Stacking the Shelves (276)

Stacking the Shelves

This is one of the rare weeks when I bought more books than I picked up from NetGalley and Edelweiss.

I’m finishing up an article for Library Journal about science fiction romance. It’s impossible to talk about SFR without bringing up Linnea Sinclair. Her books are marvelous, and it’s a big huge gigantic shame that she isn’t writing more of them right now. Because when SFR readers are asked who got them started, hers is inevitably the first name that comes up. I have copies of everything in print, but I needed to look up a specific reference in Games of Command, and searching a print book is such a pain compared to using the “Search” function of an ereader. And I wanted to have them in ebook anyway, because I think I want a reread. So I bought them all. Again. If you like SFR or just like space opera, Sinclair is a real treat. Don’t let the romance covers fool you, her books are excellent science fiction, they just also contain terrific romances.

For Review:
Fatal Chaos (Fatal #12) by Marie Force
Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates
A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole
Then There Was You (Angel Falls #1) by Miranda Liasson

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair
Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Gabriel’s Ghost (Dock Five Universe #1) by Linnea Sinclair
Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles #2) by Kevin Hearne (audiobook)
Hope’s Folly (Dock Five Universe #3) by Linnea Sinclair
Rebels and Lovers (Dock Five Universe #4) by Linnea Sinclair
Shades of Dark (Dock Five Universe #2) by Linnea Sinclair
Wintertide by Linnea Sinclair

Borrowed from the Library:
Moonshadow (Moonshadow #1) by Thea Harrison

Review: Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli

Review: Deborah Calling by Avraham AzrieliDeborah Calling: A Novel Inspired by the Bible by Avraham Azrieli
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 432
Published by HarperLegend on January 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the bestselling Deborah Rising continues the fascinating story of the biblical prophetess Deborah in this entrancing work of visionary fiction—a tale of danger, mysticism, intrigue, and daring.

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see this wish come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man by seeking out a mysterious elixirist who could turn women into men.

Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah’s help to escape enslavement and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat-and-mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer who has a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.

As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

A riveting adventure tale derived from traditional biblical fiction, Deborah Calling imagines the life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament as she continues on her path to becoming a prophetess.

My Review:

Deborah Calling picks up right where Deborah Rising left off. But for readers who haven’t read the stories back to back, or who don’t feel like reading Deborah Rising but want to jump into a book where the protagonist gets to be proactive instead of always reactive, Deborah Calling does an excellent job of bringing readers up to speed.

Deborah in the Bible was a Judge and a prophet. In this story, although she is still very young she is already having prophetic dreams. The clever way that the author brings readers up to date is for Deborah to have a remembering dream where she dreams the events of her life to the point where this story begins.

As this story begins, Deborah is well on her way to fulfilling her quest to become a man. She is one third of the way through the transformation process dictated by the Elixirist, a great potion maker from the neighboring kingdom of Moab. He is famous for turning 3,000 Moabite women into men in order to stave off an Egyptian invasion of his homeland. Or so the story goes.

Deborah wants to become a man because being a woman has brought her nothing but pain and injustice. As a woman, she cannot inherit her father’s land. She can’t testify in court against the man who killed her sister. She can’t even testify in court against the man who attempted to kill her. And as he is also her husband, as the man responsible for her only he can testify on her behalf. We can all guess how well that goes.

Murdering her isn’t even a crime, because she is female. Being a man may not be easy, but it has to be better than the treatment she’s received as a woman. And as only men can inherit, it is only by returning to her homeland as a man that she can take back the land that was stolen from her family.

As portrayed in this story, the land of Israel was hardly a “land of milk and honey”. Judges could be capricious and cruel, and for women especially, life could be very gruesome, as Deborah’s story reveals.

But the road to becoming a man is difficult. It has led her from being a chattel in the Judge’s household to being a slave in a tannery far away. But a slave who is disguised as a boy, the first part of her transformation.

She has two quests. One is to become a man, return to her homeland, and become the Judge and prophet that her father dreamed she would be. But to get there she has to fulfill a different quest first. To find and free two Moabite slaves from two different masters so that they can return to their own homeland before they die. One of those old slaves is the famous Elixirist who will provide the means for her transformation.

And they are both lying to her through whatever teeth they have left. Which does not stop Deborah from becoming, if not a man, at least from becoming the proactive, even-tempered, adventurous and logical person she was meant to be – male or female

Escape Rating B: The Deborah in Deborah Calling has considerably more agency than she did in Deborah Rising. In the first book, she was a person that things mostly happened TO, and then she reacted to what happened to her. Until something even worse happened, and then she reacted to that – if any reactions were open to her other than to take the whipping or whatever other terrible thing was about to be visited upon her. Not that she didn’t have an admittedly cockeyed plan, but most of the time, she was passive or defensive or on the run or all of the above.

The difference in Deborah Calling is that she becomes the lead actor in her own life. While bad things still continue to happen to her, she definitely spends more of the story acting before she is acted upon, and planning for future events (even bad ones) than she did in the previous book. She goes from being a follower, and sometimes a seemingly hapless one, to being a leader.

