Stacking the Shelves (534)

I’m not one hundred percent positive that the cover displayed for The Book that Wouldn’t Burn is the final cover. But I’m also not sure it’s not as it’s the one that’s been on both Amazon and Goodreads for several weeks. At the moment it’s the blandest bland, but it doesn’t say it’s not final, so we’ll go with it until something better comes along.

The book I can’t wait to start is Junkyard War by Faith Hunter to the point that I rushed through the end of the book I was listening to just so I could get it queued up over the weekend. I got into the series because the first book was Junkyard Cats and I was there for the cats. But I’ve stayed for Shining Smith and the harsh dystopia that made her and is trying to break her. And also for the cats.

For Review:
The Book that Wouldn’t Burn (Library Trilogy #1) by Mark Lawrence
Devil’s Gun (You Sexy Thing #2) by Cat Rambo
Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden
Flirting with Fire (Modern Love #3) by Jane Porter
The Jasad Heir (Scorched Throne #1) by Sara Hashem
March’s End by Daniel Polansky
Myriad by Joshua David Bellin
Nightwatch (Miranda Chase #12) by M.L. Buchman
The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera
Something Spectacular (Something Fabulous #2) by Alexis Hall

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
Junkyard War (Shining Smith #3) by Faith Hunter (audio)


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly

Review: The Skeleton Key by Erin KellyThe Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: Gothic, mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 512
Published by Mobius on January 24, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A reunion leads to tragedy, and the unravelling of dark family secrets . . .
It is the summer of 2021 and Nell has come home at her family's insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Her father, Sir Frank Churcher, is regarded as a cult figure by many. Fifty years ago he wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, it was a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of TheGolden Bones led readers to seven sites were jewels were buried - gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore's pelvis remained hidden. The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. And it ruined Nell's life.
But Sir Frank has reunited the Churchers for a very particular reason. The book is being reissued, along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting the anniversary. Nell is appalled, and fearful. During the filming, Frank finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose.
From the bestselling author of He Said/She Said and Watch Her Fall, this is a taut, mesmerising novel about a daughter haunted by her father's legacy . . .

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,’ is already deceptive – as it turns out are ALL the members of the combined, misaligned, co-dependent Churcher and Lally families.

The saying is deceptive because it sounds so much like Shakespeare – but it isn’t. It’s a quote from Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion that is OFTEN attributed to the Bard. The many, many interwoven deceptions of the Churcher and Lally families are a whole lot more intertwined – and that much more difficult to untangle.

The Skeleton Key begins in the summer of 2021, just barely post-pandemic – or at least post the pandemic lockdowns, which adds a whole ‘other layer to pretty much everything. Frank Churcher, now in his 70s and starting to feel his age, has decided to have one last hurrah over the thing that made him famous 50 years ago and is still wrecking the lives of his entire family – even as it made their privileged lifestyle possible.

Frank, now Sir Frank, created an armchair treasure hunt puzzle phenomenon combining creepy, Celtic myths and a touch of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice with gorgeous imagery into a book titled The Golden Bones. It wasn’t just a best-seller, it became a worldwide obsession. An obsession that some people still haven’t gotten over.

One of those people is his daughter Nell. Not that she was obsessed with The Golden Bones, but that more than a few of the fanatics who called themselves Bonehunters conflated the woman in the story, Elinor, with Frank’s daughter Eleanor and stalked her. With knives.

The prize of The Golden Bones was a literal set of golden bones which were worth lots of money to motivated – or crazed – Bonehunters. By the time Eleanor was 15, all the bones had been found except one – the pelvic girdle. As obsessions and conspiracy theories went, the idea that Eleanor’s pelvic bone was actually Elinor’s pelvic bone wasn’t that far a stretch. At least not for someone who had lost touch with reality.

