Stacking the Shelves (386) + Giveaway

Stacking the Shelves

Today is the actual OMG 9th anniversary of the first post on Reading Reality. Writing this blog is turning out to be the longest “job” I have ever held. And what a wild, strange trip it’s been, but never more so than this year. While I think we’ll all be glad when life turns into whatever the new normal is going to be, I’d like to think that the reviews and features here at Reading Reality are giving readers at least a few suggestions on what to read to take your minds off the current crisis. A book is always a great way to get away from it all when you have to physically stay put.

I have a couple of final giveaways. Today I’m giving away a $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card. And I will tomorrow, too. These are gift cards that I happen to have and have never used, and this feels like a good time to share the wealth of books with a couple more lucky readers of this blog. To thank you all for your comments, support and readership over the past 9 years.

Here’s to 9 more!

For Review:
Alpha Night (Psy-Changeling #19) by Nalini Singh
Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
Chaos Reigning (Consortium Rebellion #3) by Jessie Mihalik
Creatures of Charm and Hunger (Diabolist’s Library #1) by Molly Tanzer
Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis
Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu
The Devil of Downtown (Uptown Girls #3) by Joanna Shupe
Dragon Unleashed (Fallen Empire #2) by Grace Draven
Drowned Country (Greenhollow #2) by Emily Tesh
Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Ghosts of Sherwood (Robin Hood Stories #2) by Carrie Vaughn
The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
The Hollow Ones by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
The Light of Days by Judy Batalion
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman
The Obsidian Tower (Rooks and Ruin #1) by Melissa Caruso
The Paris Hours by Alex George
Party of Two (Wedding Date #5) by Jasmine Guillory
Remain Silent (Manon Bradshaw #3) by Susie Steiner
Riviera Gold (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes #16) by Laurie R. King
Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle
Sunshield by Emily B. Martin
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
What Would Wimsey Do? (Not-Quite Golden Age #1) by Guy Fraser-Samspon

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Ghostrider (Miranda Chase #4) by M.L. Buchman (pre-order)
Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3) by Lindsay Buroker

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Review: Condor by M.L. Buchman + Giveaway

Review: Condor by M.L. Buchman + GiveawayCondor: an NTSB / military technothriller (Miranda Chase) Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #3
Pages: 428
Published by Buchman Bookworks on March 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Antonov AN-124 Ruslan “Condor”—the heavyweight champ among production cargo jets. Russian tanks, American firefighting helicopters, rescue submersibles, satellites, city-sized power transformers...the Condor hauls them all over the world.

But when one lifts a top-secret payload rated as too dangerous, the US government decides it must take action. Untraceable action. Call Delta Force? SEAL Team Six?

No. They call Miranda Chase, lead crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board to fake a crash. Miranda refuses, but the stakes grow higher and higher. Soon she may be too late to stop the new Cold War from becoming the final war.

My Review:

In this third book in the Miranda Chase NTSB series, the team has finally found the fifth man for its five-man band. And team leader Miranda Chase may have finally found somebody of her own who gets her for all the parts of who she is – laser-focused, single-minded, socially clueless, neuro-atypical and pure savant at figuring out what made a plane crash – no matter how much anyone – or everyone – attempts to hide the truth.

Whether they do that hiding before or after the crash she’s investigating hits the ground.

All of the books in this series have been named for the planes that have crashed – the planes that Miranda’s team has come to investigate. A Drone, a Thunderbolt and now a Condor – so far. And this one is no different in that start. But it is certainly different in the way that events play out.

And the story feels like it owes as much to Tom Clancy’s kind of spy games as it does to M.L. Buchman’s brand of military romance. In fact, it feels like the blend may be reaching an optimal mix for all kinds of combustion.

But first there’s a downed plane, a dead crew, a top secret and completely torched cargo, a Russian counter espionage agent and a CIA Director with designs on becoming the Second Lady of the U.S. – and eventually the First.

