happens in Trapped is pretty much all stuff that he brought upon himself.

After all, back in Hammered, Jesus and Ganesha both told him not to go to Asgard. Or at least not to go with the band of revenge seeking deities, immortals and supernatural badasses he took with him. They told him that no good was ever going to come of that mess – and they were right.

In addition to bringing on Ragnarok AND killing off a whole bunch of the Norse gods who were supposed to get in its way, Atticus also managed to get Bacchus honked off at him back in Hexed. And he’s been redirecting the blame for many of his less than savory actions onto the Svartalfar for centuries. Word was bound to get back to them – eventually.

So all of Atticus’ sky-is-falling chickens come home to roost just when he needs a few months of peace in a nice cave in friendly woods so he can finally bind his apprentice Granuaille into her power. So she can finally stop being his apprentice so they can shag each other blind for a few days.

Oberon is right, human mating rituals are weird and occasionally stupid. But it’s up to the Irish wolfhound to help keep his humans safe from everything that’s after them – even if evil, mesmerizing steaks just happen to drop into his path.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the Iron Druid Chronicles so far, Trapped is a lot of fun. It also feels like a story that closes off a chapter, so it’s not a good place to start the series. Go back to Hounded, which is not only the first book but also the one that is nearly all joy and snark. Atticus’ world gets continually darker from that point. Not that there aren’t still plenty of moments of joy and epic amounts of snark.

But Atticus kills a god in Hounded, and his life is never the same after that.

Trapped is a story where Atticus is forced to reap a whole lot of what he’s sowed. The Norse want him to pay a blood price for killing the Norns, Thor and Heimdall. Since they won’t be available to play their parts in Ragnarok, Atticus needs to take their place. All of their places, which is not going to be an easy job.

Bacchus is after him because Atticus killed a whole bunch of his baccantes back in Hexed. He had a good reason, but Bacchus is just not the understanding type.

Atticus own pantheon, the fae in Tír na nÓg, aren’t happy with him because they see him as being on the “wrong” side in their own little bit of internecine warfare. And they’re peeved because he successfully pretended to be dead for several years. Nobody likes being fooled – especially a deity.

The vampires are after him because as a druid he knows how to unbind them – meaning kill them. The vampires are the reason that Atticus has been the only druid in the world for past millennia – and they are not giving up on their purge now – especially because Atticus is about to bind a new druid to the earth.

And for the past millennia or so, every time Atticus has needed someone to blame for something he did, he’s blamed the Svartalfar, the dark elves. They’ve finally found out – and found Atticus.

Under the principle of the “enemy of my enemy is at least my ally”, all of these groups are working together to wipe Atticus off the face of the Earth, and any other plane he manages to escape to.

The scene where an entire clown parade turns into Svartalfar and chases after Atticus, Granuaille and Oberon is particularly creepy.

So the story in Trapped is a story of running hither, tither and yon, and then back again. It’s also a story that feels like it’s one gigantic interruption. Every time they settle down to take care of Granuaille’s bindings, another faction is led to them and disrupts the work. Which makes this very much an “out of the frying pan into the fire” kind of story.

And it’s a fun one.

Fair warning, it ends on a cliffhanger of truly epic proportions! But that’s OK, because I’ve already got Hunted queued up and ready to go!

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 22, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

My Review:

Because of the house closing tomorrow, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on all the books I’m supposed to be reading. Instead, I’m looking for books to sweep me away, mostly to places and people I’ve met before. Or at least am well acquainted with through the pages of my favorite books.

And that led me to this one. As I’ve said many times before, I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, particularly when they are done well and/or introduce me to new facets of characters that I think I know and certainly love.

Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sidney Paget in the Strand Magazine

This book about Mycroft Holmes in his “salad days” does a bit of both. For those of us who are fond of the Holmes Brothers, this story about Mycroft’s early days as a government official, when he was young, in love, and his weight was definitely proportional to his height, is treat. And not just for its glimpses at an even younger Sherlock Holmes, still at school and a very indifferent student, trying to hone his gift for memory and observation into something that will keep him away from boredom, and see him intellectually if not always gainfully employed.