Eleanor, who is now reaching middle age, left her family behind with all its messiness – including Frank Churcher’s massive ego. She still sees them, but she’s steadfastly refused any money or help no matter how much she might need it. She owns a narrowboat and lives on England’s waterways with a surrogate daughter she’d adopt if she could. Her living situation can sometimes be a bit dicey but it’s safer away from her family’s mess and the media spotlight that seldom leaves them alone for long.

But the 50th Anniversary celebration of The Golden Bones brings Nell back home – if only for the celebration itself. Frank was supposed to retrieve that last piece of the original skeleton from a tree behind the house. He does uncover a pelvic girdle, but not the tiny jeweled piece that was part of the original prize skeleton. What comes out of that tree hollow is a real human pelvis from a long-dead woman who is about to unravel all the secrets that everyone has been keeping for more than 50 years.

Those revelations and the events that precede them will melt the thin ice of Nell’s precarious safety. She’s never really been safe. She just didn’t know how unstable the web of lies that kept her family afloat truly was.

Escape Rating A: It’s all too easy to comprehend the obsessions of the ‘Bonehunters’ while reading The Skeleton Key, because the complex, twisted nature of the puzzle – and the people at its heart – sinks its teeth into the reader and does not let go until the end.

Two things to start. First, the concept of The Golden Bones may sound vaguely familiar – and that’s intentional on the part of the author and acknowledged at the beginning. There was a real, worldwide craze for armchair treasure hunt books in the 1980s, kicked off by the publication of the massively illustrated puzzle/story book Masquerade by Kit Williams in 1979. Plenty of people got obsessed with Masquerade and the imitations that followed in its wake, and there was a scandal around the solution to the puzzle. Not a murderous scandal, but a scandal nevertheless.

Second thing is that even from the beginning of the story, it’s pretty obvious that there are multiples of things wrong in this semi-combined, utterly co-dependent, joined at the hip double household. It’s tempting to say that the family is a hot mess, but even from the initial glimpses we get into the family dynamic it’s all too clear that a hot mess would actually be a step up. The Churchers and the Lallys are not putting the fun in dysfunctional, but there’s plenty of dysfunction to go around.

We see this family through Nell’s adult eyes as she observes these people she knows, loves and even sometimes hates through a perspective that is not exactly that of an outsider but still has more than a bit of distance. They may not recognize that the family is not healthy, but she knows that living in their midst is not healthy for her and never has been. That her parents named her after the dead woman in their famous story and never even thought that it might inspire the crazies is just the tip of a very ugly iceberg of parents behaving very badly indeed.

Because, as we see the incidents in the past that brought them all to this mixed-up present, the center point of the family is Frank Churcher and his ego – and he’s never cared or taken care of anyone but himself. Everyone else just enables him and lives off the proceeds – whether they see it or not.

And what Frank is, at the center of that massive ego, is rotten to the core. And that his rot has seeped into all of them. The best thing Nell ever did was to walk away. And it’s the best thing she can do now, too. Even if she has to let herself be smeared with just a little bit of that rot to escape from the rest.

While it is easy – and cathartic and filled with oodles of schadenfreude – to get caught up in The Skeleton Key for its story of rich people behaving very badly indeed, what made it fascinating for this reader was the way that the story wove backwards and forwards in time to reveal that everything that existed between all of them was founded on a web of lies that burned away once the truths started coming out – leaving them all blinking in the light of an unforgiving new day.

Just as I sat blinking when I turned the last page, because WOW! what a ride!

February Favorites Giveaway Hop

 

Welcome to the February Favorites Giveaway Hop, hosted by  The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It!

That’s certainly open-ended, isn’t it? February Favorite what? I ask you? (Seriously, I do, that will be the question for the rafflecopter.)

It could mean anything, couldn’t it? Your favorite day in February? Your favorite event? Your favorite memory? In my particular case, the first thing that comes to mind would be my favorite book coming out this month. (If you’re curious it’s Never Too Old To Save the World edited by Alana Joli Abbott and Addie J. King. Because reasons which will become apparent when I post the review later this month.)