In the middle of it all, there’s Miranda Chase and her team, figuring out how and why the plane crashed in the U.S. – and how to make another one just like it crash in the middle of Russia – without ever giving the game away to anyone watching on either side of the deadly equation.

And without any members of her team getting bogged down – or taken out – by the weight of the baggage that they brought along for the ride.

Escape Rating A: In this third book in Miranda Chase’s series, it really feels like the team is hitting its stride. They have really begun to gel as a unit, and as a consequence, the individuals that make up the team have begun to trust each other enough to reveal some of the trauma that’s hidden in their pasts.

Miranda’s past, and its effects on her, have been part of the dynamic from the very beginning. She joined the NTSB and learned to analyze plane crashes because her parents died in one when she was a child. What she wasn’t aware of at the time, but certainly is now, is that her parents were CIA agents, and that their plane was sabotaged in a deliberate – and successful – attempt to take them out.

But we’re still learning about the rest of the team, just as they are learning about each other. As a consequence, the operation that provides the edge-of-the-suspense in this outing is wrapped around the team’s strongman – or in this case strongwoman – former Australian Special Forces operative Holly Harper.

Holly feels responsible for the deaths of her Australian team, as she was the only survivor of an operation that went so completely pear-shaped that even the pear would be outraged. Holly’s secondment to US NTSB was her way of putting her ghosts as far behind her as possible – literally half a world away.

She’s scared of being part of a “team” again, fearful that her bad luck has followed her across a very large ocean. But the operation that the team has been sucked into, faking the crash of a Russian military cargo transport in Russian airspace, is a job that requires all of the old skills that Holly hoped to never need again. But if she’s to save her new team, she’ll have to become the badass covert operative she left behind.

Because there’s an equally badass covert operative who is guaranteed to take out all the members of her new team with extreme prejudice. Unless Holly gets her first. Or unless that slimy new Director of the CIA plays them all.

The operation, in all of its many hair-raising and nail-biting parts is a big callback to some of the wilder adventures of the Night Stalkers in Buchman’s first military romance series. That both Holly and surprisingly Miranda come out of this adventure with the possibility of romance in their own respective futures made this entry in the series feel closer to what I was expecting back when I first picked up Drone – a heart stopping action adventure story with a little bit (so far) of heart pounding romance on top.

I can’t wait to see where Miranda and her team go – and which planes fall down in front of them – in the next book in this series, Ghostrider. I already have it on preorder!

I’ve enjoyed this author’s writing since I read his first military romance, The Night is Mine, back in 2012. He has written plenty of terrific books since then, ranging from military romance to action adventure romance to mysteries to  SF to thrillers and some that straddle all the lines. I haven’t read them all – he’s been VERY prolific! – but I’ve read quite a few and enjoyed every one.

So, as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, I’m giving one lucky reader the opportunity to climb aboard one of M.L. Buchman’s thrill-a-minute adventures. The winner of today’s giveaway will get their choice of any one of his books. Whoever wins is in for a real treat of a story!

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Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + Giveaway

Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + GiveawayWho Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr, #15) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #15
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr investigates the mysterious life and death of a nobleman accused of murder in this enthralling new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

It's June 1814, and the royal families of Austria, Russia, and the German states have gathered in London at the Prince Regent's invitation to celebrate the defeat of Napoléon and the restoration of monarchical control throughout Europe. But the festive atmosphere is marred one warm summer evening by the brutal murder of a disgraced British nobleman long thought dead.

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

My Review:

Once upon a time, the author of the Sebastian St. Cyr series described how she came to write St. Cyr and his series. She said that she wanted to create a character who seemed, on the surface, to be the epitome of the Regency hero; tall, dark, handsome and brooding. (I think with emphasis on the brooding.) But then to explicitly NOT make him the hero of a Regency romance. Thus was Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, born.

