Friday, May 31, 2024

#Review - Return of the Vengeful by Queen C.J. Redwine #YA #Fantasy

Series: Rise of the Viscous Princess # 2
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: April 30, 2024
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance

The second book in a thrilling fantasy duology about a fierce princess determined to bring lasting peace to her kingdom regardless of the cost to her heart—from C. J. Redwine, the author of the New York Times bestselling Ravenspire series

The stunning conclusion to the fantasy series that began with Rise of the Vicious Princess. Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights, And I Darken, and Ash Princess!

Charis Willowthorn is a queen without a throne. A Rakuuna invader holds Charis's kingdom of Calera captive, leaving her desperate—and ruthlessly committed to vengeance. But with her allies reluctant to intervene and her enemies hunting her across the open sea, Charis is left with only one choice: forge a temporary alliance with Tal Penbyrn, the boy who betrayed her—and, at all costs, keep him out of her heart. 

Tal is imprisoned, both by the Rakuuna's isolated castle and the weight of his guilt. Though he once betrayed his love, he knows that he can help turn the tide in Charis’s favor, if only he can regain her trust. But the Rakuuna have an ally of their own—one who knows Charis’s every move and will stop at nothing to see her destroyed.

With threats closing in and every allegiance in doubt, Charis must be stronger, faster, and more vicious than her enemies to reclaim her kingdom—and her future. 

Return of the Vengeful Queen, by C.J. Redwine, is the final installment in the Rise of the Vicious Princess duology. The story picks up 3 weeks after exiled Princess, soon to be Queen, Charis Willowthorn and 62 others survived a brutal attack by monstrous creatures called the Rakuuna who made a deal with the Rullenvor. Charis and her people are hoping to find help from Solvang only to learn that there is a bounty out on her head, and any country who helps her, might be the next to be attacked. 

Charis and a small group of survivors soon heads to a far off country that hardly anyone visits. Embre is said to be the source of something that can kill the dreaded Rakuuna. But they refuse to align themselves with Charis for fear of retaliation. After Charis is captured by the Rakuuna, she quickly learns that Tal Penbryn, the boy who betrayed her, is also a captive. She also learns that she is to be brought back home to face the person sitting on her throne. The Queen of the Rakuuna.

Prince Percival Talin Penbryn, the younger son of King Alaric of Montevallo, is imprisoned by weight of his guilt and the Rakuuna. Though he once betrayed the woman he loves, he knows that he can help turn the tide in Charis’s favor, if only he can regain her trust. But the Rakuuna have an ally of their own—one who knows Charis’s every move and will stop at nothing to see her destroyed. With threats closing in and every allegiance in doubt, Charis must be stronger, faster, and more vicious than her enemies to reclaim her kingdom—and her future.

*Thoughts* The story tends to do a lot of traveling to Solang, Embre, the Basilisk Cave's and back to Charis home where she awaits judgement. I thought the final chapters of this book wrapped up things nicely. The book reveals the awful betrayal that cost the lives of thousands of people including Charis mother and father, merchant ships, her navy, and anyone who happened to be friends with Charis and her family. All because of political power and lies. So many innocent people die in this story. Charis really grows as a character. She is a capable and fearsome heroine, with a reputation for violence. But she is also a Queen determined to carve out her own path and care for the citizens who depend on her. I appreciated it didn't take that long for her to realize that Tal deserved to be forgiven for his actions in the previous installment. 





Thursday, May 30, 2024

#Review - With Shield and Ink and Bone by Casey L. Bond #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Kindle, 400 pages
Release Date: November 11, 2020
Publisher: Casey L Bond
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Nordic Myth / Fantasy

The sharpest blades are forged in fury.

A hard-earned shield.

Days before she is to take her place as a shield maiden, like her mother before her, two deaths alter the course of Liv’s future. One belonged to a witch who called her by name, the other a chieftain from the north. Vengeance for the chieftain’s death comes in a wild fury that burns her village and slaughters her family. Left for dead, Liv pleads to Skuld—norn and weaver of the future—to spare her. A deal is struck that will endow her with the dark magic needed to claim her vengeance. But this power comes at an unfathomable price...

Ink made from the ashes of loved ones.

After his home is attacked, Calder races to warn neighboring villages. Little does he know he’s traveling the path of fate that will lead him straight to Liv. Despite being broken, angry, and overwhelmed by power she cannot contain, it’s her willingness to defend others that draws Calder to her.

Armor forged from the bones of those held dear.

Together, Liv and Calder discover they are two sides of the same sharpened blade. Rising from the heartache and fury in their pasts, they see a future together worth fighting for. With their strengths and hearts combined, can they become a force powerful enough to defeat the fleet of darkness coming for them? Or will the thread of fate that binds them unravel?

With Shield and Ink and Bone is perfect for fans of A Fate Inked in Blood by Danielle Jensen, Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller, and The Ever King by LJ Andrews.


Casey L. Bond's With Shield and Ink and Bone is a Viking inspired fantasy featuring 17-year-old Liv Eriksson who goes from challenging her mother to become a shield maiden, to becoming a warrior for the Goddess Skuld, weaver of the future. Liv and her brother Hodor are preparing for their trials, a battle with their parents to earn their shields, and then they'll meet with the clan leader and sail in the spring on the clan's next raids. But first, they have to survive the winter, and Hodor has had a vision in the form of a dream that foretells of a very different outcome.

Days before she is to take her place as a shield maiden, like her mother before her, two deaths alter the course of Liv’s future. One belonged to a witch who called her by name, the other a chieftain from the north. Vengeance for the chieftain’s death comes in a wild fury thanks to Fenris Wolf that burns her village and slaughters her family. Left for dead, Liv pleads to Skuld—norn and weaver of the future—to spare her. A deal is struck that will endow her with the dark magic needed to claim her vengeance. But this power comes at an unfathomable price.

After his home is attacked by Fenris, Calder races to warn neighboring villages. Little does he know he’s traveling the path of fate that will lead him straight to Liv. Despite being broken, angry, and overwhelmed by power she cannot contain, it’s her willingness to defend others that draws Calder to her. Together, Liv and Calder discover they are two sides of the same sharpened blade. Rising from the heartache and fury in their pasts, they see a future together worth fighting for. With their strengths and hearts combined, can they become a force powerful enough to defeat the fleet of darkness coming for them? Or will the thread of fate that binds them unravel?

*Thoughts* Liv was a strong character. Her journey to become who she was is challenging, not everyone can make it through. Especially after she learns why her village was attacked, and who was responsible. She endured a harsh and rough journey and came out stronger thanks to those like Armund, Calder, Fell, Tyr, and Sig. Armund was perfect as the father figure who Liv relies on to tell her straight facts and not what she wanted to hear. Liv's deal with Skuld really is a twisted part of the story. I think Skuld realizes that Liv was taken away from something greater, and not she needs to push Liv into getting her vengeance so she can maybe have a decent future with someone like Calder.




