Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe KennedyLonen's Reign (Sorcerous Moons #6) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #6
Pages: 160
Published by Brightlynx on March 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A Looming Threat
The sorceress Oria has finally come into her own—able to wield the power of her birthright and secure in the marriage she once believed would bring her only misery. But the past she escaped still chases her, and the certainty of war promises to destroy everything she’s fought to have.

An Impossible War
Once before Lonen led an army in a desperate attempt to stop the powerfully murderous sorcerers of Bára—and he nearly lost everything. Now he must return to the battlefield that took the lives of so many of his people. Only this time he has more to risk than ever.

The Final Conflict
With guile, determination—and unexpected allies—Oria and Lonen return to the place where it all began… and only hope that it won’t also be the end of them.

My Review:

This was a lovely wrap up to the series. Or, to put it another way that feels much more accurate, Lonen’s Reign provides the concluding chapters to this lovely fantasy romance.

That’s a hint, by the way. The Sorcerous Moons series reads way more like a single book split into chunks than it does a series of individual books. It only works if you read from the beginning. Every time I get a new “chapter” I find myself reading the synopses and my reviews of the previous books to catch myself up – even if it hasn’t been all that long since the previous book.

All the action in this book rests on what came before. Which is fitting for the concluding “chapter” of an epic (in scope if not in length) saga.

This is also the point where the story comes full circle. We began, in Lonen’s War, with then-Prince Lonen and his Destrye attacking the stronghold of their enemies, the Bara. Where Lonen discovers a disregarded Princess Oria imprisoned in her tower by her own weaknesses.

Oria finds herself the only functioning member of the Baran royal house, and brokers a peace treaty between her people and the Destrye – only to have that well-thought out and surprisingly well-working peace broken the moment her brother wakes up and forcibly takes the crown.

From that point forward, the story moves back and forth between Destrye and Bara, as Oria discovers the depths to which her own people have sunk – and the desperation that has forced Lonen’s people to rise and strike back.

Along the way, Oria discovers that all of the prohibitions, weaknesses and fears that have held her back are a tissue of lies and misdirections. And Oria and Lonen make a marriage of state and convenience that turns into so much more.

This is the point where the finally undisputed King of the Destrye, and his newly anointed Queen Oria risk everything they have on one final gamble against the heavily fortified and magically defended Bara – in the hopes of saving both their peoples.

All of their people. On both sides.

Escape Rating B+: I’m kind of reviewing the whole series at this concluding point. Because this book really doesn’t make much sense on its own, it feels necessary to look at the series as a whole.

At the same time, I have to say that Lonen’s Reign feels like a fitting conclusion to the saga begun in Lonen’s War – and it feels equally fitting that both the first and the last book are titled after him. He began the action at the outset, followed by Oria’s reaction in Oria’s Gambit, followed by two middle books, then Oria’s finally coming into her own power in Oria’s Enchantment and now we sit at the conclusion.

The two sides began at war, not that the Barans would have considered their actions warlike. Bara used to be a lush paradise, but the climate changed and their city turned into a desert. Instead of adapting, they used magic as well as engineering to steal water from the lands that surrounded them, making even more desert. Eventually they reached the lands of the distant Destrye, absolutely certain that their magical might gave them the right to strip those lands of their water and kill anyone who fought back.

Lonen brought the war home to them. And left with the prize and pride of Bara, Princess Oria. As they fell in love, it gave her strength of will, and the desperate determination to reach beyond everything that she had been taught. She had to in order to survive – and to be able to do the right thing.

Oria grounded Lonen, giving him the wisdom to become the king his people needed, in spite of the betrayals he suffered at home.

Their union, which does indeed become the love story for the ages as I said in my review of Lonen’s War, provides a path forward for both of their peoples, who have now become one.

In some ways, the story in Lonen’s Reign feels as if it is missing a few bits – almost all of the backstory is in their earlier books.

Because I really enjoy worldbuilding, it also felt as if Oria’s final revelations – the climate change, the resulting subjugation and despoiling of a wider and wider swath of territory, and, most of all, the way that magic as practiced in Bara became ossified in a way that almost literally set their people, and particularly the women, into stone that preserved the predatory status quo – got a bit of a short shrift. I’d love to know more about how it happened.

Maybe that’s another book sometime in the future.

Lonen’s Reign turned out to be a quick and mostly satisfying wrap-up to a fascinating fantasy romance series. I’m looking forward to both the author’s eventual return to the awesome Twelve Kingdoms series – because that is edging towards its final confrontation – and to her new fantasy romance series, beginning with The Orchid Throne later this year.

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna HackettGriff (Hell Squad #17) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #17
Pages: 186
Published by Anna Hackett on March 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review, because my feelings about Griff are very mixed. Or rather, my feelings about the Hell Squad series in general and Griff’s relationship with Indy in particular are more than a bit mixed.

And I’m feeling conflicted because my feelings about this author’s work usually fall much higher on the “like to love” range, and this one just didn’t work for me. So there’s a bit of sad there as well.

Griff is the OMG 17th book in the Hell Squad series. The setup is post-apocalyptic, with the apocalypse being very specific and extremely recent. A race of alien-dinosaur-raptor hybrids have invaded a very near future Earth and wrecked the joint.