A much later description of Devlin referred to him as Darcy with more than a touch of James Bond, but that doesn’t really feel right. St. Cyr seems to have always been carrying too much emotional baggage to have ever been Darcy, while his adventures and investigations take him into much darker places than Bond usually goes and afford him considerably fewer technological toys – even ones that would have existed in the Regency.

St. Cyr relies on his instincts, his brains and his considerable ability to fight as dirty as necessary, whether that fight involves fisticuffs, social exposure or politics – as much as he hates the latter options when needed.

When his story began in 2005 – or in 1811 in St. Cyr’s world, England was on the brink of the Regency and St. Cyr was a battle-scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, unable to settle or sleep, wracked with PTSD after his life-altering experiences in a war that had not yet ended. (Even by the time period of this 15th book in the series, 1814, the war is still not over. It is merely in abeyance during Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba.)

St. Cyr, as the heir to an earldom, should be one of the Regency dandies that appear in the pages of so many romances set in the period. Instead, he has become an unofficial and unpaid murder investigator with the help of the head of the newly formed police agency at Bow Street. His membership at the highest levels of the aristocracy allows him to poke his nose into many, many places where a simple copper would be thrown out the back door.

Even his father-in-law, the Prince Regent’s cousin and spymaster Jarvis, is forced to deal with St. Cyr whether he likes it or not. And he definitely does not.

This latest entry in the series is an enthralling mystery that does an especially good job of exposing the glitter of the Regency Era as the bio-luminescence of something rotting in the dark, as St. Cyr finds himself investigating the death of a man who is all too much like the one that he sees in his own mirror. There but for the grace of god, and just a few scraps of luck that turned good instead of bad, would have gone St. Cyr.

It’s a case he can’t let go of, no matter how many times he’s warned off. And no matter how high the halls of power that he needs to bring low.

Escape Rating A+: It should be fairly clear that this is one of my favorite series. In fact, if it isn’t clear already, as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration I ONLY review stuff I really, really love. After all, this is my birthday and the blog’s birthday and why shouldn’t I treat myself to some books and authors that I know I’ll love?

Especially since this whole week is a hobbit’s birthday, meaning that I give presents instead of getting them. It just wouldn’t do to give away books I don’t utterly adore.

What I love about this series in general, and it’s certainly exemplified by this entry, boils down to two things. One is certainly the development of the characters. St. Cyr and his wife Hero have created a partnership of equals in a way that doesn’t often happen in historical romance. They have both come through dark places and dark things, and found each other in spite of people and circumstances that stood in their way.

They both carry a lot of baggage, and it is not a weight that either can carry FOR the other. Rather, carrying it together lightens the load. I also have to say that more than either Darcy or Bond, the character that St. Cyr most often reminds me of is Roarke from the In Death series. They share the same kind of darkness in their pasts, and they both work on expiating their demons in the same ways. They have also both formed strong partnerships with women who were initially on opposing sides from themselves.

The other thing that makes this series so strong is its setting. It is so much the opposite of what we think of the Regency as being. There was so much glitter at the top, and so much rot underneath. The murder in this story is a case in point. The powers-that-be have already decided who MUST be guilty, regardless of who is actually guilty. The attitudes reflected by our protagonists resonate with 21st century readers and yet feel part and parcel of their time and place.

Wrong is always wrong. Murder is always murder. No matter who the victim was, or what they, themselves might have done. That St. Cyr sees so much of himself in this particular victim adds to the poignancy of the whole story.

In the end, good triumphed, at least temporarily. Evil got its just desserts. And the powers that be blame St. Cyr for righting a wrong that many would have preferred to bury. A combination of things as they should be with the acknowledgement that many in power do not desire that outcome.

While I am eagerly awaiting St. Cyr’s next case, probably this time next year, I’m offering one lucky reader the chance to either begin this marvelous series or pick up wherever they might have left off. This is a series where you do need to at least start at the beginning. I read the first few, lost track of the series in the middle and have returned for the last several and have enjoyed every single one since I returned.

I hope that the winner of this giveaway will too.