It may be obvious to the reader (it certainly was to this reader) that Sallan and Kassite are using Deborah for their own ends, not that fulfilling their purpose does not also help her. And it was equally obvious to this reader which of the two of them was actually the Elixirist. But it does make sense that Deborah herself could not figure it out – as Deborah Calling ends she is just barely 15, not nearly experienced enough to have the cynicism required to figure their particular charade out.

There is still a villain in this piece, throughout the story, Deborah is pursued by the thoroughly evil Seesya, who is also her husband. Again, this is one of the many reasons why Deborah wants to become male. As a woman, she had no right to refuse to marry Seesya – even though he had just had her sister stoned to death for a crime she did not commit.

But over the course of the two books, Seesya continues to read more like a bogeyman, like a caricature of evil or even an embodiment of an evil being than he does like a villainous but human man. His personality is so completely warped that there is nothing there but malice, and it makes him seem almost supernatural, certainly to Deborah but sometimes even to the reader. He has also survived so many near-death experiences that one does start to wonder.

Speaking of wondering, Deborah’s story is not over. As Deborah Calling ends she has decided to return to her homeland as she is, but the story of how she gets back and what happens to change her into the Judge and prophet that we know she becomes from the Bible, is in a book yet to be written.

As a reader who was expecting the story to conclude at the end of Deborah Calling, this was a disappointment. I hope that the next book, and the conclusion of Deborah’s story, comes soon! I still want to see Seesya get what’s coming to him.

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Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’Connor

Review: Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’ConnorShelter My Heart (Caught Up in Love, #2) by L.G. O'Connor
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Caught Up in Love #2
Pages: 348
Published by Collins-Young Publishing LLC on May 16th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads


Two Weeks. One Life-Changing Proposal.

Devon, an ailing, young CEO-in-training due to inherit his dead father's conglomerate saves the day for Jenny, an engaged young woman on her way home to see her family. To repay his kindness, she agrees to be his date for his family's annual society gala and convince the board that he's healthy and going to marry. Two weeks are all Devon needs, and two weeks are all Jenny can give--until the stakes rise, forcing Jenny to answer the question: How far is she willing to go to save Devon's life?


Shelter My Heart is a Kindle Scout Winner

Contemporary Romantic Women's Fiction - New Adult, Billionaire Romance

My Review:

I picked this book because I absolutely loved what turned out to be the first book in this series. Caught Up in Raine was a terrific younger man/older woman romance, and if you like that trope I recommend it highly.

Although that book was Jillian and Raine’s story, the author decided to continue to follow the women in Jill’s family after Jill found her HEA. Shelter My Heart is her niece Jenny’s story, and the third book in the series will hopefully answer all the questions about whatever happened between Jenny’s mother Kitty (Jill’s sister) and family friend John Henshaw. We’ll see in a couple of weeks, as I’m scheduled to review that book, Surrender My Heart, in a couple of weeks.

But Shelter My Heart is Jenny and Devon’s story, and it’s a doozy.

As this story begins, Jenny is trying to rush all the way across the country to be there for Jillian when she has her baby. And things keep getting in her way. Not just the fight she has with her fiance on her way out the door, but even her airline connections are against her.

Jillian’s been rushed to the hospital, and Jenny is stuck in the middle of nowhere because her incoming flight and her outbound flight missed each other. It happens. But there are no coach seats on any of the remaining flights outbound, and tomorrow might be too late. Jillian’s is a high-risk pregnancy, and there are complications. Jenny needs to be there.

A knight in bespoke suit armor comes to her rescue, paying for her first-class ticket home. And, as it turns out, the seat right beside him. And that’s where our story really begins, with Devon Soames and Jenny Lynch on a plane together, discovering that they each have the ability to take the other one out of themselves, in spite of everything that is going wrong in their lives.

Jenny’s problems, in spite of the current scare over Jillian and her baby, are mostly either of her own making or completely beyond her control. She knows her engagement should be over, she’s just having a difficult time formalizing the ending, both to her family and to the douchebag in question.

She’s also lived through a lot of death. Four people close to her have died in the past few years, one every other year. And even though none of those deaths are remotely her fault, the events that surround the first one have made her feel cosmically responsible for the others.

Devon, on the other hand, is pretty much in the middle of a crap sandwich that isn’t his fault. But that white-knight syndrome of his won’t let him do anything but sacrifice himself and all he has in the hope of making things better for his sister and his invalid mother, if not for himself.

Jenny has the feeling that death is following her around. Devon, on the other hand, is very definitely dying. He survived cancer, but the chemotherapy he needed did a permanent number on his kidneys, and they’re failing fast. He needs a transplant to survive.

The problem is that pretending that he is completely healthy is absolutely required to keep his repulsive half-brother from taking over his late father’s company. And taking over that company is the only way to provide enough money to give his mother the care that she will need for the rest of her life.

Devon feels as if he has no future. And he might not. But meeting Jenny makes him dream about happy endings again – no matter how much he tries to convince himself that they are not for him.

Until they very nearly aren’t. The end. Almost.

Escape Rating B+: This is the kind of melodramatic, soap-opera-ish, angsty romance that you just want to eat up with a spoon. And I very nearly did – I finished in a day. As crazy as some of the situations are, there is a lot of heart in this story and I just could not stop reading until the end.

