Review: Mr. Dale and the Divorcee by Sophie Barnes

Review: Mr. Dale and the Divorcee by Sophie BarnesMr. Dale and The Divorcée (The Brazen Beauties #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Brazen Beauties #1
Pages: 342
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 23rd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's a respectable barrister...
She's the most scandalous woman in England...

Wilhelmina Hewitt knows she's in for a rough ride when she agrees to help her husband get a divorce. Nothing, however, prepares her for the regret of meeting Mr. Dale on the eve of her downfall. No other man has ever sent her heart racing as he does. Unfortunately, while she’ll soon be free to engage in a new relationship, no respectable man will have her.

James Dale would never pursue another man’s wife. Or a woman reputed to be a deceitful adulteress. Furious with himself for letting the lovely Mrs. Hewitt charm him, he strives to keep his distance. But when her daughter elopes with his son, they're forced into a partnership where passion ignites. And James soon wonders if there might be more to the divorcée than meets the eye.

My Review:

As I’m posting this review the day after Thanksgiving, I want to start out by saying this book made me really, really thankful that I was born in the latter half of the 20th century and not any damn earlier at all. But I’m also feeling kind of sorry that I plan to read a book I would have liked better for the holiday – or at least felt less conflicted about.

The story feels historically accurate, at least as far as the amount of control and agency that women had over their own lives during the Regency period. Whether it actually is or not, the situation that the heroine is in matches the way we believed things were during that time, or the image that has taken hold in the popular imagination.

Which, quite frankly, is that she has no agency or control at all.

This is a story about a woman who only has as much control over her life as the men in her life and society in general allow her, which is not much. The only control she has is over how much of herself she is willing to sacrifice, knowing that she will always be the one to pay the price for that sacrifice no matter who might truly be to blame.

The first half of this one left me on the horns of a giant dilemma. Because the heroine’s actions and society’s reactions felt true to what we expect of the time. She’s put herself in a terrible situation for reasons that were never in her control, and society punishes her for it exactly as one expected they would.

Which means that both she – and the reader – get repeatedly slapped in the face with just how terrible conditions for women could be.

I very nearly DNF’d at that halfway point, because I was getting really tired of the smell and the taste of that wet fish of horribleness. Not that it’s written horribly, as the author writes well and I generally like her books, but that the situation the heroine is IN is horrible and at that halfway point seems as though it’s only going to get worse as it goes.

That was the point where the son of the man who raped her 20 years ago makes it clear that he has the exact same plan as his vile old man and isn’t planning to let anyone or anything stand in his way, either.

You could call that a low point in the story. It was certainly a low point in my reading of it and I stopped for a while and picked up something else.

But I picked it back up because I thought the worst had to be behind me. And the heroine. And it was.

Escape Rating C: For a story that actually does have a happy ending, this is kind of a sad story for a lot of its length. Mina’s entire life seems to have been about being stuck between a rock and a hard place and letting herself be ground between them in one way or another.

Letting herself be divorced at a time when the only way for her husband to be allowed to remarry afterwards was to accept all the blame, all the calumny, all the social opprobrium and for both of them to commit perjury that she had numerous affairs when she never had any seems harsh and is harsh and society deals with her harshly as a result.

Her ex-husband leaves the country, marries his pregnant lover, and society forgets him except as her victim. She has to suck it all up and move on, which she honestly does. At least until her widowed daughter falls in love with a man whose father will not allow the marriage because of Mina’s reputation as a scarlet woman.

(Whether any of the scenario around Mina’s divorce was legal or possible at the time this story takes place seems to be a matter of some debate.)

The young couple elopes to Gretna Green, the older couple chase after in hot pursuit, and truth gets revealed all around – after more than one misunderstandammit.

This is a story where the happy ending is earned through a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears and a very literal change of heart on the part of the hero. Who was in serious need of getting the stick out of his ass.

I ended this with mixed feelings, which was a definite improvement after my near-DNF at the midpoint.

I liked both that the main romance of this story is between two people who are on either side of 40 instead of barely over 20. It made the situation much more complex and the characters more interesting because they had more depth as well as more emotional baggage.

I also liked that the member of the nobility who featured prominently in the story was the villain. The hero is part of the upper middle class. His family has land but no title, and he is a practicing lawyer. He works for a living, something we still don’t see often enough in Regency romance but does seem to be on the uptick.

So I want to say that this story did gel for me after all. Except it jelled kind of like the two-layer Jell-O cups where the top flavor is one I hated and the bottom flavor was one I almost liked. But a lot of reviewers absolutely adored this book so reading mileage obvious varies on this one.

Thanksgiving 2021

Galen here, once again borrowing Marlene’s blog to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!

This time around, let me tell you about one of the things I’m thankful for: the historian Bret Devereaux’s blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. Devereaux, who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializes in ancient Mediterranean history with a focus on how ordinary people were both affected by and influenced the economy and warfare.