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Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

It’s April Fools’ Day, we’re all quarantined in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and I don’t know about you, but the thing that really feels like its melting is our brains. Also it’s raining. Again. It’s WAY too late for snow in this neck of the woods.

Or, to put it another way, our 90-day trial of 2020 is now officially over, and no one knows where to send it back to get a do-over.

But it’s finally April. We can hope that things will look up. That the sun will come out tomorrow. That the dawn will come. We WILL get through this.

And in the meantime there are books. And giveaways for more books. And giveaways for gift cards for – you guessed it – more books.

Today I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book, up to $10 in value from the Book Depository. This giveaway is available wherever the Book Depository ships in this big wide and somewhat shut down and shut in world.

This is also day 3 of my annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week. There’s a giveaway here at Reading Reality every day this week. Monday’s giveaway is a $25 Amazon Gift AND $25 in Books. Tuesday’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of books by one of my favorite new authors. Thursday’s and Friday’s giveaways will be books from a couple of my long-standing favorite authors. So check out the giveaways! No fooling!

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

Review: Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton + Giveaway

Review: Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton + GiveawayServant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, sword and sorcery
Series: Dragonslayer #3
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on March 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Exciting Conclusion to the Dragonslayer Trilogy Long laid plans finally bear fruit, but will it prove as sweet as hoped for? With the king on his deathbed, the power Amaury has sought for so long is finally in his grasp.

As opposition gathers from unexpected places, dragonkind fights for survival and a long-awaited reckoning grows close.

Soléne masters her magic, but questions the demands the world will make of her. Unable to say no when the call of duty comes, Gill realizes that the life he had given up on has not given up on him.

Once a servant of the crown, ever a servant of the crown...

    The Dragonslayer Trilogy:

1. Dragonslayer
2. Knight of the Silver Circle
3. Servant of the Crown

My Review:

First things first. I just want to say what a treat it was to start a series, fall in love with it, and be able to just read – or be read to – all the way through to the end without having to wait months if not years for the later books in a series. I don’t always have that opportunity, either because I fall in love with the first book long before the others are out, or because I run into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum and have to space things out because of other reading commitments. Because I waited to start the first book (Dragonslayer) until the entire series was out – a happy accident! – I was able to do the whole thing in one swell foop. And wow! What a ride!

Second, this is epic fantasy of the sword and sorcery school, and there just hasn’t been as much of that around recently. I’d forgotten how much I love this end of the epic fantasy pool, so I’m grateful for the reminder and will be looking for more of it.

Third, this story manages to be both epic and not epically long at the same time in a way that just really, really works. In an era when so many epic fantasies are made up of several individual door-stop sized books, it was a joy to get such a rich and complete story in a length (or maybe I should reckon this as height) of just under one doorstop at 1,000 pages in total.

Fourth, but still not last, what makes this series so fascinating to read are its characters, and the way that their individual arcs both fulfill fantasy tropes and subvert them at the same time. Because this is a story where the characters feel like real, flawed human beings – and yet they still manage to be Big Damn Heroes, whether they want to be or not. And it’s definitely not.

I’m specifically referring to Gill and Soléne, because their respective journeys, separately and together-but-not-TOGETHER, form the backbone of the series.

Gill is the failed hero of the previous generation. His character, who is very much a classic archetype, usually becomes the mentor figure in most epic stories, whether fantasy or not, and that character usually dies somewhere in the middle so the “real” hero can take center stage. (One of my personal favorite characters of this type is actually dead to begin with, but that’s another story.)

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a great example. He was a hero in the previous war. He failed, he fell and then he hid himself away in the deserts of Tatooine. He becomes Luke’s first trainer and mentor in the Force, and then he’s killed by Vader. The mentor figure always dies. Like Merlin. And Dumbledore. And every other teacher/trainer of the young hero.