What’s your favorite thing in, or about, or connected to the shortest month of the year? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s regular blog hop prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous February prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

My heart is certainly in THIS hop’s theme, particularly after a whole string of winter-themed hops. I’m so happy to think of something besides snow and cold. We moved down here to get away from all that freezy skid-stuff.

It’s the first day of February, which means that the favorite holiday of florists and greeting card companies is almost here.

Which made me take a look at the members of our household we absolutely will not get either cards or flowers for, our cats. I’m not sure what they’d do with card, but I am sure about the flowers. They’d eat them. Petals everywhere. And water all over the place because they’d either have to knock the vase over to get at the flowers or would just knock the vase over because, well, cats. It’s what they do.

Maybe we’ll get them a nice, empty box to play in. Because that’s also what cats do.

Do you get Valentine’s Day gifts or presents for your furry friends? Or just for your humans? What’s your favorite thing to give or to get? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s usual giveaway hop prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more prizes to love, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen

Review: Vampire Weekend by Mike ChenVampire Weekend by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, horror, paranormal, vampires
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on January 31, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Being a vampire is far from glamorous...but it can be pretty punk rock.
Everything you've heard about vampires is a lie. They can't fly. No murders allowed (the community hates that). And turning into a bat? Completely ridiculous. In fact, vampire life is really just a lot of blood bags and night jobs. For Louise Chao, it's also lonely, since she swore off family ages ago.
At least she's gone to decades of punk rock shows. And if she can join a band of her own (while keeping her...situation under wraps), maybe she'll finally feel like she belongs, too.
Then a long-lost teenage relative shows up at her door. Whether it's Ian's love of music or his bad attitude, for the first time in ages, Louise feels a connection.
But as Ian uncovers Louise's true identity, things get dangerous--especially when he asks her for the ultimate favor. One that goes beyond just family...one that might just change everything vampires know about life and death forever.

My Review:

Vampires don’t sparkle. Everybody knows that’s a complete fabrication. Totally fictional. Also slightly ridiculous.

As Louise Chao has discovered over the decades, most of the things that people thought they knew about vampires are every bit as mythical as that sparkle. And Louise ought to know. She’s been a vampire for those same decades. For her, being a vampire isn’t remotely glamorous, nor is she accumulating wealth. She certainly doesn’t have super-strength or any other super-senses.

She’s absolutely not draining innocent – or even not so innocent – victims dry every night. Not only is that frowned upon – with extreme prejudice – by the vampire community, but honestly it’s not nearly as easy as it looks to bite someone in the carotid artery. The angles are just all wrong and the fangs aren’t nearly as sharp as fiction would have one believe.

For Louise, being a vampire is an endless search for night jobs to pay the bills while scrounging for safe sources of blood to stave off starvation. Her only solace is the best dog in the world, Lola.

Her best human friend died in a car crash just before COVID really sunk its teeth into the human population and psyche. Her Aunt Laura, the only family who ever accepted her as her punk rock, non-conforming self, died years ago and left her the house they shared in San Francisco.

It’s a lonely life. When the local blood supplies start running low, literal starvation is just a metaphor – although a gnawing, achingly, empty metaphor – for the starvation of the heart and spirit that Louise is already living in.

Until her self-imposed isolation is invaded by her long-lost family. Two of them. A middle-aged man who seems vaguely familiar, and a teenage boy who reminds Louise so very strikingly of the young, rebellious music loving rebel she used to be. And deep in her bruised heart, still very much is.

Ian needs a refuge from his mother’s impending death that will give him just a bit more distance and perspective than the bad attitude he’s currently fronting as his defense against the world. Louise isn’t able to admit it, even to herself, but she needs somebody to connect her to the world that might otherwise pass her by. She needs more than just a shitty job and a refrigerator full of blood bags.

All she has to do is let herself connect. To this teenager who needs a safe place to be himself. To the self that she left behind. And to the community that is willing to make her life a whole lot easier – and just a bit closer to some of those powers she thought were myths – if she’ll just let all of them in.

