Take A Peek Book Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Thoughts:

For everyone who laughed through their tears while scrolling through all those countless Biden/Obama memes…

This one’s for you.

Hope Never Dies is a noir detective story that just happens to feature our favorite presidential bromantic couple as the lead action heroes. In this funny, warm-hearted satire, retired Joe Biden is still a good guy, but one with enough time on his hands to build up a great big load of resentment over former bestie Barack’s never-ending parade of fun celebrity outings… while Joe just waits for a simple call or a text. But when the Amtrak conductor who’d been a part of Joe’s commute for decades turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Joe and Barack are thrown together into a crime investigation that features drugs, bikers, shady cops, and plenty of stops for fast food.

“Son of a buttermilk biscuit” I said, grimacing. “We got bamboozled.”

This book is charming AF and oh-so-silly, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy thinking about the good old days when these two were in the White House. Their fictional counterparts are adorable, and their ongoing friendship and devotion brought the teeniest little lump to my throat. The author has a knack for keeping the story moving while weaving in little snippets of dialogue and actions that bring our former POTUS and VPOTUS to life on the page.

Hope Never Dies is a surprisingly fun read, and the detective elements are actually pretty clever and engaging too. But really, read it for the Biden-isms and cool-as-hell Obama appearances. It’s like a little ray of sunshine in book form.

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The details:

Title: Hope Never Dies
Author: Andrew Shaffer
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: July 10, 2018
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Satire
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Top Ten Tuesday: My ten favorite books (so far!) in 2018

TTT summer

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far).

Where to even start? 2018 has been full of amazing books for me — here are some of my favorites:

1) The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (review)

2) The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson (review)

3) Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (review)

4) The Newsflesh series by Mira Grant (review)

5) The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire (11 books and counting!)

6) The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan (review)

7) Only Human (Themis Files, #3) by Sylvain Neuvel (review)

8) The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (review)

9) The Murderbot Diaries, books #1 & 2 by Martha Wells (review)

It’s kind of hard to limit myself to just ten… but the final spot, I think I need to go with one of the two Georgette Heyer books I’ve read (so far) in 2018. I can always count on GH’s books to brighten my day!

10) A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (review)

Oh, what the heck… let’s include one more, because it was just so unique and awesome:

11) Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel (review)

And now I’m going to hit the “publish” button before I add any more to this list!

What are your top books read so far in 2018? Please share your TTT links!

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Book Review: Robots vs Fairies – edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

 

A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies?

Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?

There can only be one…or can there?

This awesome story collection has a premise spelled out in the introduction by the editors:

“I, for one, welcome our __________ overlords.”

Assuming the mechanical and/or magical revolution has already taken place by the time you read this, we, the editors, always knew you would come out on top. Yes, you.

We knew this day would come. We tried to warn the others. It was obvious either the sharp rate of our technological advancement would lead to the robot singularity claiming lordship over all, or that the fairies would finally grow tired of our reckless destruction of the natural world and take it back from us.

And so, we have prepared a guide to assist our fellow humans in embracing their inevitable overlords. (If you are reading this and you are human, we are so pleased you found this book in time to ready yourself for the impending/current robot/fairy apocalypse. You are quite welcome.)

Robots vs Fairies is an anthology of stories by an impressive assortment of sci-fi and fantasy writers, each focusing on either robots or fairies (or in a few cases, both). There are eighteen stories in all, ranging from silly to darkly serious. In each case, right after the story, the author declares him/herself “team robot” or “team fairy”, and explains why — and these little pieces are just as entertaining as the stories themselves, in my humble opinion.

As I’ve said in many a review, I’m really not a short story reader, so the fact that I made it all the way through this book is somewhat of an achievement. I did end up skipping 2 or 3 stories that just didn’t call to me, but otherwise read them all, even the ones that left me puzzled or disengaged or with a mighty shoulder shrug.

Still, the stories that I enjoyed, I really, really enjoyed. Best of the batch for me were:

Build Me a Wonderland by Seanan McGuire: Well, of course I loved the Seanan McGuire story! I’m been on a roll with Seanan McGuire books all year, so there’s really zero chance that I wouldn’t love what she wrote. In this story, we see behind the scenes at a theme park with really magical magical effects. Hint: They’re not CGI. The story is clever and intricate and very much fun.

Quality Time by Ken Liu: Ooh, a disturbing robot story! All about a young tech worker looking for the next big breakthrough, whose inventions have unintended consequences.

Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt: About a human librarian given responsibility for fairy archives. Creative and magical and just a wee bit threatening — and hey, it’s about a library! What’s not to love?