But the young hero in the Dragonslayer series is on an entirely different course than Gill’s. Because Gill doesn’t die. Instead, he becomes the hero, one more time, in spite of his own wishes to die in obscurity at the bottom of a bottle. He is, in the end, the “Servant of the Crown” as named in the title of this final volume. He serves no matter what he, himself might want. And he becomes the hero because no matter how many times he’s struck down, he gets up and tries again. And again. And again. Until the job is done.

If it ever will be.

Soléne is that young hero. Gill’s the one out in front to collect all the glory and fight all the battles, or so it seems. But she’s every bit the hero that he is, just from behind the scenes. Her power is huge, but it is also quiet. She’s the mage who operates in the shadows, not because she’s the woman inspiring the hero, but because the power she wields works best from the dark – and the quiet. He knows that she brought him the victory, and he knows that the best thing he can do for her is to acknowledge that privately and not publicly. Not that the Crown won’t give her its own semi-public acknowledgements. Maybe. If they succeed.

It is fascinating that both of their personal journeys are the journey to learn to trust themselves. He has to step up, and she has to step forward, but in so many ways it’s the same step.

I also absolutely adored that there is no romance here – nor should there be. It is wonderful to see trust, friendship and true comradeship in a relationship between a man and a woman that has absolutely no basis in will they/won’t they. Because this particular pair really, really shouldn’t – at least not with each other – and the reader is NEVER led to believe that they should. Solene is never Gill’s reward or his prize, nor is she ever fridged. She’s as big a damn hero as he is, just in a different way.

Even Amaury the villain is very, very human. While he is certainly a meditation on the cliche that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, he’s never able to grasp the absolute power he thinks he deserves. And the minute he gets close to it, it does him in. But throughout he’s human and understandable, even if he’s never a sympathetic character at all. And it’s another subversion of trope that Amaury the human is the big villain, while the really big creatures we think will be the villains, those dragons of the series title, actually aren’t. Well, at least all of them aren’t.

Escape Rating A++: I need to stop squeeing at this point. It’s pretty obvious that I adored this series from beginning to end. I began it in audio – every time – but switched to text at the point where I just couldn’t find out what happened next nearly fast enough.

I will say that the reader for all three books, Simon Vance, was absolutely marvelous. I wanted to continue to listen to him, but patience has never been my long suit. If you love fantasy and have an excuse to listen to the full story, it’s a wonderful listen.

I loved this series so much that I decided to include it as one of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week reviews and giveaways. The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Duncan M. Hamilton (up to $20 US), whether in this series or one of his previous series (and if anyone knows whether they are all set in this same world, please let me know!)

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Early Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway

On April 4, 2011, the very first post on Reading Reality went live. That was back when the blog was called “Escape Reality, Read Fiction” after a saying I found on a t-shirt. At the time I started the blog, the country was still reeling from the “Great Recession” and a book blog was a way to keep my hand in the book world – and give myself something to occupy me intellectually, during a period when we had just moved cities (AGAIN!) and jobs were hard to come by. And doesn’t it seem like the more things change, the more they remain the same?

Nine years and three cross-country moves later, the blog is still going strong!

My birthday happens to be April 5, hence the term Blogo-Birthday was born. I celebrate these anniversaries by giving stuff away – as a way of thanking all of my readers and followers who have found Reading Reality over the years and stuck around to see what happens next.

What happens this week will be a series of giveaways. Today I have two giveaways, one for a $25 Amazon Gift Card and one for $25 in books from either the Book Depository or, for those in the U.S. $25 in books delivered from the book store of your choice. If you have a local bookstore that’s doing mail order, I’ll have the books or a gift certificate sent to you from them. If you don’t have a local of your own, then you can choose from one of the big regional bookstores like Tattered Cover or Powell’s, or get your books from the Book Depository. But books you will get!

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-29-20

Sunday Post

When last we left our heroes, they were all sheltering in place at home. And that’s pretty much where they are this week. And next week. And hopefully the week after that, because the other alternatives are all fairly grim, sooner or later.

