Saturday, July 13, 2024

Book Review: The Down Deep by Catherine Asaro

The Down Deep

Author:
Catherine Asaro
Series: Dust Knights (Book 1)
Publication: Baen Books; 1st edition (July 2, 2024)

Description: DUST KNIGHTS: A NEW SERIES IN CATHERINE ASARO’S SKOLIAN EMPIRE: Major Bhaajan and her gang of Dust Knights act as guides and bodyguards to a member of the Imperial family on a mission of good will in the Undercity. But what awaits them in the Down Deep may ruin the chance at peace forever.

A CITY DIVIDED

For centuries The City of Cries—one of the most desired locales in the Skolian Imperialate—has existed by the thinnest of threads. On the dying world of Raylicon, the “haves” live in great luxury in Cries while the “have-nots” scrape by, eking out a marginal existence in the notorious Undercity beneath the desert. Major Bhaajan, formerly of the Pharaoh's Army, knows both worlds. Born into the Undercity, she nevertheless has made a name for herself in the Imperialate. And now, she has the chance to help her people.

HOPE FOR RECONCILIATION

For the first time, a member of the Royal class wants to extend an olive branch to the Undercity. Hoping to build bridges, Colonel Lavinda Majda recruits Bhaaj and her Dust Knights to act as guides and bodyguards on a mission of goodwill to those who live below the surface of their parched world.

THE DOWN DEEP

But the problems of the Undercity run deeper than anyone knows. To help find peace, the Dust Knights must reach the most hidden rungs in that mysterious underground world, a place known only as the Down Deep, where the scars from centuries of distrust are greatest. There they will face an unseen enemy that may destroy the lives of everyone they know—and threaten interstellar civilization.

My Thoughts: THE DOWN DEEP continues the story of Major Bhaajan on the dying world of Raylicon in the Skolian Imperialate. 

Bhaaj came home from her career in the Pharoah's Army with the goal of helping her people who live in the impoverished Undercity beneath the City of Cries. After years of prejudice and neglect, the Imperialate has discovered a need for the citizens of the Undercity. It takes Kyle Operators to keep the Imperialate going and safe from the Traders who want to conquer it. 

Kyle Operators are rare everywhere except in the Undercity where potential Kyle Operators make up a large percentage of the population. Colonel Lavinda Majda - a member of the very high class and powerful Majda family - asks Bhaaj to arrange a visit where she can hopefully build up some goodwill. After overcoming some obstacles both in the Undercity and in the Majda family, Bhaaj agrees to take Lavinda for her visit. 

Problems come up almost immediately when the two rival drug cartels demand that Lavinda meet with them. This has never happened before. Whenever the cartels ran into each other, battles ensued and so did deaths. But it turns out that both cartels want the same opportunities for their children that Bhaaj's Dust Knights have been enjoying. Bhaaj sees this as a major breakthrough to make thing better for her people. 

But then, a call for help from the Down Deep comes to the medic the Majdas have seconded to the Undercity. Lavinda demands that they all go to see if they can help and wind up in the middle of an outbreak of carnelian rash which threatens to kill all of those who live there and those who come to help too. 

This was an intriguing story with fascinating worldbuilding. The culture of the people of the Undercity was richly developed and contrasted in a major way with that of the above ground culture. Culture clashes and prejudices were realistically portrayed. The characters - especially Bhaaj and Angel who is one of her Dust Knights - are viewed in depth. 

I really enjoyed this story which drifts away from the mysteries of the earlier Bhaaj books to the area of epic Space Opera. 

Favorite Quote:
When she stumbled, when she fell, even when she went to sleep on her feet and lurched awake, she kept going, kept struggling because she knew no other way to live. Or to die. 
I bought this one on the book's publication date. You can buy your copy here.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Friday Memes: The Down Deep by Catherine Asaro

 Happy Friday!


Book Beginnings is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader. She asks that the first sentence is posted along with the author and title of the book and the reader's initial thoughts on the sentence, the book, or anything else it inspires. 
Carrie at Reading Is My Superpower.org also provides a linky for sharing first lines and connecting with others. This meme asks that the chosen books be PG or marked as Mature if they are not. 

