Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians #1)

40078832._SY475_The United States went belly up 45 years ago when our power grid was wiped out. Too few live in well-protected isolation while the rest of us scrape by on the margins. The only thing that matters is survival. By any means. At any cost.

Nina is an information broker with a mission: to bring hope to the darkest corners of Atlanta. She and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to help those in need. But altruism doesn’t pay the bills—raiding vaults and collecting sensitive data is where the real money is.

Knox is a bitter, battle-weary supersoldier who leads the Silver Devils, an elite strike squad that chose to go AWOL rather than slaughter innocents. Before the Devils leave town for good, they need a biochem hacker to stabilize the experimental implants that grant their superhuman abilities.

The problem? Their hacker’s been kidnapped. And the ransom for her return is Nina. Knox has the perfect bait for a perfect trap: a lost Library of Congress server. The data could set Nina and her team up for years…

If they live that long.

Review:

I held on to this advance copy for a while, sure I would like it – and what’dya know, I love it.

The good:

  • Yay for science fiction to take us away from our current world. Sure, it depicts an America where government has been taken over by corporations, infrastructure has collapsed, and it’s every chemically and mechanically enhanced person for themselves… but at least it’s not our reality! I kid (kinda…) but it was nice to be so fully immersed in another world, even one as gritty as this.
  • The worldbuilding is solid. There’s one slight info dump early, but this America is so different from ours it felt justified. After that we learn things in bits and pieces, and by the end of the book I feel like I have a solid grasp of the world.
  • I love all of these characters, and they’re all fleshed out as people with different abilities, likes, and quirks. Bonus for found family vibes and casually mentioning that someone has had both boyfriends and girlfriends, because that’s totally a thing.
  • The structure helps introduce us to the characters one-on-one, as in addition to chapters from the two main characters’ point of view we also get interstitial chapters from everyone else. Being inside each person’s head let me get a better grasp for who they are while hinting at potential future conflicts and love interests.
  • Yes love interests, because Deal with the Devil is a great blend of science fiction and romance. I get the impression that we’ll be following a different couple in each book while the overall story arc continues. There isn’t as much sex as in Rocha’s other works, but what’s here is hot and advances the story as it should.
  • And the plot! Things are always happening. At 65% or so I was worried because many books would have ended things there, but the story afterward was just as important and maybe even more interesting.
  • The fights are so well done. They’re gripping but also made me cackle with joy.
  • And the banter! Once the band is together the wit and one liners fly – this is my love language.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • Be ready for a bunch of tragic pasts with torture and abuse, along with the murder and death you’d expect in a story with mercenaries. The fights are about action, not gore, so I wasn’t grossed out.

The not-so-good:

  • The documents placed between each chapter could have been a little more clear – I’m know I’m going to get more out of them on a reread.

In short, Deal with the Devil takes place in a gritty, post-apocalyptic world where librarians and their friends save the day while maybe falling in love. I wasn’t sure if escaping to a different hellish world would work for me but I blew through pages and enjoyed the ride.

Thanks to Tor and Edelweiss for providing an advance copy.

A Silent Fury: The El Bordo Mine Fire by Yuri Herrera

Translated by Lisa Dillman

50697406._SY475_The alert was first raised at six in the morning: a fire was tearing through the El Bordo mine. After a short evacuation, the mouths of the shafts were sealed. Company representatives hastened to assert that “no more than ten” men remained in the shafts at the time of their closure, and Company doctors hastened to proclaim them dead. The El Bordo stayed shut for six days.

When the mine was opened there was a sea of charred bodies—men who had made it as far as the exit, only to find it shut. The final death toll was not ten, but eighty-seven. And there were seven survivors.

Now, a century later, acclaimed novelist Yuri Herrera has carefully reconstructed a worker’s tragedy at once globally resonant and deeply personal: Pachuca is his hometown. His sensitive and deeply humanizing work is an act of restitution for the victims and their families, bringing his full force of evocation to bear on the injustices that suffocated this horrific event into silence.

Review:

I jumped at the chance to read this book because I love Herrera’s novel Signs Preceding the End of the World, and I’m always excited to read nonfiction in translation. And read that jacket copy above – mine disaster! Intrigue!

I expected a wild ride but the book is subdued. An exhaustive investigation of the circumstances is impossible 100 years after the disaster so Herrera does the next best thing, critically examining the records left behind.

After outlining the sequence of events as well as we can know them, he looks at what isn’t in the record. How the stories of relatives, often women, are replaced with legalese. What the judge didn’t order investigated. How newspaper accounts were riddled with bias, to the point of obscuring all fact.

The book is a mere 120 pages long and as I reached the end I realized I probably read it too quickly. Some themes I picked up right away – how women were silenced and pushed aside, for example – but others I missed until the very end. Why didn’t I notice the pattern of Anglo names? Did I glance over something early that pointed to the fact that the mine was owned by a US company?