His blog marries popular culture and ancient military history and tactics but is grounded in current, rigorous historical thinking that doesn’t lose sight of the common people — but is always entertaining to read. He seems incapable of writing briefly, but the result are pieces that you can really dig into. He generally posts on Fridays, and it’s always a pleasure to see one of them show up in my feed reader. If you read historical fiction, particularly books set in ancient Rome or Greece, or epic fantasy, I highly recommend checking his blog out. Likewise if you’re interested in ancient military history; Devereaux‘s pieces on warfare are quite interesting, but he never forgets that war is a terrible thing.

Some of his hits include:

There’s much more, including pieces on the intersection of video games and history, historiography, and advice if you’re considering becoming a historian yourself.

Looking for something to read while the turkey roasts? Dig in!

Or just look at the upside-down Hecate:

Hecate the tortoiseshell cat lying on the floor, looking at the camera, upside-down

Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Reviewer!

I hope you’re all ready for tomorrow’s Turkey Day! We’re doing something a bit different and having friends over on Black Friday instead of on Thanksgiving. It solves their problem of trying to be two places at once – which no one has really figured out a solution for yet – and doing our cooking on a day when we CAN go to the grocery store if we forgot something important.

So on the actual Turkey Day we’re having actual turkey – really just a turkey boob for two. On Friday we’re getting a Honey Baked Ham – something that would be a bear to pick up on Wednesday but should be easy-peasy on Friday. We’re also making potato pancakes and a broccoli casserole because OMG that meal will need something green in it. It’s all kind of an experiment as we’re cooking things we’ve never made before and hoping it all works out. No matter what, the ham is guaranteed to be good. And the pie. Did I mention the pie? We’re picking up a Chocolate Chess Pie, which I don’t think either of us has ever had, from a place that specializes in pies.

That’ll definitely be just fine!

What about you? What’s your favorite Thanksgiving treat? Answer in the Rafflecopter for a chance at the winner’s choice of a $15(US) gift card to either Amazon or the local bookstore of your choice, or the same amount in books, again from either Amazon, the Book Depository, or the local bookstore of your choice. In order to do this there are just a couple of restrictions. For US entrants, the bookstore you choose needs to have an easy method for me to purchase your gift certificate  or books online and get them sent to you. If you are outside the US, you need to be in a location that the Book Depository ships to (they don’t do Gift Certificates – maybe someday.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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



Review: Hex Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Hex Work by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawayHex Work (Babylon Boy, #1) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Babylon Boy #1
Pages: 136
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on November 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

My name is Jonah Carrow, and it’s been 300 days since I laid a hex.

OK, Jonah Carrow isn’t actually an alcoholic. But there’s no support group of lapsed hex-slingers in Jerusalem, so he’s got to make do. He goes for the bad coffee and the reminder that he just has to take normal one day at a time.

Unfortunately, his past isn’t willing to go down without a fight.

A chance encounter with a desperate Deborah Seddon, and a warning that ‘they’re watching’, pulls Jonah back into the world he’d tried to leave behind. Now he has to navigate ghosts, curses, and the hottest bad idea warlock he’s ever met…all without a single hex to his name.

But nobody ever said normal was easy. Not to Jonah anyhow.

My Review:

The central theme of Hex Work might be “Lead me not into temptation; I can find the way myself.”

It’s not merely that Jonah Carrow has to resist turning his truck down the road to temptation – and his family’s home place in Babylon, Pennsylvania – every single day, but that something happened when he left home a year ago that made him swear off using his family gift. A gift for casting – and warding off – hexes.

We may not know what went wrong – at least not yet – but we are riding along with Jonah as his old life does its best to drag him back under its spell. Literally.

A woman enlists his help in a way that seems so random and nebulous that he isn’t exactly sure what it’s about. Not until the people who are chasing her drag him in for a little “chat” about ghosties and ghoulies and just how many of them are going to be set upon him if he doesn’t figure out what she’s up to. Or why she stole something nasty from them. Or both.

Everyone thinks he doesn’t know what it’s all about. Because he’s left his home, his name and his reputation behind in the hopes of making a new start – or outrunning his own ghosts. Except the ghost of his brother who haunts his front yard at night. He’s stuck with that one. Why? We don’t exactly know. Yet.

And even though this wasn’t initially his fight, his circus or his monkeys, by the time he solves the supernatural mystery that stalks Jerusalem (PA) he’s right back in the thick of it. Even if he has, at least so far, still managed to resist falling off the hex wagon.

It’s only a matter of time – and the things that stalk the night have plenty of that.

Escape Rating A-: I was looking for something, let’s say.a bit less complicated after a long weekend reading marathon (because reasons). Not that I expected the characters in the book to be in an uncomplicated situation – from that perspective the more messed up the better. Rather I was looking for something where the story would suck me right in and take my mind away – not tie it up in knots that I wouldn’t be able to unravel for hours or days later.

Urban fantasy has always been my go-to when I want a world to slip right into, and Hex Work certainly fulfilled all my dark, dirty magical expectations. Although, at least so far as this series starter goes, all of the dirt is quite literally dirt. Grave dirt. Not the other kind – at least not yet. This series may eventually switch from urban fantasy to paranormal romance at some point – but neither it nor Jonah are there yet.