The Friday 56 was hosted by Freda at Freda's Voice. This meme is currently on hiatus but many of us are still including a sentence from page 56 or from 56% of the ebook. Anne @ Head Full of Books is picking up the slack until Freda is ready to return. I think this link will get you to the correct place

Beginning:
"If you go with them, you will die." The General of the Pharaoh's Army scowled at her sister Lavinda. "That is unacceptable."
Friday 56:
Smooth and efficient, a woman jumped down from the midwalk and landed a few meters away, sending dust spraying into the air. 
This week I am spotlighting a new book by Catherine Asaro. The Down Deep begins a new series of science fiction mysteries. Here is the description from Amazon:
DUST KNIGHTS: A NEW SERIES IN CATHERINE ASARO’S SKOLIAN EMPIRE: Major Bhaajan and her gang of Dust Knights act as guides and bodyguards to a member of the Imperial family on a mission of good will in the Undercity. But what awaits them in the Down Deep may ruin the chance at peace forever.

A CITY DIVIDED

For centuries The City of Cries—one of the most desired locales in the Skolian Imperialate—has existed by the thinnest of threads. On the dying world of Raylicon, the “haves” live in great luxury in Cries while the “have-nots” scrape by, eking out a marginal existence in the notorious Undercity beneath the desert. Major Bhaajan, formerly of the Pharaoh's Army, knows both worlds. Born into the Undercity, she nevertheless has made a name for herself in the Imperialate. And now, she has the chance to help her people.

HOPE FOR RECONCILIATION

For the first time, a member of the Royal class wants to extend an olive branch to the Undercity. Hoping to build bridges, Colonel Lavinda Majda recruits Bhaaj and her Dust Knights to act as guides and bodyguards on a mission of goodwill to those who live below the surface of their parched world.

THE DOWN DEEP

But the problems of the Undercity run deeper than anyone knows. To help find peace, the Dust Knights must reach the most hidden rungs in that mysterious underground world, a place known only as the Down Deep, where the scars from centuries of distrust are greatest. There they will face an unseen enemy that may destroy the lives of everyone they know—and threaten interstellar civilization.



Thursday, July 11, 2024

Audiobook Review: A Rogue's Company by Allison Montclair

A Rogue's Company

Author:
Allison Montclair
Narrator: Sarah Nichols
Series: Sparks & Bainbridge Mysteries (Book 3)
Publication: Blackstone Publishing (June 22, 2021)
Length: 9 hours and 49 minutes

Description: In Allison Montclair's A Rogue's Company, business becomes personal for the Right Sort Marriage Bureau when a new client, a brutal murder, two kidnappings, and the recently returned from Africa Lord Bainbridge threatens everything that one of the principals holds dear.

In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen's father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there's more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake.

My Thoughts: Lord Bainbridge returns from Africa in this third Sparks & Bainbridge mystery. He throws the whole house into chaos when he demands that Gwen's son Ronnie be sent away to a harsh boarding school. Gwen is even more determined to regain custody of her son but her psychiatrist is not yet willing to indicate that she's been cured. 

But Ronnie's custody is only one part of the problem. Gwen was also willed her husband's share of the company Lord Bainbridge built. Her court appointed financial manager has been unwilling to do anything other than let Lord Bainbridge control Gwen's inherited shares. 

Lord Bainbridge brought home other problems from Africa too. These problems lead to the death of a man outside his exclusive club. And they lead Lord Bainbridge's kidnapping and Gwen's too since she was in the car arguing with him with the kidnap attempt went down. 

Gwen's kidnapping has her partner Iris Sparks willing to call in any and all favors to find and rescue her friend. This jeopardizes Sparks' relationship with her gangster boyfriend Archie. And it reveals some things Gwen and Sparks' friend Sally hasn't been willing to reveal.

And then there is the object that a new client at the marriage bureau is looking for which has ties to the Bainbridge family. Since the new client is a Black man, it causes both Gwen and Sparks to question some of their assumptions about their own prejudices and the purposes of their marriage bureau.

This was an action-packed episode in the series. Lots of secrets were revealed. 

I bought this one at Chirp. You can buy your copy here.

ARC Review: The Lost Story by Meg Shaffer

The Lost Story

Author:
Meg Shaffer
Publication: Ballantine Books (July 16, 2024)

Description: Inspired by C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, this wild and wondrous novel is a fairy tale for grown-ups who still knock on the back of wardrobes—just in case—from the author of The Wishing Game.

As boys, best friends Jeremy Cox and Rafe Howell went missing in a vast West Virginia state forest, only to mysteriously reappear six months later with no explanation for where they’d gone or how they’d survived.

Fifteen years after their miraculous homecoming, Rafe is a reclusive artist who still bears scars inside and out but has no memory of what happened during those months. Meanwhile, Jeremy has become a famed missing persons’ investigator. With his uncanny abilities, he is the one person who can help vet tech Emilie Wendell find her sister, who vanished in the very same forest as Rafe and Jeremy.