The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto by Annalee Newitz: Not a fairy story! It’s a robotic version of Pinocchio, and asks all sorts of great questions about what it is to be real, and what it means to have choices.

Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey: I loved Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo novellas, so was really excited to see her included in this collection. Bread and Milk and Salt is probably the creepiest story of the bunch, about a fairy captured by a sadistic human and how she turns things around. Dark and disturbing and delicious.

And perhaps my favorite, because I love John Scalzi and his humor, and this story left me rolling on the floor:

Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind From the Era of Humans For the First Time: Oh my. This story is exactly what the title says it is — a dialogue between robots trying to figure out the purpose and functionality of human objects such as a ball, a sandwich, and a cat. Just amazing. And in case you’re wondering about our future overlords, it would seem clear that it’s cats for the win.

There are plenty more stories, some I found captivating, some weird, all original and entertaining and often perplexing too. It’s really a strong collection, and I could see enjoying it either as a book to read straight through, or as a collection to leave on the nightstand and pick up from time to time to read just one story here or or there, whenever the mood strikes.

As a side note, I had purchased an earlier collection from these editors, featuring some of the same authors plus several others whose works I love. The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales was published in 2016, and I have yet to open it. Maybe it’s time for it to come down off the shelf and sit on my nightstand, close at hand for when I need a story or two.

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The details:

Title: Robots vs Fairies
Authors: Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: January 9, 2018
Length: 373 pages
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy anthology
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

 

A charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist—a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

Dear Mrs. Bird is the story of plucky heroine Emmaline Lake, who dreams of becoming a war correspondent but mistakenly ends up with a job as a typist for a women’s magazine — a magazine which tends to feature pieces on cooking, sewing, and romantic fiction. Part of Emmy’s job is to sort the incoming letters addressed to Mrs. Bird, the fiercely old-fashioned “editress” who won’t tolerate letters on forbidden topics (such as love, marriage, or intimacy), and whose main advice to readers seems to be to buck up and stop feeling sorry for oneself.

Emmy feels compassion for the writers of these ignored letters, and despite being young and inexperienced herself, decides that these women clearly need someone to respond and encourage them. She begins secretly corresponding with the letter writers, sending them letters back offering warmth and practical guidance, and even dares to sneak a few of the Unpleasant letters and her responses into the printed magazine, knowing that Mrs. Bird never reads the finished product.

Meanwhile, Emmy works as a volunteer for the fire service, answering the desperate phone calls that come in reporting fires during each air raid, and is determined that she must make a meaningful contribution to the war effort. Despite the horror of the bombings, Emmy manages to enjoy life as well, living with her best friend Bunty, celebrating Bunty’s engagement, and even meeting a charming young man of her own.

Things go wrong, of course. Emmy’s life is thrown completely off course by one particularly horrific air raid… and as expected, her secret life as an advice columnist can’t stay secret forever.

I really enjoyed Dear Mrs. Bird for its breezy, “keep calm and carry on”, chin-up tone, blending a sense of fun with the knowledge that the war is ever-present and ready to steal away one’s home and friends and family. Emmy is an engaging main character, a little naive but always well-intentioned. She doesn’t always make the best choices, but her heart is in the right place, and she’s completely devoted to her friends and to her country. It’s lovely to see Emmy’s compassion for the sad, worried letter-writers — she understands that they write to “Mrs. Bird” because they have no place else to turn, and she takes it upon herself to make sure that they’re heard and given some measure of practical guidance and hope.

The bombing of the Café de Paris, a key turning point in the story, is a true event, and that makes it even more powerful in the context of the book. It’s but one horrific incident in the London Blitz, but it serves to illuminate the personal tragedies and the immediacy of the destruction experienced by the people of London during that awful time. In Dear Mrs. Bird, the author shows the uncertainty of living daily life, going to work and going out with friends, knowing that on any night when the skies are clear, the world may come crashing down around you.

I did wish for a little more at the end of the book. I would have liked to know what happened next, and how the remainder of the war years went for Emmy, Bunty, and their circle of friends. Likewise, while there’s a resolution for the plot about Emmy’s secret letter writing, I wanted more — how did it work out? What happened next? I guess that’s a pretty good sign that the book captured my interest!

The other element I wished for a bit more of was the letters themselves. There are several featured throughout the book, but I think the storyline and Emmy’s input would have benefited from even more — more letters, more of Emmy’s responses. The author’s note at the end of the book is fascinating, as she discusses being inspired by the advice columns from women’s magazines of the era. It’s hard to imagine, sitting here in our relatively peaceful times, that columns such as “Dear Abby” would be filled with letters not just about romance and dating, but about the difficulty of falling in love and raising children while bombs are falling and one’s loved ones are off on the front lines.