This is a story where pretty much everything piles on. There are so many points where it is angsty well past the point of melodrama, because just so much happens, and it is all a bit over the top.

And most of it happens to poor Devon.

Jenny did have a tragedy in her past, but it looms bigger in her memory than she is actually responsible for. And while her about-to-be-ex-fiance is a douche, but there’s absolutely nothing stopping Jenny from kicking him to the curb, with or without Devon in the mix.

Devon, on the other hand, seems to have drawn most of the rotten cards out of the deck. He is rich, and that’s the one thing that falls mostly right for him, except his wealth is threatened and may even be temporary.

Devon’s Dad was a real, honest-to-goodness (or make that honest-to-badness) douchecanoe of epic proportions, and it’s those proportions that Devon is dealing with, in addition to caring for his invalid mother, imminent kidney failure, and staving off a corporate takeover.

When Devon, who is not yet 25, was undergoing cancer treatment, douchecanoe daddy changed his will to leave the family corporation to Devon if and only if Devon was pronounced healthy and able to provide an heir to the family on his 25th birthday. If he dies, can’t pass a physical or doesn’t have a sperm count (Devon had testicular cancer, so this is more relevant than it seems), the company will go to his half-brother, who is an even bigger asshat than dear old dad. Which is saying something since said half-brother is the product of daddy’s adulterous affair, not a previous or subsequent marriage.

And oh by the way, this “boys club” arrangement completely disregards the existence of Devon’s twin sister, who is an absolute shark as far as executive material is concerned. She is a better CEO for the company than either Devon or the bastard, a fact which Devon fully acknowledges but that dear old dad refused to admit on account of her gender. Like I said, Daddy was a douche.

There also turns out to be enough corporate skulduggery going on to fill an entire season of a soap opera like Dallas or Dynasty, but it does mostly take a back seat to the romance between Jenny and Devon – even though he refuses to open up about all the shit that’s going down in his life until generally the last possible moments. Over and over again.

In the end, it’s the love story that carries this tale. The reader is caught up in the two of them, as they fall in love, and its the real deal, in spite of how brief a time they’ve known each other and all the crap that they are forced to wade through. You want them to find their HEA, even though Devon is frequently too boneheaded to let Jenny in.

His sister Lettie blames that on a combination of white-knight syndrome and testosterone poisoning, with an emphasis on the testosterone poisoning. She is often the person pushing them together, and definitely the one pushing Devon to reveal all before it’s too late.

Lettie really deserves her own happy ending. She’s earned it. And I hope the series extends long enough for her to get one. But wrap Shelter My Love and it’s story up in a very pretty, neatly tied bow. In spite of the long arm of coincidence, and the octopus tentacles of family greed and corporate shenanigans, this one is like dark chocolate, yummy and gooey with just that touch of bitter to make the sweet really pop!

Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Lost Castle (The Lost Castle #1) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #1
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Launching a brand-new series, Kristy Cambron explores the collision of past and present as she discovers the ruins of a French castle, long lost to history.

A thirteenth century castle, Chateau de Doux Reves, has been forgotten for generations, left to ruin in a storybook forest nestled deep in France's picturesque Loire Valley. It survived a sacking in the French Revolution, was brought back to life and fashioned into a storybook chateau in the Gilded Age, and was eventually felled and deserted after a disastrous fire in the 1930s.

As Ellie Carver sits by her grandmother's bedside, she hears stories of a castle . . . of lost love and a hidden chapel that played host to a secret fight in the World War II French resistance. But her grandmother is quickly slipping into the locked-down world of Alzheimer's, and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family's history.

Sparked by the discovery of a long forgotten family heirloom, Ellie embarks on a journey to French wine country to uncover the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty--the castle so named for Charles Perrault's beloved fairy tale--and unearth its secrets before they're finally silenced by time.

Set in three different time periods--the French Revolution, World War II, and present day--The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged, and an enchanted castle that inspired the epic fairy tales time left behind.

My Review:

Instead of a mystery wrapped in an enigma (not that the reference to Enigma doesn’t turn out to be appropriate) this is a fairy tale wrapped in a war story tied up in a romance. Also not that there isn’t romance throughout – just different romances.

Because this lovely story is a “timeslip” tale that is spread over three very different time periods; the French Revolution, World War II, and the present day. And if the reference to the French Revolution wasn’t enough of a clue, most of the story takes place in France during those periods, specifically in the Loire Valley wine region.

And there’s plenty of wine involved and not just by drinking it. The fates of three very different women are tied together by the wines, the vines, and the castle that hides in the middle of it all.

Timeslip stories, as the sub-genre is now termed, are stories that “slip” between multiple time periods. Sometimes by having one of the characters themselves slip between those periods, but sometimes by having the narrative simply move between the periods for reasons that become clear at some point in the story.

The Lost Castle is one of the latter types. We follow three women in the same place but at three different time periods. We begin by meeting Ellie Carver, whose beloved grandmother has slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and is now also slipping away physically. Lady Vi raised Ellie after her parents died, and Ellie feels like her grandmother is all that she has in the world. She is heartbroken and scrambling. Also emotionally scrambled.