Even though this is a story about Mycroft rather than Sherlock Holmes, someone still needs to serve as “Watson’, chronicler, sounding-board, foil and occasionally backup gunman. In this story that role falls to Cyrus Douglas, a black man in his early 40s who is still a powerful street fighter as well as the secret owner of a successful tobacco shop in London.

The story begins when Douglas receives word from his home in Trinidad that someone or something is killing young children in a manner that strongly suggests supernatural origin. The children are dead, the adults are both grief-stricken and scared, and Douglas is tempted to sail home and look into the matter.

So is Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft Holmes fiancee, also a native of Trinidad – although from much different social and economic circles than Douglas.

Young Mycroft, deeply in love (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be writing) decides to follow Georgiana to Trinidad, using his government position as cover and providing Douglas with cover for his own desire to head home.

Mycroft and Douglas, true friends masquerading as master and manservant, run into trouble from the moment they arrive on shipboard, and stay in various states of trouble from embarkation to disembarkation.

Only to arrive in Trinidad, battered, bruised and uncertain of what happened to Georgiana or just which of the two of them exactly what forces are after with such bone-breaking intent.

This journey that leads Mycroft Holmes into the heart of darkness, breaks the young man that he was. And takes him on his first steps into becoming the spider at the heart of the British government’s wide, wide web.

Escape Rating A-: As a portrait of the government functionary as a very young man, Mycroft Holmes is a treat. When the story begins in 1870, Mycroft is all of 23. That puts his birth year in 1847 – which would make Sherlock a young 16. We think of these characters based on the Sidney Paget drawings from The Strand Magazine, but if they must have been young once.

(I have a picture in my head of Mycroft as he’s described in this book, and he looks a lot like Simon Ward as Young Winston Churchill.)

Mycroft begins this story very young indeed, not just in years, but in naivete. (Another sentence I never expected to write.) A reviewer referred to this as being the story of Mycroft in his “salad days” and that feels right. The comment about “salad days” is from Shakespeare, as said by Cleopatra in the play Antony and Cleopatra, “my salad days, when I was green in judgment…” And so Mycroft is. So much of what sets Mycroft off on his quest is his complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of the woman he believes he loves. Even Sherlock points out his lack of clear sight when it comes to Georgiana, and he’s only 16. The more mature Douglas has doubts about the young lady from the very beginning. And they are both right.

This may be the last time that Mycroft is ever wrong about anything. He certainly learns his lesson – perhaps a bit too well.

The case that Mycroft and Douglas investigate is as much a part of its time and place as the Sherlock Holmes stories are of Victorian London. As Mycroft does what he does so well, pulling the threads of monetary exchanges, political double-dealing and government corruption, he and Douglas find themselves in the middle of a plot to enslave a new generation of black men and women in a nefarious enterprise where it seems that all the players are doing their best to pretend that they are not actually slavers.

But they are. And Mycroft and Douglas, with the help of some surprising allies, set out to stop them at all costs. And it’s terrible and harrowing and marvelous and necessary and right. This is a story that introduces a marvelous and fascinating character in Douglas, and provides new insights into the familiar character of Mycroft while telling a cracking good story.

There’s a sequel coming out this fall. In fact, I was led to this book by a promo for the upcoming title, Mycroft and Sherlock. And I can’t wait.

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. GreenThe Dark Side of the Road (Ishmael Jones, #1) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #1
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on May 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A Country House Murder Mystery with a Supernatural Twist

Ishmael Jones is someone who can't afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He's employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself - is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

My Review:

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this all week. But Night Fall left me with an epic book hangover and absolutely no taste for the romance I was planning to review today. And then I remembered that I had the first book in this series, that I’d never read it, and that there was a chance that it was not part of any of the author’s many series that were rather conclusively concluded in Night Fall.

I decided not to resist. Sometimes it really is futile.

Instead of anything that I was expecting, the Ishmael Jones series in general, and The Dark Side of the Road in particular, has the feel of a classic murder mystery, in this very particular case a classic, British country house murder mystery. What makes it different is that the series is set in a Men in Black kind of world, where there really are aliens among us – who sometimes behave just as badly as we do.