Wednesday, May 29, 2024

#Review - Icon and Inferno by Marie Lu #YA #Thriller #Suspense #Espionage

Series: A Stars and Smoke Novel (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Release Date: June 11, 2024
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Thrillers & Suspense / Espionage

 New sparks. Old Flames. And a mission that's playing with fire.

A year has passed since superstar Winter Young last saw secret agent Sydney Cossette. After barely surviving their first assignment together in London -- and their intense chemistry – the two haven’t spoken at all. Though they’re never far from the other’s thoughts, or fantasies.

So when Sydney shows up at Winter’s studio one day with a new mission from Panacea, he has no choice but to accept. With the clock ticking, the duo prepares to head to Singapore to rescue an operative in danger -- only to learn he’s none other than Sydney's ex, a rogue agent known as the Arsonist.

Of course, nothing is ever simple when it comes to Winter and Sydney. Especially not with the glamorous Gavi Ginsburg, a globe-trotting socialite and Winter’s one-time girlfriend, in the mix. Is she back for Winter’s heart – or does she have her eye on another prize?

The smoldering sequel to New York Times bestselling Stars and Smoke follows Winter and Sydney on yet another treacherous mission that grows more sinister with each twist and turn. To make it out alive, they'll have to figure out how to be partners again -- and if they can resist the burn of something more.


Icon and Inferno is the second installment in author Marie Lu's Stars and Smoke series. This book is set one year from the end of the first installment. The book alternates between superstar Winter Young, and Sydney Cossette, an operative who works for the Panacea Group. Winter (who is in Hawaii when he learns of a tell all book that is set to be released) and Sydney (who is now a full operative) haven't stopped thinking about each other even though they haven't been in contact since then. 

That changes when Panacea asks them to team up on another mission, once again using the cover of Winter's concert. It seems one of their agents has been missing for 2 weeks, and there's the possibility that he's been compromised. In order to make things twisted, Sydney learns that the missing agent is Tems, a rogue agent named the Arsonist who just happens to be her ex. Thanks to a past incident, Tems isn't exactly on Syd's Christmas list. Meanwhile, Winter is forced to ask the glamorous Gavi Ginsburg, a globe-trotting socialite and Winter’s one-time girlfriend, to be by his side for the duration of the mission. 

Syd & Winter's mission sends them to Singapore, and the guest appearance by one Emika Chen, who is now CEO of Henka Games who made her claim to fame in the Warcross games. While in Singapore, Syd and Winter learn of a threat to the US President by rogue actors. Syd soon finds that she is also under attack by an undetermined group of agents, as well as her employer. The author turns up the volume to 11 by having a very important character killed off in what appears to have been intentional. And when a murder accusation has Sydney on the run, suddenly it's not just a life at stake, but all-out war.

*Thoughts* The ending of this book leaves much to be desired. It seems that this was meant as a duology, but there's always the possibility of a return. Also, why bring back Emika if you weren't going to use here and Hideo in another story? This book is filled with action, suspense, romance, songs that weren't supposed to be played in public, betrayal, heart break, and maybe a bit of hope that the author will continue with the Syd and Winter trials and tribulations. 




1All Love Bears a Cost


Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii

The forecast had called, as it often did in Honolulu, for scattered showers. But by midafternoon, luck had pushed the warm rains further up the island of Oahu, and instead the skies over Waikiki Beach were dappled with cotton clouds against the late summer blue. The winds were gentle and humid, the ocean changing colors under the shifting sunshine like a mercurial gemstone, from deep jade to a turquoise so searing that the water looked artificial.

It was the perfect day for the interview of the year, and the crowd that had gathered around the stage set up on the sand was frantic. Now and then, excited cheers pulsed through them, like ripples that originated with the boy seated at the center of the stage, his figure shaded under a translucent white canopy, one of his legs crossed casually over the other.

He was dressed in a pale collared shirt and shorts, and smelled like sunscreen, citrus, and salt wind. His hair was thick and messy, so pitch-black that it shone blue under the sun, and his eyes, dark and slender behind a pair of aviators, currently expressed a mixture of politeness and discomfort as he stared at his interviewer.

Winter Young, the most famous superstar in the world, had only agreed to this interview for the sake of his manager, Claire, who’d had to deal with star reporter Evelyn Dace for a year as she tried to nab Winter for a proper interview.

Now the reporter leaned forward from the chair opposite Winter, her green eyes fixed so intently on him that he felt like she could see into his very marrow. He kept his face calm, his own gaze steady and unwavering, a quiet challenge in return.

“Tell me,” Evelyn began in a gentle yet patronizing tone. “Are you currently dating anyone?”

Claire had, as usual, given her a list of approved questions in addition to topics they were to avoid at all costs, but Evelyn had strayed from the list early on—first a pointed comment about Winter’s diet (he didn’t have one), then an off-the-cuff remark about his close relationships with his backup dancers. Now this. Winter could feel the heat rising at his collar, but he couldn’t give her the satisfaction of a response.

So instead, he offered Evelyn a demure, practiced smile and pushed the sleeves of his shirt higher, exposing more of the tattoos decorating his forearms. “Not right now,” he said. “I’ve been too busy with the new album to date.”

Instead of taking his hint to steer the conversation back to the album, the reporter just looked down at her notes slyly, as if she knew there was more Winter wasn’t letting on. “Come now, Winter. You’ve been dropping hints in all your new tracks.”

He shrugged. “Every artist is inspired by life. And love is one of life’s greatest inspirations,” he said, and scattered shrieks came from the crowd.

Evelyn smiled at that, nodding at the career highlights reel playing on the screen behind them. Winter watched the footage of himself as a fourteen-year-old boy, long and lanky like an unsteady colt, newly famous and petrified of crowds, stepping out onto the stage of an arena for the first time.

Sometimes he forgot how young he was when he began this wild journey. Years later, he still found it strange to look back.

“This is my very first concert,” the past version of himself said shyly in the video, offering the crowd his famous, secret smile. And the audience went wild.

Winter glanced away from the screen and back at Evelyn, who had crossed her arms. “Some people say that you’ve reached a renaissance in your work,” she said. “Bolder melodies and complex lyrics hinting at new secrets.”

“Are you some people?”

“Sure. Let’s say I am.”

He took the opportunity to steer the topic back to his album. “Then thank you,” he replied. “There are a lot of tracks I’m excited to share. I hope others can relate—”

The reporter interrupted him. “It seems fairly obvious your growth isn’t just random. You really expect us to believe you don’t have some new passion—new love—inspiring you?” She was not letting him go easily. “What really changed—or better yet, who changed you?”

Sydney Cossette.