Lady Vi’s fog lifts just enough to send Ellie scrabbling through her grandmother’s books to discover a WWII vintage photo of her grandmother, showing her that in the midst of the life that Ellie knew of her grandmother, there is at least one chapter that she was never told. Lady Vi seems to be looking for closure for this part of her life, and in a mad quest to do something, anything, Ellie hares off to the site of the picture, the “Sleeping Beauty” castle tucked away in the Loire Valley in France.

As the story continues we follow Ellie in the Loire, as she discovers the site of the photo, and unearths the history of when it was taken. We also follow Lady Vi’s history as a semi-trained British Intelligence operative who finds herself on the run from the Nazis in the Loire Valley in 1944. When Lady Vi is rescued by the local Resistance, she finds relative safety, purpose, and love.

We also see glimpses of an earlier history of the area, during the French Revolution, through the eyes of Aveline, a French aristocrat for whom the most famous wine of the region comes to be named.

All three women become integral to the past, and the future, of this storied place. And as Ellie uncovers the truth, we learn why. And it is bittersweet, but as delicious as the wine.

Escape Rating A-: Before I say anything else, let me say again that this is a truly lovely book. If you enjoy timeslip stories, I think you’ll really love this one.

As I read The Lost Castle, I did wonder how Aveline was connected to Vi and Ellie. It’s obvious from the beginning that it isn’t a matter of ancestors and descendants – there’s definitely no relation. And it’s not that Aveline’s story isn’t either interesting or important, it’s just that we don’t discover why and how until the very end.

I haven’t read a lot of timeslip stories, at least not under that label, so I’m not sure whether this is a bug or a feature, but neither Aveline’s nor Vi’s stories are told in chronological order. The chapter headings do say where and when each bit takes place, but the slipping forward and backwards within each of their times always took a paragraph or two to adjust to. This was particularly true with Aveline’s story, as we start in the middle and then work both backwards and forwards from that point, sometimes almost at random. The same thing happens with Vi’s story, but she doesn’t flash backwards nearly as much, and proceeds in a straight line from that middle, except for the flashbacks.

All three women are in the midst of great change, and that’s what makes each of their stories so fascinating. Aveline is an aristocrat during the Revolution, but she is a woman who is already uncomfortable with the life that she is supposed to lead. The Revolution provides her with an opportunity to forge a new path for herself, and she takes it.

Vi’s story takes place during World War II. We only get glimpses of her wartime exploits before she reaches the Loire, but they are enough to chill the bones. We do get a fairly complete portrait of her life in the French Resistance, and that comes at a critical time – it is 1944 and the Allied invasion is rumored and imminent, while the Nazis are desperate to hold onto France at all costs, with Vi, her new found friends and the Loire Valley itself caught in the terrible crossfire.

These are also all romances, and the romances are tied together not through the women, but through the place and the family that occupies it, through the men. The Vivay family owns and operates the winery that makes the region famous. Their signature wine, developed by Robert Vivay in Aveline’s time, is named for her. During Vi’s time, it is Julien Vivay who protects the land and is master of the vineyard, using that same signature product to keep the Nazis at bay. And it is Titus Vivay who lived to remember it all, and his grandson who leads Ellie to the answers that she is seeking.

Although the blurbs for this book talk about a “legacy of faith” and as this book is published by Thomas Nelson, a publisher who specializes in Christian faith-based works, one might think that the “faith” being mentioned in those blurbs is religious faith and of a specific type. But it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem to be to a reader who is not looking for such. Instead, the faith at the heart of this story seems more like faith in the land and faith in its people. In all three time periods, its the way that the people pull together to defend their lives, but more importantly the lives of those they love, and to defend the land and the work that sustains them, than it is about any belief in a diety.

Your mileage on this subject may definitely vary, but as someone who does not read books that are marketed as “inspirational” fiction this book does not read like part of that tradition.

It reads like excellent historical fiction, because that’s what it is.

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

There is a giveaway for a copy of The Lost Castle and a signed tote bag over at @tnzfiction  on Instagram.

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Review: The Upside by Abdel Sellou

Review: The Upside by Abdel SellouThe Upside (You Changed My Life) by Abdel Sellou, Caroline Andrieu
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography
Pages: 224
Published by Hachette Books on February 6th 2018
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The true story of a charismatic Algerian con-man whose friendship with a disabled French aristocrat inspired the record-breaking hit movie The Intouchables (American remake, The Upside, starting Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, coming March 2018).


The story of Abdel Sellou's surprising friendship with aristocrat Philippe Pozzo di Borgo has been told and retold around the world-most recently in the major motion picture The Upside, with comedian and movie star Kevin Hart portraying Abdel and his edgy charm. In this appealing memoir, Sellou shows us the real man behind Kevin Hart's smiling face. The book takes us from his childhood spent stealing candy from the local grocery store, to his career as a pickpocket and scam artist, to his unexpected employment as a companion for a quadriplegic. Sellou tells his story with a stunning amount of talent, humor, style, and-though he denies that he has any-humility.

My Review:

The original title of this book was You Changed My Life, and that’s probably a more accurate description of the contents than the new title. The ways of marketing are clearly mysterious to behold.

