Monday, January 31, 2022

#Review - An Impossible Impostor by Deanna Raybourn #Romance #Historical #Mystery

Series: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (#7)
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: February 15, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Romance / Historical / Victorian

While investigating a man claiming to be the long-lost heir to a noble family, Veronica Speedwell gets the surprise of her life in this new adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award–nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

London, 1889. Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian beau Stoker are summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, head of Special Branch. He has a personal request on behalf of his goddaughter, Euphemia Hathaway. After years of traveling the world, her eldest brother, Jonathan, heir to Hathaway Hall, was believed to have been killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa a few years before.

But now a man matching Jonathan’s description and carrying his possessions has arrived at Hathaway Hall with no memory of his identity or where he has been. Could this man truly be Jonathan, back from the dead? Or is he a devious impostor, determined to gain ownership over the family’s most valuable possessions—a legendary parure of priceless Rajasthani jewels? It’s a delicate situation, and Veronica is Sir Hugo’s only hope.

Veronica and Stoker agree to go to Hathaway Hall to covertly investigate the mysterious amnesiac. Veronica is soon shocked to find herself face-to-face with a ghost from her past. To help Sir Hugo discover the truth, she must open doors to her own history that she long believed to be shut for good.

An Impossible Imposter is the Seventh installment in author Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series. It is April 1889, Veronica and her natural historian partner Revelstoke Templeton-Vane are just returning from a trip to Alpenwald where they just attended the wedding of Princess Gisela who appeared in An Unexpected Peril. Just when you figured Veronica and Stoker were out of the investigation business, and ready to get back to work preparing Lord Rosemorran's pending museum, they are once again dragged back in by Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Special Branch, Scotland Yard.

Sir Hugo is one of a few people who knows that Veronica is the illegitimate daughter of a royal. Sir Hugo is the godfather of one Euphemia Montgomery. It seems that 6 years ago, her brother, Jonathan Montgomery was killed during the Krakatoa explosion of 1883. Jonathan was heir to the Hathaway Hall. It also seems that he may be alive, or someone is posing as him claiming to have no memories of what happened has returned and Sir Hugo wants him exposed. Is he really Johnathan, or a devious impostor determined to gain ownership over the family’s most valuable possessions—a legendary parure of priceless Rajasthani jewels?
For Veronica, this brings back horrible memories as she was there on a trip to collect unique butterfly's. To make matters worse, readers learn that she traveled with Jonathan and one Harry Spenlove who was also allegedly killed in the explosion. Their cover is that they will be taking a look at the collection left behind by the grandfather of the family, specimens he acquired in his travels around the globe. Stoker, a gifted taxidermist and devoted student of the natural world, is excited by the prospect of discovering a rare Tasmanian Tiger, a species now extinct that was rare even in the 1880’s.  
Veronica instantly knows the man posing as Jonathan, but revealing his true identity could force her to face secrets from her own past. Revealing her own past could have devastating affects on her relationship with Stoker. Veronica and Stoker put their sleuthing skills to the test again, and are sometimes stumped, sometimes thwarted, sometimes unexpectedly assisted. At the center of the intrigue is a unlikable family, their ill-begotten family jewels, a daughter who reminds Veronica of herself, a man indebted to violent creditors, and delicious chemistry between the major players. 
There are new villains to deal with, and an ending that left me pondering what in the heck the author is going to do now that she's pretty much left us with a bombshell of an ending.  



Somewhere between Paris and London

 April 1889

 I do not care for infants, and even if I did, I should not care for this one. It is decidedly moist,“ I protested to Stoker, thrusting the child towards him. He took it with good grace and it emitted a sort of cooing sound. ”It seems to like you,“ I observed.

 I could not find fault with the child on that score. From his thirst for adventure to his avid intelligence, Stoker was an eminently likeable man when he was in good spirits. (The fact that he was superbly fit and partial to reciting Keats in moments of tenderness entered into my assessment of him not in the slightest. I am, after all, a woman of science.)

 Stoker dandled the infant on his knee and it regarded him solemnly, eyes wide and round. I use the word ”infant“ in its loosest interpretation. It had, in fact, been born some nine or ten months before and possessed the appropriate number of teeth and skills for a child of that age. If we had permitted, it would have roamed the first-class compartment where we were comfortably ensconced en route from Paris to London. The fact that the journey included a Channel crossing via boat train was one of a dozen considerations in bringing along the child’s nurse, a stout matron of something more than forty years. She was a calmly capable woman who managed her charge with a combination of ruthless efficiency and dollops of real affection. I had taken the precaution of purchasing leather leads to attach to the infant to prevent it from getting loose, but Madame Laborde assured me she was entirely capable of running it to ground should it escape.

 Escape seemed the last thing on its mind as it wound its chubby fist around Stoker’s index finger. As usual, the digit in question was stained with ink and smelt of honey and tobacco thanks to Stoker’s inveterate habits. We had been in the child’s company for only a few hours, but it had already ascertained that Stoker’s pockets were a veritable hoard of sweets. It put out an imperious hand and Stoker shook his head. ”You have had two already and you must eat your luncheon first.“


The small person, I relate without exaggeration, narrowed its eyes and drew in a slow, deep breath. Then it opened its little maw and bellowed like a tiny bull. Hastily, Stoker thrust a hand into his pocket, rootling about until he extracted a paper twist of honey drops. He plopped one into the child’s mouth just as it prepared to roar again. Instantly, the rosebud lips clamped shut and curved into a smile. It emitted another coo and the nurse sighed.

 ”Monsieur,“ she said evenly, ”you must not spoil the child. He is headstrong enough without being indulged.“ She related this in French, as her English was poor, and Stoker shrugged, pantomiming that he did not understand the language. This was a patent falsehood. I had discovered him on numerous occasions reading saucy French novels in the original tongue. He claimed it made them more romantique.