Dear Mrs. Bird strikes a balance between plucky optimism and can-do spirit and the sorrow and worry of life on the homefront while a war rages on. It’s a tough tone to maintain, but author AJ Pearce pulls it off beautifully. I was engaged by the plot and the characters, and thoroughly enjoyed my time with Emmy. It’s a quick read, and highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: Dear Mrs. Bird
Author: AJ Pearce
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: July 3, 2018
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book mail highlight: Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language

I bought myself a wee giftie this week:

Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language
(published 2018)

After seeing this book mentioned somewhere (on a blog post? I’m thinking maybe via Gail Carriger?), I had to get myself a copy! For readers who delight in 19th century fictional realms, this book promises to be a must-keep-close-by sort of reference book.

Besides an A-to-Z dictionary format, there are also multi-page layouts on hot topics such as “Rich and Poor”, “Childhood”, “At Home”, and so much more. It’s all laid out in an easy-to-use alphabetical format, with eye-catching fonts and illustrations.

Oh, I am absolutely going to have a blast with this one!

And hey, you never know when you’ll need to know the definitions of poltroon, clodpole, oleograph, or diablerie.

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

 

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

 

I’m a Stephen King fan, no question about it, but I sometimes find that his books don’t stick the landing. I’ll be absolutely fascinated, glued to my seat, on edge, for 75% of the book,,, but when the ending finally arrives and all answers are provided, I can find myself feeling a bit let down.

No so in The Outsider. This is one terrific (and horribly disturbing) read, start to finish.

From the start, the premise is tantalizing and well-executed. A horrible, disgusting crime is committed. There are reliable eyewitnesses who definitively ID the perpetrator, a beloved public figure in their small town. Terry Maitland’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and weapon and the interior of the vehicle used to commit the crime. He’s seen leaving the area, covered with blood. DNA at the crime scene is his. Ralph Anderson, lead detective on the case, is so outraged and infuriated that he orders the arrest to be made in as public a way as possible. There’s no doubt that Maitland committed the crime, and the public is aghast and infuriated.

But wait. Maitland has an alibi, and the more Ralph investigates, the more unbreakable the alibi seems. He was with other teachers at a conference out of town, and not only will they all attest to his being there, but he’s actually caught on video at the event at the same time of the murder. Can a man be in two places at one time?

By the time enough doubt has come up, more tragedies have piled on top of the initial murder. An out of town investigator is brought in, and soon, the trail seems to point to not only more crimes with a mystery double involved, but a fact pattern that can’t be explained by anything in the realm of what’s considered normal.

Wow.

This book grabbed me from page 1, and just didn’t let up. If pesky things like work and sleep hadn’t interfered, I’d have read it straight through — it’s that good, and that compelling.

I was particularly delighted by the appearance of…

MINOR SPOILER FOR KING FANS AHEAD!

STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!

(BUT NOT A SPOILER FOR THE RESOLUTION OF THE OUTSIDER)

Holly Gibney, the memorable, remarkable, oddball heroine of the Bill Hodges trilogy, who has carried on with Finders Keepers, the detective agency she founded with Bill, even after Bill’s death at the end of the trilogy. Holly is brought into the investigation here on the recommendation of one of the Maitland family lawyers when a strange set of facts emerge about a family trip months earlier. Holly jumps in, unearths enough odd clues to start connecting some seriously weird dots, and ultimately is the one who gets the investigatory team to consider answers that lean more toward the supernatural than any of them could possibly have considered on their own.

I loved seeing Holly again. She brings a humanity to the proceedings that’s a breath of fresh air, and her offbeat demeanor and unlikely acts of courage are what’s needed to crack the case.

The entire cast of characters is well drawn and quite strong. Ralph is a great leading man, and I loved his relationship with his wife Jeannie. The lawyer, the DA, the investigator, the state policeman — all are quite good, and really emerge as individuals rather than stock characters in a legal drama.

But it’s the unfolding plot, with its mystery and creepiness and outright scenes of horror, that propels The Outsider at such a dynamic pace. I don’t want to say much more about what happens or why — but this is top-notch King, and you shouldn’t miss it.

A final word of caution for King readers: If you haven’t finished the Bill Hodges trilogy, but you plan to, you might want to hold off on reading The Outsider. The plots aren’t connected, but in conversations, Holly and the detectives discuss the cases she and Bill handled, and basically give away major plot point resolutions from the trilogy.