No matter what the title, this book is kind of a cross between a buddy-movie and a bromance. It’s already been a movie, The Intouchables, filmed in France where the real story takes place. And it will be again – the American version is titled The Upside and seems to have been filmed in 2017, although I’m not sure it was ever in theaters. Considering that the movie was supposed to have come out in October of 2017 as the Harvey Weinstein scandal was breaking, and that the movie was produced by his company and the new edition of the book was supposed to be published by his publishing company, it’s not really a surprise that things got a bit, let’s call it delayed.

However, the story existed long before either the movie or the scandal. But this true story was originally told by only one of the partners in this bromance. This version, the one that I read, is told by the other. And it isn’t quite as fictionalized as the original movie seems to have been.

Not that the author doesn’t tell plenty of stories on himself, because he certainly does. And he is not the most reliable narrator, not even of his own life. Perhaps especially of his own life.

In 1993, French businessman (and noble) Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was severely injured in a paragliding accident, becoming a quadriplegic. In 1995 he hired Abdel Sellou, the author of this book, as his “life auxiliary” or caregiver.

Sellou was an Algerian immigrant to France, having been given by his Algerian parents to his aunt and uncle in Paris when he was a child. A child who was young enough to adapt but old enough to remember where he came from. And he was given to people who had never been parents and seem to have no idea of how to be parents. Or perhaps its that Abdel had no idea that rules or limits ever applied to him.

By his own account, Sellou grew up fairly wild on the streets of Paris, becoming a thief and a con artist. He saw himself as the king of his little corner of the world, and felt like nothing could stop him, not even jail. As he was always a completely nonviolent offender, jail mostly seemed like a bit of a vacation. The rules never applied to him.

He met “Pozzo” when he was basically scamming the unemployment office. He came to pretend to apply for that job as Pozzo’s life auxiliary. He ended up staying for over ten years in a job he never expected to take, and remained as Pozzo’s unpaid caregiver thereafter.

All of Pozzo’s rich friends were certain that the conman was there to take Pozzo for a ride, and bilk him out of all the money he could manage to scam. It never happened.

Instead, they formed an unlikely but life altering and life sustaining friendship. This is the story of that friendship from Sellou’s point of view (as Pozzo has already told his version of the story in A Second Wind)

Reality Rating B: The Upside, by whatever title, is a surprisingly quick read. It’s also not a very deep one, because the author skims over the surface of his life, and never seems willing to dive deeply into his thoughts or feelings.

The story that we’re left with is still interesting. Sellou seems to have grown up without a care in the world, or perhaps a better way of describing it would be not caring much about the world or anyone else in it.

It’s also clear that this story couldn’t be told until the statute of limitations had run out on his youthful crime spree, which seems to have lasted into his 20s. Mostly Sellou was a thief and even a bit of a shakedown artist. He was also a successful small-time conman. His goal never seems to have been to get rich, just to get enough to last until the next day. He saw the world as free for the taking, and if he got caught, well, jail seems to have been mostly a vacation.

There have to have been darker parts to this part of the story, but the author never dwells on them. He seems to be a character who always looks on the bright side, and does not worry much if at all about tomorrow.

Going to work for Pozzo was a life-altering event for both of them. Sellou’s ability to always find a bright side seems to have been just what Pozzo needed to keep him going. It’s not that Sellou wasn’t all-too-well acquainted with everything that did not work in Pozzo’s paralyzed body. It’s that Sellou never seems to have let it stop him from pushing whatever boundaries could be pushed so that Pozzo was able to get outside of himself as much as possible, which turned out to often be a surprising amount.

It’s also obvious from the story that the two men moved relatively quickly from an employer-employee relationship to a friendship to a partnership – even if most of Pozzo’s family and friends never fully come to trust Sellou even after years of being there for Pozzo at every hour of the day and night.

That Sellou seems to feel no bitterness at that lack of distrust is surprising. Or it may be part of his ability to always see the sunnier side of every situation, even the terrible ones.

I find myself wondering how some aspects of the story that seem particularly French are going to translate to American audiences. Perhaps I’ll find out if the movie ever shows up on Netflix.

Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson

Review: A Plunder of Souls by D.B. JacksonA Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles, #3) by D.B. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Thieftaker #3
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on July 8th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Boston, 1769: Ethan Kaille, a Boston thieftaker who uses his conjuring to catch criminals, has snared villans and defeated magic that would have daunted a lesser man. What starts out as a mysterious phenomenon that has local ministers confused becomes something far more serious.

A ruthless, extremely powerful conjurer seeks to wake the souls of the dead to wreak a terrible revenge on all who oppose him. Kaille's minister friends have been helpless to stop crimes against their church. Graves have been desecrated in a bizarre, ritualistic way. Equally disturbing are reports of recently deceased citizens of Boston reappearing as grotesquely disfigured shades, seemingly having been disturbed from their eternal rest, and now frightening those who had been nearest to them in life. But most personally troubling to Kaille is a terrible waning of his ability to conjure. He knows all these are related…but how?

When Ethan discovers the source of this trouble, he realizes that his conjure powers and those of his friends will not be enough to stop a madman from becoming all-powerful. But somehow, using his wits, his powers, and every other resource he can muster, Ethan must thwart the monster's terrible plan and restore the restless souls of the dead to the peace of the grave. Let the battle for souls begin in A Plunder of Souls, the third, stand-alone novel in Jackson's acclaimed Thieftaker series.