 I smiled at the nurse. ”Madame,“ I told her in her native language, ”you must excuse Monsieur. He lacks your fine Gallic common sense. He is half-Irish and they are a sentimental race.“

 Stoker opened his mouth and snapped it shut again without speaking. Officially, he was the third son of the late Viscount Templeton-Vane. Unofficially, he was the result of a passionate liaison between the viscountess and the portraitist who had come from Galway to paint her in oils. Stoker did not generally enjoy discussing his parentage, but he could not now object unless he admitted to understanding French, and it was a situation I decided to exploit to the fullest.

 ”He is the same with his dogs,“ I went on. ”He lets them sleep in his bed and he feeds them from his own plate.“

She shuddered. The French, I have observed, are devoted to their pets, but even they have limits. With a great deal of concentration, the infant took the sweet from its mouth and held it up to the light in one chubby fist, like a jeweler studying the facets of a rare gem. Then it popped the treasure back onto its tongue and began to pat Stoker’s cheeks with its filthy hands. Suddenly, a noxious aroma filled the compartment. The cherub was sitting with a beatific expression on its face, as if it were not the author of the atrocity, but I knew better. I opened the window and gave the nurse a pointed look.

 Madame Laborde hoisted herself to her feet and put out her hands for her charge.

”Avec moi, mon trésor, s’il vous plait,“ she said briskly. She rattled off something about attending to the child’s condition and took her leave with the creature. Stoker unearthed one of his enormous scarlet pocket handkerchiefs and began to scrub at the sticky marks on his chin.

 ”You are a natural with children,“ I said mildly. ”I did not realize you had much experience with them.“

 ”Oh yes. In the traveling show.“ Stoker had run away from his aristocratic home at the age of twelve and attached himself to a sort of circus, working his way up from amateur conjurer to knife thrower and prizefighter. ”Violet, the Human Sow,“ he told me with a fond smile of reminiscence. ”She was a lovely woman. Gave birth every year, usually to twins or triplets. The proprietor made her wear a pink singlet and a velvet snout to cuddle a few infant pigs while the rest of us carried her actual babies about.“

 ”That is appalling,“ I said, preparing to launch into a righteous tirade about reducing women to their breeding capabilities, but Stoker forestalled me.

 ”Not as appalling as that smell,“ he replied, pinching his nose.

 ”Blame your small and unhygienic friend,“ I instructed.

 He shook his head. ”No, that odor was blown away with the fresh air,“ he said, nodding towards the open window. ”The stench that remains is courtesy of your traveling companion.“ He fixed an eye upon the enormous item sitting next to me. It was a wheel of cheese, just short of an hundredweight, its rind washed in the sweet wine of the Alpenwald, a Mitteleuropean country that had proven the setting for the conclusion of our last adventure. We had performed a service for the princess of that country at great peril to our own lives and limbs, and in return, the lady had invited us to her wedding. It had been a bittersweet time-the princess, poor soul, had married for the security of her throne rather than the dictates of her heart-but we had enjoyed the many courtesies extended to us. We had been away more than a fortnight and had fallen woefully behind in our work for the Earl of Rosemorran. We had been engaged at his lordship’s Marylebone estate to catalog the collection amassed by his ancestors in preparation for the creation of a museum designed to educate and entertain the masses. Housed in the Belvedere, a sort of freestanding ballroom of enormous proportions on his lordship’s property, the collection was as varied as it was vast. Egyptian mummies jostled medieval suits of armor while caryatids looked down their aristocratic noses at the confusion. The bulk of the collection was devoted to natural history, animals stuffed and mounted from the furthest reaches of the globe and most in a state of moldering decay. The restoration of such mounts was Stoker’s speciality, whilst mine was the preservation of the butterflies and moths. A lepidopterist by trade, accustomed to voyaging the world in search of specimens to sell, I had taken the position with the earl on the understanding that it would entail a certain amount of travel.

 Instead, I found myself most days tucked into some cobwebby corner of the Belvedere, plucking out desiccated butterflies and inking labels. It was not entirely the earl’s fault. He had vastly underestimated the time required to make the collection fit for exhibition, and my own activities had frequently interrupted the work. Stoker and I had developed the habit of murder-the solving of, I hasten to add. Not the commission of, although the earl’s numerous and exuberant children might have tempted me to try. Their mother long dead, the children ran wild despite the best efforts of the earl and his sister, Lady Cordelia. The lady and I had become fast friends regardless of the differences in rank and experience, and I had been deeply honored that she had chosen me as her companion when she sojourned half a year in Madeira. I had anticipated long days spent with my butterfly net, pursuing the enchanting black and white spotted Hypolimnas misippus, but instead I found myself trotting out on endless errands, fetching remedies for morning sickness and swollen feet as the reason for Lady C’s abrupt withdrawal from public life made itself apparent.

 I held her hand through the worst of it, but there are scenes indelibly printed upon my memory, scenes of such barnyard specificity that no childless woman should be forced to witness them. But Lady C had delighted in her bovine contentment, so much that she altered her plans to have the babe adopted out. Instead, she arranged for a temporary situation until the child was fully weaned and could travel safely in the company of the French nurse she had engaged to care for it. The infant had been in Paris for some weeks, and Lady C wrote to me in the Alpenwald, requesting that I retrieve it for her, much as one would ask a friend to collect a piece of left luggage from a train station. She cleverly reasoned that, as the child had come from Paris, no one would connect it with her journey to Madeira. Presented as a French foundling, it could be ”adopted“ by her and raised as her own child, although without benefit of her name. The situation was not ideal, but it was far better than any alternative. I had little use for society and its various hypocrisies, but Lady C was deeply conscious of her brother’s honor and the fact that her beloved nieces and nephews would be tarred with the same brush used to blacken her name should the truth come out.