Her name sprang unbidden to Winter’s mind, and he had to force himself to keep his expression neutral.

Sometimes Winter forgot that, for a month, he had been an actual secret agent.

Sometimes, what happened last year—that he’d been recruited to work undercover for an intelligence agency called the Panacea Group to help take down a billionaire tycoon—still seemed like a fever dream. Sometimes he forgot that the girl who’d posed as his bodyguard back then was really a secret agent assigned to be his partner.

Sydney Cossette.

If only they’d given in to being so much more.

They’d hated each other at first, and then they’d become allies. And then … well, they’d had a moment with each other that went beyond friendship. And now it didn’t matter, because they’d probably never see each other again.

His thoughts about her had been hourly for the first few weeks after he left London to recuperate fully at home, sometimes so overpowering that he could barely bring himself to get out of bed. But now they had faded to something manageable, the image of her small, fierce face framed with blond hair pushed inevitably aside for the crowd of concerts and parties and banquets and galas and interviews that all came back with regular force once he returned to his work.

Sometimes he forgot entirely, and that strange world felt so distant that he wondered if perhaps he had imagined the whole thing.

But sometimes he would walk past a cobblestone street or a quiet, hedged garden. Sometimes he would see an elegant bridge or a particular frame of airplane. Sometimes he would see a messy blond bob in the crowd. And those thoughts would return to his mind.

She would return.

He coped the only way he knew how: by writing. For the past half year, he’d written music like a boy possessed, gotten out some of the best songs of his life, filled an entire stack of little notebooks that sat teetering on his work desk at home. It felt like a guiding light had switched on in his mind, and all he had to do was follow it and the notes would come pouring out of him.

He snapped back to the present, waving at the crowd by way of answering the reporter’s question. Cheers momentarily drowned out anything and everything.

He smiled at them again before turning back to the reporter. “I’ve just been grateful lately,” he said. “Any romance in my new lyrics is inspired by that, by gratitude for what my fans have given me. That’s it.”

Evelyn’s jaw tightened slightly, a flicker of annoyance crossing her face. Winter’s eyes darted for a moment to Claire, who was standing at the edge of the stage with her arms crossed, her lips flattened into a line. Their eyes met, and she gave him a near-imperceptible shake of her head.

Hang in there, she seemed to say. Time’s almost up.

“That’s a lovely statement,” Evelyn said, her gentle smile so professional that it grated on Winter’s nerves. “There’s been a real sense of joy in your recent music, nevertheless. Perhaps you’ve been able to put aside some of the tragedies in your past. Would you say that’s true?”

Winter stiffened, holding back a sigh of frustration. She was really going there. “What do you mean?” he said.

“Tell me about your brother,” she said. “It’s common knowledge that his death has always loomed large in your life, yes?”

Artie.

Off in the corner, Winter could hear the unmistakable hiss of Claire taking a sharp breath. He didn’t need to look at her to know she was furious at this question.

“Yes,” he answered curtly. “Of course.”

“Have you found a way to move on from that loss?”

Had he? For a moment, Winter imagined that he wasn’t sitting in this interminable interview, but wandering along the edge of the ocean in Santa Monica beside his older brother, twelve years apart in age, fathered by different men but united by the same mother.

Look, Artie had said on that misty morning. An unbroken shell.

He leaned down to pick up a pristine, pink-tinted clamshell, then washed it in the tide before handing it to Winter. Toss it back in the ocean and make a wish, he’d said.

Is that a thing? Winter had replied.

Artie had laughed and mussed up Winter’s hair. You can make it a thing.

So Winter had tossed it into the sea and wished to be famous, to be loved by his mother, to be remembered by somebody.

He should have wished instead for Artie to stay alive.

The memory faded. “You don’t ever move on from a death,” Winter answered calmly. “You just find better ways of coping.”

“You’ve managed to replace the grief in your past with love, then.”

“Grief is love. It’s the price we pay for the gift of someone meaningful in our lives.” They should be nearly at the hour mark. Almost done.

The reporter seemed to hear something in her earpiece. She paused, listening.

Then her eyes darted to Winter, and a look of what Winter could only describe as gleeful anticipation came across her face. She nodded. “Now, my sources say that a major publisher has just announced a tell-all book about you, to be released in the fall of this year. Any comment?”

Winter’s polite smile faltered at the same time the crowd let out a chorus of confused murmurs, then gasps. He must have heard her wrong. Behind Evelyn, he saw Claire staring down at her phone with an expression of growing horror. The news must have broken right in the middle of his interview.

Evelyn seemed to catch the crack in his fa├žade, because a gleam came into her eyes. “This is a surprise to you, I see.”

A tell-all. Who would write an unauthorized tell-all about him?

Say something, he told himself harshly. “That rumor’s new to me,” he answered out loud.

She nodded with false sympathy and leaned toward him, her guise of concern still on her face. “I’m sorry to catch you off guard, as I thought you were already aware of it. No one has announced the author of the book yet. Perhaps you know?”

“I don’t,” he heard himself say stiffly, but the words sounded like they came from someone else. His eyes darted to Claire, who was now arguing with one of the producers. When the man shook his head at her, a look of fury crossed her face.

“Could it be someone you know well? A family member?” the reporter pressed.

“I don’t know,” Winter repeated.

“Winter,” the woman said in a gentle, coaxing voice. “Tell me about your mother.”

His mother?

“Are you implying that she wrote this?” he said.

“Absolutely not.” Evelyn lifted her hands in innocence. “But the nature of the book feels like an inside source. Perhaps someone close, familial. I’ve heard you’ve had a rather contentious relationship with your mother. Is that true?”

“I’m not going to answer that,” he said, his voice tight. “And nothing anyone has to say in a book about me will be a surprise to the public.”

But Evelyn’s words had already planted seeds of doubt in his mind. Could it be his mother? Had some company called her, talked her into doing it? Had she neglected to tell him? She had done unauthorized magazine interviews that had approached her, had once given away one of his school notebooks for an auction without telling him, the contents of which were then spread everywhere online. The thought was too much to handle, at least in a setting like this, with thousands of eyes fixed on him and the shine of a Hawaiian afternoon suddenly much too warm.

He needed to get off this stage. He needed to escape.

The reporter’s sweet, sympathetic expression soured to a grimace. “You once considered ending your career early in your first year in order to take care of your mother while she suffered a mental health crisis. Isn’t that right?”

At that, Winter snapped. He moved as if through a dream, suddenly rising from his chair and stripping the microphone from his collar, yanking the device’s wire out of his clothes. The clip fell from his side and onto the wooden stage with a hollow clank.

Down in the sand at the side of the stage, Claire nodded at him and made a circular motion with her finger.







