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Book Review: What She Gave Away (Santa Barbara Suspense #1) by Catharine Riggs


What She Gave Away (Santa Barbara Suspense #1)What She Gave Away by Catharine Riggs
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Talk about a quick read. I stayed up late reading this one and could not go to sleep until I'd finished. I'm giving no spoilers but I will say that as suspense reads go, this one plays the tension well throughout. Crystal and Katie are the dual narrators here that are thoroughly unlikeable (one is possibly very unreliable because she's downing boxes of wine like it's sport). The twists and turns come pretty quickly and so do the clues as to connections and where true blame should be assessed in the ledger of bad deeds before this culminates in a final showdown.

If I have one complaint it's that the ending is a bit pat and happy ending-esque. Now, I've nothing against happy endings and everything being tied up in a bow but it just wasn't something I needed in this story of suspense. I think the ending without the epilogue would have provided a more powerful read overall. Your mileage may vary.

This is my first read by Catharine Riggs and I'd read another (I plan on reading the next in this series). Recommended.


Summary: Imagining the best way to destroy a person’s happiness is Crystal Love’s favorite game. Devious and unpolished, the plus-sized loan analyst couldn’t be more out of place in her new town of Santa Barbara, where the beautifully manicured women never age and the ocean views stretch farther than the million-dollar lawns. And yet her eye for the power dynamics at play in this tony community is dead accurate.Kathi Wright, on the other hand, has made it her life’s work to fit in with the plastic people who surround her. But when her husband—a wealthy bank president—dies suddenly, she’s left with nothing. Then the FBI shows up, asking questions she can’t answer and freezing assets she once took for granted.
While Kathi struggles to outrun the mess caused by her husband’s mysterious death, Crystal seems focused on her game. But why? And who are her targets?
Spanning two years and told in Crystal’s and Kathi’s alternating voices, this tautly plotted novel reveals the power of choice and the price of revenge.





Book Review: The Recovery Man's Bargain by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The Recovery Man's Bargain by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟 (3 stars)
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This is one more novella from the Retrieval Artist series that I realized I'd not read. There's nothing new here as it relates to the larger story. The story is told from the POV of Hadad Yu who takes a job from the Gyonnese to bring in Rhonda Flint Shindo. They want her to answer for her conviction for a major loss of life on their planet.

Rhonda happens to be Miles Flint's ex-wife and mother of their deceased daughter, Emmaline. And so too, she's the mother of Talia, the cloned sister of Emmeline. And about five other cloned versions of Emmeline, as it happens. That whole thread of story comes up here and reminded me of how much I enjoyed it in the main series. I was also reminded that for the life of me I can't figure out how Miles and Rhonda ever got together. She comes off as the most calculating, craven human being and her brilliance does not make up for it. While I accept that Miles and Talia loved her, I have never been convinced of her love for them. It rankles. So when Hadad does his recovery of her, there's not a lot of sympathy for Rhonda. For Hadad and this reader, all the sympathy goes to Talia. The story ties up well enough and unsurprisingly for readers of the series. I'm glad I read it but if this one is skipped in a reading of the series, nothing is missed.



Summary: Hadad Yu “recovers” things for a living. Things, not people, not animals. Things. Until he gets in trouble and must work for the alien Gyonnese. They want a person to answer for her crimes, and they want to use Yu to get her. He reluctantly agrees, and sets off events that will change his life and the lives around him forever. A companion piece to Recovery Man, The Recovery Man’s Bargain explores the motivations of one of the stranger characters in the Retrieval Artist universe.



Book Review: The Retreat by Sherri Smith


The Retreat by Sherri Smith
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟 (3 stars)
Publisher: Forge

I love a good group vacation to a remote location, gone way wrong with bodies stacking up, so this had me from the summary. This also appealed to me because I have been in a book slump and thought a good psychological suspense story could shake me out of it. I didn't find it terribly suspenseful after meeting all our narrators but this still did the trick.

I very much liked Smith's turn of phrase & I truly laughed out loud as I read. Biting, wry wit goes a good way with me, so that was to the good. To the not so great, I figured out early on who was our in-house friend with murderous intent. That's not a deal-breaker for me but the journey to the reveal needs to be interesting enough for such an early telegraph and here, sadly, it wasn't. Also, I never quite cared about the characters (Katie, the ageing & aimless former childhood star; Ellie, the ultra perfect fiancee to Katie's brother, Carmen: the college friend always so financially strapped she routinely sells her eggs and Ariel, the college friend whose life back in her hometown has gone from disappointing to criminal). I didn't hate them or love them and didn't feel much for any of their plights (though I found Ariel's story, the most interesting of the four). They were given things that should have made me feel for them but something was missing for me and their non-self-inflicted problems were a bit too heavy-handed and coercive for sympathy, for this reader.