 And so, Stoker and I had stopped in Paris for a few days to enjoy the spring sunshine, pay a lengthy visit to Deyrolle-the taxidermical emporium where Stoker wandered in a state of considerable rapture-marvel at the hypnotic ugliness of the newly constructed tower by Monsieur Eiffel, and collect the child. It came with an abundance of things, rubber baths and traveling cots and tiny chairs and far more clothes than I owned. (I gathered from a conversation with Madame Laborde that Lady C had been lavish in sending presents.) But all the infant’s impedimenta could not rival my own souvenir of the Alpenwald-the cheese. I had purchased it as a gift for the earl in recognition of his many kindnesses and inexhaustible patience with our detectival endeavors. I could never be persuaded from the course of justice, and as a result Stoker and I were forever haring off on some adventure or other. If we were not chasing a resurrected Egyptian god down a sewer or ballooning past Big Ben, we were being variously shot at, stabbed, abducted, or drowned. A nice wheel of cheese seemed a small price to pay for the earl overlooking our frequent absences.

 Unfortunately, I had underestimated the most notable of the Alpenwalder cheese’s qualities. It was renowned amongst gourmets for its aroma, earthy, with the slightest suggestion of goat. In short, it stank. And the longer one carried it about, through overheated train compartments and warm spring sunshine, the more pungent it became.

 By the time we reached Calais, the odor of the cheese had taken on a sort of personality, a fifth traveler in our merry band, ensuring that wherever we went, porters ignored us and crowds parted. Stoker had been forced to carry it himself, his clothing now permanently imbued with the stink of it. He eyed me reproachfully, but I pretended not to notice.

 We arrived back in London on a gloomy morning. A chill fog rolled off the river Thames, blanketing the city and muffling traffic. The odiferous cheese announced our presence, and before a hapless porter could make his escape, I cornered him and forced him to help us shift our baggage to the carriage Lady C had sent. We clip-clopped through streets shrouded in mist, and by the time we arrived at Bishop’s Folly, the estate in Marylebone, we were damp and cold to the bone. Usually our comings and goings were of little note, but this time the entire Beauclerk family turned out to greet us. Lady C took charge of her child and the earl of his cheese, and the children of the quantity of Swiss chocolate Stoker had purchased for them.

 Our bags were sent to our lodgings, two of the follies built by previous earls to cluster picturesquely around a pond. Stoker’s was a pagoda while I had chosen to lodge in a Gothic structure reminiscent of Sainte-Chapelle, lavish with pointed arches and stained glass. But at his lordship’s urging, we made straight for the Belvedere itself, our place of work and refreshment.

 "I have a new acquisition and it has only just arrived,“ Lord Rosemorran announced, rubbing his hands together. Stoker flinched and I gave the earl a look of frank alarm. His enthusiasm was matched only by his fortune, and both were often in service of things only an eccentric nobleman could love. As soon as word of his intended museum spread, his aristocratic friends had taken the opportunity to clear out their own attics and country houses, sending along cartfuls of appalling things. Sorting through the detritus of some of England’s finest families would have been enough to turn my hair white had I not been made of stern stuff, so I had, tactfully but firmly, insisted that his lordship promise to discuss future additions to the collection with us, his curators.

 Catching sight of my expression, he hurried to explain. ”Naturally, I would have conferred with the two of you, but you were in the Alpenwald, and I had to act quickly, you see. Reggie Anstruther offered me a good deal, but only if I agreed to the whole lot and only if I took delivery immediately.“

 Stoker’s sigh was profound, but his lordship’s excitement was undiminished. He threw open the door of the Belvedere and stopped short. Packed almost to the entrance itself was a stack of crates, row after row, and enormous rolls of fabric, painted canvas that had been furled like sails.

 ”What, precisely, are we looking at?" Stoker asked politely.

Friday, January 28, 2022

#Review - Servant Mage by Kate Elliott #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Book, 174 pages
Release Date:  January 18th 2022
Publisher: Tordotcom
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy

In Kate Elliott's Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.

They choose their laws to secure their power.

Fellian is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.

Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.

But Fellian has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…

Kate Elliott's Servant Mage is a 170 page novella that focus on a woman named Fellian. Fellian is the daughter of parents who were executed for wanting to help out others. She was later sent to an asylum where she was brainwashed into following the laws of the Liberationists. Fellian herself is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. Her magic is not common place. 

When an aether Adept named Shey shows up claiming to be searching for something that was allegedly eliminated from the servants asylum in Alabaster City, Fellian is pulled into a political conspiracy against her will by a man once known as Jojen, the Wolf, who is fighting against the Liberationists and August Protector who once dethroned the Monarchists. 

They also need her help rescuing trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines. As a background, all members of the royal family were executed 30 years ago. No royal child of the dragon lineage has been born in the years since. Dragon-born children still fall into this world, even if the August Protector has vowed to rid the land of the last of them. You're asking yourselves what? Dragon-born children are born because there are rifts between the land and the aether that allows elementals to take root.

Some call them demon-wraiths, others call them soul-wraiths. Some people are born with a soul-wraith bound into their bones as a slumbering elemental of earth, water, air, fire, and aether. The dragon born are rare because they alone have all five elements bound into them. Were it not for oracles, Fellian would have lived a normal life, and not been sent to the asylum. But non of that matters. All Fellian wants is travel papers, cash, and to be brought close enough to her home area that she could realistically reach her home.  

Their quest is fast-paced, all-encompassing, and violent, with shocking moments—including a graphic infanticide—showing the brutality of this world and its inhabitants’ desperate fight for power. In limited space, Elliott builds a refreshingly complex world with a magic system not linked to familial lineage and with realistically thorny politics, as neither the Liberationists nor the Monarchists are depicted as infallibly good for the people.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other part of the group called a five-arrow quiver; Haolu, earth mage and Invi, air mage. I would also be remiss to say that this book ends on a hanging Chad, which if you live in Florida, you know what I'm referring to. We're not sure what the author intended by introducing these characters and not continue as part of a more in-depth series. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

#Review - The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Release Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: Park Row
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

From the bestselling author of Before She Was Found comes a chilling locked-room mystery about a true crime writer who is trapped in a secluded farmhouse during a snowstorm, perfect for fans of Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley.