Escape Rating B+: Louise’s journey in Vampire Weekend is a combination of “no matter where you go, there you are” and “who do you want to be when you grow up?” Because Louise hasn’t. Grown up, that is. And that not-grown-up self has been dragging behind her and holding her back for decades. When Ian drops into her life – and all the landmines in her past that he unwittingly brings with him – she’s forced to reckon with who she once was and the baggage she’s still carrying from that person.

(One thing about all those vampire myths to get out of the way before anyone gets skeeved about Louise’s relationship with Ian. Vampires in Louise’s world are all asexual. The genetic and biological change of human to vampire kills off all the chemistry that creates both arousal and sexual gratification. Another vampire myth shot down.)

What makes Louise’s journey interesting is that her vampiric existence has meant that she hasn’t had to move on from the traumas of her family of origin. She hasn’t grown up because she hasn’t had to. So everything she took with her from her parent’s house when she left is still festering. When Ian and his grandfather drop into her life, because they’re part of the family that rejected both her and her beloved Aunt Laura, she has to finally process her shit because Ian is tangential to it and his grandfather is a bigger part of it than she even recognizes.

While the heart of this story is Louise’s growing relationship with Ian and her reconciliation with her own past, there’s another story woven into its edges that moves toward center stage as it progresses.

When there are vampires, it seems as if there are always politics and this story is no exception. At first the larger vampire community is on the periphery of Louise’s life – and that’s where she wants them to stay. But the blood supply is suddenly dwindling and she needs that network of support to locate supplies. And they need her – but not in any of the ways that she is worried about or that the reader expects.

That political angle felt a bit tacked on, to the point where its resolution seemed like a bit of a deus ex machina for the issues that brought Ian into Louise’s life in the first place. Not badly, and it made a certain kind of sense for the resolution of the whole story, but it just wasn’t as solid as Louise’s journey and Ian’s impending grief – although it does eventually tie into both.

This is not the first time that vampires have been into music, and not even the first story mixing vampires with some variety of rock and roll. The book The Vampire Lestat features the titular vampire fronting a rock band. And the WVMP series (starts with Wicked Game) by Jeri Smith-Ready (which took me forever to dig out of memory) is all about a radio station where the DJs are vampires who only play the music of the era when they were turned.

There is also a real band named Vampire Weekend. This isn’t about them, although there are a couple of in-jokes that refer to the real band, just as there are in-jokes featuring Louise’s beloved punk rock and rock music in general. I would imagine that an appreciation of those jokes and knowledge of that scene in general would add just that little something extra to the reader’s appreciation of the story. Howsomever, as someone who was not into punk in particular the story is still terrific. I’m not sure you need to be a fan of any genre of music in particular, as the heartbeat of the story is about loving music, particularly live performances, and needing it to be a part of your life. YMMV.

In the end, Vampire Weekend was a delightful surprise. It wasn’t any of the things I was expecting, much in the way that the author’s Light Years From Home wasn’t quite any of the things that I expected when I picked it up (and loved it!) either. But both stories are about families and making peace with them as well as yourself. Both have just the right touch of bittersweetness to tug at the heartstrings. And both are are terrific reads!

Review: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

Review: The Terraformers by Annalee NewitzThe Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: hopepunk, science fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Tor Books on January 31, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The Terraformers is an equally heart-warming and thought-provoking vision of the future for fans of Becky Chambers, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Martha Wells.
Destry is a top network analyst with the Environmental Rescue Team, an ancient organization devoted to preventing ecosystem collapse. On the planet Sask-E, her mission is to terraform an Earthlike world, with the help of her taciturn moose, Whistle. But then she discovers a city that isn't supposed to exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. Torn between loyalty to the ERT and the truth of the planet's history, Destry makes a decision that echoes down the generations.
Centuries later, Destry's protege, Misha, is building a planetwide transit system when his worldview is turned upside-down by Sulfur, a brilliant engineer from the volcano city. Together, they uncover a dark secret about the real estate company that's buying up huge swaths of the planet―a secret that could destroy the lives of everyone who isn't Homo sapiens. Working with a team of robots, naked mole rats, and a very angry cyborg cow, they quietly sow seeds of subversion. But when they're threatened with violent diaspora, Misha and Sulfur's very unusual child faces a stark choice: deploy a planet-altering weapon, or watch their people lose everything they've built on Sask-E.

