Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas (The Ravenels #4)

34431673Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in England, is as daring and independent as any man—why not take her pleasures like one? Yet she has never been tempted to embark on an affair, until now. Ethan Ransom, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is as gallant as he is secretive, a rumored assassin whose true loyalties are a mystery. For one exhilarating night, they give in to their potent attraction before becoming strangers again.

Despite their vow to resist each other after that sublime night, she is soon drawn into his most dangerous assignment yet. When the mission goes wrong, it will take all of Garrett’s skill and courage to save him. As they face the menace of a treacherous government plot, Ethan is willing to take any risk for the love of the most extraordinary woman he’s ever known.

Review:

Kleypas is one of my comfort read authors.  Her historical romance is always solid, and now and then it’s really good.

This one is great.

The good:

  • This is a ‘historical not in a ballroom’.  A good chunk doesn’t even take part in a nice part of town, a change of pace from the usual.
  • Garrett knows what she wants and goes for it.  She wants to tend to poor people in a sketchy part of town so she takes self-defense lessons and is mean with a staff.  A couple of times Ethan is like, ‘You shouldn’t come’ and she’s all, ‘Nice of you to this so, I’m coming anyway’ while never falling into Too Stupid To Live territory.
  • The heroine is based on a real person that I totally have to research now.
  • Ethan says the right thing at the right time but it doesn’t feel forced or fake.

    “In case you weren’t aware, my good fellow, you are in the company of one of the most skilled and accomplished women in England.  In fact, I would say Dr. Gibson has a male brain in a woman’s body.”

    Garrett grinned wryly at his last comment, which she knew had been intended as a compliment.

    “Thank you, Doctor.”

    “Despite my short acquaintance with Dr. Gibson,” Ethan said, “her brain seems entirely female to me.”  The remark caused Garrett to stiffen slightly, as she expected a mocking comment to follow.  Something about how a woman’s mind was changeable, or shallow, the usual cliches.  But as Ethan continued, there was no hint of teasing in his tone. “Keen, subtle, and quick, with an intellect strengthened by compassion – yes, she has a woman’s mind.”

  • We get to see some characters develop over these four books in the Ravenel series and it’s done well, especially with West.  He has blossomed and is almost too awesome now, and to think the next book is his!  I can’t wait.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • This installment has a bit more suspense than other Kleypas novels in that there are happenings all the way through instead of a single, isolated event.  I’m not the biggest romantic suspense person but it still worked for me.

The not-so-good:

  • Nothing in particular!  One event is rather unlikely but it’s addressed on the page so I’ll let it go.

My favorite Ravenel book so far.

Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka

warday

This book is fictional reporting about an event that didn’t happen, but very well could of. It’s amazing, my first five star read of the year.

So. In 1988 the US and USSR had a limited nuclear war.  In this case, “limited” means the world didn’t blow up completely.  Several cities in the US have been turned into craters and radioactive fallout is drifting over the landscape but there are indeed survivors.  The authors are making a trip around America five years after what has become known as Warday to see what has become of the country.

I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot because the joy (if you can call it that) of this book is discovering what has become of the US.  We start off with so many questions and the authors steadily feed us answers on almost every page.  They’re reporters and they give us all kinds of perspectives – interviews, government documents, maps, polls, and more in addition to accounts of their own experiences.

Over the course of the book we see what Warday meant from myriad angles.  What would happen to medical care and transportation after a nuclear war?  How about industry and agriculture?  Who would come to America’s aid, and what would they expect in return?  How about international trade?  Banking?  Immigration?  Race relations?  What role would the military play?  All of these are covered and more.

985060The chapters are short and read quickly but I kept putting the book down to absorb the situation and its consequences.  My copy is dotted with several dozen Post Its and while some are for beautiful writing most highlight parts that made my jaw drop.  Here’s one non-spoilery example – after a nuke goes off there’s radioactive fallout, and some people would get radiation poisoning.  Mild cases can be treated but after a certain amount of exposure it inevitably leads to a slow, painful death.  How do you allocate limited medical supplies when some patients will die no matter what you do?  How do you ease their suffering?  And where do you draw those lines?  This book goes there.

My immediate reaction is to deny that the US would do this or that awful thing, but when you consider the whole situation it’s rooted in fact and makes sense.  Heck, it’s logical.

And that is chilling.

Sadly, it’s also relevant today.  In a country not to far from me there’s a crazy guy with nuclear weapons, and across the ocean another armed crazy guy is egging him on.  As long as there are large scale nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons we need to remember that our own Warday is a real possibility.

But don’t be mistaken, the book isn’t a dreary slog.  There’s action and light moments that balance things emotionally as well as keep you reading.  I wasn’t anticipating much diversity in perspectives considering this was written over 30 years ago but several people of color are interviewed and a discussion with a black woman may be my favorite part of the book.

Reading Warday has been an unforgettable experience and I highly, highly recommend it.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

36142487Six years ago, Moss Jefferies’ father was murdered by an Oakland police officer. Along with losing a parent, the media’s vilification of his father and lack of accountability has left Moss with near crippling panic attacks.