In a snowstorm, the safest place is home. Or is it?

True crime writer Wylie Lark doesn’t mind being snowed in at the isolated farmhouse where she’s retreated to write her new book. A cozy fire, complete silence. It would be perfect, if not for the fact that decades earlier, at this very house, two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace.

As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. How long had the child been there? Where did he come from? Bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them.

The Overnight Guest, by author Heather Gudenkauf, is the story about a woman who receives an unexpected visitor during a deadly snowstorm and has to fight for her life as well as the life of her visitors against true evil. I will begin by saying that you should be prepared for anything in this book. I will also say that the author uses (3) distinct storylines to tell her story. One is from the year 2000, one is from a girl who will remain nameless until the ending who is stuck in a basement with her mother, and the other from a woman who has turned to writing true crime in order to deal with her own ordeals as a teenager.

True crime writer Wylie Lark has been in Blake County for the past 6 weeks. She's in the process of writing her fourth true crime novel about a 20 year old crime that took place right in this county. Wylie is a bit skittish. She runs from people. She's turned her back on her son, and her ex-husband in order to be by herself. She's not afraid of being stuck in an isolated farmhouse with her dog Tas, her geriatric coonhound mix. She's also not afraid of the fact that this house was the place where two people were murdered in cold blood and a girl disappeared without a trace 20 years ago. 

Wylie is known for her true crime research and she takes it to another level staying in a house that a horrendous crime took place. As the storm worsens, Wylie finds herself trapped inside the house, haunted by the secrets contained within its walls—haunted by secrets of her own, and without any way to contact the outside world. Then she discovers a small child in the snow just outside. After bringing the child inside for warmth and safety, she begins to search for answers. The child won’t speak to her, and Wylie can’t seek help as the phone lines are out and the roads are impassable. 

Searching for evidence of the child's appearance, she locates a wrecked vehicle with a deeply battered woman entangled in barb wire. When she runs to retrieve something to free her,  the woman disappears. Everything that could go wrong does, of course. Between the blizzard, the lack of electricity and the internet, no one is safe. The tension is high and the chill in the air is palpable. But soon it becomes clear that the farmhouse isn’t as isolated as she thought, and someone is willing to do anything to find them. A man who Wylie had always thought of as a killer shows up, and later another man who is searching for the woman and child who escaped from their basement prison wants them back and Wylie is standing in his way.

In August 2000, two best friends, Josie Doyle and Becky Allen are having a sleep over when things get bad in a real hurray. Josie's brother is out of control and angry at their parents. While outside trying to find out where the loud sounds are coming from, Josie is shot, and Becky disappears without a trace. It's later revealed that Josie's parents were murdered in cold blood, and her brother Ethan is also missing and presumed to be the killer of his own parents. 

The third perspective in this book is shocking and heartbreaking. Is is told by a girl who is locked up in a basement with her mother and treated inhumanely. How long have they been there? This part was hard to read and my least favorite. Don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop here. One of the things I can tell you without spoiling anything is that you should hold onto your hat because all three storylines come together in a stunning ending that will leave you breathless.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

#Review - Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik #SyFy

Series: Starlight's Shadow # 1
Format: Paperback, 432 pages
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Space Opera

Octavia Zarola would do anything to keep her tiny, close-knit bounty hunting crew together—even if it means accepting a job from Torran Fletcher, a ruthless former general and her sworn enemy. When Torran offers her enough credits to not only keep her crew afloat but also hire someone to fix her ship, Tavi knows that she can’t refuse—no matter how much she’d like to.

With so much money on the line, Torran and his crew insist on joining the hunt. Tavi reluctantly agrees because while the handsome, stoic leader pushes all of her buttons—for both anger and desire—she’s endured worse, and the massive bonus payment he’s promised for a completed job is reason enough to shut up and deal.

But when they uncover a deeper plot that threatens the delicate peace between humans and Valoffs, Tavi suspects that Torran has been using her as the impetus for a new war. With the fate of her crew balanced on a knife’s edge, Tavi must decide where her loyalties lie—with the quiet Valoff who’s been lying to her, or with the human leaders who left her squad to die on the battlefield. And this time, she’s put her heart on the line.

Hunt the Stars is the first installment in author Jessie Mihalik's Starlight's Shadow series. The story takes place after a war between humans and an alien race called Valoffs. The war ended with a tentative peace between the two races, but both agreed to keep to their own sectors of space and not bother each other. Octavia "Tavi" Zarola, hero of Rodeni, is the captain of Starlight's Shadow. She and her crew, Elias Bruck and Kee Ildez, are bounty hunters who hunt criminals and murderers. They're not exactly rolling in the dough.

When Torran Fletcher, a ruthless former general and her sworn enemy, offers her enough credits to not only keep her crew afloat but also hire someone to fix her ship, Tavi knows that she can’t refuse—no matter how much she’d like to. The catch, however, is that they must travel to Valovia in order to find the heirloom, and Tavi just happens to have a bounty on her head and isn’t welcome there. With so much money on the line, and a bounty on Tavi's head, Torran and his crew, Chira, Varro, and Havil, insist on joining the hunt for protection. 

Tavi reluctantly agrees because while the handsome, stoic leader pushes all of her buttons—for both anger and desire—she’s endured worse, and the massive bonus payment he’s promised for a completed job is reason enough to shut up and deal. There's a lot of history and world-building that explain why they are enemies. But even enemies can become allies in the right situation. Putting together two crews who fought on opposite sides of a devastating war has many challenges, yet this crew makes it work. 