The story of Hex Work is told from Jonah’s first-person perspective. We’re inside his head and it’s a pretty damn snarky place to be, which is just fine as one of the things I love about urban fantasy is that it is generally snarky as hell – and sometimes snarky IN hell- and Jonah is no exception.

So we know what he’s thinking in the moment, and we see what he’s struggling with. But we also see that there are plenty of shadowy places in his past that he’s definitely, absolutely, obsessively trying his best NOT to think about. The places that I really hope this series goes as it continues.

Right here and right now, Jonah is in a kind of limbo. He’s sworn he’s not going to lay another hex. He’s left Babylon in order to get away from the supernatural world. But it’s found him. The story is of his struggle to get to the bottom of the grave that the hag that is chasing him pulled itself out of, so he can maybe get back to that fresh start he’s working on.

Only to discover that even though the hag has been laid to rest and the mystery has been solved, he’s still neck deep in the supernatural – and not getting out. We’re left wondering if, in his heart of hearts, he truly wants to.

This reader certainly doesn’t want him to at all. The magic of this world is fascinating, both simple and complex by turns. It feels like it’s been drawn right out of myths and legends and has been hiding in plain sight all along. (It also feels a bit like Midnight Crossroads, so if you liked either the book series or the TV series you’ll probably love this.)

Jonah himself has secrets that I’m itching to discover. I can’t wait to see what trouble finds him next!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of Stories of Babylon (check out Chapter 1 at Book Gemz)

Hi! Can you believe it’s November already? I feel entirely adrift in the calendar these days. It’s 1934th of Morch! One thing I have managed to keep on track for, more or less, is the whole publication schedule for Hex Work…more or less! 

Hex Work is NOT the book I was meant to be writing, but it’s the one that wanted to come out of my head. So I hope people like it in order to make the absolute shambles it made of my writing schedule worth it. I like it, so I guess that’s a good start!

Thanks for having me and I hope you enjoy the exclusive short story prequel to the Hex Work novella!

Read the rest of the story at TAMooreWrites.com

Stories of Babylon: Chapter Two

He followed the crushed crash and tire tracks to a pick-up truck wrapped around a beech tree. The front end was crumpled and the windows smashed in over the burned, half-melted sheets. It had been red once, but it was smoke-scarred now with black, brittle patches of cracked blisters on the doors.

The kid sat on the rutted ground with his head in his hands. He looked up when Jonah cleared his throat.

Shit, the kid said, my dad’s going to kill me.

His name was John Samuels and he’d been dead for a week. His funeral was tomorrow. That always…cut some sort of thread. Not that John would move on, but being John would start to wear off him. He’d not think he was alive anymore.

“You weren’t meant to have the truck?” Jonah asked. 

He already knew the answer. John was fifteen and he’d gotten home early from football practice. There’d been a casserole in the oven for him and chores to do before his homework. He knew better than to take the truck. His Dad had said that over and over.

Lot—always friendlier—squeezed by Jonah and stuck his nose into the John’s face. His tongue slobbered up, and through, John’s vaguely insubstantial nose until he got a snuffle of laughter and a hand came up to pet his ears.

No, John said. He looked up at Jonah through his tangled fringe, His voice changed—breathy and light, the catch of fear wet in the back of his throat—but his face didn’t. We have to go. Jonah, Joey, we have to go. He’s COMING.

Wife leaned against Jonah’s legs and sighed heavily. The hot, living weight of her anchored Jonah and he pulled away from the hook of that voice. It hadn’t been his name, not when he played it back in his head, it probably hadn’t been John’s either.

“Who was she?” Jonah asked. “Did you know her?”

Some girls are like that, John said, some segment of memory queued up to suit the question. I thought we were the same, but she was….she was…

The words glitched together. Awful/Beautiful/DEADDEADFUCKINGDEAD/Lost. Jonah took a step back and shook his head to clear it. There was blood in his mouth, but when he turned his head to spit it was just saliva. Not his copper and salt thick on his tongue, not his fear thick and clotted in his throat.

For a second John knew what he was and it peeled the facade away. A chunk of glass glittered in his cheek as he talked—speared through flesh and into the mess of broken teeth and gums the impact had left of the kid’s mouth—and the side of his skull was caved in. Blood matted dark blond, curly hair and when he raised a hand it was gone.

He gaped that ruined mouth and screamed. It was a thin, pinched sound that just made the dogs look curious, but it spilled over to something and awful on the unnatural side of things. A handful of confused birds were jostled from their roost as it grated on them, and took off into the sky.

John lurched up from the ground and lunged at Jonah, his hand curled into a claw tipped with bony spikes that poked through his fingertips. His breath hung in the air, dark and oily as smoke.

You have her touch her take her away. I wontletyouhurtheragaaaaaaaa!

The words ran into each other, slurred back into the harrowing, static howl of the scream that drew the other side closer. Moonlight faltered and faded into a grey miasma as the air thickened and chilled.

It was always cold in Babylon, even in summer. A climatic anomaly apparently. Good for the shop that sold coats in town, not so great for tourism. 