The Gizzida initially came to strip the planet and take all its resources, including the humans. There’s more than a bit of Borg in the Gizzida as they don’t merely wipe out the populations of the planets they invade, they use genetic engineering to convert both the human and animal populations into more of themselves.

The series follows one group of human survivors. This particular bunch were in Australia when the Gizzida took over (most but not all are Aussies), holed up in a remote military installation and have been sticking it to the Gizzida as much and as often as they can in some rather effective guerrilla warfare.

As the series has progressed, key members of the population of “The Enclave” have managed to grab their bit of happiness in spite of the destruction all around them. Life really does go on.

This particular story features Griff Callan, a member of one of the squads that brings that guerrilla warfare to the Gizzida, and Indy Bennett, the communications officer for his squad. Griff and Indy knew each other before the disaster. Her brother was his best friend until their relationship went seriously pear-shaped long before the aliens invaded.

They’ve always loved each other, but have never been in a place where they could admit it. They grew up together, but Indy was just younger enough to have made any possibility of romance seriously skeevy. And once she was old enough, well, there was that whole “bro code” that makes your best friend’s little sister untouchable – no matter how much she wants to be touched.

Which doesn’t mean that Griff didn’t break her heart with his refusal. And he’s scared he’ll break it again before they have any chance at all.

But it’s a chance he’s finally willing to take. If the aliens don’t take them both out first.

Escape Rating C+: Whenever I see a character named Indiana I hear Sean Connery’s voice from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade complaining to his son Indy, “We named the dog Indiana.” Clearly at least one of Indy Bennett’s parents was a fan.

Speaking of fans, while I am definitely a fan of this author’s work, I was not a fan of this particular story. I love the premise of this series, so if you like post-apocalyptic where the heroes get to stick it to the ones who brought that apocalypse, the series is generally a blast. The first book is wrapped around the romance between the leader of the Hell Squad (Marcus) and HIS communications officer.

And thereby sits a chunk of why I have such mixed feelings about this particular entry. It’s not that there ARE patterns in the stories, because all stories of all types follow patterns. It’s that the specific patterns used in this series repeat themselves, and over 17 books those repeats are becoming a bit too obvious for this reader.

I fully recognize that those very same patterns are what make many people love this series – no matter how long it goes.

The story here, and frequently throughout the series, is that the couple in question finally acknowledge both that life in the Enclave with the Gizzida sniping at them is WAY too short, and that they have feelings for the other person that they have refused to acknowledge because one party, usually the male, thinks he’s not good enough for the female. Although that’s been reversed a couple of times and I’ve liked those better.

In this particular case, the reason that Griff is certain Indy won’t want to be with him is pretty damning, but it was also obvious from the get-go. And it felt like she got over it way too fast considering how important it was. (I’m trying not to give it away.)

After the couple finally acknowledges their feelings, they face a situation where the female has to go into battle with the squad, and she is either captured or nearly so. The male has to ride to the rescue, incurring life threatening injuries. They forgive whatever caused any tension between them during his recovery and then live happily for now.

This series really can’t include a happily ever after, not because of the internal dynamics of the couples in each story, but because the Gizzida make any “ever after” extremely tenuous at the moment.

In the case of this particular story, the scenes where Griff finally declares his intentions involve him carrying her out of meetings in a fireman’s carry, with her protesting all the way. It felt like his need to mark his territory was more important than her need to be professional and part of the team that is, after all, trying to save the world.

I felt it took away from her agency. YMMV.

My other issue with the series as a whole is that it’s just taking too long for the Enclave and their allies around the world to kick the Gizzida off our Earth. Ironically, it hasn’t been all THAT long within the scope of this world, but 17 is a lot of books. There’s been some progress towards their overall goal, but I’ve become impatient waiting for it to finally happen. And that’s affecting my enjoyment of the individual series entries at this point.

That being said, I still love Anna Hackett’s writing, and I’m eagerly anticipating her next book, Heart of Eon. I found her first in her space opera SFR, and it’s still where I love her best. Not that the Galactic Gladiators haven’t also carved out a piece of my heart – but I’ll have to wait longer to get back to Kor Magna.

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys Ford

Review: Jacked Cat Jive by Rhys FordJacked Cat Jive (Kai Gracen #3) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, urban fantasy
Series: Kai Gracen #3
Pages: 352
Published by Dreamspinner Press on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Stalker Kai Gracen knew his human upbringing would eventually clash with his elfin heritage, but not so soon. Between Ryder, a pain-in-his-neck Sidhe Lord coaxing him to join San Diego’s Southern Rise Court, and picking up bounties for SoCalGov, he has more than enough to deal with. With his loyalties divided between the humans who raised him and the Sidhe Lord he’s befriended and sworn to protect, Kai finds himself standing at a crossroads.

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayWhen Love Leads to Scandal (Townsbridges #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Townsbridges #1
Pages: 96
Published by Sophie Barnes on February 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Two people fated to be together…

Recently engaged to the Earl of Langdon, Lady Bethany is content with the knowledge that she’s made a wonderful match for herself. Until a chance encounter with a handsome stranger makes her wish she was still unattached – a sentiment that grows even stronger when circumstance causes her to spend more time in this gentleman’s company.