Tuesday, May 28, 2024

#Review - Dead Wrong by Annabel Chase #Fantasy

Series: Crossroads Queen # 4
Format: Kindle, 260 pages
Release Date: January 11, 2024
Publisher: Red Palm Press LLC
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Lorelei Clay has spent a lifetime keeping her secret. Now that Kane has discovered it, the prince of hell has cut her off, but she has no idea why. Not only has he disappeared from her life, he's also disappeared from Fairhaven, and his cohorts refuse to divulge his whereabouts.

When a series of strange attacks threaten the town, Lorelei is thrust back into the magical spotlight. This time, she isn't sure she can weather the storm without drawing too much attention to herself and, even worse, endangering the lives of everyone she's come to care about. 

Dead Wrong is the fourth book in the Crossroads Queen series, featuring a strong female protagonist, a slow burn romance, magic and mayhem, and a coterie of paranormal friends and found family. Lorelai Chase moved from London to Fairhaven hoping to settle down. She purchased a rundown castle named after Bluebeard, and has since tried to keep away from the supernatural shenanigans. But with a Crossroads located in Fairhaven, Lorelei's secret was sure to come out.

Six months ago, Lorelei's secret did come out, and now one of the Prince's of Hell, Kane Sullivan, knows her secret and makes himself scarce. Lorelei has the ability of not only talking with ghosts, but she can control them, as well as nightmares. The thing about Lorelei is that she finds it extremely hard not to get involved when innocent lives are at stake. Her grandfather once told her that it's one thing to be strong, but you also need to be touch. There are those who would take advantage of her if they knew the truth about her. 

She's also made an enemy out of a vampire mobster named Vincenzo which comes with a curious assassin named Brody which I don't think we've seen the last of. Meanwhile, Lorelai must deal with yet another bad situation when it seems yet another dangerous character from the Corporation shows up to test how far Lorelai is willing to do to keep her secret. When a series of strange attacks threaten the town, Lorelei is thrust back into the magical spotlight. This time, she isn't sure she can weather the storm without drawing too much attention to herself and, even worse, endangering the lives of everyone she's come to care about.

*Thought* I found it interesting that we finally learn more about Kane's background and why he is in Fairhaven. Should be interesting to see how that plays out later in the series. I do not believe that we've seen the last of players from the Corporation, especially now that Lorelai's secret is out in the open. Lorelai appears to be a bargaining chip in a much bigger battle to come. Lorelai's relationship with Kane finally goes there, and it didn't take up that much of the story which I am glad. This is the first book in which the moniker Crossroads Queen has appear. And that is because of Kane's thinking that is what brought Lorelai here. I am two books behind in this series, but getting close to being caught up! 





Friday, May 24, 2024

#Review - The Vacancy in Room 10 by Seraphina Nova Glass #Mystery #Thriller #Suspense

Series:
 Standalone
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Release Date: April 9, 2024
Publisher: Graydon House
Source: Library
Genre: Thrillers / Psychological

The Paris Apartment meets The Wrong Family in this thrilling tale of crime, passion and murder set in a run-down apartment complex packed with shady characters willing to go to deadly lengths to keep their darkest secrets from the stranger in their midst.

When Anna Hartley’s husband, Henry, calls her with a terrible, guilty confession, she can’t believe what she hears. It has to be a bad joke—the mild, predictable artist she married would never hurt a fly, let alone commit murder. But her confusion turns to horror when police find his body washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande. 

Desperate for answers to the millions of questions his untimely death has raised, Anna checks in to The Sycamores, the run-down motel turned apartment Henry rented as an art studio. As she absorbs every bit of gossip the eclectic mix of residents are willing to share about her husband and each other, she begins to piece together a picture of a very different man than the one she married, and the life he led behind her back. The more she learns, and the less sense things seem to make, she finds herself wondering: Did she ever really know Henry at all? 

But Henry’s secrets aren’t the only ones; as Anna’s search for clues expands, Cass, the mysterious, jaded motel manager, seems more and more determined to keep Anna in the dark. And when threatening letters start appearing at her door, Anna has to decide what’s more important—the truth, or her own safety.

 



Seraphina Nova Glass's The Vacancy in Room 10 is a tale of crime, passion and murder is set in a run-down apartment complex packed with shady characters willing to go to deadly lengths to keep their darkest secrets from the stranger in their midst. The book alternates between Cassidy Abbott and Anna Hartley. When Anna Hartley’s husband, Henry, calls her with a terrible, guilty confession, she can’t believe what she hears. It has to be a bad joke—the mild, predictable artist she married would never hurt a fly, let alone commit murder. 
 
But her confusion turns to horror when police find his body washed up on the banks of the Rio Grande. Desperate for answers to the millions of questions his untimely death has raised, Anna checks in to The Sycamores, the run-down motel turned apartment Henry rented as an art studio. As she absorbs every bit of gossip the eclectic mix of residents are willing to share about her husband and each other, she begins to piece together a picture of a very different man than the one she married, and the life he led behind her back. 
 
The more she learns, and the less sense things seem to make, she finds herself wondering: Did she ever really know Henry at all? But Henry’s secrets aren’t the only ones; as Anna’s search for clues expands, Cass, the mysterious, jaded motel manager, seems more and more determined to keep Anna in the dark. But when Anna starts getting threatening notes and unsettling packages, her fear of her surroundings may trump her desire to get at the truth. Should she pack it all in and return to her safe and pristine world? Or will the mystery surrounding Henry’s death drive her into the danger zone?
 
Meanwhile, Cass recently found out just how much her former lover Reid actually felt about her. She learned the hard way that she allowed herself to be dictated to, and stopped from living the life she always wanted, only to find out that he was slurping on the side with a much younger woman, and lost all her so called friends. Cass found a job at the Sycamore Apartments where people who seem to be down on their last chance live. Cass is the live-in manager who gets free rent for fixing what’s broken-and since she is barely scraping by, she also has a side hustle of blackmail. 
 
She seems to know everything that is going on. But one day, her encounter with a married man sparks an idea—she can punish these men for what they do to their wives, seeking retribution for what her boyfriend did to her. This side job of blackmailing can help her pay the bills, but what if she chooses the wrong man, one who could ruin her entire life? Until the day she tries her scam on the exact wrong man—and things go horribly awry. Now she has to keep the new widow who has been poking around out of her business. Can Cass keep her secrets hidden? Or is Anna going to wreak everything in her hunt for the truth?
 
*Thoughts* If you are old enough to remember Peyton Place, Sycamore Apartments reminds me of that place. There are some very strange characters living here. The women spend most of their days playing games, and chasing kids from doing silly games on the adults. There is a man who collects swords. There is a woman who may be married to a man who belongs to the Cartel. And, there is a 10-year-old kid who is as charming and funny as he is smart, and soon becomes Cass's apprentice. The mystery was pretty good. I didn't see it coming, but I should have. It was nice to see how Cass’s character grew, changed and evolved over the course of the book and finally accepted that the people at Sycamore are her family and what more does she need?