Now, in his sophomore year of high school, Moss and his fellow classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their own school. New rules. Random locker searches. Constant intimidation and Oakland Police Department stationed in their halls. Despite their youth, the students decide to organize and push back against the administration.

When tensions hit a fever pitch and tragedy strikes, Moss must face a difficult choice: give in to fear and hate or realize that anger can actually be a gift.

Review:

An amazing gut punch of a book.  Heads up – Oshiro faces police brutality (including murder by cop) straight on.

The good:

  • The author is queer, Latinx, and lives in Oakland where the story takes place, so all kinds of own voices representation.
  • Overall the range of rep is as wide as can be – black, brown, Latinx, queer (including bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans, ace, and nonbinary), undocumented immigrant, and adoption (specifically interracial adoption).  One character uses a wheelchair, another has a chronic invisible illness, another wears a hijab. There’s rep for anxiety and mental illness as well.
  • Specifically in regard to a nonbinary character, I love that Oshiro describes them in such a way that there is no clue what their assigned gender at birth was, or what gender people perceive them to be.  It’s pure – they are them, and that’s just how they want to be.
  • I had my heart ripped out and stomped on in the best way.  It almost seems dystopian in a “this can’t be real” sense, but then you think about news you’ve seen recently and you realize it’s happening right now.
  • The writing is solid.  I believe all of these characters as people, and even though there are a ton of secondary characters I was able to keep them straight.  Many got a turn in the sun and a chance to show their awesomeness.
  • And the themes – the power of family, the power of friends, the power of gathering, the power of women in making change, the power of teenagers, the power of love.  The power of saying their names.

My brain is still wrapping itself around this one so I’m having trouble finding more to say – just know that Anger is a Gift is amazing.

Thanks to Tor Teen and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden (Science of Temptation #1)

13646578Many thanks to Sarah Wendell on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast for recommending this book as “nerd BDSM erotica”, which sets my little heart aflame.  I read it in one gulp – not hard considering it’s 136 pages, but still.  Hot.

And with rep!  It’s not explicitly stated but Ivan appears to be neuroatypical.  He’s a genius with science and computers but the ‘rules’ of human relationships are harder for him.  He has a high stakes event coming up where he needs to smooze with potential donors so he asks his next door neighbor, Camilla, for help.  She’s had a crush on him for a while now so when their get togethers start looking like dates sparks fly.

Many BDSM romance heroines know they’re submissive and are looking for scene experience and the Dom of their dreams.  That’s flipped here – Camilla has no idea what BDSM is, just that she likes what dominant Ivan does in the bedroom. His personality meshes well with being a Dom and the resulting scenes are delish.

Dryden has the plot firmly in hand and fits the novella length well but man, I wanted to see more of this couple.  It looks like the other books in the series are similarly short so I may just have to binge read them instead. 🙂

 

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)

32718027I normally have two or three books going at a time but once I got into The City of Brass I couldn’t bring myself to read anything else.  “Why would you want to start another book?  What is this one lacking?”  Nothing.  So I kept reading.

Nahri lives in 18th century Cairo and ekes out a meager living as a con artist, diagnosing mysterious aliments and driving out spirits.  She doesn’t believe in spirits but her marks do, so no harm, right?  That is, until one day she inadvertently calls a djinn warrior to her side and they are forced to go to the titular city of brass, Daevabad, while being chased by nasties of every description.

Huzzah for own voices Muslim fantasy!  I know next to nothing about this time and period which is just pitiful.  So many other series riff off the the same European medieval-eque fantasy that the setting nearly paints itself, but here my only cultural frame of reference is the Disney movie Aladdin.  I am so, so glad to expand on that.

The story is epic and has everything – fights, political intrigue, a varied cast of characters, and a touch of romance.  There are discussions of religion, colonialism, poverty, and governance.  What sway does your past hold over you, even when you can’t remember it?  Can the cost of standing up for your beliefs run too high?

It’s nuanced and absorbing.  There are no heroes or villains – nearly every character has made choices both admirable and abominable.  There’s so much that I may have to reread The City of Brass before moving on to the next book, scheduled to be published later in 2018, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

28953569The story Bhattacharjee covers is fascinating – in December of 2000 an FBI agent got a hold of coded letters sent to the Libyan consulate.  They were sent by a CIA analyst and offered to sell classified material to the foreign power at the price of millions to be wired to a Swiss bank account.  As proof of his access the writer included several top secret documents and promised information about US reconnaissance satellites, defense systems, and more.  It’s information that could put the US military and security in grave danger, not to mention kick strategy back a decade or two if it falls into the wrong hands.

I was excited to dig in – a whodunit, yea!  …except that we learn who the culprit is early on.  Heck, his name is in the first few lines of the jacket copy.  From there we could have gone down one of several paths – a why-dun-it, a how-dun-it, or a how-they-caught-him-…it.  But instead of picking one and committing Bhattacharjee gives us a little of each, and that lack of a single driving force made the read fall a bit flat for me overall.

Listening to the audiobook didn’t help, either, as alphanumeric code gibberish doesn’t translate well to the spoken word.  I got the sense that if the ciphers were laid out on a page it would all come together but in my ears it remained largely incomprehensible.