For those who have laughed at ANY of the cat memes about felines not necessarily wanting their humans home 24/7 disturbing their naps and other important feline business, that’s not true in this house. Hecate is omnipresent, and Freddie is very needy. Lucifer just waits until nightfall to begin quietly demanding his nightly snuggles. As far as this bunch is concerned, their humans are SUPPOSED to be home with them all the time.

But this is certainly a time of disruption and crisis for many of us. Whatever happens, the world will never be the same.

Even though many of us are staying home for the duration, that doesn’t mean that some events aren’t still going on as planned. One of those events is coming up next weekend. The 9th anniversary of the first post on Reading Reality is April 4, and my birthday is April 5. I generally have a Blogo-Birthday celebration the week those events occur, with giveaways every day. That BOTH anniversaries are on a weekend left me in a bit of a quandary – whether to celebrate ahead or wait until after.

We all need a bit of a pick-me-up, so the Blogo-Birthday will be celebrated early, this coming week of March 30-April 3, with giveaways every day. So be sure to come back every day to participate in the festivities!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
B Review: Paladin by Anna Hackett
B Review: Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson
A- Review: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
A Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold
Stacking the Shelves (385)

Coming This Week:

Early Blogo-Birthday Celebration
Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton (review)
Worth Melting for Giveaway Hop
Condor by M.L. Buchman (review)
Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris (review)

Stacking the Shelves (385)

Stacking the Shelves

This does rather feel like the “embarrassment of riches” edition of Stacking the Shelves. One way or another, an incredible number of books found their way onto my virtual shelves. For me it feels reassuring, that as long as I can power up my iPad I’ll have PLENTY to read, and that’s something that always makes me feel better. We all need to look for little things that make us feel a bit better right now, as so much seems like its falling apart.

For Review:
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Beach Read by Emily Henry
The Best Man Plan (Boots and Bouquets #1) by Jaci Burton
The City of Tears (Burning Chambers #2) by Kate Mosse
The Down Days by Ilze Hugo
Driving the Deep (Finder Chronicles #2) by Suzanne Palmer
Echoes of Another by Chandra Clarke
The Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
I’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos
The Kingdom of Liars (Legacy of the Mercenary King #1) by Nick Martell
The Mother Code by Carole Stivers
Mousse and Murder (Alaskan Diner Mystery #1) by Elizabeth Logan
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford
Say Yes to the Duke (Wildes of Lindow Castle #5) by Eloisa James
Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls
This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf
Until the End (Final Hour #3) by Juno Rushdan
The Wife Stalker by Liv Constantine

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Kickstarter:
Familiarity by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Kickstarter)
Five Feline Fancies by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Kickstarter)
Servant of the Crown (Dragonslayer #3) by Duncan M. Hamilton (audio)
Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant #1) by Derek Landy

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona, #7) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #7, World of the Five Gods #3.7
Pages: 224
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency, Subterranean Press on July 17th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.

This novella follows about a year after the events of “The Prisoner of Limnos”.

My Review:

There’s ransom – and then there’s anti-ransom paid to make sure that Penric, Learned Divine of the White God, goes away and stays away.

That’s a tiny piece of the end of the story. In the beginning, there’s chaos. In the middle, too. But then again, there’s always chaos in Penric’s life, and has been since the day that he stopped to help a dying woman by the side of the road, and ended up gifted with her demon and her calling.

(That story is in Penric’s Demon, and it, just like all the stories in this series, is a delight.)

Because Penric’s god is the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season” Penric himself is something of a chaos magnet. Wherever he goes, trouble happens. Usually to him, but eventually to everyone around him, while he emerges, if not unscathed, at least less damaged than whoever or whatever tried to get in his – and his master’s – way.

Penric serves as a bit of a secret agent for both the Duke of Orbas, where he lives when he’s not out running semi-secret errands as well as the Bishop of Orbas, who often sends Penric out on equally dangerous missions. He’s on his way home from one of those missions when the ship he is travelling on is blown off course in a storm, only to survive the storm and get captured by pirates.