And the detective, Ishmael Jones, reminds me an awful, awful, wonderfully awful lot of Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, in that he seems to be immortal, at least as far as he knows, and not exactly from around here. But where Captain Jack is a human from the future, Ishmael Jones is an alien turned into a human – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof – most of the time.

To further the resemblance, both Captain Jack and Ishmael Jones have a few holes in their memories. But Jack only lost two years. Ishmael, at least so far, seems to have lost everything prior to his ship’s crash landing on Earth in 1963. He has hazy dream-fugue quasi-memories, and nothing else.

Oh, and his blood runs golden, not red. Pretty conclusive evidence that whatever he is, he isn’t garden variety human.

The Dark Side of the Road exists somewhere at the intersection of urban fantasy, science fiction and horror. Let’s say it’s horror-adjacent, which is about as close as I like to go.

Ishmael Jones works for a secret organization that’s just called “The Organization”. It’s the latest in a long line of secret quasi-governmental agencies that Ishmael has worked for since he crashed on Earth. The more interconnected the world gets, the harder it is to change identities and hide his lack of aging – among other things.

So the Organization protects him, and he does work for them. He’s a bit of a clean-up man. When aliens, or other weird people, or things, break the law, Ishmael is one of the people who cleans up after. In a way, Ishmael is one of the Men in Black.

When his boss invites him to a country house party for Christmas, way, way out in Cornwall during the snowstorm not merely of the century, but possibly of the millenium, Ishmael battles heaven, hell, an intermittent GPS and an overtaxed steering wheel to reach the place – only to discover that by the time he gets there, his boss has gone missing.

Ishmael finds a whole lot of weird family drama, an ex-lover, an ex-colleague, and finally his boss’s body, decapitated and hidden in a snowman. Or as a snowman. Blizzard of the millennium, after all.

The remaining inhabitants are all quick to point the finger, first at a random stranger, and then at each other. But once the bodies start piling up, it becomes obvious to everyone that the killer is in the house with them.

And that the killer is not entirely human. But then again, neither is Ishmael Jones.

Escape Rating B+: This did turn out to be exactly what I was looking for to get out of that book hangover. I needed a book where I would be compelled to keep turning pages – just to see what happened next. And The Dark Side of the Road certainly had that kind of compulsion.

Along with a high creep factor – but one that is totally appropriate to its horror-adjacency.

The setting does a great job of invoking those classic country house murder mysteries. If you’re not thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None before the end of the book, you’re not creeped out nearly enough.

The story is science fiction, and it’s horror, and it’s urban fantasy. And it’s a mystery. That’s a lot of fictional plates to keep spinning. The only real SFnal element is Ishmael’s origin. He’s definitely an alien, but over the 50 plus years he’s been mostly human, this has become his planet and we have become his people. Wherever he came from, he can’t go back. And whatever made him human, it gave him human emotions and reactions, but a whole lot of better-than-human capabilities. He can’t actually do anything we can’t, but he does them all better and faster and more efficiently.

The mystery of who killed his boss, and continues killing his boss’ remaining family, moved from mystery to horror. At first it’s a question of whodunnit. But as the corpses and evidence mount, the question moves from whodunnit to what done it, and then to who is masquerading as the what.

The answer to that question tips the story from mystery into horror. Or at least adjacent enough to creep me out a bit – but not too much.

As things go from bad to worse to desperate, we follow along from Ishmael’s head. The story is told in the first-person singular, so we know what he knows, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. Including the grief, the desperation, the fear, the confusion, and the hope that someone will get out of this alive. Somehow.

I liked being inside his head. Ishmael is an interesting and still somewhat enigmatic character. I’m looking forward to reading more of his adventures – the next time I need another compelling book and/or cure for a book hangover!