Jonah snapped the piece of chalk in his pocket and crumbled the bit he hung onto between his fingers. He threw it into the air.

Technically it should have been drawn on a door or a wall, or a bit of paper to shove down the hag’s throat. Jonah was a Carrow, though, and magic still owed one him for that. Chalk powder dripped from his fingers as he sketched the rune in the air and it hung between him and poor, dead John.

“Holy, holy,” he said and clenched his hand into a fist, thumb extended, to cross himself in a quick, careless swipe. The hex burned on his tongue and stung his lips as he spat the words out. They’d probably meant something once, years and books ago. Now it was just sounds that worked and who cared why? In the moment. “Salt and dirt. Hold your breath and it won’t hurt.”

John smashed into the rune. The little bits of chalk dust stuck to him and spread, white and powdery skin that filled in the holes of his death and clogged up his mind. He staggered to a stop as he forgot, again, why he was so angry. He coughed and licked his lips with a greyish tongue.

I’m thirsty, He said and reached up to rub his head, breaking off sections of crust. It dusted the ground under his feet. What happened?

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads |

 

 

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

TA Moore is giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky winner on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam

Review: The Hookup Dilemma by Constance GillamThe Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 309
on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory, this laugh-out-loud #OwnVoices story proves that sometimes the least perfect arrangement can lead to something perfect for them.
Rashida Howard has never been a one-night-stand kind of woman, but she has good reason for making an exception with Elliott after meeting him in a bar. Cliché? Yes. Utterly amazing? Absolutely. Regrets? None.
Elliott Quinn is a workaholic. The one night he decides to break his routine, he has an encounter with the woman of his dreams. But no matter how amazing they are together, work will always come first.
Both of their lives get turned upside down when they find themselves on opposite sides of an ongoing fight between Elliott’s company and Rashida’s community. Though their chemistry is undeniable, neither of them will risk their integrity…or their heart.
And just when they think they might have found a solution that benefits both sides, they uncover a secret that will change everything.

My Review:

One way of thinking of The Hookup Dilemma is as a sexing-to-love romcom. The title certainly leads in that direction. But it’s not nearly that simple a story to describe, to the point where I might need some arithmetic notation or something similar. Because it’s more like sex to enemies to (frenemies AND lovers) to (frenemies OR lovers) to an HEA so big it encompasses an entire community.

It all begins with that hookup. An instant connection that leads to an evening of very hot sex with no strings attached and no plans for doing it again. Not that they didn’t do it plenty of times that night.

The thing is that both Elliott and Rashida want to do it again – and not JUST the sex. With each other. As often as possible. A possibility that intrigues Elliott and scares Rashida to the point where she does a nearly literal midnight flit, leaving a sleeping Elliott in a suite in the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta. They know nothing about each other except their first names and that they’ve just had the best sex of their entire lives.

She never expects to see him again. She’s not interested in a relationship. He’d love to see where their chemistry might lead them, but he has no leads on her identity and not nearly enough information to get any.

When they meet again it’s a case of worlds colliding the way continents collide through plate tectonics, complete with the earth shaking and volcanos rising to spew molten lava. They meet at a Zoning Board hearing in the neighborhood where Rashida grew up and where her beloved grandmother still lives. Rashida, her Grammy, and Grammy’s neighbors are there to protest the zoning change to convert a parcel in their neighborhood to commercial use. The plan is to bring in high-end stores like Whole Foods – stores that the neighborhood of mostly retired senior citizens on fixed incomes won’t be able to afford to shop at. It’s the opening wedge of gentrification and everyone knows it.

The request to rezone was made by the new owner of the property, the construction company owned by Elliott’s father. Elliott is stuck carrying the ball on this project for his old man, who is recovering from a massive heart attack. And the company needs this project to succeed in order to get itself back on track after years of questionable financial decisions – made, of course, by Elliott’s father.

Elliott is caught between a rock, a hard place, and a community that plans to stonewall him every step of the way. He’s torn between pursuing a relationship with Rashida and keeping the peace in his relationship with his steamroller of a father.

Rashida’s all in on saving her grandmother’s home. She may be falling for Elliott, but her grandmother was there for her when she needed a refuge and a place to heal. Now it’s her turn to support her Grammy.

Rashida knows exactly what she wants, even if she’s having a bit of difficulty figuring out how to get it. Elliott has been too busy reacting to his father’s demands – his entire life – to completely figure out what he wants for himself. Let alone stick to it. But Elliott has to decide whether what he really wants to do is cave into his father one more time, or stick to his guns, get his father to retire before he has ANOTHER heart attack, and go all in with Rashida on a project that will actually help the neighborhood instead of bulldozing it.

Because if he doesn’t “man up” he’s going to lose it all, one way or another.

Escape Rating A-: The blurb is correct that this does have a similar feel to many of the books in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series – particularly The Wedding Party. It also has more than a touch of Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching, which is a suspense thriller about gentrification of a neighborhood not unlike the fictional Millhouse.

So this is kind of what When No One is Watching would have been if the author had written it with her romance hat on instead of her thriller hat.