My Review:

The Terraformers – the story – is a story about legacy, every bit as much as the planet Sask-E (elided over the centuries to Sasky) is the living, breathing legacy of the terraformers who helped to make it.

But terraforming as a process is long and expensive, so even though the action of the story takes place over centuries, that’s just a drop in the bucket of the planet’s own time. But more than long enough for the reader to fall in love with the place and its people.

Because of the length and expense of that terraforming process, along with what seems to be the tendency of governments everywhere and everywhen to believe – or at least pretend to believe – that private enterprises will do a better, more efficient or at least less obviously costly job of doing things that should be the province of government, Sask-E was developed, owned and operated by the Verdance Corporation.

And thereby, quite literally, hangs our tale. And eventually theirs.

The underlying ethos of terraforming is itself a legacy, the legacy of the Environmental Rescue Teams were created to clean up the vast ecological mess that Earth became during the anthropocene era – which is right now, BTW.

When we first visit Sask-E its terraforming phase is just about at an end, and its commercial exploitation phase is just about to begin. Network analyst Destry, one of the members of Sask-E’s corporate-owned Environmental Rescue Team – which is every bit the oxymoron one might think it would be – discovers that at least one of the things she’s always been taught isn’t remotely true.

There are already people living on Sask-E, the direct descendants of the early terraforming teams who were supposed to have all died off hundreds of years ago when the planetary atmosphere became too oxygen-rich for their engineered biology. They didn’t die, they adapted – as humans do.

Verdance wants to eliminate them. Destry wants to make sure they get to remain right where they are. The compromise she makes, the clandestine treaty she brokers between the warring factions, is definitely a case of lesser of evils – one for which Destry pays the highest price.

But in the end, that compromise – along with Destry’s adopted grandchild, an intergalactic reporter in the shape of a genetically engineered cat and a whole host of creatures great and small, mechanical and biological, humans both H. sapiens and H. diversus, reach out to grasp the freedom they should have had all along.

The corporate bigwigs would say that it’s still all Destry’s fault.

Escape Rating A+: This is going to be one of those “all the thoughts” kind of reviews because WOW this thing wrapped me up, took me away and made me think – all at the same time.

At first, there’s the adventure aspect of the whole thing. Destry and her friend Whistle (an intelligent, genetically engineered moose) have this whole planet to explore and they love every inch of it. And there’s a lot of hope to be had even in Destry’s early part of the story. For one thing, it seems that humanity did manage to rescue this planet before we killed it completely along with ourselves. That’s hope right there.

There’s also plenty to love in the way that her position and her work integrates the contributions of both humans and non-humans, and that anyone or anything can be considered a person and a citizen.

And that’s where the dark underbelly gets exposed. Not just that we exported megacorporations and their endless greed along with humanity, but rather that the whole nature of the work and the enterprise has brought back slavery on a galactic scale. Destry doesn’t just work for Verdance, it created her and it owns her. And everyone else working on Sask-E.

Just as Under Fortunate Stars recalls the Star Trek Next Gen episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, The Terraformers brings to mind “The Measure of a Man” in all of its shining possibilities AND its potential horrors. Everyone on Sask-E is genetically engineered and created in a lab, just as Data was – whether they are biological like Destry, mechanical like the many bots or a mixture of the two.

And the horror of all of that is a dubious gift that keeps on giving throughout the story. The underlying tension of the whole thing is that humanity has a future that has so many wonderful possibilities in it. At the same time, it’s more than a bit of a “we have met the enemy and he is us” story because we bring all our shit with us into the future.