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Girl Who Stepped Into The Past by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: time travel romance
Pages: 256
Published by Sophie Barnes on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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She was looking for inspiration…

When historical romance author Jane Edwards goes to England on a research trip, she doesn’t expect to travel two hundred years into the past. She also doesn’t expect to be accused of murdering the Earl of Camden’s sister. Presented with few choices, Jane decides the best course of action is to help Camden find the real killer. But the more time she spends in his company, the more she falls for the dashing earl, and the more she hopes for a life with him by her side.

And found love in the most impossible place.

James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, is convinced Jane had something to do with his sister’s murder. Until he learns she lacked the ability to accomplish the feat. Still, her explanation about stopping by his home in the middle of a rainstorm to seek employment, doesn’t add up. And yet, when he offers her the position she supposedly seeks, he discovers the smart resourceful woman she is. Which makes him wonder if marrying his new maid, might be worth the risk of scandal.

My Review:

It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as the concept of time travel. The premise will sound familiar to anyone who has read any time travel romances. The details change a bit. In this particular version of this old tale, a woman who is looking for a fresh start after the end of a relationship falls in love with a man in a portrait. When the thunder booms and the lightning cracks, she finds herself back at the period of that portrait, face to face with the man of her dreams.

When the trope is as tried and true as this one, whether a particular variation of it stands out from the crowd lies with the execution – because we know how it’s going to end. Somehow there’s going to be an HEA, whether in the past or the present. Or it’s going to be a tragedy, but romance writers generally don’t go there. Readers love their HEAs after all.

Although the beginning of this one reminded me particularly of Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready, in the end it mostly recalled The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm. Both of those stories were a lot of fun, and The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past is as well.

Jane Edwards doesn’t merely find herself in the Regency period that she has studied long and hard as part of her research for her own series of historical romance novels, she finds herself standing over a dead body in the middle of a unsolved murder. A murder that was never solved, so she does not have any future knowledge about who done it.

In an era where circumstantial evidence ruled, her position is rather damning. The Earl of Camden, the man that Jane has fallen for via his portrait, is certain that Jane must have just killed his sister. Jane has her work cut out for her, not only proving her innocence but also explaining her sudden presence in the middle of the English countryside.

Jane turns out to be more than up to the task. But involving herself in the life and household of James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, causes her no end of problems, as one might expect. The two bond over their investigation into his sister’s death, in spite of Jane’s rather unconventional appearance and manners.

Jane begins to realize that James is the man she has been looking for all of her life. But falling in love has its own risks. Will he believe her strange story? Is he willing to be shunned by society to marry a woman who at best seems to be an American adventuress? And is Jane willing to give up the safety, convenience, freedom and loneliness of the 21st century for life with the man she loves in a world that will otherwise never accept her?

And will solving the murder change history too much to make any of their wishes even remotely possible?

Escape Rating B: This is a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t rise above some of the truly great time travel stories like Outlander and The Jane Austen Project. And there are plenty of nods to Jane Austen herself in this story.

Jane Edwards, our heroine, is a lucky woman. By the time she tells him, James manages to believe her story, as outlandish as it seems. He believes, perhaps, just a bit too easily. I considered it all part of the handwavium of time travel and didn’t let it bother me too much.

Jane does have an awfully easy time figuring out who killed James’ sister. To the point where the reader may be surprised that she was a Regency romance author and not a mystery author! But it is all in good fun, at least fun for anyone not the victim or the perpetrator.

The heart of the story is the romance between Jane and James. While they fall in love rather quickly, the dilemma they face is the one that tears at the heart. She might be able to go back. It will be difficult for a 21st century woman to live with the restrictions imposed on women in the 19th century. If she stays so they can marry, James will be shunned by his peers for the rest of his life, and that shunning may also fall on any children they have. They have to be willing to give up a great deal in order to be together. What we feel for, in the end, is the internal conflict they each have to resolve and their ultimate willingness to be all to each other, and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

And that’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances, time travel or no time travel. By the time they reach that ultimate decision, we are right there with them.

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

Sophie is giving away a signed print copy of The Girl Who Stepped Into The Past + a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner on this tour.