That’s where Penric’s “adventure” really begins. Like most of Penric’s adventures, it’s the sort of thing where he’d like it to be a tale told by someone else while he sits beside his wife, safe at home. Or something he’d like to long be over, so that he can look back on it much more fondly than the experience warrants as it’s happening.

Instead, Penric leaps out of the frying pan into the fire – or at least there would be a fire if he weren’t locked in the hold of a ship in the middle of the ocean. And there certainly will be a fire as soon as he reaches dry land – or something equally chaotic and destructive.

After all, he owes those pirates a good comeuppance – even if they quite literally drop him into the mission that the Lord Bastard intends for him to accomplish.

Penric is there to rescue two little girls from slavery – along with himself. Her mother seems to have made a deal with his god, and it’s up to him to carry out his Lord’s side of the bargain.

If he can manage to wreak chaos on the entire slaving operation while he’s there – so much the better. Both his god and his demon ADORE chaos.

Escape Rating A: This series has been a comfort read for me, and right now we all need more comfort reading than usual, so here we are. I have kind of a hit-or-miss relationship with this author’s classic, famous space-opera Vorkosigan series, but I adored the World of the Five Gods series (begin with The Curse of Chalion) and was sorry to see it end. Then it un-ended with Penric’s Demon, which is set in the same world but doesn’t feature any of the original characters. Penric is definitely a character onto himself. And I don’t think you have to have read the “big” series to get into Penric if you start from his beginning in Penric’s Demon. (The series won the very first Hugo Award for Best Series in 2018!)

So I’m all in for this novella series. They are all novellas, so relatively short reads, always complete in themselves but with a “hook” to the wider Penric series. And lovely little bits of storytelling they are.

The success of the series rides – pun intended – on two characters, Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona. I’m not sure the possessive is in the right direction, much like the question about whether we own the cats or the cats own us.

Desdemona is kind of like a Trill symbiont from Star Trek. She’s the demon, she provides Penric with his magic. But she also contains the memories of every person that she has ever inhabited, and Penric has access to all those memories. He may be in charge, but Desdemona is a separate individual who has her own thoughts and her own relationships with the people around them. Lucky for Penric, Desdemona and his wife Niklys get along quite well. If they didn’t, he’d be the chew toy caught in the middle – although probably not for long.

Penric’s adventures often have a “Perils of Pauline” aspect, the out of the frying pan into the fire element of so many of those old melodrama serials. The difference is that in Penric’s case, he’s often the one providing the fire, as that’s one of the many gifts of his demon, and sometimes, as in this particular story, a place just needs a really good cleansing – with fire.

That’s certainly the case here, as Penric is caught in multiple dilemmas. He has to rescue himself and the two girls. He needs to figure out exactly what his responsibility is to those two girls. Not that he isn’t willing to save them, but if it’s a mission for his god he has different options than if he’s just doing a good deed. And there are WAY too many coincidences in their meeting for it to just be a good deed.

At the same time, he, and we, are morally outraged by the economy of the pirates haven and the slaving business that keeps it going. Not just the pirates themselves, but the entire network of middlemen and buyers who make the whole thing so incredibly lucrative – and so distributed that they are hard to eliminate in their entirety – no matter how much Penric wants to.

In spite of the terrible situation, the story itself has a gigantic element of fun to it. Penric causes chaos but he also experiences it fairly often. His plans to get himself and the girls off the island and on their way home backfires on him multiple times. People just won’t do the sensible thing when he’s involved. Seemingly ever.

So he tries and fails regularly, although he tends to fail upwards, making a bit of progress each time. We hold our breath with him as he attempts yet another escape, and worry with him that he’s not going to get the girls to safety. Or that he’ll end up dead. Or both.

In the end, the cavalry quite literally comes over the hill – or at least over the horizon, and Penric lives to cause chaos another day. A day that I can’t wait to read about!