My Review:

Today is Presidents Day, so I went searching through the towering TBR pile to find something set in the Revolutionary period. (Yes, I know that Presidents Day celebrates both Washington and Lincoln, but I’m still listening to the utterly marvelous Grant by Ron Chernow, and therefore have all the Civil War I can handle at the moment.)

Which brought me back to the Thieftaker Chronicles and A Plunder of Souls. I read Thieftaker last year for this holiday, and loved it so much I dove into the next book in the series, Thieves’ Quarry, perhaps a bit too soon.

So after most of a year, I’m back to this series. And A Plunder of Souls did not disappoint. Far from it.

The setting for the series is so well done that the reader feels as though they are walking the streets of pre-Revolutionary Boston with Ethan Kaille, complete with seeing the sights and even smelling the smells. If you like your historical fiction and mysteries to give you that “you are there” feeling, this series certainly does that well.

But the Thieftaker Chronicles are not merely historical fiction, and they aren’t quite historical mysteries, although there is usually a mysterious element to the story. The author bills this series as “historical fantasy” because he has taken pre-Revolutionary America and added two elements, one slightly ahistorical, and one definitely fantastic.

Although there were thieftakers in Boston in the colonial period, there were none recorded in Boston during the time the series takes place. What Ethan does for a living is fairly obvious from the name – people hire him to find something that has been stolen, and/or to find the person who stole it.

But the fantasy element comes very much into play in this entry in the series. Ethan is a “speller”, or conjurer. In Salem a century before, he’d have been labeled a “witch” and probably hung, burned, drowned or pressed for it. Ethan can cast spells, and he’s not the only one in Boston who can.

The case that Ethan is hired to investigate is a particularly grisly one. Someone is vandalizing graves of the recently deceased and violating the corpses. The head and right hand of each corpse has been removed, an article of clothing has been stolen, a strange symbol has been carved over the heart of each corpse, and, in a particularly nasty message to Ethan himself, three toes have been cut off of each corpse’s left foot – just as Ethan had those same toes removed years ago.

It’s not just the mutilated bodies that have the local churches and cemeteries in an uproar. The ghosts of the violated dead are returning to their homes, looking just as they currently do in their graves.

And whatever or whoever is bringing back the dead, they are also doing something that draws power away from all the spellers in town. Ethan’s powers are no longer reliable, nor are those of his friends and colleagues.

As the spirits multiply, Ethan finds himself banding together with old friends and even old enemies in order to bring down a mad spellcaster with a taste for power – and revenge.

Escape Rating A-: I read this in a single day. I started it thinking I’d finish it on the plane home from DC, but in the end I just couldn’t wait that long. I got sucked in and didn’t get spit out until the end.

The author brings this historical period alive in a way that makes the reader feel as if they are walking the streets with Ethan. Amazingly, it’s not done by introducing a host of real historical characters, although there are a few historical figures whose work intersects with Ethan’s. It’s more that the story is so steeped in historical details that the reader can’t help but be drawn in, while at the same time that wealth of detail never drags down the story.

As a character Ethan is certainly interesting to follow. He is very thoughtful about his life and his situation. Part of what makes him different is that he does not see himself particularly as a hero, more as someone who is often swept along by events who does the best he can. Ethan is also middle-aged for his time, in his early 40s. The years are catching up with him, and he’s not sure how much longer he can continue as a thieftaker – especially since the increasing presence of British troops (the Redcoats really are coming) has depressed business considerably. With so many soldiers on the streets, the small time crooks who are Ethan’s bread and butter are laying very, very low.

This particular entry in the series is steeped in magic. The crime, while not magical in itself, is done with magical purpose. Ethan finds himself at a crossroads, seeing that his spells are failing,realizing just how dependent he is on his ability to conjure, and uncertain of what to do if his talents fail him.

His enemy this time is thankfully not Sephira Pryce. Her character does not feel as real to me as others in the series, and every time she appears I feel myself gritting my teeth. On the other hand, the villain of A Plunder of Souls is just a bit over the top – and he’s barking mad into the bargain. Very powerful, but also completely nuckin’ futz. He’s very scary and also a bit unfocused.

And apparently the villain in the next and final book in the series, Dead Man’s Reach, as well. I’ll be glad to see the back of this particular character, but very, very sorry to see this series end.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-18-18

Sunday Post

We’re home after 10 days away at back-to-back conferences. It is SO GOOD to be home. Especially now that the cats have forgiven us, and seem to have meowed all the things they needed to tell us. THAT took a while. Obviously they had a lot to say, and just couldn’t wait to say it. We missed them, so it’s good to know that they missed us, too.

One of the most important things that I was at ALA Midwinter to accomplish was to participate in my final round of voting and wordsmithing as part of the ALA Notable Books Council. For the past four years, I have been part of this excellent group that picks the 25 (or so) best literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry for adults. This year’s list was awesome. If you’re looking for great books to read and recommend, you can’t go wrong with one of our lists.