Thursday, May 23, 2024

#Review - Against the Darkness by Kendare Blake #YA #Paranomal

Series: Buffy: The Next Generation (#3)
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: April 9, 2024
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal

This epic finale to the Buffy: The Next Generation trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns) features the next generation of Scoobies and Slayers who must defeat a powerful new evil.

For generations, the Slayer was supposed to be the chosen, the one girl in all the world with the power to stand against the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness. When Willow used the scythe to call up all the potential slayers at once, it changed everything. For years, the slayers have been working and fighting together as a team.

Then the Darkness came, killing many slayers and trapping the rest in an alternate dimension. And Frankie Rosenberg, the world’s first Slayer-Witch, found herself fighting evil alone. Sort of.

After their latest confrontation with the Darkness, the Scooby gang is more fragmented than ever. Jake is having a werewolf identity crisis, and the return of his troublemaker brother Jordy is only making things worse. Hailey is off pretending to be one of the rogue slayers. Sigmund is burying his broken heart in books. And Frankie's mom, Willow, and Watcher, Spike, only seem to care about bringing Buffy back.

Now, Frankie must forge her own path, save the slayers, reunite her friends, and lead the charge to defeat the Darkness once and for all.


Against the Darkness, by Kendare Blake, is the third installment in the authors In Every Generation series. For generations, the Slayer was supposed to be the chosen, the one girl in all the world with the power to stand against the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness. When Willow used the scythe to call up all the potential slayers at once, it changed everything. For years, the slayers have been working and fighting together as a team. 

Then the Darkness came, killing many slayers and trapping the rest in an alternate dimension, including Buffy. Frankie Rosenberg, the world’s first Slayer-Witch, found herself fighting evil like her aunt Buffy. Like Buffy, she has her very own Scooby Gang, plus the help of her mom, Willow; Watcher, Spike; and even the brooding-but-hot Hunter of Thrace. But even though they have a master plan (obviously), the gang is more fragmented than ever.

Even though Frankie did a good thing by destroying a powerful weapon, and stopped Aspen and the Countess, things are far from over. Frankie and the Scoobies (Jake, Sigmond, Hailey and Sam) need to find a way to defeat the Darkness and bring Buffy and the other slayers home from an alternative reality where they have been stuck for months, or else serious badness could descend upon Sunnydale. Meanwhile, Hailey, has chosen to play the role of double spy in order to find out what Aspen and her allies are up to.

The problem is that Hailey starts to think that Aspen truly just wants to have the power to choose or reject her Slayer powers and possibly return to a normal life. And what happens when Hailey finds herself in the position as being one of the potentials or understanding that she may become the next slayer? Her sister Vi, who was one of the surviving Slayers who chose not to follow Aspen, has gone in hiding along with Sarafina for fear that she will be the next slayer to get in Aspen's way.

Jake, meanwhile, is coming to terms with his wolf, and on occasion, they don't see eye to eye. He seems to be in the process of losing himself each day that goes by. Things don't exactly go smoothy when his cousin Jordy sends him something to help calm his wolf. Which leads to even more trouble. Then of course, we have the return of Dark Willow who goes searching for a powerful black Grimoire that may hold the answers they need to bring Buffy and the surviving Slayers back home. If Willow doesn't lose herself again.

So, now that I babbled my way through this review, let me say that you should absolutely read this series from the beginning. Especially if you are like me who watched Buffy 25 years ago and never missed an episode. So much actually happens in this book, that it is hard not to spoil things. From Aspen's obsession, to Grimloch becoming a pawn against Frankie, to Hailey's seesaw journey of deciding who she wants to be, and to the final chapters and the return of you know who to help stop the Darkness as well as, a nice surprise I didn't see coming. In the end of this book, the author pretty much states that she has no reason to stop writing books about the Buffyverse, and I am here for it. However, can we find out what happened to Xander and Dawn, please?





Wednesday, May 22, 2024

#Review - The King's Sword by Jennifer Anne Davis #YA #Fantasy #Romance

Series:
 League of Rulers # 2
Format: Kindle, 280 pages
Release Date: April 18, 2024
Publisher: Reign Publishing
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult / Historical / Fantasy

From the moment Sabine set out for Lynk, her only thought was to find her sister’s killer. The answer comes with a terrifying discovery that puts her life on the line. Forced to trust her kidnapper in order to stay alive, Sabine embarks on a journey of harsh truths. Nothing is as it seems back in the palace among the clouds—especially the man she married.

On the run, Sabine and her unlikely ally seek refuge in Avoni—the kingdom known for its warring assassin guilds. The farther they go, the more hazardous their journey becomes as new enemies emerge. When unwanted feelings start to develop and secrets are uncovered, Sabine realizes there is no one she can trust but herself.

As Rainer’s wife, Sabine is nothing more than a pawn in a deadly political game that is decades in the making. When Rainer makes his next move, hinting at war, Sabine is ready with a countermove—and little does Rainer know, the pawn has become the queen, and she has no intention of losing with the stakes this high.



Jennifer Anne Davis' The King's Sword is the second installment in the authors League of Rulers series. This story begins right where the first installment left off. Sabine, the new Queen of Lynx, has been kidnapped by an Aroni assassin named Evander. Evander hoped to stop the wedding between Sabine and Rainer Manfred, the King of Lynx, from taking place because the League, which did not give their permission, knew that there would be no stopping Rainer from invading other countries. 

From the moment Sabine set out for Lynk, her only thought was to find her sister Alina’s killer which she has done. But was it really an Avoni assassin, or was a member of Rainer's family involved? The more time she spends in Lynk, the more confusing her emotions are for Rainer. Sabine knows that there are those eager to get rid of Rainer if he is not able to produce a heir by the time he turns 25. Even though she has some idea what happened to Alina, she has been forced to face threats to her own life. 

Forced to trust Evander to stay alive from the numerous assassins looking to cash in on a huge bounty on her head, Sabine embarks on a journey of harsh truths. Sabine and Evander, an assassin, a pirate, and a prince, seek refuge in Avoni—the kingdom known for its warring assassin guilds. Yet, Avoni is not happy with Sabine's appearance. Her presence is nothing more than a tease for enemies to find her. The farther they go, the more hazardous their journey becomes as new enemies emerge. 

When unwanted feelings start to develop between Sabine and Evander, and secrets are uncovered, Sabine realizes there is no one she can trust but herself. As Rainer’s wife, Sabine is nothing more than a pawn in a deadly political game that is decades in the making. When Rainer makes his next move, hinting at war, Sabine is ready with a countermove—and little does Rainer know, the pawn has become the queen, and she has no intention of losing with the stakes this high.