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The details:

Title: The Outsider
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 22, 2018
Length: 561 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

The small suburb of Pleasant Court lives up to its name. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours, and children play in the street.

Isabelle Heatherington doesn’t fit into this picture of family paradise. Husbandless and childless, she soon catches the attention of three Pleasant Court mothers.

But Ange, Fran and Essie have their own secrets to hide. Like the reason behind Ange’s compulsion to control every aspect of her life. Or why Fran won’t let her sweet, gentle husband near her new baby. Or why, three years ago, Essie took her daughter to the park – and returned home without her.

As their obsession with their new neighbour grows, the secrets of these three women begin to spread – and they’ll soon find out that when you look at something too closely, you see things you never wanted to see.

 

My Thoughts:

The Family Next Door is a quick read about a neighborhood teeming with secrets. The three women at the center of the story, Essie, Fran, and Ange, are all wives and mothers, and each has her own set of problems and worries that she keeps hidden away behind a facade of domestic bliss. It’s Isabelle’s arrival in the neighborhood that kicks off the cascade of revelations, as secrets come out and lives are upended.

The book is fast-paced, and while some of the secrets may be simpler to guess, the big reveal at the end is shocking and very unexpected. I enjoyed the characters, although overall the tone of the book was a bit too Desperate Housewives for my taste.

For readers who enjoy dramas about marriage, family, lies, and life-long secrets, this will make a great choice for summer beach reading.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of other books by Sally Hepworth:
The Things We Keep
The Mother’s Promise

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The details:

Title: The Family Next Door
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: March 6, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

 

My Thoughts:

I’ve read several other books by Lisa Genova, and in all, she finds a way to not only spotlight drastic medical conditions but to show the human impact of people dealing with diagnosis and life-altering diseases.

In Every Note Played, she showcases the horror of a life irreparably changed by ALS. Using both Richard and Karina’s perspectives, we’re led through the stages of deterioration, each with its own sets of loss, frustration, humiliation, and increasing dependency. Truly, this is an eye-opening book in terms of what it feels like to lose ability and control, as well as what it feels like to be the witness to a process that can’t be stopped.

At the same time, I didn’t feel particularly connected to either of the main characters as people, and didn’t become emotionally invested in their complicated relationship or inner lives. While I was fascinated by the medical aspects of Richard’s condition, the story of the failed marriage and finding peace with one another after a lifetime of resentment mostly fell flat for me.

I was never bored reading this book, but something about it didn’t quite resonate. It’s definitely worth reading, and I learned quite a bit about ALS from it, but it lacked the emotional impact I’ve experienced with other books by this talented author.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of Inside the O’Briens.

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The details:

Title: Every Note Played
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Scout Press
Publication date: March 20, 2018
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Novella Review: How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger

 

Guilty of an indiscretion? Time to marry a werewolf.

WEREWOLVES

The monsters left Faith ruined in the eyes of society, so now they’re her only option. Rejected by her family, Faith crosses the Atlantic, looking for a marriage of convenience and revenge.

But things are done differently in London. Werewolves are civilized. At least they pretend to be.

AMERICANS

Backward heathens with no culture, Major Channing has never had time for any of them. But there’s something special about Faith. Channing finds himself fighting to prove himself and defend his species. But this werewolf has good reason not to trust human women.

Even if they learn to love, can either of them forgive?

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series comes a stand alone romance set in the same universe. Look out for appearances from favorite characters and the serious consequences of unwarranted geology.

Another adorable and slightly steamy romantic adventure from the talented Gail Carriger!

When a young American lady of good standing is indiscreet, kind parent retire her quietly to the country with a maiden aunt and a modest stipend. Faith’s parents decided to marry her off to a werewolf.

Faith Wigglesworth is an American young woman in disgrace, whose absolutely horrible parents are shipping her off to London to land a werewolf husband, hoping to both be rid of her and to subject her to the humiliation they believe she deserves.

A werewolf was lower than a Californian, all things considered — rough rural hillbillies with too much hair. And open shirt collars. And no table manners.

Major Channing is instantly entranced by Faith’s brash American manners, her ability to stand up for herself, and those amazing blue eyes of hers. What follows is a playful, tempestuous courtship, as each must learn to trust enough to share and then put aside the painful secrets of their pasts. At the same time, there’s instant chemistry and heat between Faith and Channing, and sparks fly. Channing’s Alpha wants him to find happiness and to treat Faith as she should be treated, and Faith yearns to find someone to love, someone to enjoy intimacy with, and a place to belong and be herself.