And the duty that threatens to come between them…

Charles Townsbridge is not prepared to learn that the mystery woman he met in the park, the very same woman he cannot get out of his head, is in fact his best friend’s fiancée. Determined to do the right thing, he tasks himself with quashing the attraction, only to discover that the heart cannot be so easily controlled.

My Review:

Think of this as a historical version of the trope about falling for your significant other’s best friend – just with a whole lot of added consequences.

After a Transatlantic crossing where they had a chance to get to know one another, Lady Bethany agreed to marry Robert, the Earl of Langdon. It seemed like an excellent match – and it possibly might have been. Except for that whole best friend problem.

And because Robert basically saw their engagement as a business transaction, one where once the contract was signed and sealed he didn’t have to put forth any future effort to win the woman who had agreed to become his wife.

He had plenty of other unspoken expectations as well. Love didn’t enter into it – and it honestly didn’t for Bethany, either. But she did hope that when they got to know one another that they would have a solid foundation on which to build a marital partnership of some kind.

He couldn’t be bothered. Which probably goes to show just how much he cared in the first place.

On that very infamous other hand, Bethany met his best friend Charles Townsbridge in the park. Chasing after her runaway bonnet. And felt the spark that had completely eluded her in all of her meetings with Langdon.

She could have considered it just a passing fancy. Or a bored impulse. Or pretty much anything except that spark of an attraction she was no longer eligible to feel.

But Charles felt it too. Leaving him determined to suppress his desires at every turn. Of which there were entirely too many – because Bethany’s fiance trusted his best friend to take care of the woman he couldn’t be bothered to even take tea with.

Nothing happened. There was no affair. Plenty of temptation, but just the barest hint of flirting – and even that only after being thrown together too many times. They were both completely honorable – and both suffering in silence. A silence they both planned to take to their graves.

Lucky for ALL of them, Athena Townsbridge was completely unwilling to let her brother suffer alone for the rest of his life – no matter how much scandal SHE had to cause, with his permission – or without.

Escape Rating B+: This book feels like the absolute ultimate read in UST. That’s “unresolved sexual tension” for those who are not familiar with the acronym from reading fanfic.

The story here is delicious. It’s also appropriately short. I say that because the tension between Bethany and Charles is palpable from their very first meeting, to the point where it quickly becomes painful for them to be together, and equally painful for the reader to watch.

What makes the story is that they are both trying to do the honorable thing. She affianced herself to Langdon quite willingly – albeit not with nearly enough information. Also, he seems to have put on an act of being truly interested in her while they were aboard ship, only for him to completely drop the act once the contract was signed.

He doesn’t come off very well, and he shouldn’t.

But Charles and Bethany both feel stuck. There will be a terrible scandal if she cancels the engagement and it will all fall on her and her family. While they can weather the storm, it could easily mean the difference between her making a good marriage and not marrying at all.

It’s just a mess, and we feel for both of them the whole way through. Robert, not so much.

All of the adults are trying to do the responsible thing, which makes it doubly delicious when Charles’ young sister decides to hell with leaving everyone to wallow in their misery. I hope she gets her own romance sometime later in this series. She’s already earned her own HEA!

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Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Defense by Anna HackettMission: Her Defense (Team 52 #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance
Series: Team 52 #4
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on February 12th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website
Goodreads

One former special forces Marine. One tall, handsome police detective who pushes all her buttons. One dangerous investigation that forces them to work together.

Blair Mason is badass to the bone. She’s no stranger to loss and barely survived the mission that ended her military career. Now, as part of Team 52, she never shies away from a fight to ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, she’s often forced to “liaise” with the team’s contact at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. The tall, hard-bodied detective ignites her temper quicker than any man she’s ever known…and after a terrible massacre, she’s horrified to find that she and MacKade are being ordered to work together.

Detective Luke MacKade was born a protector. He takes care of his family, and as a dedicated homicide detective, he protects his city. He is less thrilled with his job of cleaning up after Team 52 after they tear through Vegas on a mission. Blair is a woman who sets him off just by breathing, but even he can’t deny the powerful attraction he feels to her strength and skill. When several cursed samurai swords are stolen in a bloody attack, it is up to Luke and Blair to get them back…before more blood is shed.

But others are after the swords and their hidden powers. As Luke and Blair’s dangerous investigation intensifies, they face danger at every turn. Luke battles his intense need to protect the woman he’s falling for, a woman who neither wants or needs his protection. But as their desire burns white-hot, Luke will learn that the toughest defenses are the ones around Blair’s heart.

My Review:

It’s Valentine’s Day, which makes it a particularly appropriate day to post this review. Because a) it’s a romance and b) it’s by an author I absolutely love.

It would be perfect if it were my favorite genre by this author, science fiction romance, but c’est la vie. Like the song says, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Team 52 series is a cross between action adventure romance and military romance. Because the members of Team 52 are nearly all ex-military, and the ones that aren’t are ex-CIA or something even more secretive. That’s certainly true in the case of our heroine, Blair Mason.

And like all of the other former military members of Team 52, Blair is ex-military not because she wanted to be, but because her last (and very nearly final) mission left her with injuries that made her ineligible to continue to serve.