I’ll have to read this book again, at a slower pace, to pick up everything Herrera is putting down. If you’re expecting narrative twists and definite answers you’ll be disappointed. But if you don’t mind following the author has he wipes a century’s worth of dust off of a supposedly settled case he has interesting things to say.

Thanks to And Other Stories and Edelweiss for providing an advance copy.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (True Colors #1)

Luc O’Donnell’s rock star parents split when he was young, and now that the father that he’s never met is making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material.  So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating.

 

I wasn’t completely with this book at the start – Luc is a bit of a disaster in more  ways than one, and I was looking forward to the stability Oliver was sure to bring. And what’dya know, he did.

The good:

  • Once I got into the groove of things I laughed out loud every few chapters – some of the characters are ridiculous and over the top in good ways. If you’re looking for a rom com bordering on lovingly silly this book is for you.
  • There’s complex emotional stuff going on here with both heroes, including with their families. Luc and Oliver support each other as best as they are able and pull away when they need a break, but it’s never left to fester long. Both are dealing with some fairly major stuff and we get to watch them talk about it and grow, both as people and in the relationship.
  • I love that some situations aren’t cut and dry – hard conversations with no right answers. No best way to console someone who’s crying his heart out. But our heroes do their best and it ends up being enough. More than enough.
  • I think it’s interesting that while Luc and Oliver are both gay they surround themselves with completely different kinds of people. Luc found a home in the LGBTQIA+ community when he needed one most, while Oliver’s circle of friends is almost completely straight. Both are presented as okay and valid – having mostly straight friends doesn’t make you any less queer.
  • The side characters are fleshed out and interesting. From Luc’s parents to the posh donors at a charity party, we get a solid feel for everyone as people.
  • There’s a nod at how difficult family can be when a couple decides they don’t want children (‘but we want grandbabies!’) and as someone without children myself I appreciate it.
  • Thanks to libro.fm I received the audiobook for review and my god, Joe Jameson does an amazing job with the narration. Luc’s fumbling is natural, more natural than it looks printed on a page, Oliver’s baritone is sexy, and the voices of women, especially, blew me away.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • The sex is infrequent and of the fade-to-black variety. If you’ve been wanting to try an m/m romance but were looking for something more tame in that department, this book is a great place to start.

The not-so-good:

  • I’m sad that we don’t have any chapters from Oliver’s point of view. At first I wanted to get out of Luc’s head for a while – he really is a disaster in the beginning – but I think seeing some scenes from Oliver’s POV would have added some depth.
  • It wouldn’t have worked for plot reasons, but I was dying to see Oliver get mixed up in Luc’s group of friends. How would he react? Would he become looser or clam up? Love them or like them? (There are no other options, natch.)
  • Some scenes got long, especially in posh dining rooms.

I ended up reading Boyfriend Material in a combination of print and audio and with such amazing narration I ended up liking the latter more. Three stars for the print, four stars for the audio, averaging out to 3.5 overall.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and libro.fm for providing review copies.

Binding Shadows by Jasmine Silvera (Tooth and Spell #1)

49231123._SY475_Hunting lost books is more than a job; it’s a way for Barbara to hide her powers in the mundane world of the university library. But the prickly new professor in charge of her latest assignment proves more than he seems, and rules are no match for her growing fascination.

After years of battling to cage the beast within him, Tobias returns to Prague and the safety of his pack of brothers. But keeping his family safe means never revealing his dual nature, not even to the irresistible research assistant with a nose for rare books.

Now, a 400-year-old witch’s revenge threatens to reveal everything they’ve concealed. Trapped between a witch and a necromancer, Barbara and Tobias must choose: embrace the powers that could expose them or allow their secrets to destroy them.

Review:

3.5 stars

I have been all about paranormal and science fiction romance lately so when the author asked if I’d be interested in a werewolf romance featuring people of color, written by a person of color I was all, yes please!

The reading process was utterly enjoyable – interesting characters in a world with a unique magic system, with enemies and happenings left and right. As soon as I finished I thought, four stars!, but unfortunately the book hasn’t stuck with me.

Why, though? I’m not sure. It’s probably me – a pandemic ramped up while I read this and heaven knows I was distracted. Regardless, I am excited to return to the world whenever the next book comes out, and hopefully I have a bit more brain space to give it its proper due.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

44463274._SY475_In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths.  In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer through an intense series of letters. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting.

Review:

This was my last read for the opening round of the Booktube Prize and it followed No Visible Bruises, a harrowing look at domestic violence. It feels weird to say, but the tone of this book was downright breezy in comparison.

It’s not a knock on the book. Monroe introduces us to women who identify with one of four archetypal roles – the killer, the victim, the attorney, and the detective. Tales from the author’s life, such as her stint volunteering at a law office and attending a true crime convention, are scattered throughout.

Overall I found the book was scattershot, examining bits and pieces without coalescing around a central narrative. I remember lovely lines and thoughts, but it failed to hold together as a whole for me. Not a bad read by any means – I both learned things and enjoyed myself – but it didn’t quite stack up to some of the other books this round.