But Notables is a lot of work (we get over 1,000 books each year to at least look at) so the rules are that we can only serve four years in a row. This was my fourth and final year for this go around. I can come back later, and I might. But in the meantime, this coming year I’ll be part of the Carnegie Medal Committee, which picks one best book in fiction, and one in nonfiction, each year, for adults. (Sometimes there’s overlap with Notables, and sometimes there isn’t). It’s a new group and a new process, but still passionate about books and reading. I’m looking forward to it!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop
3 paperback copies of Christmas Cowboy and Smooth-Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the February Book of Choice Giveaway Hop is Gaby N.

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop
A Review: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison
B Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
B+ Review: Smooth-Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (275)

Coming Next Week:

A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson (review)
The Upside by Abdel Sellou (blog tour review)
The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (blog tour review)
Shelter My Heart by L.G. O’Connor (review)
Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (275)

Stacking the Shelves

I did manage to resist temptation at ALA Midwinter. I only saw one book that I wanted that I didn’t already have – but I only saw a poster for it – they didn’t have any ARCs left. Howsomever, the book appeared on Edelweiss the next day, so I have it exactly the way I wanted it. (If you’re wondering, it’s The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz. I loved Magpie Murders)

So temptation has been staved off for another five months. Not really, I’m tempted by the egalleys on NetGalley and Edelweiss every day!

For Review:
Farewell My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather #4) by Marty Wingate
Mr. Blakely by K Webster
Murder at Half Moon Gate (Wrexford & Sloane #2) by Andrea Penrose
The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer
Shelter My Heart (Caught Up in Love #2) by L.G. O’Connor
Surrender My Heart (Caught Up in Love #3) by L.G. O’Connor
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Purchased from Amazon:
Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey
Murder on Black Swan Lane (Wrexford & Sloane #1) by Andrea Penrose

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySmooth-Talking Cowboy (Gold Valley, #1) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Gold Valley #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Gold Valley, Oregon, where a rough-and-tumble rancher and the girl next door are about to learn that opposites attract

Olivia Logan has a plan: win back her ex by making him see what he’s missing. But first she needs to find a man who’s willing to play along. With his laid-back cowboy charm and knack for getting under her skin, Luke Hollister is an unlikely hero—but he wants her help convincing her father to sell him land, which means he needs her as much as she needs him.

Luke likes his life—and his women—uncomplicated. So why does good girl Olivia heat his blood like no one else? She’s always been off-limits, but the more time they spend as Gold Valley’s hottest new “couple,” the more real it’s starting to feel. Luke was supposed to help her win back another man…not keep her in his arms. But now that he has her there, he’s not sure he’ll ever let go.

My Review:

It’s not so much that Luke Hollister is a particularly smooth talker – it’s more like Olivia Logan is particularly susceptible to his brand of cowboy charm – even if she can’t admit it, not even to herself.

But then, Olivia has a long and sad history of not admitting what’s important to her to herself or to anyone else. She has become so invested in being a “good girl” for so many sad and bad reasons that falling for Luke’s charm is the furthest thing from her mind.

Until after it happens, and she’s forced to realize, at least in the privacy of her own mind, that he’s just what she’s been waiting for all along – even when she was pining away for someone else entirely.

This author has a knack for getting her heroine’s into really angsty situations, and Olivia Logan is no exception, even if some of her angst, or at least the layers on top, are mostly of her own making.

In the Copper Ridge series, which takes place just down the road from Gold Valley, Olivia Logan was one of the secondary characters. As her friends and co-workers met and fell in love with the men of their dreams, Olivia was absolutely certain that she had already found the man she was destined to spend the rest of her life with.

The fact that it was obvious to everyone that Olivia Logan and Bennett Dodge had absolutely zero chemistry didn’t seem to matter to Olivia. She had convinced herself that Bennett was the perfect man for her. And it turned out that Olivia’s father had convinced Bennett that Olivia was the right woman for him.

This is not the stuff of which dreams are made. Occasionally it IS the stuff of which nightmares are made.

After a year of extremely tepid dating, Olivia expected a ring. Bennett wasn’t ready. It’s dubious whether Bennett would ever be ready, but Olivia wasn’t ready to admit that. She broke up with Bennett in the hopes that her absence would make him realize just what he was missing.

Instead, Olivia discovered exactly what she was missing, in the person of Luke Hollister – a man who delighted in getting her just a little bit riled up every time they met. Sort of like the way that little boys tease the girls they like but don’t know what to do with yet.

Luke wasn’t interested in relationships, and Olivia wasn’t interested in anything but. But without Bennett to fill in the empty spaces, Olivia discovered that being a good girl was kind of a strait-jacket, and that Luke was the perfect person to help her out of it. And everything else she might possibly have on.

If she’s willing to take a risk on not being perfect, on getting hurt, and on saying (and doing) what’s really in her heart.

Escape Rating B+: As I said earlier, Olivia has been one of the secondary characters in Copper Ridge, and in the author’s Copper Ridge series. She has not been one of the more likeable characters, but up until now, we didn’t really know why.

What we do know is that she’s just a bit socially awkward, and not for any of the usual reasons. Olivia has been so invested in being the “good girl” that her parents expect her to be that she has done her best to live a completely disciplined life and remove any and all temptations to stray from the straight and narrow. And she’s pretty judgemental about anyone who does stray from that straight and narrow.