A couple of my favourite passages:

"Seriously, how can pancakes be gluten-free? It's like taking water out of clouds."

"She missed their little threesome. She missed college when they were still sky-high on their potential. ON their special-ness. When they had yet to open that first nesting doll of adult disappointment and failure."

I'd definitely read another by Smith and this is a good debut. And I'll forever be grateful for this breaking my slump. I am restored.


Summary: Four women.Four secrets.A weekend that will change them forever...if they survive.
Katie Manning was a beloved child star until her mid-teens when her manager attacked and permanently scarred her face, effectively ending her career and sending her on a path of all-too-familiar post-Hollywood self-destruction.
Now twenty-seven, Katie wants a better answer to those clickbait "Where Are They Now?" articles that float around online. An answer she hopes to find when her brother's too-good-to-be-true fiance invites her to a wellness retreat upstate. Together with Katie's two best friends--one struggling with crippling debt and family obligations, one running away from a failed job and relationship--Katie will try to find the inner peace promised at the tranquil retreat. But finding oneself just might drudge up more memories than Katie is prepared to deal with.
Each woman has come to the retreat for different reasons. Each has her secrets to hide. And at the end of this weekend, only one will be left standing.



Book Review: The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The Possession of Paavo Deshin by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: WMG Publishing

This is one more short from the Retrieval Artist series that I had in my ebook library that went overlooked when I read the series. I enjoyed it so much, I wished it were longer or expanded to be part of the wider work.

Paavo Deshin, son of Luc Deshin (who figures into the main series) is central to this story as the little boy is being "haunted" by what he perceived as ghosts until one day while at the Aristotle Academy, it's made abundantly clear, they're quite real. Enter, Miles Flint, the main character of the series and the one whose appearance elevates the story by several notches. He's brought in on the investigation into how security was breached at the Aristotle Academy. It's a case that basically brings him out of retirement because his daughter Talia, attends the same school and he's as concerned as the headmistress and the Deshins. There's one more player on the board and that added to the tension and also gave another perspective on the sides taken between the Deshins and Paavo's "ghosts". I didn't know how this was going to resolved because truth be told, there aren't a lot of happy endings in this universe when it comes to Disappeards and anyone connected to them. All in all, this made me miss the series and again, recall it fondly.

Recommended.

Summary: All of his short life, Paavo Deshin has seen ghosts. The same two ghosts who have now approached him on the school playground, ghosts who look older and actually smell bad. Paavo’s cry for help brings the authorities, a few lawyers, and Retrieval Artist Miles Flint, who learns some secrets about the ghosts—and about Paavo’s parents. This short stand-alone science fiction novel in the Retrieval Artist series received a Special Mention from the prestigious international UPC contest.




Book Review: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟 (3 stars)
Publisher: Chatto & Windus

I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars. And I can't tell you how much that saddens me.

This began wonderfully and Aunt Lydia really saved the whole thing for me so I'm very glad I've read it. But here's the thing, I was never in this for what happened to OfFred's baby Nicole. I cared more what happened to her first child that was taken from her but that's not what made me want to know more at the end of The Handmaid's Tale. I was always most interested in Gilead and how this society took over and took shape (who are these Sons of Jacob who attacked & liquidated Congress... like, what does that even mean?! I need details!). I was relishing learning how it falls and seeing it happen. Well, that's hinted at, glossed over and it's stated it does indeed fall but there's nothing here to show it. And that was profoundly disappointing to this reader.

I should also say, I've only watched the first season of the series (I have to pace myself with intake of misery porn & borderline misery porn between books & television) and this may well read differently for those who have watched more of the series. I showed up for strictly the book Gilead and I don't think The Testaments is just an answer for that.

I've mentioned that Aunt Lydia was the saving grace for me, so I should also say the real drag in the story was Daisy aka Baby Nicole. She was exceedingly tedious and I had a very difficult time buying her and buying the fact that she'd survive given the stakes. She never seemed to really understand the danger or gravity of the situation into which she was thrust. She did at least convince me that Gilead was indeed on the cusp of its nadir as she wasn't summarily dispatched. Agnes Jemima was much more tolerable and not just because she was in her early twenties for much of her recounting. I understood her actions and thinking and even empathized with her given the circumstances. Her friend Becka aka Aunt Immortelle was, of the three young women the one who I will remember most fondly. She was pathos personified.

Also to the good were moments of wry wit and some truly memorable quotes that will remain with me. Atwood has a turn of phrase that demands notice. Recommended, even though you can't go home again. Not even to the hellscapes.