This is also one of those stories where the tension keeping the couple apart isn’t a will they/won’t they? They already have and they can’t seem to stop from having each other again every time they’re alone.

Instead, this is a story about herding the elephant out of the room so they have a chance. Which is really difficult to do if they aren’t both ready to lay hands on that elephant and PUSH!

What makes this book so good is that once the story gets past the meet-cute, the issues that they face together and separately are very real and very much in the way.

Rashida’s issues are, well, not exactly easy but they are at least straightforward. She wants to save her Grammy’s neighborhood. She wants to save her Grammy’s house. She wants to save her Grammy’s friends’ houses. She also needs Grammy and her friends to stop driving their gas-guzzlers – sometimes without licenses – before they have more serious accidents than they’ve already had. Underlying all of that is saving a place that Rashida loves AND allowing her Grammy and her friends to live their retirements in their own homes as long as they are able to rather than be forced out by corporate greed or corporate desperation.

All of that is a very real struggle. Forms of that struggle are happening everywhere, all the time.

Elliott’s issues are, in some ways, a lot smaller than Rashida’s, but in other ways a whole lot bigger. In comparison, honestly, the idea that it’s Elliott’s father’s company going bankrupt because of his father’s poor business decisions vs driving Rashida’s grandmother and her friends out of their homes, Rashida’s situation feels more serious.

Underneath that, however, is Elliott’s very real fear that if he can’t get his father to slow down and obey his doctor’s orders the man is going to have another heart attack and die. Really, really, soon. But that doesn’t mean Elliott should keep kowtowing to the man when he’s so clearly in the wrong and so completely unwilling to listen to any advice from anyone at all. Which is a huge chunk of what caused that heart attack in the first place.

So the issues that keep Rashida and Elliott are not simple, and the solutions are not going to be easy. Reaching for them is going to cause a LOT of short term trouble in order to reach a long term HEA.

And that’s what made this story so very appealing. Read it for yourself and see what I mean!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-21-21


There’s a fine line between being happily busy enough and enjoying the sound of deadlines as they go whizzing by. A line I usually discover right after I’ve crossed it. And that would sum up things this weekend, as it seems like everything in the universe is due today or tomorrow. And the bathroom remodeling project isn’t quite done, although progress has certainly been made.

The cats have mostly hidden themselves whenever they hear the remodelers coming through the door. I think this picture sums up George’s opinion of the whole thing. He seems to be covering his face with at least two paws and a tail in a vain attempt to make the world go away.

Current Giveaways:

A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble
$10 Gift Card or $10 in Books in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 in Books in the In All Things Give Thanks Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Thanks a Latte Giveaway Hop is Antoinette

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Cartographer’s Secret by Tea Cooper
In All Things Give Thanks Giveaway Hop
A+ Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A- Review: A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble + Giveaway
A Review: Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
Stacking the Shelves (471)

Coming This Week:

The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam (blog tour review)
Hex Work by TA Moore (blog tour review)
Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop
Mr. Dale and the Divorcée by Sophie Barnes (review)

Stacking the Shelves (471)

This has not been the greatest reading week, so I’m happy that the new stack isn’t huge. Not that I didn’t have good books this week, just that this week has been a bit fraught with the bathroom remodeling – which is still is progress at least through Monday. It’s hard to read – it’s hard to even think! – when someone is pounding or sawing right above your head!

But pretty book covers are still pretty, and some of these are gorgeous!

For Review:
The Blue Diamond (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #6) by Leonard Goldberg
The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong
The Destiny of the Dead (Shroud of Prophecy #2) by Kel Kade
Die Around Sundown by Mark Pryor
Elektra by Jennifer Saint
Gouda Friends (Ponto Beach Reunion #2) by Cathy Yardley
The House of Cats and Gulls (Dominion #2) by Stephen Deas
If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher
Mad Girls of New York (Nellie Bly #1) by Maya Rodale
Rosebud by Paul Cornell
The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany
Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan


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

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: Noor by Nnedi OkoraforNoor by Nnedi Okorafor
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 224
Published by DAW Books on November 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From Africanfuturist luminary Okorafor comes a new science fiction novel of intense action and thoughtful rumination on biotechnology, destiny, and humanity in a near-future Nigeria.
Anwuli Okwudili prefers to be called AO. To her, these initials have always stood for Artificial Organism. AO has never really felt...natural, and that's putting it lightly. Her parents spent most of the days before she was born praying for her peaceful passing because even in-utero she was wrong. But she lived. Then came the car accident years later that disabled her even further. Yet instead of viewing her strange body the way the world views it, as freakish, unnatural, even the work of the devil, AO embraces all that she is: A woman with a ton of major and necessary body augmentations. And then one day she goes to her local market and everything goes wrong.
Once on the run, she meets a Fulani herdsman named DNA and the race against time across the deserts of Northern Nigeria begins. In a world where all things are streamed, everyone is watching the reckoning of the murderess and the terrorist and the saga of the wicked woman and mad man unfold. This fast-paced, relentless journey of tribe, destiny, body, and the wonderland of technology revels in the fact that the future sometimes isn't so predictable. Expect the unaccepted.