Reviewer’s Note: This book is currently available in ebook published by Spectrum Literary Agency. The print version will be published in June by Subterranean Press with a new cover.

Review: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Review: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice HadlowThe Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, retellings
Pages: 480
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on March 31, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.

What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.

My Review:

The Other Bennet Sister (UK Cover)

The Other Bennet Sister is definitely NOT a book to be judged by its cover. I really hated that cover – and this is one of the rare occasions where the UK cover is just as bad. Both covers seem to picture Mary Bennet exactly as she was in Pride and Prejudice. She seems washed out in the US cover and judgmental in the UK cover.

But I loved the book.

The real Mary, or at least the version I want to be the real Mary, does begin her story as sermonizing and judgmental. But, and it’s a HUGE but, because this is Mary’s own story and not the story of her much more brightly shining sisters, we see that Mary’s behavior is the result of being shy and withdrawn. She’s retreated into herself because she’s the frequently overlooked and often denigrated middle sister, trapped between the gorgeously beautiful Jane and Lizzy and the shallow but pretty Kitty and Lydia.

She’s not really an ugly duckling in the midst of a flock of swans, but her mother sure as hell makes her feel like it at every turn. I didn’t like Mrs. Bennet in the original story – AT ALL – and I like her even less here. Actually, I loathe her even more than I dislike this book’s cover.

Mary isn’t a diamond of the first water, as her older sisters are. She doesn’t sparkle the way her younger sisters do. But she is as pretty as any other young woman of her time, and would have been fine in any family slightly more functional than the Bennets.

But this is not a parallel story to Pride and Prejudice. Instead, it’s more like an alternate sequel, as most of the events take place after the end of P&P. Not merely after those events, but also after the long-feared death of Mr. Bennet, leaving Mrs. Bennet and her remaining unmarried daughters, Mary and Kitty.

And that is where Mary’s story really begins, as she starts the process of taking control of her own life for her own self – in spite of her mother’s frequent interference and constant disparaging – and often melodramatic – pronouncements.

Once Mary is on her own the story takes flight, as she explores the limited varieties of life possible for a spinster and begins to craft her own beliefs about who she is and how she should live – whether she manages to marry or not.

That the end of her journey of self-discovery leads her to love and happiness is the icing on a delightful and thoroughly tasty little cake of a story.

Escape Rating A-: In the end, I enjoyed The Other Bennet Sister considerably more than I expected to at the beginning. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, but I’m not a fan or an aficionado. I found Mrs. Bennet in particular to be utterly appalling as a character, and Caroline Bingley and Catherine de Bourgh are not people I’d ever want to spend much time with. Certainly not enough time to ever attempt a reread of the book.

So one of the things I really liked about The Other Bennet Sister is that none of these petty villains are ever described as anything more than exactly what they are.

It does make for some fairly hard reading at the beginning of the story, as we pretty much suffer right along with Mary as she is first constantly berated by Mrs. Bennet, and then is forced to take on the role of charity case in the homes of both Elizabeth and then Jane as they subtly or not-so-subtly make her aware that she’s unwanted and unwelcome.

She has no place and she has no choice and that’s a difficult situation to be in.

But that’s when she takes things into her own hands and looks for other options, first with Lizzy’s friend Charlotte and her husband Mr. Collins – who was a figure of fun in the original, much like Mary herself.

It’s only when Mary takes herself off to her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, that she finally finds a place where she is welcome and can work out her own future, whatever it might be. But all along Mary is brave and forthright, even in situations where those around her do their level best to keep her as far down as possible.

It’s fun watching her grow and expand her horizons. It’s also heartening to see her look hard at the easy way out but reject it as unworthy, over and over. She does a great job of exploring her limited possibilities and making her best choices.

In the end, Mary is a fascinating character, a woman with agency but one whose thoughts, beliefs and choices reflect her time and not ours. The Other Bennet Sister is a lovely story that uses its original as a springboard to something better!