(Or drag it back into the past. Verdance’s advertised goals for Sask-E were to recreate the ecology of Earth’s supposedly pristine Pleistocene era. The disconnect between the propaganda and the company’s actual intentions brought back to mind Julian May’s Saga of Pliocene Exile which had not dissimilar goals leading to surprisingly similar results. In other words, a world, whether past, present or future, is only pristine until you introduce humanity into the situation and then, well, shit literally happens.)

The Terraformers moves forward from Destry’s discovery that both her past and the past on Sask-E are both a lie. But it doesn’t end there. We move to a new era of exploration and exploitation when we follow Destry’s adopted son as he becomes the recipient of all the corporate ire that can no longer be visited on Destry because she’s dead and gone. And through his eyes we see just how far those rapacious corporations are willing to go in order to create the kind of thoughtless consumers of both goods and propaganda that will serve them best.

But the story ends in hope with a story of revolution and courage that may remind more than a few readers of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, as what the corporations want is very much not what they get when people – no matter how broadly “people” is defined – manage to reach for their own destinies in spite of all the roadblocks dropped in their way.

If you’re looking for the kind of hopepunk SF featured in The Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – traveling down a different road but with equally compelling characters – mixed with more than a touch of the corporate skullduggery of Martha Wells’ Murderbot, The Terraformers is a thought-provoking delight from beginning to end.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-29-23

The results of the Zoom marathon two weeks ago will become available late this afternoon as part of the RUSA Book & Media Awards at LibLearnX in New Orleans. (The conference formerly known as ALA Midwinter.) Which means that tomorrow I’ll be able to clear out all of my request queues at NetGalley and Edelweiss and get ready to start all over again with a different committee. It’s a bit of a shock every year to see just how many books I received just for whatever committee I happen to have been on and how much those queues get cut down when they’re all gone.

Now that this committee is over, I’ve been looking at some of my other queues and slotting reviews in for books that I always intended to read but never found the round tuit. So some old stuff will be getting mixed into the new to start cleaning up some of that – like my Highly Anticipated Shelf at Edelweiss and a few other places.

And there’s a cat picture. There’s always a cat picture. This is Luna cuddled up to Galen’s hand giving her very best “upside-down kitty face” – a pose she is particularly adorable at. And she certainly does know it! Just look at that sweet but slightly conniving little face!

 

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop (ENDS TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2022-23 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Welcome Winter Giveaway Hop is Brigette

Blog Recap:

B Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
A Review: Don’t Open the Door by Allison Brennan
A- Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett
A- Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna Hackett
A- Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa
Stacking the Shelves (533)

Coming This Week:

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz (review)
Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen (blog tour review)
Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop
February Favorites Giveaway Hop
The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly (review)

Stacking the Shelves (533)

Looking at this list, I’m seriously trying to remember how it got to be quite so tall. Some of it is carryover because I don’t put titles in this post until I have something like a cover. After all, part of the point is to display the pretty cover. But it’s also clear that the holiday lull is very much over in the publishing world to the point that not just the spring books have ARCs, but even the stuff from fall is arriving.

Which leads to a couple of books in this stack that I’ve already been looking forward to, notably Contrarian by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Seven Girls Gone by Allison Brennan.

For Review:
And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Battle Drum (Ending Fire #2) by Saara El-Arifi
The Blighted Stars (Devoured Worlds #1) by Megan E. O’Keefe
Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
Capture the Sun (Starlight’s Shadow #3) by Jessie Mihalik
Contrarian (Grand Illusion #3) by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
The Evergreen Heir (Five Crowns of Okrith #4) by A.K. Mulford
The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick
Masters of Death by Olivia Blake
The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen (Doomsday Books #1) by KJ Charles
Seven Girls Gone (Quinn & Costa #4) by Allison Brennan
The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston
The Sword Defiant (Lands of the Firstborn #1) by Gareth Hanrahan
The Wayward Prince (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #7) by Leonard Goldberg
World Running Down by Al Hess

Borrowed from the Library:
Tempests and Slaughter (Numair Chronicles #1) by Tamora Pierce


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke NatsukawaThe Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: books and reading, coming of age, fantasy, magical realism
Pages: 198
Published by HarperVia on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heartwarming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.
Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter...