Olivia is a twin, but her twin sister is not in the picture. Vanessa didn’t just stray from the straight and narrow, she ran headlong away from it, into sex and booze and eventually drugs. As happens in so many families, the more that Vanessa turned toward the “dark side”, the more that Olivia felt obligated to become her opposite, the “good girl”. And now that Vanessa is who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, Olivia is kind of stuck in her role. Not only does the entire town expect it, but so do her smothering, overprotective parents who are desperate to hover over the child they still have in their lives.

Marrying Bennett Dodge was part of the life that Olivia was expected to have. It’s only once Bennett is out of her life that she’s able to look at what she really wants – even when she herself doesn’t want to see it.

Not that Luke is much more self-aware. Just as the loss of her twin is at the heart of so much of Olivia’s behavior, and so much of her internal conflict, Luke Hollister is also hiding a deep loss that he hasn’t been able to get past. It’s their traumas that finally bring them together, and nearly tear them apart.

The lesson at the end of the story is both sad and beautiful. You’ll see.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle BirknerModern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audioboook
Genres: essays, grief, nonfiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Wave on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by the website that the New York Times hailed as "redefining mourning," this book is a fresh and irreverent examination into navigating grief and resilience in the age of social media, offering comfort and community for coping with the mess of loss through candid original essays from a variety of voices, accompanied by gorgeous two-color illustrations and wry infographics.

At a time when we mourn public figures and national tragedies with hashtags, where intimate posts about loss go viral and we receive automated birthday reminders for dead friends, it’s clear we are navigating new terrain without a road map.

Let’s face it: most of us have always had a difficult time talking about death and sharing our grief. We’re awkward and uncertain; we avoid, ignore, or even deny feelings of sadness; we offer platitudes; we send sympathy bouquets whittled out of fruit.

Enter Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, who can help us do better. Each having lost parents as young adults, they co-founded Modern Loss, responding to a need to change the dialogue around the messy experience of grief. Now, in this wise and often funny book, they offer the insights of the Modern Loss community to help us cry, laugh, grieve, identify, and—above all—empathize.

Soffer and Birkner, along with forty guest contributors including Lucy Kalanithi, singer Amanda Palmer, and CNN’s Brian Stelter, reveal their own stories on a wide range of topics including triggers, sex, secrets, and inheritance. Accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and witty "how to" cartoons, each contribution provides a unique perspective on loss as well as a remarkable life-affirming message.

Brutally honest and inspiring, Modern Loss invites us to talk intimately and humorously about grief, helping us confront the humanity (and mortality) we all share. Beginners welcome.

My Review:

I picked this book for a very specific reason. My mother died on December 25, 2017 and this is a book about dealing with grief and loss. Since I’m not quite sure how well I’m dealing with everything, it felt like a good time to see how other people do. Or don’t, as the case may be.

The authors met each other, founded their website, and wrote this book after both of them lost one or both of their parents at a relatively young age. Not necessarily the parents’ age, although that too. But their own. They both were “orphaned” in their 20s, at a time when most people’s parents are not just still living, but still thriving and still working.

Their personal stories resonated with me, but not so much in the present tense. My dad passed away at 63, when I was 34.We were both too young for that particular trauma, and in some ways I never got over it. I still dream that he’s alive and we’re talking about something or doing something together. It’s always a shock to wake up and remember that he’s gone, and that he died long before I met my husband. I think they’d have liked each other. I’m certain that they would have had some epic chess games.

And every time I have one of those dreams I wake up with a migraine. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. I think we still have unfinished business, business that will never be finished. I keep trying to dream it better, and can’t.

The book is a collection of stories and essays by people who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Not just parents, but also spouses, children, parental figures, and anyone else whose loss brought them profound grief. Or anger. Or all the stages of grief at once.

For someone grieving a loss, or who has ever grieved a loss, reading the book is cathartic. I was looking for answers because my reaction to my mother’s death has been so very different from my reaction to my dad’s, and I was looking for a kind of validation. I wanted to see if my reaction was, if not normal, at least somewhere within the normal range.

And now I know I’m not alone. My mom was 89 when she died. We did not always get along, but we did keep in touch. Her passing was not unexpected, and there was time to, if not finish all the business, at least resolve in my own head and heart that all the business was finished that was ever going to get finished. We were who we were, and there were topics that were just never going to get discussed and arguments that were never going to be resolved.

It is what it is. Or as my mom so often said, “what will be will be”. And so it is.

Reality Rating B: I found this book helpful, but difficult to review. In the end, what I’ve written above is personal, and in a way is similar to some of the personal narratives told in the book.

The individual essays are a very mixed bag. Some spoke to me, whether their situation resembled my own or not. Others did not. This is definitely a case where one’s mileage varies. And I’ll also say that I can’t imagine reading this book unless one had experienced this type of loss and was looking for something, whether that be validation, shared experience or just catharsis. Or even just to feel all the feels.

Everyone’s experience of loss is different, and as my own issues show, every loss, even experienced by the same person, is different. We change, and so do our relationships.

If you or someone you know is grieving and is the type of person who looks for answers in books, reading this one may prove cathartic, or at least affirming. There is no one true answer. Just a true answer for each of us alone.

I still have dreams about my dad, but not, at least so far, my mom. And that is what it is, too.

TLC
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