*Thoughts* I have read many books from this author. It seems as though the author loves to twist readers' emotions by leaving gasping cliffhanger endings, and hope that you are too emotionally involved in the story for you to just walk away. I have no intention of not finishing this series. Evander is an interesting character. He's literally a jack of all trades and good at them all. He is expected to marry Rainer's sister Lottie, but she's proven she can't be trusted. Time and time again, Evander seems more alive, and worthy of Sabine's feelings than anything that Rainer has ever done for her. As Sabine is forced to deal with her new reality, it seems as though she is on a collision course with not only Rainer but her family and the League of Rulers as well.  




Tuesday, May 21, 2024

#Review - She's Not Sorry by Mary Kubica #Thrillers #Psychological

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: April 2, 2024
Publisher: Park Row
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Psychological

An ICU nurse accidentally uncovers a patient’s frightening past in this chilling thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Local Woman Missing and Just the Nicest Couple.

Everyone has secrets, but not everyone has remorse…

A terrible accident.

Meghan Michaels is trying to find balance between being a single mom and working full time as an ICU nurse, when a patient named Caitlin arrives in her ward with a traumatic brain injury. They say she jumped from a bridge and plunged over twenty feet to the train tracks below.

A shocking revelation.

When a witness comes forward with new details about Caitlin’s fall, it calls everything they know into question. Was a crime committed? Did someone actually push Caitlin, and if so, who... and why?

No one is safe.

Meghan lets herself get close to Caitlin until she’s deeply entangled in the mystery surrounding her. Only when it’s too late, does she realize that she and her daughter could be the next victims...

 

Mary Kubica's She's Not Sorry is a twisted psychological thriller that focuses on an ICU nurse who gets involved in the life of a trauma patient that allegedly committed suicide. Meghan Michaels is a recently divorced wife who is trying to be a good mother to her 16-year-old daughter Sienna, and be a good nurse in the ICU unit of her local hospital. After COVID, nurses were burned out, and there's now a shortage of both nurses and doctors, but the patients still come. 

They still need help. They still need a place to heal. And that includes Caitlin Beckett who allegedly jumped off a bridge. Meghan is haunted by Caitlin because her sister Bethany died by her own hand. When a witness to the fall comes forward, it appears that Caitlin may have been pushed. Meghan finds herself drawn into Caitlin's life, forming a bond with her family members, who share their daughter's secrets. Meghan also notices a suspicious man lurking around Caitlin's room outside of visiting hours. Meghan finds herself questioning the actions of the family, especially one of her brothers.

Meanwhile, Meghan re-connects with an old friend from high school who is going through a difficult divorce and may be an abused wife. To top it off, being the mother of a teen daughter, living in a neighborhood that isn't exactly safe, causes Meghan heartburn and fear because you never know if she or her daughter will be the next victims of a mysterious man who has been attacking women. 

It is fair to say that the author has a way of messing with your mind. Just when you think you know what is happening, the author twists the story so hard that I literally started cussing. Not kidding. The ending left me a bit angry at the author because she did a grave injustice to the nursing field. One of my greatest failings was not completing my nursing degree after spending years being a paramedic/firefighter in New York State. I think nurses don't get the credit they deserve, but there are times that they are human, and mistakes do happen. Same with doctors. If you are a young woman who is in High School, or just starting college, and you are empathic, and caring, and good at science, please consider the nursing field.  





Monday, May 20, 2024

#Review - Extinction by Douglas Preston #SyFy #Thriller

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: April 23, 2024
Publisher: Forge Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller

With Extinction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston has written a page-turning thriller in the Michael Crichton mode that explores the possible and unintended dangers of the very real efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth and other long-extinct animals.

Erebus Resort, occupying a magnificent, hundred-thousand acre valley deep in the Colorado Rockies, offers guests the experience of viewing woolly mammoths, Irish Elk, and giant ground sloths in their native habitat, brought back from extinction through the magic of genetic manipulation. When a billionaire's son and his new wife are kidnapped and murdered in the Erebus back country by what is assumed to be a gang of eco-terrorists, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash partners with county sheriff James Colcord to track down the perpetrators.

As killings mount and the valley is evacuated, Cash and Colcord must confront an ancient, intelligent, and malevolent presence at Erebus, bent not on resurrection—but extinction.


Douglas Preston's Extinction takes a page from Michael Crichton in exploring the possible and unintended dangers of the very real efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth and other long-extinct animals. Erebus Resort, occupying a magnificent, hundred-thousand acre valley deep in the Colorado Rockies, offers guests the experience of viewing woolly mammoths, Irish Elk, and giant ground sloths in their native habitat, brought back from extinction through the magic of genetic manipulation.
 
Not to steal anyone's thunder, but don't call it Jurassic Park. There are no dinosaurs, but there is something much, much more dangerous involved. When a billionaire's son and his new wife (Olivia and Mark Gunnerson) disappear without a trace, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash partners with county sheriff James Colcord to track down the perpetrators. Could it be eco-terrorists, or environmental protesters, or could it be animal liberation protesters, or maybe a foreign government who wants what Erebus offers.
 
As evidence is collected and analyzed, Cash and Colcord conclude that a good deal of lying and deception is occurring by major players at Erebus. When Cash & Colcord search the woods they sense silent shapes flitting through the trees and hear hideous yowling. Cash and Colcord realize cryptic creatures are scurrying around the resort, which is made even more evident by additional frightening occurrences. The investigators probe into events more deeply, and shocking secrets are revealed.
 
Meanwhile, a film crew is making a movie on the resort property, directed by Slavomir Doyle. Doyle tells Cash and Colcord the film is about a herd of mammoths that get caught in a time warp and appear in the 1880s. Cowboys then tame the mammoths and ride them into town to save the residents from a robber baron. Doyle and his crew soon find out that Erebus isn't what they imagined or paid for when dynamite they are using for a stunt goes missing, and later are attacked by strange looking humans.
 
*Preston is not a new to me author. I have read several of his series, as well as standalone novels. Extinction weaves together elements of thriller, mystery, suspense, police procedural, science fiction, and adventure. Readers were left with unanswered questions as to Cash's past in Maine, and how she ended up in Colorado. The only thing that maybe can be equated to Jurassic Park is that scientists need to learn to not mess with things that will eventually come back and eat them.  After reading the ending, there is little doubt that the author plans to continue the Cash & Colcord partnership. 
 


1


“Look—over there,” said the guide in a hushed voice, handing Olivia the binoculars. “On the far side of the lake.”