When you add to the mix Anja Harbon and Lexi Bowen, both who saw war against Torran's people, you get an eclectic group of men and women who are loyal to their leaders. But when they uncover a deeper plot that threatens the delicate peace between humans and Valoffs, Tavi suspects that Torran has been using her as the impetus for a new war. With the fate of her crew balanced on a knife’s edge, Tavi must decide where her loyalties lie—with the quiet Valoff who’s been lying to her, or with the human leaders who left her squad to die on the battlefield. And this time, she’s put her heart on the line.

Torran has the ability to move objects with his mind and can actually kill that way too, so Tavi treats him as a threat to her crew at first, until they develop some trust. Torran’s fellow officers aren’t developed as much, although there is some nice tension between Kee and Varro, Torran’s first officer. I absolutely adored Tavi’s pet burbu Luna, a small, fox-like creature that she adopted from Valovia and who is devoted to her and her crew. Burbus have the ability to communicate telepathically in emotions and images. Luna absolutely adores Tavi and her crew, and seems to tolerate Torran's people. 

I read that the next book in the series, Eclipse the Moon, will focus on Kee Ildez and Varro Runkow, a Valovian weapons expert who makes her pulse race.  In the grand tradition of Princess Leia, Rey, and Wonder Woman, this series features fierce, powerful young women who through adversity and battle, come into their own and become warriors. Terrific love stories, a fantastic tale spanning galaxies, and kick-butt heroines, all make for an amazing, cross-promotable series. These books are sure to appeal to readers of romance, sci-fi/fantasy, and the ever-growing YA fantasy market.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

#Review - Obsidian by Sarah J. Daley #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Release Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: Angry Robot
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

Shade Nox is the only witch in a land of wizards – a fiend, a rogue, a wanted criminal.

Defying those who think her an abomination, Shade wears her tattoos openly and carries obsidian blades at her hips. For years, she has protected the outcast clans who wander the blighted Wastes, but the land is growing more unstable and her blades are no longer enough.

To save her people, Shade vows to raise a Veil of protection – a feat not accomplished in over a hundred years. But the magical Veils are said to belong to the Brotherhood church; if she succeeds in raising one, it will expose their lies. They swear to see her obliterated first.

Treading a dangerous path where allies can be as deceitful as enemies, and where demons lurk in the shadows, Shade chases a vision which could lead to her people’s salvation… or her own destruction.

Sarah J. Daley’s Obsidian is the authors debut novel. The story introduces us to the island nation of Malavita, protected by the magically-erected “Veils”, separating its population from the demonic blight of the barren wastes. Malavita is ruled from afar by an Empire keen to exploit its rich natural resources, and by the corrupt Brotherhood of blood magicians, the Capomagi, and others. The story is set in the aftermath of a magical war where humans are now trying to survive under the rule of an Imperial overlord.

The story opens by introducing readers to Captain Raiden Mad, an Imperial Emissary with diplomatic protection, who has been sent to the City of Sicaria to negotiate terms with Prince Dante Safire, the last scion of an ancient line. Raiden is the former Commander of the Imperial Guard, the seventh son of Emperor Suijn, sent to explore the possibility of erecting a new Veil with the help of a local prince and an outlaw witch. Enter the notorious Shade Nox who has an Imperial warrant for murder, and treason.

Shade Nox, the infamous Black Witch, is a blood magic user who wields obsidian blades. Obsidian is born from the fires of the earth, suddenly, violently compared to the stronger gemstones. The blade grants the wielder great power. She's able to touch all hidden elements of magic which scares people. She's the orphaned daughter of a former Brotherhood bishop who was abandoned in the wastes and found by Dante. Shade is an anomaly in that she has tattoos covering her body that makes her damn near indestructible.  

Shade lives in the Wastes protected by Veils. She is trying to save her people from a darkness that is spreading across the land and will do anything it takes to save them. Shade believes she can raise a powerful Veil, but the Brotherhood, Capomaji, and Corsoro want her dead. Especially one Bishop Raphael who has sent his Ruby Pontifex after her time and time again. Raiden, interestingly enough, may have more depth that first thought. He's able to stand his ground against deadly assassins, and stand up when magic is used against him. He becomes a valuable ally alongside of Dante, Matteo, Angelo, Cyril, Manoli, and Petra.

There are some sex scenes, but nothing graphic. Shade has multiple lovers in the book and none of it seems to be on the serious side. The plot takes some twists and turns, which kept me engaged, and the pace felt steady without being too rushed. Even though this is sold as a standalone, there is plenty of room for additional stories within this world. Especially with the antics of Raphael and his brotherhood and how they will deal with Shade.

Monday, January 24, 2022

#Review - The Red Palace by June Hur #YA #Mystery #Historical

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: January 25, 2022
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Mysteries / Historical

A young palace nurse investigates a pattern of grisly murders in this romantic YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father's approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders eight palace nurses in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon's closest friend and mentor.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the secrets behind the bloodshed.

The Red Palace, by author June Hur, is a story takes place in 1758 Joseon-era Korea. The story surrounds 18-year old, Baek-Hyeon, who works as a palace nurse, a position she has worked very hard to attain. After overcoming a difficult childhood, with a mother who looks down on her, and a father who won't acknowledge her existence, she’s accomplished more than anyone expected a girl from her background would do. In Joseon-Era Korea, nurses are handpicked to serve in the palace. 

Normally they are attached to women princesses, concubines, and court ladies since it is illegal for a man to touch a female. As the illegitimate daughter of a powerful man, who just happens to be Minister of Justice, Hyeon was limited in her options. But all that Hyeon has done is threatened one night when she’s summoned to watch over a member of the royal household, then sworn to secrecy to what she sees. Upon leaving the palace that same day she learns that a massacre has taken place at her former nursing school, and her beloved mentor, Nurse Jeongsu, has been arrested for the crime. 