But the high-tech advances kept under as many wraps as possible at Area 52 (yes, it’s next door to the place you’re thinking of) gave her back her eye, and her sight, even better than before. It’s just that if you learn the details of either her last mission, her current status, or just how it was done, she’d probably have to kill you.

Unless one of her teammates gets there first.

The Team 52 series contains some of the earthbound elements of Stargate SG-1. Occasionally, although it’s starting to feel like not-so-occasionally, someone or something unearths powerful and dangerous technology leftover from surprisingly highly developed pre-Ice Age civilizations.

And that’s where Team 52 comes in. Because when these extremely dangerous devices come to light, there’s usually one or more villainous organizations who want to do very dark deeds with those devices.

So Team 52 swoops in to clean up the resulting mess.

But someone has to clean up their mess in a way that provides plausible explanations for the press and the public. It’s hard to completely cover up an entire ballroom full of dead bodies in the middle of a major city. A city like Las Vegas.

That’s where Detective Luke MacKade of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department comes in. It’s his job to make Team 52’s mess appear less messy to the powers that be and the noses that snoop. It’s not his only job, and it’s certainly not his favorite part of his job. He’s in the LVMPD for the “serve and protect” parts of the job and he’s convinced that all Team 52 does in come in and make his job harder without regard for the civilians who get caught in the crossfire.

His favorite part of the job seems to be riling up Blair Mason – even if he’s not willing to admit it.

But when one of their dangerous artifacts cuts a literal swath through his city, he gets an up close and person look at exactly what Team 52 does and why somebody has to do it.

And he finally manages to get close enough to Blair Mason to get an up close and personal view of the woman hiding under the prickly, badass exterior. And he wants to see a whole lot more.

Escape Rating A-: As far as this reader is concerned, the Team 52 series is back in fine form with this entry – even though I still think the titles are slightly cheesy.

I loved the first book (Mission: Her Protection), liked the second (Mission: Her Rescue) and thought the third (Mission: Her Security) was ok. This one is back to “love” on my list. I think because the focus is on Blair more than it is Luke.

What can I say, I like it when the heroine is every bit as badass, if not a bit more, than the hero. I also felt for her perspective of feeling like she needed to be all badass all the time in order to be respected by her teammates. And that the hero isn’t merely ok with that, but loves her and respects her for the badass she is and doesn’t need or want her to be anything else.

While her teammates respect her as she is, that she was socialized that way because the rest of the world doesn’t makes perfect sense.

One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that it so often ties into one or more of my other geekish interests. As I keep saying, this series, and the Treasure Hunter Security series it spun off of, have elements of Stargate.

The macguffin in this particular book are antique Japanese swords crafted by Muramasa, the rival of the legendary swordmaker Gorō Nyūdō Masamune. There are surviving Masamune swords in museums and private collections, but Muramasa appears to be more legendary than historical. I found this element of the story particularly fascinating because it tied in to my longstanding love for all things Final Fantasy X, where there is a sword Masamune named after the legendary but historical swordsmith and carried by the game’s resident badass.

I digress, but that’s what Team 52 does to me. It makes me digress into other geekish loves. Which is part of its charm, at least for me.

It’s awesome action-adventure/military romance, so if either of those are your jam, spread open the pages of this series!

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. Buchman

Review: Target of One’s Own by M.L. BuchmanTarget of One's Own (The Night Stalkers 5E) Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: military romance, romantic comedy
Series: Night Stalkers 5E #4
Pages: 366
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

-a Night Stalkers 5E romance-
MISSION: Special Operations Forces barely miss capturing Pakistan’s #1 arms dealer. They know only one thing: he’s a champion driver in the most challenging car race in the world, The Dakar Rally. The Night Stalkers and SEAL Team 6 must join up again to face the race of their lives.

TEAM:
Drone pilot Zoe DeMille
— Her career never prepared her for going into the field rather than sending her drone. Driving dune buggies at Pismo Beach throughout her teen years, oddly did.
SEAL Team 6 Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman
— Trusts no one but his team. Ever!

Zoe convinces Luke that they must go undercover to target their prey in the wildest 5E mission yet. They enter the two-week, 10,000 kilometer race across the dunes, deserts, and mountains of South America to track him down.

But when Zoe’s viral fashion blog—The Soldier of Style—sparks a media frenzy, it threatens the very nature of this Black Op. She can’t outrace the madness. And she hasn’t a clue how to navigate Luke.

My Review:

I’m tempted to review this book merely by paraphrasing the scrawls that one sees on bathroom walls by saying, “for a good time, read M.L. Buchman” and call it a wrap. But that’s a bit short on details. Still correct, though.

Also appropriate to the story, as once upon a time in Pismo Beach, it would have been Zoe DeMille’s name and number on that bathroom wall. But she’s reinvented herself since those dark days.

Twice.

Her public persona is that of “The Soldier of Style: Living in the Cutey-Edgy Budget Battlespace.” It’s Zoe’s public vlog (and associated twitter feed) as a budget-minded fashionista blogger with a definite cute airhead vibe.

And it’s a cover for her real job as a drone pilot – they prefer the term RPA for remote piloted aircraft – for the Night Stalkers 5E. A job that is anything but cute, and at which she is anything but airheaded. The Night Stalkers only take, and only employ, the best of the best of the best. And she is.