So… ‘Danger tonight’ would be enciphered as four dot one dot fourteen dot seven dot five dot eighteen star twenty dot fifteen dot fourteen dot nine dot seven dot eight dot twenty.

@_@

Not the narrator’s fault, not anyone’s fault, but it did make some parts tough going.

Overall the story is interesting and at 1.8 speed it’s a quick and fun listen, but while serviceable it didn’t tip over into awesome.  If you’re into codes or espionage you’ll want to give The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell a go, but do yourself a favor and stay away from the audiobook.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan (Darkest London #1)

23250312Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, Miranda Ellis has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Review:

Going in I thought this was an urban fantasy series where all the books follow the same people, but no.  Despite the urban fantasy trappings it falls more along romance lines, with each book telling the story of a different couple. I’ve read Callihan before so I should have grokked this but, alas, I didn’t, so that expectation not being met disappointed me when I reached the last page.

It doesn’t take away from the book at all, though. The world building is great, the plot pulled me in and I like watching the hero and heroine do their thing. There’s magic, or at the very least some freaky stuff going on, and it doesn’t fit into a particular category.  Callihan has done herself a favor here, as it gives her plenty of options as the series progresses.

With an interesting combination of urban fantasy and romance Firelight could be a stepping stone between the two genres if you’re looking to try one or the other out. It may take me a while to continue the series (I wanted more of this couple, damn it!) but I’m sure I’ll get over myself eventually. 😉

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #1)

8856528Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but I was doing fine until Chicago’s vampires announced their existence to the world. When a rogue vampire attacked me, I was lucky he only got a sip. Another bloodsucker scared him off and decided the best way to save my life was to make me the walking undead.

Now I’ve traded sweating over my thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. He has centuries’ worth of charm but unfortunately he expects my gratitude—and servitude. Right…

But someone’s out to get me. Is it the rogue vampire who bit me? A vamp from a rival House? An angry mob bearing torches? My initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

Review:

I love vampires.  Not all vampires, mind you, but I never get sick of them, even when the rest of the world decides they’re blasé.  So starting the Chicagoland Vampire series?  It’s like coming home.

The good:

  • The older heroine (27, gasp) means that she has brains, isn’t easily swayed by idiotic notions, and stands up for herself.  No Too Stupid To Live women here!  Check out what Merit says to the guy who turned her:

    “Whatever happened six days ago, I belong to no one by myself, Sullivan, and least of all you.”
    “You are what I made you.”
    “I make myself.”

    ~fist pump~

  • The world building is nicely paced and keeps you wondering about things without leaving too many unanswered questions.  Neill manages to introduce not only vampires but also sorcerers, shifters, and nymphs without going into info dump mode – well done indeed.
  • Everyone is acting logically, even if we don’t know the logic straight off.  There’s no obtuseness for the sake of being obtuse.
  • It’s fun!  Just the escape I needed from ~waves hands~ 2018 that I was looking for.

The not-so-good:

  • Merit’s descriptions of guys got to me, always talking about their lips and sexiness.

    His head was shaved, his eyes pale green, his lips full and sensuous.  Had it not been for the annoyed look on his face, I’d have said he was incredibly sexy.

    I was expecting this kind of description for a special guy but it’s all the guys, and every supernatural dude is a sexy hunk.  Less objectification would have been nice.

  • More character diversity would have been nice, too.

That’s it, though.  This is a series I can binge on – great plot with interesting characters and sexy parts with some fights and female friendship thrown in.  A hearty recommend for urban fantasy types, and paranormal romance people will enjoy it, too.

Colters’ Woman by Maya Banks

6471687See that apostrophe in the title, telling you that several people have one woman?  That’s the basis of this romance – three brothers are waiting for a perfect, fated lady to come into their life, just as it did for their fathers and grandfathers.  They will know her when they find her, and she is going to be wife to all three.

Weird, yes, but I enjoy crazy erotica from time to time so I’m game.  Our heroine is found in a snowbank in front of the brothers’ lodge (named, wait for it, Three Brothers Hunting Lodge) so they take her in.  She looks like she’s had a rough time and she’s cagey about what might have happened to her, but that doesn’t stop all three of them from going “you’re the one OMG you’ll love all of us don’t worry trust us”.  Turns out her husband is a Bad Dude so they try to protect the heroine and a suspense-y plot ensues.

So many things pissed me off.  The brothers suspect abuse but feel her up anyway.  They ask, ‘do you trust us?’ over and over as if it’s something to be given, not earned.  Later on someone is hurt so they send the sheriff to help him while the brothers go after a kidnapper because… there are no ambulances or medical staff in this town?  And when the MedEvac helicopter comes they have it land in Duffy’s pasture when there’s three feet of snow on the ground.  What, do you think the helicopter is just going to rest on top of the white stuff, or that a pasture will be plowed and salted?

GAH.

The only good thing about this book is that the brothers were named in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest which helped me keep them straight.  Otherwise the dubious consent, bad judgement, and lack of common sense did me in.  Nope.  Nope nope.