When Hyeon's beloved mentor, Nurse Jeongsu, gets arrested for the crime, Hyeon knows there's been a mistake. There is no way her caring teacher, a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others, including taking her in when she was discarded by her mother, could possibly be capable of the callous brutality of this massacre. Hyeon's desperate to save Jeongsu from the clutches of the police force, known for their brutal interrogations, and she doesn't have much time. Therefore, Hyeon decides she needs to begin her own secret investigation into the murders.  

Along the way she meets Eojin, a young police inspector, who teams up with her to uncover the truth behind the Hyeminseo Massacre, but will anything they find actually make a difference? Eojin had his own complex backstory and motivation for wanting to get to the bottom of these crimes, which added to the general mystery. In the face of the dark secrets they begin to uncover involving every level of palace politics, Hyeon and Eojin seem so small, young and inconsequential. They're both willing to take incredible risks in the pursuit of justice though and that should count for something.

Hyeon was a powerful and brave protagonist, kickass despite being untrained in any martial arts, and a true example to women everywhere that there is more to strength than physical ability. Eojin is the youngest investigator from the capital that is tasked to investigate the murders. He is calculative, trust worthy, and the calm that is the perfect balance to Hyeon’s chaos. The Red Palace is an amazing stand alone mystery thriller that will transport you to the darkest depths of the Joseon dynasty filled with murder, political scheming, cover ups, and gripping crime solving.  

The Red Palace is loosely based on the life and death of Crown Prince Sado, also known as Crown Prince Jangheon, was the second son of King Yeongjo of Joseon Feb 13, 1735 - Jul 12, 1762 (age 27). At the age of 27, he was executed at order of his father and died of starvation by being confined in a rice chest. Brutal way to die. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

#Review - One Step Too Far by Lisa Gardner #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: A Frankie Elkin Novel (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Publisher: Dutton Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, a thrilling new novel that sends Frankie Elkin into the woods in search of a lost man--and the shocking truth about why he went missing in the first place.

Frankie Elkin, who readers first met in Before She Disappeared, learns of a young man who has gone missing in a national forest. Law enforcement has abandoned the search, but a crew of people led by the young man's father are still looking. Sensing a father's desperation, Frankie agrees to help--but soon sees that a missing person isn't all that's wrong here. And when more people start to vanish, Frankie realizes she's up against something very dark--and she's running out of time.

One Step Too Far is the second installment in author Lisa Gardner's Frankie Elkin series. This story takes place mostly in Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming. Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. She spends her life doing what no one else will—searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking. Frankie been successful in bringing home the lost over a dozen times. 

Five years ago, 5 college friends got together for a drunken bachelor party weekend which turned into a nightmare when one of the party, Timothy O’ Day, disappeared without a trace while another, Scott, stumbled back into town not having any memory of what happened. Five years later, Frankie Elkin hears the story of a young man who disappeared in a national forest during a drunken bachelor party weekend and decides that she will join a search party because finding people is what she does best. Thanks to one of the group getting sick, Frankie is allowed to join.

The search party includes three of the missing mans friends, Neil, Miggy, & Scott, Tim's father Martin, who promised to bring his son home to his dying mother, a search and rescue specialist, Luciana and her dog Daisy, a man named Bob who claims to belong to a group known as the North American Bigfoot Society, as well as a former Shoshone National Forest district ranger, now local guide Nemeth. Even though the hike through the woods is particularly tough going for Frankie, and sleeping out in the woods in freezing temperatures makes it even more unbearable, Frankie begins to piece together the real truth of what happened 5 years ago. 

She learns that Martin has been getting threatening messages that seem to be designed to get him to call off these yearly searches, but dad is not going to stop looking for his son until he finds his body. Especially with his wife on the verge of going home. The three former college friends all have baggage, and when the hike to the area where this years search is to take place, they reveal some highly stunning things about what really happened. Frankie's only real friend on this mission seems to be Luciana and her dog Daisy who is an air scent dog specializing in cadavers. 

I adore search and rescue dogs and give them all the props in the world for everything they did on 9/11 to find the missing among the fallen towers. The author, as usual, adds a bit of her own research to this story. There are approximately 1600 people who remain missing in National Parklands every year. They seemingly vanish into thin air, some of them return and some are never to been seen or heard from again. Even though this is a standalone with a beginning and an end, it seems as though Frankie's job will continue. I'd suggest reading Before She Disappeared to get a better understanding of who Frankie is and what's he's dealt with over the past 10 years.    

Chapter 1


The first three men came stumbling into town shortly after ten a.m., babbling of dark shapes and eerie screams and their missing buddy Scott and their other buddy Tim, who set out from their campsite before dawn to get help.

 “Bear, bear, bear,” first guy moaned.

 “Mountain lion!” second guy insisted.

 Third guy vomited.

 Maybe, maybe not, Marge Santi thought as she sidestepped the spew of liquid. Marge situated the young men in a corner booth of her diner, then got on the phone and summoned Nemeth. To be polite, Marge also contacted Sheriff Jim Kelley, likeable guy, respected by the locals, but an officer with a whole county to tend and the drive to prove it. For immediate action, Nemeth it was.

Nemeth, former Shoshone National Forest district ranger, now local guide, knew what he was doing. First, he plied the three men with coffee. To judge by the rank odor of fear and booze leaking out of their pores, they didn’t need anything else. Two cups later, he had most of the story.

Five guys set out into the woods for a bachelor party weekend. All friends since college, all with some experience camping, though the trio agreed future groom Tim was The Man. Had been backcountry hiking with his father since he was six. He was the reason they were camping. The other four wouldn’t have minded a golf weekend or quality time at a casino/resort. But for Tim, the woods were his happy place, so into the mountains they’d gone. Fully equipped, packs, tents, sleeping bags, two-burner propane camp stove, cans of beans and franks, and yeah, as much beer and Maker’s Mark as five fit young men could carry. Which was to say, a lot. But they weren’t total idiots. Again, Tim knew his shit and oversaw their packing himself.