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Review: The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Review: The Magic of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.The Magic of Recluce (The Saga of Recluce #1) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy
Series: Saga of Recluce #1
Pages: 501
Published by Tor Books on May 15, 1992
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Young Lerris is dissatisfied with his life and trade, and yearns to find a place in the world better suited to his skills and temperament. But in Recluce a change in circumstances means taking one of two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond Recluce, with the aim of learning how the world works and what his place in it might be. Many do not survive. Lerris chooses dangergeld. When Lerris is sent into intensive training for his quest, it soon becomes clear that he has a natural talent for magic. And he will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked. Though it goes against all of his instincts, Lerris must learn to use his powers in an orderly way before his wanderjahr, or fall prey to Chaos.

My Review:

“The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart.”

The above quote is from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, but it could equally apply to the way that all of Lerris’ teachers operate in The Magic of Recluce. They all want him to think for himself and learn for himself, and not expect answers to be handed to him. At the same time, it is all too easy to sympathize with his position that they all already know, and why won’t they just tell him already!

And on my hidden third hand, it is clear that while their desire for him to learn things for himself is reasonable, they don’t exactly give him the building blocks from which to start. He’s 15, he’s exiled from the only home he’s ever known, and no one has bothered to really explain why.

All that he knows is that the endless striving for absolute ORDER bores him to exasperation. And that no one can be bothered to help him make sense of it all. There are always secrets within secrets, and cryptic answers within enigmas. He doesn’t even know that his own father is a High Master of Order until long after he has left the boring, orderly paradise that is Recluce.

But speaking of order, this is also a story about order vs. chaos, and the need to maintain the balance between the two. Lerris is actually kind of right in that pure order can be boring. Recluce is the bastion of order, and seems to be needed to balance the untrammeled chaos outside its borders.

However, while in this world it seems to be easier to create evil through chaos than through order, the fact is that both order and chaos, taken to their extremes, are bad. If that sounds familiar, it is also one of the premises of the Invisible Library series and of the Shadow War that was so much a part of Babylon 5. Unchecked chaos is ultimately destructive, but unchecked order leads to tyranny. Neither is particularly good for humans.

It’s up to Lerris, in his journey of training and discovery, to figure out where he belongs on that spectrum between order and chaos. The moral and ethical dilemmas that he faces illustrate the fine lines that separate the two, and show just how easy it is to fall down what turns out to be an extremely slippery slope – in either direction.

Escape Rating A+: The Magic of Recluce was the first book published in the author’s long-running Saga of Recluce. As such, it carries the weight of the initial worldbuilding that is needed for all of its prequels and sequels. However you may feel about reading series in publication order vs. the internal chronological order, this feels like the place to start.

And I fell right into it. I didn’t so much read this book as get absorbed by it. I started one night at dinner and finished the next afternoon. All 500-plus pages later. It’s a good story that keeps twisting and turning until the very end – and, I think, beyond.

Lerris’ story is both a coming-of-age story and a coming-into-power story. At the beginning, he doesn’t know who he is or what he is. He doesn’t even know there is a who or a what to be discovered – and that’s his journey. His internal doubts and fears, his constant questioning of what his purpose is, along with all of his very human frustrations, make him a fascinating character to follow.

What he does eventually realize, after fits and starts and mistakes and catastrophes, is just how equal, opposed and opposite chaos and order are – and how necessary the one is to the other. And that both sides are more than capable of deciding that the ends justify the means.

In the end, Lerris strikes his own path – by doing the best he can with what he has and what he knows – and often by ignoring what he doesn’t – occasionally with disastrous results. But in the end, he discovers or embodies that necessary balance even if it hurts. Because the person who is usually the most wounded is himself – every single time.

His journey is the making of him, and it’s the making of an utterly marvelous story as well as a terrific beginning to a fantastic series.

In celebration of the release of Outcasts of Order, the OMG 20th book in the series, The Magic of Recluce and the following two books in the series are being re-released with new covers this fall.  (The panorama view of the three covers is below, and it is gorgeous!) After falling in love with this series, I have a lot of catching up to do. And I can’t wait!