Some of my favourite quotes:

"I was pleased with this story. Ir was only later that I pondered it" how could Job have allowed God to fob off a batch of new children on him and expect him to pretend that the dead ones no longer mattered?" It's always nice to see a character voice a long-held opinion of your own.

"The strain of being in a strange and debilitating environment, such as Canada, can have that effect."

"Not for nothing do we at Ardua Hall say "Pen is Envy."

"Reading was not for girls; only men were strong enough to deal with the force of it; and the Aunts, of course, because they weren't like us."

"All things come to she who waits. Time wounds all heels. Patience is a virtue. Vengeance is mine."

"What am I doing here? I thought. This place is weird as fuck."

"The truth can cause a lot of trouble for those who are not supposed to know it."

From the Afterword:

"How did Gilead fall? The Testaments was written in response to this question. Totalitarianism may crumble from within, as they fail to keep the promises that brought them to power, or they may be attacked from without; or both. There are no surefire formulas since very little in history is inevitable."


Summary: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.




Book Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig


Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 (4 stars)
Publisher: Del Rey

When I'd heard about this one, I knew I wanted to read it. Would I like a little humankind on the cusp of the apocalypse owing to some mystery illness that's "zombified" a segment of the population and a contentious political season in America? Yes, please. Few things I'd rather read more on a sunny day with hours to wend away. It was an easy sell for me so as soon as it came out, I bought it. Then I realized it was an 800+ tome. No problem, that just moved it over to my vacation read list.

This did not disappoint and I toted this everywhere (beach, pool, lunch). The characters were a bit better than stock but with a large enough cast, it reminded me of Justin Cronin's The Passage and also Peng Shepherd's The Book of M . I had a couple of favourite characters in former police officer, Marcy Reyes and CDC scientist, Cassie. Pretty much the entire thread of the scientists working to figure out what was going on epidemiologically was what most propelled me. The pace was quite good and I zipped right along, wanting to get right back to it when I'd had to put it down. There are some seriously dark turns here that I wasn't expecting but points for unpredictability. I was skeeved. Also, if like me you've been forever scarred by Seanan McGuire's stories about viral outbreaks with spores, molds & fruiting bodies, steel yourself. I'm a woman of science but the cringe is real on that one. I don't even want to talk about it here, but there's your warning. There is plenty of hope and humans at their best too. I highlit a fair number of passages and even had a few laughs. It's not perfect (some of the political times captured herein, could wear on some) but I found it darn near unputdownable. This was my first by Wendig and I'd definitely read another. This is one of my favourites for 2019.

Recommended (in ebook form, because 800+ pages, people!).



Summary: Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and are sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.
For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
For on their journey, they will discover an America convulsed with terror and violence, where this apocalyptic epidemic proves less dangerous than the fear of it. As the rest of society collapses all around them–and an ultraviolent militia threatens to exterminate them–the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.


Book Review: The Impossibles (Retrieval Artist #9.5) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The Impossibles by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 4 stars
Publisher: WMG Publishing

On a recent peruse of my out of control ebook library, I realized that there were a couple of shorts from The Retrieval Artist series that I hadn't read. Reading this served to remedy that oversight & also help me to move a couple of additional ebooks over to the finished column.

This takes us back to Kerrie's beginnings as a lawyer. I remembered her from the series so this was a nice look in that explained her trajectory a bit. The haul in the Earth Alliance InterSpecies Court for the First District is the most unenviable and soul-crushing branch in the Multicultural Tribunal System and she's almost clear of having put in her time to work off those student loans (clearly, the student debt load life of penury doesn't get sorted in this future). One morning, she takes on a case in exchange for shifting some of her own and this case is the one that changes everything. I won't give away any spoilers but it's a good twist and that coupled with the reason she gets this particular case, was well done. I quite liked this one. I don't know if I'd have felt differently if I'd read this while reading the series but as I already knew the main character, it was worth the read. Recommended for fans of the series.


Summary: Short Side Story in the Retrieval Artist series. Set in The Judicial System of the Earth-Alien Alliance. Miles does not appear.
To pay off her law school debts, Kerrie works in the public defender’s office at the Interspecies Court. She has more clients than she can defend, most of them from cultures she does not understand. The public defender’s office loses almost all of its cases, but sometimes it gets a win. Kerrie thinks she has a winner. But does she? Or will winning the case mean she loses at everything else?
To pay off her law school debts, Kerrie works in the public defender’s office at the Interspecies Court. She has more clients than she can defend, most of them from cultures she does not understand. The public defender’s office loses almost all of its cases, but sometimes it gets a win. Kerrie thinks she has a winner. But does she? Or will winning the case mean she loses at everything else?