But Lieutenant Commander Luke Altman of SEAL Team 6 only sees the cute little airhead persona and doesn’t really register the warrior behind the mask. Only the way she needles him at every turn through the headset that links his team in the field to Zoe’s “coffin” back on base where she controls the eyes in the sky that provide him with mission-critical intel.

At least, not until he’s on the ground in Pakistan, staring at the empty former headquarters of an arms dealing kingpin who clearly got word that ST6 was coming to get him.

Luke looks at the empty garage and sees a dry hole and blown operation. Zoe, looking through his headset, sees a golden opportunity to take down a major player among arms dealers working the shady side.

So she runs with that golden opportunity, and with Luke, straight to Senegal and one of her biggest fans. A man who races in international road rally races. Including the annual Dakar Rally. Luke thinks she’s gone off the deep end – especially as it feels like she’s the one running the op and he’s just her “personal assistant”.

But Zoe has connected the dots and spun one glance at a top flight auto mechanics shop in a remote base with the date of the Dakar Rally circled on a calendar to a strong working hypothesis that their mystery arms dealer is a regular participant in that grueling rally – and that her fan in Senegal is their ticket to the inside track of a lifetime.

It takes Luke a little while to catch up to Zoe’s flash of brilliance – and to figure out that the dots he really wants to connect are the ones that lead to her heart.

Escape Rating A-: I had a great time with this book. I had such a great time that it made me reflect on why this author’s romances always work for me – even while I’ve become aware that I’m reading less romance in general.

The answer seems to be in the characters. Not just the way that the author draws them, because lots of romance authors do a good job of creating interesting characters. But it’s the way that his characters find each other and make a relationship.

One of the things that all too often occurs in romance – in real life too – is that two people come together and meet kind of in their middle. There are always compromises on both sides. But in romance fiction, all too often the compromise results in the woman giving up more of who she is and what she wants to make the relationship work for the man.

It feels like, all too often, she becomes less and he becomes more. In historical romances it can be worse. There are too many time periods where, even if she does maintain her separate identity and career after marriage, it only happens because he allows it to happen. Because society, public opinion, and even the law say that his voice is the only one that counts.

None of that ever happens in one of M.L. Buchman’s romances. The characters begin and end as equals – even as they find a way to both work together and make a romantic partnership. Sometimes they are both equal in the same sphere, as was true in his first Night Stalkers romance, The Night is Mine. Both the hero and the heroine are military officers. Both are warriors. And both remain so even when they marry. Eventually Emily Beale gets pregnant and the situation necessarily changes somewhat, but she remains every bit the kickass heroine she was at the beginning, just in a different venue.

Zoe and Luke are also both warriors, just not in the same way. But they are both at the top of their respective fields – and they remain so at the end. One of the things that makes Luke such a great hero is that he not only eventually accepts Zoe exactly as she is, but that he is able to recognize when it is better that she lead and that he cheers her on as she does. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, either in romance fiction or in real life.

The story here is also a whole lot of fun. It’s one of those experiences that most people won’t have, but is tremendously fascinating to experience vicariously. The Dakar Rally is a real event, and the story and characters here follow the real course – or at least as much of a course as there ever is. After all, the Dakar is an off-road endurance event. A big part of this story is the way that Zoe and Luke bond, endure and find their target in the midst of this once in a lifetime event.

(If you want to read a romance set while the protagonists are running a completely different but equally dangerous and fascinating race, take a look at Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail.)

Part of the tension in this particular romance is that both Zoe and Luke are damaged and neither of them thinks they are worthy – not of love in general, not of the other in particular. It’s a possible interpretation that Zoe heals Luke’s inability to love, but Luke is not the healer of Zoe, because Zoe has already, for the most part, healed herself. He’s there to hold her as the last of the hard pain finally fades, but she’s already done most of the work.

He’s her reward for doing that work. And for once, we have a hero that’s worth it.

“I received a free copy of this title from the publisher for an honest review.”

Guest Review: Perennial: A Garden Romance, by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Guest Review: Perennial: A Garden Romance, by Mary Anne MohanrajPerennial: A Garden Romance by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 90
Published by Tincture on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Perennial tells the story of Kate Smith, an aspiring artist facing a difficult cancer diagnosis, and Devan McLeod, a flower shop owner. It draws on the experiences of the author, Mary Anne Mohanraj, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated (successfully) with chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. This little book intercuts poems she wrote over the course of that year with a garden romance. Mohanraj is an enthusiastic Chicagoland amateur gardener, and during treatment, she took great solace in her garden. She hopes this book bring solace and joy to its readers.

Guest Review by Amy:

It’s January, and Devan McLeod has just met Kate Smith, who walked into his small garden shop with something on her mind. It’s cancer, we find out soon enough. When it’s confirmed a month later, she remembers the kindness of the shopkeeper she’d barely met, and returns to his Oak Park Village shop for flowers–and to tell Devan, a near stranger, the news.

In the crucible of that experience is forged…something. Two people caring about each other from some distance, not quite a romance yet, nor a friendship, just a presence in each other’s world and thoughts as Kate begins the stressful, painful path through treatment.

Over the course of the year, the distance closes, and two people figure out how to help with each other’s pain.