Review: Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death by Water by Kerry GreenwoodDeath by Water (Phryne Fisher, #15) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #15
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 1, 2010 (first published 2005)
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The nice men at P&O are worried. A succession of jewellery thefts from the first class passengers is hardly the best advertisement for their cruises. Especially when it is likely that a passenger is the thief. Phryne Fisher, with her Lulu bob, green eyes, cupid's bow lips and sense of the ends justifying the means, is just the person to mingle seamlessly with the upper classes and take on a case of theft on the high seas - or at least on the S.S. Hinemoa, on a luxury cruise to New Zealand. She is carrying the Great Queen of Sapphires, the Maharani, as bait. There are shipboard romances, champagne cocktails, erotic photographers, jealous swains, mickey finns, jazz musicians, blackmail and attempted murder, all before the thieves find out - as have countless love-smitten men before them - that where the glamorous and intelligent Phryne is concerned, resistance is futile.

My Review:

In between yesterday’s big and marvelous epic fantasy (Spinning Silver) and tomorrow’s big series-opening epic fantasy (The Magic of Recluce) I found myself looking for something less weighty that I knew from the off would be quick to get immersed in. Spinning Silver was wonderful but left me with an epic book hangover.

So naturally I turned to something, or rather someone, who always manages to sweep me back into her world at the drop of a hat, the lighting of a gasper, or the discovery of yet another dead body.

Of course, I’m speaking of Miss Phryne Fisher. The books, while in some ways markedly different than the TV series, always serve up a delicious repaste of Phryne’s signature style, sizzling wit and nose for both finding and solving trouble.

Death by Water was certainly no exception.

This was an interesting story for multiple reasons. This is one of the few cases where the book consists almost entirely of the case. It is also a story where Phryne is operating far away from her usual base of operations, and without most of her cast of regulars. And the cruise ship itinerary as described in the book is fascinating.

She boards the P&O cruise ship SS Hinemoa for a luxury cruise to New Zealand with only the redoubtable Dot at her side. Phryne has chosen to accept this case from the cruise line to discover who is stealing expensive jewels from its first-class passengers so that she can escape a period of more than the usual chaos at her house in St. Kilda.

The thefts have been cunning. The jewel thief or thieves have managed to make some of their heists in the middles of crowded dancefloors with no one being the wiser. It’s giving the cruise line a black eye in the publicity department, not to mention costing them a pretty penny in reparations. And it has to stop.

So Phryne boards the ship with a stunner of a sapphire and a tragic story of a curse to go with it. The games begin almost immediately, as the thieves make attempts on her stateroom and both Phryne’s and Dot’s possessions and eventually persons.

That makes it personal.

But just as Phryne begins to put all the pieces together, murder enters the scene. Are the crimes connected, or are there two crime sprees aboard this one ship? With the help of the ship’s cat Scragger, Phryne is able to reveal all. Or almost all. Or all that needs to be revealed.

Escape Rating B+: I went looking for fun, and I found it. And just like Phryne drinking a restorative brandy, I feel ready to tackle whatever comes next.

This is one of the stories that was not filmed, and I understand why. At the same time, I’m sorry it wasn’t – the sets and the costumes would have been glorious!

The case here turns out to be unusually straightforward. The ship is a closed community, and there aren’t a lot of options for misdirection. Phryne, as usual, solves the problem with intelligence rather than forensics. She studies the people involved, looks at the possible motives and opportunities, and figures out who is acting out of character, even if she can’t always tell why.

But Phryne is alone, except for Dot of course, on this trip. This wasn’t a case where the usual gang would have been all that helpful, and they weren’t missed as they have been in other stories. Cec’s niece Lizbeth, Navigation Officer Green and others do end up filling the places of Phryne’s assistants, and for once it works well. It helps that Phryne’s fellow first-class passengers are a colorful lot – to say the least!

The descriptions, both of shipboard life on a first class cruise and of cruise tourism in New Zealand in the 1920s are marvelous. The reader feels as if they are there on the ship, with all its gossip, pampering, troublemaking and ennui. If it weren’t for the frequent attempts on Phryne’s and Dot’s lives, it would seem like quite a restful trip! And if you enjoy Phryne’s singular voice, it’s a lovely journey.