They’d hiked in seven miles yesterday, looking for the perfect camping spot in one of the deep canyons, near a broad river. Once they found it, they unloaded packs, pitched tents, and popped open the first six-pack, leaving the other four to chill in the ice-cold water.

Dusk came fast this time of year. But all was good. They built up a fire, roasted hot dogs, and ate baked beans straight out of the can. Many fart jokes ensued.

More beer, followed by whiskey chasers. How much booze can five young healthy men drink? Plenty. But no place to be, no cars to drive, no nagging cell phones to answer given the lack of reception.

Just them and the starlit sky. They killed off the first bottle of Maker’s Mark, started in on the second. Tim sat next to the fire and scratched away on a piece of paper. Working on his wedding vows, writing a letter to his beloved? They teased, but he refused to fess up.

Hour grew late. How late, no one knew and it hardly mattered. They finally turned in for the night, two men each in two tents, Tim, the future groom, in a single shell all by himself. One of his last nights on earth sleeping alone. Should enjoy it while he could, they teased.



A sharp keening wail. Crashing in the trees around them.

“Grizzly,” Neil said now, sitting in the diner.

“Mountain lion,” Josh insisted.

Miggy, short for Miguel, crawled out of the booth and vomited some more.

 Maybe, maybe not, Nemeth thought. Marge got a mop.

At the camp, the men had burst from their tents, flashlights bobbing, nerves strung tight, trying to pinpoint the source of the disturbance. Build up the fire, Tim demanded. Make noise of their own. Double-check the food stash they’d strung up in the trees away from their campsite.

 Which is why it took a few minutes, maybe as long as five or ten, before they realized their party of five had become four. Where the hell was Scott?

Miggy had been sharing his tent and Miggy had no idea.

“No…fucking idea,” Miggy clarified for Nemeth, in between bouts of dry heaving.

Tim, future groom, got serious. Scott could’ve wandered off to pee. Scott could’ve just plain wandered off, drunk and disoriented. But given the cold temps, dangerous terrain, and carnivorous local wildlife, they needed to find him.


Arranging their group into two pairs, Tim directed the first duo to start searching north of the campfire, while the other would cover the woods to the south. Whoever found Scott first would blow their emergency signal whistle.


Except they didn’t find him. Up and down the water, bushwhacking deeper and deeper into the forest. No Scott. But they did find trampled brush. Broken tree limbs. Possibly blood.


“Grizzly bear,” Neil moaned.


“Mountain lion,” Josh ventured.


“Fuck me,” Miggy whispered.


That, Nemeth agreed with.


Four a.m., the fall air brutally crisp, the clear night relentlessly dark, Tim made the decision: They needed help, and given the total lack of cell reception, hiking back out was the only way to get it. As the most experienced-and sober-member of their party, he grabbed his pack, clicked on his trusty headlamp, and set out for civilization.


Neil, Josh, and Miggy huddled around the fire for another three hours, pounding water and working themselves into a terrified frenzy. First glimpse of daylight, they refilled their canteens and hit the trail. Left everything behind. Tents, sleeping bags, food. Young men, fit and now semi-sober, they were on a mission to get the hell out of there as fast as humanly possible.


Still tough going. They half ran, half stumbled their way up and down steep terrain, clambering over boulders, careening through brush, splashing across streams. Till they came to the trailhead and their rented ATVs. All five of them. Shouldn’t there be only four?


Which is when they started to get worried about Tim.


ATVs to town. Town to diner. And now…help. Nemeth. Sheriff. Cavalry. Hunters with big guns. Any kind of assistance, all kinds of assistance. Help.


Nemeth unfolded a topographical map, had the men walk him through their journey. They knew their initial path, which, like a lot of backcountry trails, started out marked before hitting rugged, less traversed terrain. Definitely not for the faint of heart. But the men could guess where along the river they’d camped. From there, Nemeth ran his finger along various geological features, thinking, thinking, thinking. Marge worked the phone, brewed more coffee.


Being a mountain town, they had a local team of fifteen volunteer search and rescuers. Given the circumstances, however, this would be all hands on deck. Neighbors contacted neighbors, people started pouring in, and Nemeth did what he did best: organized the efforts.


First up, hasty team. He wanted his best searchers dispersed along key perimeter areas encircling the PLS-point last seen-of their two missing hikers. Taking into account the average distance a person could travel an hour in that terrain, Nemeth drew a massive ring around the site, identifying their prime search area. Hasty teams would hike, ATV, or horseback into various points along this ring, conducting a down-and-dirty search of the trail and surrounding areas as they swept toward the center. They’d look for the men, but also look for signs of human passage, which might provide additional data on where Tim the experienced hiker and Scott the drunk buddy could’ve gone.


Ramsey, a town of four thousand situated at the edge of the Popo Agie Wilderness, was filled with experienced outsdoorspeople. The mountains were both a lifestyle and a professional calling. Nemeth was a veteran general working with expert foot soldiers.


Which made it very hard for the family to accept what happened next. The first eight hours of the search, when Scott turned up wandering blindly along the rocky banks of the river. Still clad in his long underwear, face covered in scratches, fingernails caked with dirt. Clearly disoriented and shell-shocked.


“Grizzly,” Neil whispered.


“Mountain lion,” Josh repeated.


“Shit…” Miggy moaned.


Even sobered up, Scott couldn’t provide any details about where he’d been or what he’d done. He remembered drinking with his buddies around the campfire and teasing Tim for working on his wedding vows. Scott went to bed and…Daylight. Cold. So cold. Wandering in nothing but his stocking feet, till he found his way back to the river and followed it. Eventually, people appeared and a shrill whistle blew and now he was here and hey, where was Tim, anyway?


Timothy O’Day. Thirty-three years old, first member of his family to go to college, graduating from Oregon State University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Described by his family and friends as a regular MacGyver. Engaged to be married to Latisha Gibbons, whom he’d met three years ago through his college buddy Neil. Latisha hailed from Atlanta, worked in marketing, and spent her weekends in a state of perpetual motion, hiking, biking, skiing, every bit as crazy as her future husband.