Jeremy alone knows the fantastical truth about the disappearances, for while the rest of the world was searching for them, the two missing boys were in a magical realm filled with impossible beauty and terrible danger. He believes it is there that they will find Emilie’s sister. However, Jeremy has kept Rafe in the dark since their return for his own inscrutable reasons. But the time for burying secrets comes to an end as the quest for Emilie’s sister begins. The former lost boys must confront their shared past, no matter how traumatic the memories.

Alongside the headstrong Emilie, Rafe and Jeremy must return to the enchanted world they called home for six months—for only then can they get back everything and everyone they’ve lost.

My Thoughts: THE LOST STORY was a magical experience. It is the story of two boys lost in a forest in West Virginia on an end-of-the-year field trip who come walking out six months after they disappeared. Rafe becomes an artist who doesn't remember what happened while he was lost in the woods. Jeremy becomes a man filled with secrets who has a talent for finding girls who are lost in the woods. 

Fifteen years after their reappearance, Emilie Wendell comes to find Jeremy to ask him to look for the sister she didn't know she had until after her mother's death and who disappeared in the same forest where Rafe and Jeremy disappeared. Jeremy hasn't seen Rafe since they walked out of the forest, but now he needs him if the search for Emilie's sister is to be successful. 

This story tells what happened when they all return to the Red Crow forest. It is filled with magic and romance and all the elements of a good fairy tale: heroes and villains, a lost princess, a magician and a storyteller to provide insights. 

I thought this story was amazing. It will certainly go on my keeper shelf when it was released. The characters were well-drawn and interesting people. The language was both down to earth and lyrical.

Favorite Quote:
They were gone long enough that people had stopped referring to the as "missing," which implied a temporary state of being, and now simply called them "lost." You looked for missing children. You mourned lost ones. 
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

ARC Review: Trouble in Queenstown by Delia Pitts

Trouble in Queenstown

Author:
Delia Pitts
Publication: Minotaur Books (July 16, 2024)

Description: With Trouble in Queenstown, Delia Pitts introduces private investigator Vandy Myrick in a powerful mystery that blends grief, class, race, and family with thrilling results.

Evander “Vandy” Myrick became a cop to fulfill her father’s expectations. After her world cratered, she became a private eye to satisfy her own. Now she's back in Queenstown, New Jersey, her childhood home, in search of solace and recovery. It's a small community of nine thousand souls crammed into twelve square miles, fenced by cornfields, warehouses, pharma labs, and tract housing. As a Black woman, privacy is hard to come by in "Q-Town," and worth guarding.

For Vandy, that means working plenty of divorce cases. They’re nasty, lucrative, and fun in an unwholesome way. To keep the cash flowing and expand her local contacts, Vandy agrees to take on a new client, the mayor’s nephew, Leo Hannah. Leo wants Vandy to tail his wife to uncover evidence for a divorce suit.

At first the surveillance job seems routine, but Vandy soon realizes there’s trouble beneath the bland surface of the case when a racially charged murder with connections to the Hannah family rocks Q-Town. Fingers point. Clients appear. Opposition to the inquiry hardens. And Vandy’s sight lines begin to blur as her determination to uncover the truth deepens. She’s a minor league PI with few friends and no resources. Logic pegs her chances of solving the case between slim and hell no. But logic isn’t her strong suit. Vandy won’t back off.

My Thoughts: Vandy Myrick has come back to her hometown of Queenstown to open a business as a private investigator. She is home so that she can spend time with her father who is in a home and suffers from dementia. She is working with two friends, one of whom is a lawyer.

Most of Vandy's cases are simple and straightforward. When an influential local named Leo Hannah hires her to follow his wife, Vandy thinks it will be just another case but will give her entry into another group of potential clients. Vandy follows Ivy Hannah on her rounds for a week and is preparing a report for Leo when she gets a phone call. 

Someone has broken into the Myrick home and Leo shot and killed him. He claims that the home invader assaulted his wife who died on the operating table. Since Leo's aunt is the mayor, the investigation is quickly completed, and it lays all the blame on home invader Hector Ramirez and clears Leo of any culpability. 

But Vandy isn't so sure. Her years as a police officer show her another more likely scenario. And Ivy's father who wants custody of Ivy's 3-year-old son and Hector's teenage sister doesn't believe that her brother could have killed Ivy. 

Vandy begins her own investigation and finds herself the target of an assault herself and finds her father and friends also targeted. Someone doesn't want the truth to come out and is willing to go to all lengths to get Vandy to abandon her investigation. 