Escape Rating: A+. I had a difficult time reading and reviewing this story, as it hits on a theme that is personally painful for me. Following the principle of full disclosure, I’ve got to admit that I’ve known author Mary Anne Mohanraj online for a couple of years, having “met” through a mutual friend. She’s a versatile writer, from cookbooks to romance to sci-fi to erotica, and every bit of her work that I have read so far brings out the empath in me. Reading Kate’s story, knowing that some of it is informed by Mary Anne’s own experiences as a breast cancer survivor, you can almost feel what she’s going through, and what Mary Anne went through. Devan is no knight-in-shining armor, here to save the day. He realizes (correctly) that she must walk part of her path for herself, as he must deal with his own struggles. Neither of them is all that extraordinarily or heroic, just two ordinary people with their own hurts, who find a path together, in time.

In between the chapters of this little story are poems, written during Mary Anne’s own fight with cancer. These poems only add to the sense that Kate, while very different in many ways from Mary Anne, is sharing snippets of Mary Anne’s own experiences.

Perennial is a short, easy read at just 90 pages, but you’ll find a sweet, heartwarming story in those pages, one that is definitely worth your time.

Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

Review: The Show by John A. HeldtThe Show (Northwest Passage #3) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #3
Pages: 293
Published by John A. Heldt on February 16th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

My Review:

While The Show is the third book in the author’s Northwest Passage series, it is much more of a direct sequel to The Mine, the awesome first book in the series, than the second book in the series, the marvelous The Journey, turned out to be.

In the Northwest Passage series, at least so far, the protagonists accidentally, or in the case of The Show, accidentally-on-purpose, discover methods of traveling in time. The time travel is complete handwavium – it’s purely a plot device and nothing more. And no more or less believable than the methods used in Outlander.

Not that the time period is the same as Outlander, or even the same from one book in the Northwest Passage series to another. In The Journey, the heroine travels within her own lifetime, and makes changes to her life in the past. Definitely changes for the better from her perspective, but one wonders about the butterfly, its flapping wings, and the effects on the futures of all of the other people who were within her original orbit.

That’s a question that raises its hand and waves vigorously by the end of The Show.

Because both Joel Smith in The Mine and Grace Vandenberg in The Show travel outside of their own lifespans. And then more.

In The Mine, Joel travels from 2000 to the summer of 1941, and leaves on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. He leaves, at least in part, because he knows about WWII and fears that if he finds himself in the Army there is the possibility that he will save someone who should have died, or kill someone who should have lived. He’s worried about that butterfly quite a bit.

But he didn’t worry about it enough not to fall in love back in 1941, and not to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs that allows someone to follow him to the future. That someone is Grace, the woman he loves and would have married if he had stayed in 1941.

So she comes forward to the future, to him.

It’s all sunshine and roses – not to mention marriage and children, until yet another portal whisks her away from 2002 to 1918. Her journey is just as accidental as Joel’s original trip to the past – but the consequences are even more devastating.

When Joel left 2000 for 1941, he was a young man, fresh out of college, with no dependents and relatively few cares in the world or hostages to fortune. When Grace leaves 2002 for 1918, she’s a wife and mother of two little girls. She leaves everything behind – and can’t figure out how to get back.

Just as Joel did in 1941, Grace manages to make a life back in the past, with relatives that would become hers in the fullness of a time that she has already lived but they haven’t yet experienced.

She has her parents again, this time as contemporaries. She has a front row seat on their courtship. She even manages to fall in love again. It’s not the same, but it’s a life that could be sweet.

And then she discovers that she has one last chance, and it is the last chance, to go back to her real life in 2002 – if she’s willing to leave behind everything she’s found in 1918 to take the chance that this time she can go home.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed The Show, but it doesn’t hold up quite as well as my memory of The Mine – which you really need to read before going to The Show. Nor did it grab at my heartstrings in the way that The Journey did.

I think that one of the reasons this didn’t grab me quite as hard was that the blurb for the book gives the big plot twist away. We know from the opening pages that Grace is going to travel back in time – and it hangs over the story like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Grace’s advent into 2000 was way too easy, and I just wanted the story to get to the interesting – and hard – parts.

Grace’s life in the 21st century also raises questions that Joel’s life in 1941 didn’t. How did Grace and Joel even manage to get married in 2000 without Grace having a birth certificate? How did she get a driver’s license – which she definitely did. It’s a detail that niggles at me.

Joel was rightfully worried in 1941 about what would happen if he turned up at an Army recruiter’s office after Pearl Harbor with no birth certificate or ID of any kind. But in the rush to get bodies in uniform he would have had a way easier time than Grace should have had even in the pre-9-11 21st century.

Grace’s story in 1918 was much more tightly focused on Grace, her dilemma and her once and future family than Joel’s was in The Mine. We don’t see nearly as much of the era in which she finds herself as we did with his story. That may also reflect that Grace, as a young woman, would have had fewer opportunities to engage with the wider world in 1918 than Joel did in 1941. Part of the reason that The Journey got to me so much was that I identified with Michelle’s choices very strongly, while Grace’s don’t resonate with me in the same way.

However, one of Grace’s choices that I did empathize with was her eventual decision to move forward in 1918. A choice that some readers seem to have been appalled by. As far as Grace knows, she’s stuck in the past. She doesn’t believe that she has any hope of returning to 2002. She mourns her life there and misses her husband and children desperately, but she came back to the past already pregnant and needs to make some kind of future for herself and her child.