My Review:

When we first meet Rintaro Natsuki, he has come to a fork in his road, at the point where he’s going to have to take it whether he wants to or not. He’s just been orphaned for the second time. When his parents died, he was still a child, and packed off to his grandfather without any choice or protest on his part.

At his grandfather’s death, Rintaro is in high school, even if he skips class a lot. He’s old enough to have a voice in his future – if he can come to terms with the reality of his loss. And if he can manage to reach out of his own social isolation to take it.

His legacy from his grandfather is a beautiful, marvelous and just barely profitable second-hand bookstore. A place that Rintaro has no desire to leave, but he seems to have no option to stay. At least not until the talking cat Tiger the Tabby swaggers out of the back of the bookstore and demands that Rintaro come with him on a journey to save books.

Rintaro loves books and reading. He also has nothing better to do and no motivation to do it. So he follows the cat through the suddenly endless book stacks and emerges into a labyrinth of wonder and danger. He’ll need not just courage and a bit of cunning, but every single drop of his love of reading to save the endangered books – and himself along the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this one up for the cat and the books, in that order. Which reminds me that the cat pictured on the US cover does not do Tiger the Tabby justice. The UK cover (pictured at left) does a much better job of giving Tiger his due.

But the story, of course, isn’t really about the cat. It is, however, at least in part about the way that cats – or any companion animals – can save us even from ourselves if we just let them. And the way that books and reading can give us time and space and tools to save ourselves if we let them into our minds just as the cats do when we let them into our hearts.

It’s also a bit of magical realism that leads into a very modern type of fairy tale. Tiger leads Rintaro into a series of labyrinths where books and reading are under assault in the guise of the love of books combined with bowing and scraping to market pressures and other distractions of modern life to save books by means that will, in the end, destroy them.

I think the story does conflate the love of the container – the physical book – with the love of what it contains and the experience of reading. I’m a bit concerned about that as I’m mostly an ebook reader because the genres I read are not widely represented in large print. If I were confined to the physical artifact I’d miss out on the thing I really want out of reading – the immersion in the story that the physical AND the electronic article contain and present for my enjoyment.

I digress just a bit.

What makes The Cat Who Saved Books such a lovely little read, however, is the totality of Rintaro’s journey. Not just the thoughtfully scary labyrinths where books go to die in the name of loving them, but Rintaro’s first steps on that path to adulthood. Because the story is about Rintaro’s chance to choose his life. To stay a socially withdrawn hikikomori, always dependent on someone else to deal with the world he has retreated from, or to take up the reins of the bookstore and his own life and learn to stand on his own. And that’s the part of the story that grabs the heart in its sharp, feline claws.

Because this is a book about books and reading, I can’t resist leaving this review without including a couple of readalikes. Any reader of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld will recognize that the way the back of the bookstore opens into endless shelves means that the store connects to ‘L’ space, the liminal place where all great libraries connect. The Discworld is not at all like The Cat Who Saved Books but that love of reading certainly exists in both places. The Girl Who Reads on the Métro by Christine Féret-Fleury is another lovely story about someone looking for a purpose who finds it in books and reading and loving them and the people she associates with them. And last but not least, more in tone than in specific, “All the World’s Treasures” by Kimberly Pauley, included in Never Too Old to Save the World, a story about a young woman inheriting a shop from her grandmother and discovering that there are connections to more places and infinitely more treasures than she ever imagined.

Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna Hackett

Review: Sentinel Security: Steel by Anna HackettSteel (Sentinel Security #4) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Sentinel Security #4
Pages: 272
Published by Anna Hackett on January 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

His skills and ruthlessness made him a legend.

The dark, dangerous former spy.

Now the operative turned billionaire known as Steel collides with fiery agent Hellfire when they discover they’re both on the kill list of a deadly assassin.