My Review:

Two lost people find themselves, each other and a secret that the biggest corporation in the world hoped would never be found. A secret that the powers-that-be will do anything to protect. As the saying goes, once a can of worms is opened they never go back into the can. Especially when the secret that’s been hidden is as earth-shattering and sand-spewing as this one.

And no, we’re not talking about Arrakis. We’re talking about Earth. A future Earth after an ecological/climatological disaster has created the equivalent of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in northern Nigeria. A sandstorm of such speed and force that the windpower it generates is powering great cities all over the world.

Even as it eats up and eats away the land that gave it birth.

The Red Eye is the place where people who don’t fit, where those who have nothing left to lose, and those who refuse to be monitored by giant corporations 24/7 take themselves when they have nowhere else to go. Or when they can no longer make themselves pretend that they belong in the world that has left them behind, in one way or another.

This big story, like that big ecological disaster, starts small. With AO and DNA, those two lost people who have each survived a trauma on the very same day. AO, born with multiple birth defects both internal and external, is now part cybernetic. In fact, AO is a lot cybernetic, with two cybernetic legs and one cybernetic arm to replace the nonfunctional limbs she was born with. And with cybernetics in her brain, not because there was anything wrong, but because she wanted the enhanced memory and permanent internet connectivity.

But the more AO looks like the “Autobionic Organism” she had named herself for, the less she is accepted by the people around her. Many object on religious grounds. Some do so out of fear – not that that’s much of a difference. Some find her rejection of traditional appearances and roles for women to be anathema. Many call her an “abomination”.

When the safe space she believes she has carved out for herself suddenly becomes anything but, AO refuses to submit. Instead, she uses her greater strength to not merely subdue her tormentors but to kill the men who expected her to submit to her own execution at their hands.

In the aftermath, AO runs. Away from the towns and towards the desert. Heading away. North. Towards the Red Eye. Driving as far and as fast as she can in an unthinking fugue state. At least until her car runs out of power and she continues on foot towards an unknown but probably brief future.

Where she runs into a herdsman named DNA, who is just as lost and traumatized as she is. Who has also just defended himself with deadly force against a mob that killed his friends and most of his herd of cattle in an act of misplaced revenge against terrorists posing as herdsmen.

Now DNA has been labeled a terrorist, just as AO has been labeled a crazed murderer. Everyone is literally out to get them.

But the context of both of their stories is missing. When they find that context, when they are able to dig down through the layers of propaganda and misinformation that surrounds the most traumatic events in both their lives, they find a deep, dark, deadly secret.

A secret that many people will kill to protect. A secret that brought them together – and is tearing their continent apart while entirely too many people, including both of their families, go complacently about their business.

Just the way the biggest corporation in the world had planned it.

Escape Rating A: One way of looking at Noor is that it is two stories with an interlude in the middle. Another way, and a better metaphor, is that it is a story that winds up like a hurricane or a tornado, pauses in a calm storm’s eye in the middle, and then unwinds quickly in an explosive ending as the storm dissipates.

I listened to Noor through the eye of that storm, and then read the rest because it and I were both so wound up that I couldn’t wait to see which direction all those winds ended up blowing. And the narrator, particularly for that first part, had a wonderful voice that was just perfect for storytelling. She helped me to not just hear, but see and feel that oncoming storm.

At first, in the story’s tight focus on AO, it all seems small and personal. AO is different, and she is all too aware of those differences. She, and the reader, are equally aware that one of the ways in which human beings suck is that anyone who is deemed by society to be different gets punished by that society in ways both large and small. AO’s constant awareness of her surroundings and her ongoing attempts to be less threatening and less “herself” in order to carve out a safe space in which to live will sound familiar to anyone who has bucked the way it’s supposed to be in order to be who they really are.

The violence against her is sadly expected and both she and the reader sadly expect it – until it becomes life-threatening and she strikes back.

When she meets DNA and his two steers, GPS and Carpe Diem, he is in the same emotional trauma coming from an entirely different direction. Where AO has embraced the future – perhaps too much – DNA has clung to his people’s past as a nomadic herdsman. That they find themselves in the same situation is ironic and tragic, but not in any way a coincidence.

And that’s where things get interesting. The more that AO and DNA search for answers, the bigger the questions get. The more they find friends and allies, the bigger the forces arrayed against them.

And the less the story is about those two lost people and the more it is about the forces that put them in that situation in the first place. The story expands its tent to encompass colonialism, complacency and exploitation in ways that make the most singular acts have the most global of consequences – and the other way around – in an infinity loop at the heart of the storm.