One final thought about that butterfly flapping its wings. Joel worried about changing the past and thereby changing his future. Grace, on the other hand, when the opportunity arises, rushes to change the past in a way that should prevent the future that gave birth to herself. It’s the ultimate paradox of time travel, and it bothers me that it isn’t addressed in any way.

Then again, this series feels as if its intended as historical fiction mixed with romance and not SF – where the time paradox would get done to death. I’m considering it as much handwavium as the time travel mechanism itself.

And I’ll be back for the next book in the series, The Fire, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Touch of Eon by Anna HackettTouch of Eon (Eon Warriors #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Eon Warriors #2
Pages: 216
Published by Anna Hackett on January 6th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’ll do anything to free her sister and save the Earth from invasion, even if she’s blackmailed into stealing sacred alien artifacts…and becomes the prey of the dark, deadly warrior sent to hunt her down.

Special Forces Space Marine Lara Traynor wants to save her sister and her planet from annihilation by the deadly insectoid Kantos. Earth’s Space Corps give her one option: steal three gems sacred to the Eon Warriors. Lara has never failed a mission and she doesn’t plan to start now. What she doesn’t expect is the big, hard-bodied warrior the Eon sent to stop her.

Security Commander Caze Vann-Jad was born and raised to be the best Eon warrior in the empire. Honed by the military academy, his years as a stealth agent, and by his hard warrior father, he has never failed. He knows one weak, inferior Terran is no match for him. But when he finds himself face to face with the tough, skilled Lara, he realizes he’s underestimated the female warrior.

When they are attacked by a Kantos kill squad, it soon becomes clear that the Kantos are planning something far darker and dangerous. Caze and Lara are forced to change their dangerous battle of wits and skill into a fierce battle for survival. Neither of these fighters believe in love, but on the trail of a stolen gem, they will ignite an unstoppable desire, and discover that not only are their lives at stake, but their hearts as well.

My Review:

I love this series so far. That’s not surprising, as I love nearly everything Anna Hackett writes. Even the things I don’t love I usually like quite a lot.

That being said, there’s been something about the blurbs for the books in this series so far that has really bothered me. It’s the use of the word “blackmail” to describe how the Traynor sisters have gotten into the fix they are in. (It tasks me. It just tasks me!)

In the first book, Edge of Eon, Eve Traynor begins the story in the brig for a crime that everyone knows she did not commit. Her incarceration is part of a Space Force coverup. The true “villain” using the word loosely in this case, was her incompetent captain who just so happens to be the son of a high-ranking admiral. Eve was framed to protect both her idiot captain and his overindulgent mother.

Space Force convinces her to take the suicide mission they’ve lined by by offering her her freedom if she manages to complete her mission, and by threatening the lives of her sisters Lara (heroine of Touch of Eon) and Wren (heroine of the forthcoming not-nearly-soon-enough Heart of Eon).

Lara and Wren are conned into their respective no-win scenarios by threats both to Eve’s life and threats to each other’s lives.

While the entire mess definitely makes the Space Force brass into a whole bunch of slime, none of it is the “blackmail” that is stated in the blurbs and in the stories. Blackmail involves a threat to release incriminating secrets, and there are no incriminating secrets here. Eve’s incarceration, while not deserved, is also not secret. Neither Lara nor Wren seem to be guilty of anything except making a stink about their sister’s undeserved incarceration.

So none of this is blackmail. It is, however, definitely coercion. (All blackmail is coercion but not all coercion is blackmail.) They are all manipulated, and they are all lied to. They are individually coerced into separate no-win scenarios by threats to not their own lives but to the lives of the sisters that they love.

One also has the distinct impression that Space Force is playing its own win-win game. If the mission or missions fail, they have gotten rid of one or more thorns in their side. Any missions that succeed, well they’ll have managed to get the attention of the Eons and help for Earth against the deadly and despicable Kantos.

And Space Force is probably lying about any rewards that the sisters have been promised, particularly the reward that Eve will be pardoned and released. I doubt they ever believed that she would survive in the first place.

One thing that Space Force has not lied about or even exaggerated is the threat that the Kantos pose to Earth. The Kantos are bugs. Big bugs. Evil bugs. Highly evolved and specialized bugs. Nasty bugs all the way around.

They also feel like a cross between the Gizzida (from this author’s Hell Squad series) and the Borg, with a bit of Wraith from Stargate Atlantis thrown in for their use of humans as food. And for their hive ships.

In other words, the Kantos are seriously mean and nasty and have no redeeming characteristics from the perspective of either the humans or the Eons. The Kantos want to conquer Earth (and Eon) so they can strip their worlds bare and eat the inhabitants.

That the Kantos are in the form of giant bugs just makes them extra creepy. And icky. And did I mention creepy?

The story in Touch of Eon is not dissimilar to that of the first book in the series, Edge of Eon. Lara knows that her sister Eve was sent on a suicide mission, and has been told that if she completes her own mission her sister will be saved and freed. And that if she is successful in getting the Eons’ attention, they will help Earth against the Kantos.