This is a charming novella that works as a stand-alone, although prior experience with Gail Carriger’s steampunk/supernatural world certainly is helpful (and possibly even essential). I love everything about her books, and this piece fits nicely into the world she’s created, featuring a lovely story all its own as well as a chance to spend time once again with favorite characters like Biffy and Lyall.

A must-read for Carriger fans!
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The details:

Title: How to Marry a Werewolf (Claw & Courtship, #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Gail Carriger LLC
Publication date: May 13, 2018
Length: 196 pages
Genre: Supernatural/steampunk/romance
Source: Purchased

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Audiobook Review: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel (The Themis Files, #3)

 

 

In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.

I have loved The Themis Files books since day one, so it’s probably no surprise that I really and truly loved this concluding volume as well. In the first two Themis Files books, we see the discovery of a giant robot, which is in truth an alien artifact, leading to an alien invasion that threatens the survival of all humankind. Here, in Only Human, we find out how it all works out.

The previous book, Waking Gods, ends on a cliffhanger. With the immediate threat removed, Vincent, Rose, and Eva are celebrating their victory, when they suddenly realize they’re not on Earth any longer. As Only Human opens, we learn that our Earthlings have been transported to the alien home planet, which finally gets a name – Esat Ekt. And there they stay, learning the Ekt language, culture, and sense of morality, with no means of going home.

The Ekt’s principal code of morality is non-interference. They will not allow themselves to alter the course of any other species’ progress, development, or evolution. If a species is meant to go extinct, the Ekt will not interfere. And if a species, such as the human race, develops in a way that they should not have because of Ekt interference in the past, then all signs of that interference must be eliminated. Of course, the Ekt didn’t mean to commit mass murder, as they did in book #2, and here in book #3, the people of Esat Ekt are deeply embroiled in a reexamination of their non-interference policy after realizing their responsibility for the deaths of tens of millions on Earth.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, in the years following the great battle which concluded in the previous book, human interactions have changed dramatically. One of the giant robots ended up left behind, then seized as property of the United States, which then used it to rewrite the geopolitical lines of the planet. When Rose, Vincent, and Eva return almost a decade later aboard Themis, the Russians want the robot — badly — and will do just about anything to get it and its pilots under their control, in an effort to reshape the world’s balance of power.

As with the earlier books, Only Human is told via interview transcripts and journal entries, with the entries from the humans on Esat Ekt interwoven with the entries from Earth upon the gang’s arrival back on their home planet all those years later. Through these entries, we learn about life on Esat Ekt — the politics, the participatory democracy, the casual bigotry, and the way a free society can have hidden biases and injustices. Meanwhile, we see the ongoing complicated dynamics between the main characters. The highlight is the relationship between Vincent and his daughter Eva. Only 10  years old when they were whisked off to an alien planet, by the start of the action in this book Eva is a 19-year-old young woman who is strong-willed and ready to jump into action to pursue justice, never mind her own safety. Naturally, she and Vincent are on a collision course, and when their conflict finally comes to a head, it’s spectucular.

There are so many memorable characters in these books. An old favorite, Mr. Burns, returns in Only Human, and I also was really fascinated by the American-raised Russian agent Katherine, whose Americanisms and snark hide a truly terrifying ruthless streak.

The audiobook version is amazing, performed by a full cast. In fact, while I had the e-book ARC for some time before the official release date, I chose to wait until the Audible edition became available because I really wanted to experience the story in that way, as I did with the first two books. The voice actors are terrific. I love Vincent, with his French-Canadian accent and excitable nature; Rose’s calm demeanor, Mr. Burns’s humor, and — big treat here — the Ekt characters as well, speaking both a mangled sort of English as well as their own native language. My only complaint is that Eva’s accent has completely changed from the previous book, and it was weird and distracting at first. Oh well. I got over it. As a whole, the audiobook experience is a delight.

Let’s pause here to admire author Sylvain Neuvel’s fantastic use of his linguistics background to create a language for the Ekt that’s weird and alien and sounds just awesome to listen to. I loved the words and phrases, and very much enjoyed learning a yokits swear word in Ekt.

Needless to say, I highly recommend the Themis Files series. If you enjoy audiobooks, absolutely listen to these! The production is top-notch and really added to my enjoyment. But even without the audio, it’s an incredible story, so well written, full of sci-fi adventure and surprises — but even more so, full of human emotion and heart, which are what truly makes this story work.

I really do hope that the author will choose to write more in the Themis-verse… but if not, I’ll still want to read whatever he writes next.

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The details:

Title: Only Human (The Themis Files, #3)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Narrator: Full cast production
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length (print): 336 pages
Length (audiobook): 8 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: E-book review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley; audiobook downloaded via Audible

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