Review: A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: A Secret Never Told by Shelley Noble + GiveawayA Secret Never Told (Lady Dunbridge Mystery, #4) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #4
Pages: 336
Published by Forge Books on November 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Philomena Amesbury, expatriate Countess of Dunbridge, is bored. Coney Island in the sweltering summer of 1908 offers no shortage of diversions for a young woman of means, but sea bathing, horse racing, and even amusement parks can’t hold a candle to uncovering dastardly plots and chasing villains. Lady Dunbridge hadn’t had a big challenge in months.
Fate obliges when Phil is called upon to host a dinner party in honor of a visiting Austrian psychologist whose revolutionary theories may be of interest to the War Department, not to mention various foreign powers, and who may have already survived one attempt on his life. The guest list includes a wealthy industrialist, various rival scientists and academics, a party hypnotist, a flamboyant party-crasher, and a damaged beauty whose cloudy psyche is lost in a world of its own. Before the night is out, one of the guests is dead with a bullet between the eyes and Phil finds herself with another mystery on her hands, even if it’s unclear who exactly the intended victim was meant to be.
Worse yet, the police’s prime suspect is a mystery man who Phil happens to be rather intimately acquainted with. Now it’s up to Lady Dunbridge, with the invaluable assistance of her intrepid butler and lady’s maid, to find the real culprit before the police nab the wrong one . . .

My Review:

If someone threw Phryne Fisher and Mary Russell into the proverbial blender, they’d get someone like Lady Philomena Dunbridge, the protagonist/more-or-less amateur detective of this series. (The publisher originally referred to the series as Miss Fisher meeting Downton Abbey, but the Downton Abbey reference is starting to fall by the wayside – which is a good thing as it was never terribly apropos and now isn’t at all.)

Splitting the differences between Phryne and Mary Russell works better, especially considering the number of times that Phil and her inner circle refer to Mary’s husband, Sherlock Holmes. (If this intrigues you the series starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and it’s marvelous)

But the blend applies in other ways as well. Russell is based in England and Phryne in Australia, with Phil sitting squarely in the middle, in Gilded Age New York City. Although, like all good detectives, Phil is an outsider looking in on her adopted homeland.

It’s Phryne’s sensibilities, however, that ring truest for Phil – and the similarity of names is probably not a coincidence – in spite of the two decades between them. Phryne’s stories are set in the late 1920s, while Phil’s are in the early 1900s – in spite of some of the plot of the second book, Tell Me No Lies, seemingly lifted straight out of the later period.

I started to say that unlike the earlier books in the series, Phil doesn’t have much of a connection to either the murder victim or the accused killer, upon further reflection that isn’t strictly true. Although no one ever gets quite so far as to catch, let alone arrest, Phil’s occasional lover and sometime colleague, the mysterious Mr. X.

Rather, Phil just happens to be in the midst of doing the polite thing, hosting a dinner party for a friend, when one of the guests is murdered right before her eyes. Not even the guest that her host, officially part of the U.S. War Department and unofficially somewhere high in its ranks, was concerned would be murdered.

And that’s only the first piece of misdirection amid the tastiest red herrings served with just the right amount of mystery and sauce.

Coney Island c. 1905

Escape Rating A-: The story in A Secret Never Told mixes two fascinating premises that initially don’t seem like they belong together. The opening dinner – and opening salvo in the mystery – consisted of a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychoanalysts and charlatans who were students together over a decade before. At that time, they were all scrambling for a place in a profession that had just begun moving from hypnotism as a parlor trick to studies of the mind becoming a respected scientific practice. A mad scramble that is still spinning out consequences at that tense dinner table.

And on the other hand, much of the action takes place in and around turn-of-the-century Coney Island. A place where the study of the human mind was dedicated to the best way to separate a mark from his or her money. (The portrait of Coney Island in this heyday is one of the highlights of the book.)

A man was threatened. A woman is dead. Does the case relate to his theories about how to create supersoldiers through exploiting Pavlovian responses? Or did she hold a secret dating back to their college days? It’s up to Phil and her friends to figure out not just whodunnit but what was done and why, in spite of stonewalling on the part of both the government AND the NYPD in the person of the handsome Detective Sergeant John Atkins.

I’m loving this series because of the personality of Phil, otherwise known as Lady Dunbridge. While the story is not in the first person, it very much follows Phil, her actions, her reactions, and her internal monologue. And Phil and Phryne Fisher read like sisters under the skin, from their wry observations of the social niceties and the hollowness that underlies them to their attitudes about men and sex and not letting their romantic passions overcome their common sense or their intellectual pursuits.

Considering the way that her government colleague and her detective sergeant try to keep both Phil and each other at bay and in the dark in order to be able to put their own spin on whatever the truth of the case turns out to be, Phil’s attitude seems more than fair.

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, Ask Me No Questions and Tell Me No Lies, so I was definitely up for this fourth book in the series. (I have the third book, A Resolution at Midnight, but it seems to have fallen into the black hole of “so many books, so little time.” I clearly need to rescue it and move it up the towering TBR pile!)