Olivia Gunnerson took the binoculars and directed them toward the turquoise pond, which lay a mile away at the bottom of the cirque, below their vantage point. It took her a moment to locate the woolly mammoths, four big ones and two smaller ones, on the opposite shore. She touched up the focus, and the animals sprang into sharp relief. It took her breath away. They were so gigantic they looked almost fake—much bigger than the elephants she’d seen on safari in Africa. The bull was drinking deeply. He was fifteen feet at the shoulder, his tusks great scimitars of ivory as long again as his body, sweeping outward from a shaggy domed head. The matriarch of the family was standing guard, her trunk elevated and moving back and forth, warily testing the air, as her calf huddled under her protective bulk, pushing his head upward to suckle. An older calf splashed in the shallows, dipping his trunk and playfully squirting water from it. It was early fall, but here in the mountains, the mammoths were already growing out winter coats, the long brown hair hanging down several feet.

Olivia was thrilled. It was a scene straight out of the Ice Age, the family of mammoths lingering in a lush meadow bordering the pond, with the glittering, snowcapped peaks of the Erebus Mountains of Colorado forming a majestic backdrop. To one side of the group stood a grove of fall aspen trees, their leaves a cloud of shimmering gold rustling with every swell of the breeze.

Mammuthus columbi,” whispered the guide. “The largest of all the mammoths, the northern subspecies with fur. That bull weighs at least ten tons.”

Olivia continued staring through the glasses. The bull finished drinking and playfully sprayed water from his trunk at the young one, who squealed in delight, the faint sound drifting across the valley.

“Incredible,” she breathed. As a girl growing up in Salt Lake City, Olivia had been crazy about dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist, until skiing had taken over her life.

“Don’t bogart those binocs,” said Mark, Olivia’s husband.

“Sorry,” she said with a laugh, handing them over and giving his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. She was so mesmerized she had almost forgotten the rest of the world existed. She turned to their guide, Stefan. “What will they do when the snow comes?”

“They’ll move lower down in the valley and take shelter in the forests,” he said.

Their guide, Olivia observed, was one of those super-fit older men who seemed to be made of cords and cables, with a grizzled beard and leathery skin, exuding a sense of vigor. She wondered if Mark would be like that in his fifties. Probably. He would never let his fitness regimen slide, and neither would she.

“In winter, what do they eat?” Mark asked.

“They’ll tear down the aspens and cottonwoods and eat the twigs and buds, and they’ll paw up the snow to get at the mosses and bushes along the creeks and bogs. They wreak havoc—but it’s an environmentally good kind of havoc. Since being rewilded, they’ve changed the ecology of the valley, opening up meadows and churning up the ground—which increased the landscape’s carbon absorption by fifty percent.”

“It looks like they’re coming around the lake,” said Olivia. Even without the glasses, she could see them on the move, the matriarch leading the way, moseying along the shore. “They’re coming our way.”

“Nothing to worry about,” said the guide. “They’re as peaceful as puppy dogs.”

The backpack to the campsite had been fourteen tough miles over a three-thousand-foot vertical gain, carrying fifty-pound packs. They had camped in a high meadow at ten thousand feet, not far below the tree line, in a magnificent cirque of mountains called the Barbicans. Olivia had spent much of her thirty years of life outdoors, skiing and backpacking, but she had never seen a place quite as spectacular as this, with its towering, snow-clad peaks, the aspens shivering with gold, the flawless aquamarine of the lake reflecting the evening cumulus—and the crowning glory of it all, the family of woolly mammoths ambling around the lake, their trunks swinging as they went, two little ones trotting along.

That morning, they had left the lodge in a jeep before dawn: her husband, herself, and Stefan. It had been a bumpy eleven-mile drive to the trailhead. They had begun hiking at first light, going up through a deep forest of Douglas firs before coming out on a ridge, with views down into the Erebus Valley and the now distant lodge and its nearby lake, created along the Erebus River by the gnawing and tree-felling of giant beavers, Castoroides, another animal that had been “de-extincted,” in the jargon of the Erebus Resort.

While at the lodge, every evening, they had watched woolly mammoths and other Pleistocene megafauna coming in to drink at the lake, regular as clockwork. The guests congregated at the glassed-in wall to watch them gather. It was like Disneyland, everyone crowding forward and oohing and aahing, clutching their drinks and trying to get selfies with their cell phones. But here, in the mountains, seeing the mammoths living free and naturally, was a totally different experience. It was like seeing elephants in a zoo versus viewing them on safari in the African bush.

Mark handed her the binoculars, and she looked again. The mammoths were now on the north side of the tarn and had paused at a thicket, pulling twigs and branches off the bushes and stuffing them into their mouths. One of the mammoths paused to take a dump, and an almost ridiculous amount of stuff came out, leaving a giant pile. On the hike up, she had just avoided stepping in a similar mound, so large she had almost mistaken it for a brown rock. If the guide hadn’t warned her, she would have sunk up to her knees in it. What a laugh they had about that. Later they had spied a group of glyptodons grazing in a far-off meadow. A more outrageous-looking animal could not be found, Olivia thought. Glyptodons were giant armadillos, the same size and shape as a Volkswagen Beetle. She couldn’t see their heads or tails, just five nubbly gray humps in a meadow, moving slowly, leaving cropped trails in the long grass.

But more than anything else, Olivia was dying to see a woolly indricothere. It was the latest animal Erebus had de-extincted, and there were supposed to be two of them in the valley. The indricothere was the largest land mammal that had ever lived, an ancestor of the rhinoceros. It was fully twice the mass of the mammoth, a fifteen-foot behemoth on legs like pillars. The indricothere, she had read in her orientation packet, had been discovered in Siberia in 1916 by a Russian paleontologist named Borissiak, who had named it after the “Indrik Beast,” a mythological Russian monster believed to live deep in the Ural Mountains, so large that when it walked, the earth quaked. The Indrik Beast had the body of a bull, the head of a horse, and a giant horn on its snout and was covered with coarse black fur. The woolly indricothere did in fact look very much like that, except without the horn. Despite their size, the indricotheres were shy and hard to find, because they tended to bury themselves in the dense thickets of chokecherries and buckthorn that grew along the streams in the lower areas of the Erebus Valley, or hide themselves in the densest forests on the upper reaches of the valley.

She shook aside her blond hair and took another look at the mammoths, which had moved beyond the lake and had become more visible as they rambled through the thickets, feeding and leaving a wake of ripped-up vegetation.

“We won’t get stepped on tonight, will we?” she asked with a laugh.

“They’re super careful where they put their feet,” said the guide. “And anyway, as soon as the sun sets, they’ll bed down.”

“Do they lie down to sleep?”

“They’re a bit like horses—they mostly sleep standing up but might lie down for thirty minutes or so. They’re so heavy that if they lie down too long—such as if they’re sick or hurt—they can suffocate.”

The last rays of sunlight were spearing across the lake below, and the air was cooling down fast. At that altitude, Olivia knew, it would dip below freezing in the night.

“Let’s light a fire and rustle up some grub,” said Mark.

“You bet,” said the guide, rising.