CIA agent Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden came from nothing and made herself into one of the CIA’s best deep-cover agents. She’s dedicated to her country. She’s always on the move. She’s a loner. Just the way she likes it. Letting people close is a weakness and she’ll never be weak again.

But when she finds herself under attack by an assassin targeting the world’s best intelligence agents, it sends her straight into the path of the only man who tempts her. The dark, lethal Killian “Steel” Hawke.

Killian Hawke rose through the ranks of the CIA, and knows his name is whispered in fear by his enemies. But when his sister needed him, he left and started Sentinel Security. He protects all those he considers his: his sister, his friends, his employees, and his clients.

But there is one stubborn redhead he also wants to claim.

As Devyn and Killian work together to unmask the assassin hunting them, they are forced to confront their white-hot attraction and their violent need to protect each other. Killian is tired of dancing around what he feels for her. Now that she’s in danger, he’ll do whatever it takes to make her safe, claim her heart, and possess her soul.

My Review:

Lovers of the Sentinel Security series have been teased with the inevitability of this story from the very beginning of the series, every bit as much as Killian “Steel” Hawke and Devyn “Hellfire” Hayden have been teasing each other from the first time they met. Back in the day when they were both among the CIA’s best agents.

But when they first laid eyes on each other, Hellfire was an agent on the rise, and Steel was all too aware that he was on the edge of burnout and that his days with the agency were numbered. He didn’t need the temptation, and she couldn’t afford the distraction. Or the other way around. Or both.

Definitely both.

So he turned away and went on his way, out of the CIA and into building his own top-flight, high-end, security business, Sentinel Security. While she continued her rise through the ranks of the CIA to become the best of the best – just as he once was. And still very much is, just in a slightly different and frequently adjacent sphere.

Every time they’ve run into each other – occasionally just about literally – since the Sentinel Security series began, they’ve drawn the kind of sparks off of each other that were bound to lead to one hell of a fire.

If they can just get out of their own ways. As long as they can get themselves out of the sights of an assassin who only thinks he can claim to be the best by taking down the best.

He thinks he can prove he’s in their league. Hellfire and Steel are about to show him just how much he’s not.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I adore this author and her work and am always thrilled to have a new story in whichever series she happens to be working on.

Second, I always love the romance that features the leader of whatever group that series happens to be featuring, so I’ve been waiting for Killian’s story since the series began. (I’m just grateful I didn’t have to bite my nails through quite as many stories as in some of her previous series.)

Third, while I was always intending to read Steel this week I had one book absolutely disappointingly fail, so I was both thrilled and grateful to pick up Steel and dive right in. I knew I would enjoy it, but it turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time.

Just as Killian Hawke turned out to be, not the perfect man but the perfect man for Hayden. Someone she could trust to have her back in a firefight, who would pull her up when she needed it instead of beating her down when she was already there. Someone who loved her and appreciated her for the kickass woman she was instead of trying to make her be less than in any way, shape or form.

Because she’s perfect for him just as she is. If she was anything less or anything different, she wouldn’t be the woman, the person he needed at his side.

But it isn’t ever going to be easy – and neither is this operation. Someone has a list of the top agents for every spy agency around the world and is planning to assassinate the “Top Ten” on the list. A list that Hellfire and Steel are both on.

The assassin has already eliminated two of their colleagues, had a go at a third, and now they are next. Which means that they are following the trail of their would-be assassin while he’s trying to pull them into his trap. The stakes are the highest, the tension is off the charts and the pages are turning as fast as the reader can flip them.

It’s a race to the finish; either his – or theirs. But together they can conquer anything. Even each other’s doubts, fears and demons. It’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Yet another terrific action adventure romance from an equally terrific author.

As always, I’m already looking forward to her next book, Knightmaster, the first in the Oronis Knights series. I’m always up for good science fiction romance and I know that’s just what I’ll get in March. And Sentinel Security will be back in April, and I’m sure it will be another pulse-pounding romantic adventure!