Nothing about this story felt like an ending for the series, so I have high hopes that Lady Dunbridge will return, hopefully this time next year. In the meantime, I’ll have to dig out my copy of A Resolution at Midnight and catch up with Lady Dunbridge’s adventures!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review: Elder Race by Adrian TchaikovskyElder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, space opera
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Elder Race, a junior anthropologist on a distant planet must help the locals he has sworn to study to save a planet from an unbeatable foe.
Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.
But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).
But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

My Review:

No one believes there really is a demon attacking the borders of her mother’s kingdom, except for the Queen’s frequently ignored fourth daughter. Because Lynesse, the disrespected and disregarded Fourth Daughter of the Queen, believes in the old hero tales of her ancestors. So when a demon attacks the borders of the kingdom, Lynesse goes to the tower of Nyrgoth Elder, the great sorcerer who helped her great-grandmother defeat a demon over a century ago.

Because Nyrgoth, rather foolishly in his own opinion, promised Astresse that if she, or any descendants of her line, called upon him in his remote tower and requested his aid, he would answer. Even though he knows he shouldn’t.

Even though he secretly hoped that she would come herself, and soon, to rescue him from his profound loneliness. Just before he went back into the deepest of sleeps for another century, only to be awakened by the great-granddaughter of the woman he loved to face a promise he should never have made.

If this sounds like fantasy, it is. But it’s also science fiction, part of a long and storied list of works where Earth seeded other planets by sending out colony ships to far distant worlds – and then forgot about them, one way or another.

And those colony worlds, either deliberately or through the fullness of time, distance and absence, forgot that once upon a time their ancestors traveled the stars.

Like Pern, and Darkover, and Harmony and Celta, among many others, the descendants of those colonists lost the knowledge of how to use the high-tech that brought them, or deliberately buried that aspect of their history, until something happens to remind them. Either by discovering the wreck of the original ship, as occurred in both Pern and Celta, by rediscovering the documentation, a la Harmony, or by Earth ships returning to reclaim their lost colony – only to learn that their supposedly lost colony wants little or nothing to do with them, as was the case in Darkover.

Elder Race represents an entirely different possibility, one that will be familiar to anyone who remembers the Star Trek Next Gen episode “Who Watches the Watchers”, where a Federation science outpost is observing a proto-Vulcan culture as an anthropological study. The planetary inhabitants are not supposed to know they’re being watched, but technology glitches and damage control ensues in an attempt to minimize the cultural contamination that was never supposed to have happened in the first place.

Nyrgoth, actually Anthropologist Second Class Nyr Illim Tevitch, takes the place of the Federation in Elder Race. Earth sent a team of sociologists and anthropologists to Sophos 4 to observe the progress of the colony that had been implanted centuries before, had no knowledge of their high-tech origins, and had returned to a much lower level of technology than the one they came from.

But his team returned to Earth centuries ago. As often happens in lost colony stories, Earth was in a crisis and sent a recall. Nyr was left behind, in the belief that his teammates would return in the not too distant future. Which hasn’t happened yet and Nyr no longer has any expectation that it ever will.

He’s done his best to maintain his mission. Except that one time when Astresse banged on the door of his tower, dragged him out of said tower to fix something that was a direct result of the high-tech left behind by the original colonization, and pretty much broke his heart when she went to rule her now-safe kingdom and he took himself back to his lonely tower because that was what he was supposed to do.

Now one of Astresse’s descendants has banged on his door, intending to remind him of his promise but inadvertently reminding him that he’s all alone on this world and that his choices are limited to putting himself out of his own misery, going mad with loneliness, or admitting that his mission is over and it’s time to join the world he has instead of mourning for the one that has forgotten him.

If he can just find a way to get rid of this pesky bit of hybrid technology that is masquerading as a demon, before the situation gets more FUBAR’d than it already is..

Escape Rating A+: The story in   alternates from fantasy to SF and back again as it switches its point of view from Lynesse to Nyr and we see from inside their heads how vastly different their worldviews are.

But no matter whose eyes we’re using to see the world, their emotional landscape is surprisingly similar while being not just miles but actually lightyears apart at the same time. There’s a point in the story where Nyr attempts to tell Lynesse the unvarnished truth about her world and his place in it, but the chasm between their respective understandings is so huge that no matter what he says, she still hears his story in the terms that she understands, terms of myth and legend, tales of heroes and demons, and magic capable of changing or destroying her world.

While Nyr is constantly aware that the only magic he is capable of is of the Clarke variety, the kind that “all technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from.”

In the end, this felt like a story about opposing beliefs and perceptions. She believes he’s a great wizard. He believes he’s a second-class and second-rate anthropologist. She believes he’s a hero out of legend. He believes that she’s the hero and that he’s a faker, a failure, or both. She believes that he can save her people, because she’s not capable of doing it herself. He believes that she’s every bit the hero that her great-grandmother was, and that he’s just along for the ride.

They’re both right, and they’re both wrong. They are also both, in spite of appearances, very, very human.

One of the best things about this story is the way that they manage to save the day, fight their own demons, and ultimately develop a strong and sustaining friendship that never trips over the line into the possibility of romance. Because it really, really shouldn’t. They’re too far apart and too unequal in too many ways for that to work. Instead, they hesitantly reach towards a friendship that is strong and true and forged in fire – and looks to be the saving of each of them.

And it’s a terrific read that manages to be both perfect in its relatively short length while still leaving the reader wishing there were more.