The two went to build a fire and prepare dinner. She was glad she’d found a guy who not only liked to cook but was good at it—and on top of that, he washed dishes. The menu that night would be freeze-dried, as usual. That was fine. This was not meant to be a luxury safari where they were waited on hand and foot. On the contrary. For their honeymoon, she and Mark had decided on a serious backcountry adventure—an eight-day backpack along the hundred-and-ten-mile Barbican Trek. It was Erebus’s most famous circuit, and it offered a serious physical challenge, spectacular scenery, and the chance to see incredible Pleistocene megafauna brought back to life by the science of de-extinction and rewilded in a natural habitat. She was a little sorry Mark had insisted on a guide, but she had to admit he had been a fountain of information, while being quiet and unobtrusive. There were no maintained trails or developed campsites in Erebus; that was one of its attractions: you felt like you were a John Muir exploring an unknown and untouched land. It was silly, of course, because Erebus was one of the most curated landscapes in Colorado, but Olivia was tired of backpacking along heavily eroded trails and camping at overused, beaten-down campsites, even deep in the wilderness. In the years since the COVID pandemic, the wild places in America seemed to have gotten more and more overrun.

She watched from her seat on a log as Mark and the guide busied themselves with dinner. Mark had pulled out a flask of Michter’s, and they were trading swigs as they worked. He was such a sweet, eager-beaver guy; you’d never know his father was the billionaire from hell. Mark took after his mom, one of the most wonderful people Olivia had ever met. How those two could’ve paired up she’d never figure out, but she considered herself fortunate in her mother-in-law. The big, blustery, honking-and-swearing tech-billionaire father wasn’t much in the picture anyway. She hoped it would stay that way after she had her baby.

They now had a cheerful fire going. The magic hour had begun, and the peaks were aflame with alpenglow. The temperature was dropping. She pulled on a fleece from her backpack and headed to the fire. She would’ve loved a hit of that bourbon, but, being pregnant, she had to abstain.

“Sorry, hon, I hope you don’t mind,” Mark said, waving the bottle with a guilty grin.

“No worries. You two go right ahead.”

The mammoths were no longer visible, having disappeared behind a rocky ridge between them and the lake. The guide explained they would spend the night in a protected hollow.

The menu was freeze-dried chicken tetrazzini, along with instant soup, hot chocolate, and Toll House cookies for dessert. She watched Mark eat, his jaw muscles working. He was ripped but not bulked up, with long, smooth athletic muscles, dark curly hair, and white teeth. It was funny how being pregnant seemed to make her hornier than ever. She assumed it would have tamped down those kinds of feelings, but apparently not. They’d have to be super quiet, but that made it even more fun, with his hand over her mouth as she came. It was like high school days when she was in her room supposedly studying with a boyfriend, but instead, they had their hands down each other’s pants.

The guide, with his usual sensitivity, had set up his tent discreetly out of sight, behind a clump of trees a good hundred yards from theirs.

Darkness fell, and the stars came out, like God had kicked a bin of glowing dust across the sky. At ten thousand feet, she thought, you could see stars that no sea-level human had ever seen.

The fire had died down, and she could see her breath in the glow of the coals.

Mark stood up. “I’m ready to turn in.”

“Me too,” she said, pretending to yawn. She was already aroused just thinking about it. Something about the strenuous hike, the glyptodons and the mammoths, the snowcapped peaks and the dome of stars made her horny as hell.

She held his hand, and they crawled into the tent. They had already zipped their sleeping bags together, and they quickly stripped and burrowed into the bag, her arms pulling him close. He was ready, and they wasted no time with preliminaries.


2


Olivia lay in the dark, Mark breathing softly next to her. The night was still, without the breath of breeze, the silence profound. It had dropped below freezing, but their sleeping bags were super warm, and she was used to camping in alpine weather. Her dad had taken her and her brothers camping in the Wasatches and Manti-La Sal in all seasons, sometimes on cross-country ski trips in the dead of winter in ten-foot-deep snow and nights to twenty below. God, she missed him. Mark was a little like that, unintimidated by wilderness conditions, totally cool with anything nature might throw at him. The first thing she did with any new boyfriend was go camping. So many of them, despite their big talk, failed the test—all it took was a little rain or snow, a swarm of mosquitoes, or a rattler, and they were in a panic. Or they just didn’t have a wilderness sense—like casually leaving trash or pissing too close to a stream or not knowing how to set up a tent.

She shifted her body, not feeling the slightest bit tired. The sun set so early in the fall, it was still probably only eight o’clock. She wished she could fall asleep like Mark, who could drop off anywhere, anytime, in five minutes. It was a dark, moonless night. The mammoths would be sleeping in their hollow below them. She listened, wondering if mammoths snored. But she could hear nothing.

Her mind wandered, and she thought of her Olympic medal, sitting in its sock in the back of her underwear drawer in Salt Lake. All those years of work, struggle, risks, crashes, injuries, surgery, rehab, recovery, more work, more struggle—and finally Pyeongchang. All that work had been squeezed up and stamped in a piece of bronze sitting in the back of her drawer. Mark had been upset that she wouldn’t frame it and hang it with a picture of her receiving it on the stand. Why would she? She hated even looking at it.

It would be different for her child. Son or daughter, it didn’t matter. He or she wouldn’t make the mistakes she’d made. Olivia had been through it all and knew now how the system worked and what had to be done, and she could guide her child to something a whole lot better than bronze.

She suddenly was hyperalert, tense. She heard a sound. A strange plucking sound. Mark was instantly awake too. And then it started, the loud tearing sound of the tent fly, like it was being cut.

“What the fuck?” Mark sat up like a shot.

She pulled a headlamp out of the tent pocket and switched it on. She shined it through the mosquito netting of the inner tent to reveal a long, ragged cut in the outer fly.

“What was that?” said Mark. “A branch?”

“There’s no wind,” Olivia said.

“You think it’s a bear?” he said.

“They said the bears had been removed.”

“Yeah, but one could have wandered back in over the mountains.”

Olivia wondered. Maybe it was an animal, smelling the humans inside and reaching out to scratch the fly just to see what it was.

They listened, but the silence was total.

“I’m going out,” said Mark.

“No, wait.”

“I’m not waiting. If it’s a cat or bear, we’d better drive it away. We can’t wait for it to come in here.”

He took the headlamp from her, put it on, and pulled his buck knife from its sheath, before slipping out of the bag. He was wearing Capilene full-body long johns. He went to the tent door and unzipped it.

He paused. No sound. Then he stuck his head outside the door.

“See anything?”

“Nothing.”

She was filled with uncertainty. It could be a mountain lion in wait. Maybe it ran off when they turned on the headlamp. But Mark was right: they couldn’t just cower in the tent. They had to do something. Calling out for the guide would only put him in a place of danger, and besides, asking for help from the guide ran against her wilderness ethic.