Everyone said they looked beautiful together. The ultimate, modern-day L.L.Bean couple. They’d buy a house, adopt a Lab, and produce 2.2 gorgeous children to chase along trails, down mountains, across streams.


Theirs was to be a wonderful, magnificent life lived out loud.


Until hours stretched into days stretched into weeks.


Tim’s parents arrived on-site. His father, Martin, driving from Oregon to Wyoming with his mountaineering equipment piled in the back. Marty was a lean, nut-brown professional carpenter and experienced outdoorsman ready to take up the charge. In contrast, Tim’s mother, Patrice, appeared nearly translucent. Cancer survivor, the locals learned. Fifteen years ago, multiple bouts, barely made it.


Marge made it her mission to serve the woman coffee aboveboard and administer a little medicinal assistance on the down low.


Martin conferred with Nemeth and Sheriff Kelley, who’d taken charge of the search efforts. In the beginning, Martin would nod, approve, express his gratitude. By day five, he questioned and stewed. Day seven he headed into the woods himself, snarling under his breath when both Nemeth and Sheriff Kelley tried to hold him back.


The hasty teams stopped being hasty. Search efforts slowed, grew more methodical, no longer hoping for an easy victory, but now settling in to scour the wilderness foot by foot, trail by trail, grid by grid. Choppers scanned with infrared. Air-scenting dogs tracked areas of interest. Couple of psychics called in with hot tips, most involving flowing rivers or dark caves.


More volunteers showed up. The National Guard arrived to assist. Until twenty-three long, arduous, exhausting days later, as the temperatures plummeted and snow blanketed the upper elevations…


The searchers faded back to their real lives. The canine teams went home. The choppers were redirected to new missions. And only family and friends remained.


Martin O’Day fought the good fight the longest. He had a lifetime of experience and the advantage of being the one who’d trained his son. He headed back into the mountains, expedition after expedition, while Patrice held press conferences with her future daughter-in-law by her side. Twin advertisements for grief and desperation. The college friends, Neil, Josh, Miggy, and Scott, did their best to assist while having to accommodate the demands of jobs, family, obligations of their own.


Martin O’Day searched for his son. Then he searched for signs of his son. And then he searched for his son’s body.


“Grizzly bear,” Neil whispered.


“Mountain lion,” Josh argued.


“Goddammit,” Miggy said.


As for the real answer, the woods never said. Seasons turned into years and Timothy O’Day became one more missing hiker, vanished without a trace.



Here are things most folks donÕt know: At least sixteen hundred people, if not many more times that number, remain missing on national public lands. Hikers, day-trippers, children on family camping trips. One moment they were with us, the next theyÕre gone.


There’s no national database to track such cases. No centralized training for search and rescue or, in many cases, even clear jurisdictional lines to identify who’s in charge of such operations. There’s also little in the way of designated funding. A large-scale search effort can cost upwards of three hundred thousand dollars a day. For many county sheriffs, that’s their annual budget.


Meaning when the volunteers go away, so do rescue efforts. Leaving behind a family with little hope and no closure. Most will continue on their own for as long as they can. Some, such as Martin O’Day, continue the hunt every year, assisted by friends, funded by online campaigns, and advised by various experts.


According to the article I’m reading in a small, local paper, Martin’s been at it for five years. This August will be his final attempt. His wife, Patrice, is now dying from the same cancer that tried to kill her before. She wants to see her son one last time. She wants her body to be buried next to his.


I sit in a diner not so dissimilar to the one Tim O’Day’s hiking buddies must’ve rushed into the morning after. I’ve spent the past twelve hours on a bus and am now catching my breath, somewhere west of Cheyenne and south of Jackson, Wyoming. I don’t particularly know, and I’m enjoying a sense of freedom-life on the road-as I read the article again, then again. Something about the story has sunk into my skin, refusing to let go.


My name is Frankie Elkin and finding missing people is what I do. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never bothered to care, I start looking. For no money, no recognition, and most of the time, with no help.


I have no professional training. I’m not a former detective or registered PI or ex-anything special. I’m only me. An average, middle-aged white woman, short on belongings, long on regret. I tried real life once. There was a house, a job, even a man who loved me enough to hold my hand as I fought my way to sober.


In the end, the walls closed in; the relentless sameness drowned me. And the man who loved me…


One day, a woman in my AA meeting talked about her daughter who’d disappeared and the police’s lack of interest in finding a young woman with a troubled past. I became intrigued, started asking questions, and the next thing I knew, I’d found the daughter. Unfortunately, the daughter’s fucked-up boyfriend had chosen to blow off her head and abandon her body in a crack house rather than let her go. But despite the case not having a happy ending, or maybe because of that, one search became another, which became another.


Ten years later, this is now my life. I travel from place to place, armed with only my good intentions. Currently, I’ve been traveling by bus to Idaho to take up the case of Eugene Santiago, an eight-year-old boy now missing sixteen months. I read about Eugene’s disappearance in one of the various online cold case forums I frequent. Something about his soulful dark eyes, his very serious smile. I don’t always know why I choose the cases I do. There are so many of them out there. But I spot a headline, I read an article, and then I just know.

Kind of like now, I think, setting down the local paper.  I haven’t done a woodland search in forever.  Mostly I work small rural communities or dense urban neighborhoods.  I gravitate more toward kids than adults, minorities more than Caucasians.  But my mission is to help the underserved, and as the families of those sixteen hundred people vanished in public parks will tell you, they are so underserved.

Mostly, I keep thinking of Timothy O’Day’s mother who just wants to be buried next to her son.

Eugene Santiago has been missing for nearly a year and half.  A few more weeks won’t matter.  And while there may be no chance of finding Timothy O’Day alive, I know from experience that finally bringing home a body still makes a difference.

I pick up the bus schedule, and plot my new destination.