All of the Traynor sisters so far have wondered at the wisdom of stealing from the Eons as a way of obtaining their help. It shouldn’t work. That it actually seems to be working is due more to a fluke of Eon biology than any planning on the part of Space Force – an organization which honestly couldn’t plan its way out of a paper bag.

In Touch of Eon, Lara’s mission was to steal the relics of the Eons’ greatest warriors. The relics, jewels containing primitive versions of the symbionts that provide the Eon warriors with their armor and weapons, are highly symbolic. They are also sought by the Kantos, for reasons that are not known at the beginning of this entry in the series.

But Lara is chasing – and successfully stealing, the gems. Eon warrior Caze Vann-Jad is enjoying himself just a little too much chasing – but not catching, Lara. Until they are forced by the pursuing Kantos to join forces against this latest threat.

And in the process discover that the reason they were having so much fun sparring with each other has to do with that thin line between hate and love. They are perfect for each other – if they can manage to live long enough to figure out what’s at the heart of their constant bickering.

And what’s hidden in each other’s heart.

Escape Rating A-: As you can tell, I loved this story. And it’s given me even more to think about than the first book in the series. At the same time, a lot of the story beats and even the way that the romance progresses is also very similar to Edge of Eon – which makes Touch of Eon an A- instead of an A.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Heart of Eon. Not just because I want to see the romance between the geeky Wren and her own warrior, but also because I’m really curious about where the worldbuilding goes from here. And I want to see some people at Space Force get what’s coming to them!

Review: The Journey by John A. Heldt

Review: The Journey by John A. HeldtThe Journey (Northwest Passage #2) by John A. Heldt
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, time travel, time travel romance
Series: Northwest Passage #2
Pages: 231
Published by John A. Heldt on November 4th 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Seattle, 2010. When her entrepreneur husband dies in an accident, Michelle Preston Richardson, 48, finds herself childless and directionless. She yearns for the simpler days of her youth, before she followed her high school sweetheart down a road that led to limitless riches but little fulfillment, and jumps at a chance to reconnect with her past at a class reunion. But when Michelle returns to Unionville, Oregon, and joins three classmates on a spur-of-the-moment tour of an abandoned mansion, she gets more than she asked for. She enters a mysterious room and is thrown back to 1979.

Distraught and destitute, Michelle finds a job as a secretary at Unionville High, where she guides her spirited younger self, Shelly Preston, and childhood friends through their tumultuous senior year. Along the way, she meets widowed teacher Robert Land and finds the love and happiness she had always sought. But that happiness is threatened when history intervenes and Michelle must act quickly to save those she loves from deadly fates. Filled with humor and heartbreak, THE JOURNEY gives new meaning to friendship, courage, and commitment as it follows an unfulfilled soul through her second shot at life.

My Review:

We went to a Bob Seger concert over the weekend. It relates to this book on two levels. The first is that sense that I get from the best of his music, like Night Moves, Against the Wind, Main Street and Like a Rock, of someone older looking back at their life with both reminiscence and regret. It truly is “strange how the night moves, with autumn closing in.”

The song Night Moves was released in late 1976, and would have still been playing on the radio, at least occasionally, when widowed Shelly Preston slips back in time from 2010 to 1979. I remember because I was listening to the radio too during the 1970s. In 1979, when the heart of this story takes place, I was 22 to the original Shelly’s 18. I made some of her choices then, and some of the choices she made later as well.

But I managed my life do-over much less dramatically than Shelly does when she goes down that dark stairwell in the old abandoned mansion and finds herself back home again, in 1979, watching herself go through the trials and tribulations of her senior year in high school. She does not “become” the young Shelly, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead, she takes a job at the local high school, becoming the adult friend and mentor that Shelly needed but didn’t have during her first go around.

The older Shelly, calling herself Michelle, does not choose the Star Trek “Prime Directive” as her modus operandi for her second trip through 1979. She is determined to do what she can to save whomever she can, and to give the younger Shelly the chance for a happier life.

That she gets to experience her own slice of happiness is a joy and a wonder. Even if it isn’t meant to be.

Escape Rating A+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, and sometimes I talk about how the story made me feel. If you haven’t already guessed, this is definitely one of those reviews that’s all about the feels.

At the beginning, I actually felt too close to the older Shelly. Her reflection on her life and the choices that led her to them hit way too close to home, to the point where I actually had to step back for an evening to get some distance from those feelings.

That a story made me reflect that much and feel that deeply is a testament to the writer. I absolutely loved his first book, The Mine, when I read it back in 2012. I have all the others but never went back to his writing – caught up in the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. I will not make that mistake again. This is a writer that seriously speaks to me.

Speaking of The Mine, do not let the description of The Journey as #2 in the Northwest Passage series keep you from reading this book, whether first or second. Although Joel Smith’s and Shelly Preston’s paths do cross in The Journey, it’s a very brief meeting and has no effect on either story.

These are both time travel stories with a hint of romance, and both are very powerful stories, but they’re not really tied to each other in the way that series sometimes are.

Also the time travel in both stories is fairly simple handwavium, as it should be. The time travel isn’t the point. It’s what the protagonists do with their new lives that’s the point. And it’s marvelous and beautiful and heartbreaking.

If you’re looking for a book to sweep you up, make you reflect, and possibly even make you ugly cry just a bit, take your own trip back in time with The Journey. Bring tissues.