This was an engaging story. Vandy is an intriguing character who is dealing with her own grief after the death of her teenage daughter at a frat party. She has given up drinking and refuses to carry a gun, but she hasn't given up her reckless habit of one-night stands which is her substitution for intimacy. 

I enjoyed the story of this black woman who works in a town that was once a visible haven for the KKK. The racism is still pervasive though not quite as visible. 

I recommend this story for its great characters and fast-paced plot. 

Favorite Quote:
At fifteen, I answered a vital question: which side of the law would I be on? Both at once, if I could pull it off.

And I learned a vital lesson: which side would the law be on? Not mine, I knew for certain.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

ARC Review: Shades of Mercy by Bruce Borgos

Shades of Mercy

Author:
Bruce Borgos
Series: Porter Beck (Book 2)
Publication: Minotaur Books (July 16, 2024)

Description: In the usually quiet high desert of Nevada, Sheriff Porter Beck faces one of his greatest challenges―a series of unlikely, disturbing and increasingly deadly events of unknown origins.

Porter Beck is the sheriff in the high desert of Nevada, doing the same lawman's job his father once did now that he's returned home after decades away. With his twelve person department, they cover a large area that is usually very quiet, but not of late. One childhood friend is the latest to succumb to a new wave of particularly strong illegal opioids, another childhood friend―now an enormously successful rancher―is targeted by a military drone, hacked and commandeered by an unknown source. The hacker is apparently local―local enough to call out Beck by name―and that means they are Beck's problem.

Beck's investigation leads him to Mercy Vaughn, the one known hacker in the area. The problem is that she's a teenager, locked up with no computer access at the secure juvenile detention center. But there's something Mercy that doesn't sit quite right with Beck. But when Mercy disappears, Beck understands that she's in danger and time is running out for all of them.

My Thoughts: The second Porter Beck thriller is packed with action and has a really twisty plot. 

Porter Beck is a sheriff in Nevada, in a country with more cacti than people, but big city problems are creeping in. One of his childhood friends has just died of a fentanyl overdose and others are in danger from that drug. 

Also, when a prize bull on another childhood friend's ranch is hit with a missile which was snatched from the Air Force's control by an unknown hacker, his county is invaded by the alphabets - FBI, NSA, etc. as they are searching for the hacker. 

Beck has received an email from the hacker asking him to be alert because they might need some help from him. Beck comes to believe that the hacker is a sixteen-year-old girl who is being held at a camp for juvenile offenders after a variety of computer crimes including stealing $80 million from a Federal Bank. 

Learning this the friend who lost his bull is also involved with Mexican drug cartels adds another group who want something or someone from his county. And a Chinese spy trying to recover his sleeper agent who has gone AWOL adds more complexity. 

I really enjoyed this thriller. I couldn't put it down. 

Favorite Quote:
Beck gazed at the screen once again. Hello, Lisa1957. He clicked on the message. It was brief: And so it begins, Sheriff. I hope this note finds you well. I have done a lot of homework on you, and I hope my instincts about you prove true because I have a feeling I am going to need your help very soon.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

ARC Review: One Big Happy Family by Jamie Day

One Big Happy Family

Author:
Jamie Day
Publication: St. Martin's Press (July 16, 2024)

Description: Could this reunion be the death of them?

The Precipice is a legendary, family-owned hotel on the rocky coast of Maine. With the recent passing of their father, the Bishop sisters--Iris, Vicki, and Faith--have come for the weekend to claim it. But with a hurricane looming and each of the Bishop sisters harboring dangerous secrets, there's murder in the air-- and not everyone who checks into the Precipice will be checking out.

Each sister wants what is rightfully hers, and in the mix is the Precipe's nineteen-year-old chambermaid Charley Kelley: smart, resilient, older than her years, and in desperate straits.

The arrival of the Bishop sisters could spell disaster for Charley. Will they close the hotel? Fire her? Discover her habit of pilfering from guests? Or even worse, learn that she's using a guest room to hide a woman on the run.

With razor-sharp wit, heart, thrills, and twists, Jamie Day's ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY delivers a unique brand of summertime suspense.

My Thoughts: The Precipice Hotel is the scene of a locked room mystery when the Bishop sisters come to claim their inheritance just as Hurricane Larry has the hotel in its sights. 

Chambermaid Charley Kelley has worked at the hotel since she was seventeen and left school in order to earn money to keep her grandmother who suffers from dementia in her nursing home. She was willing to put up with a handsy boss if that was what it took. But she doesn't know what changes will happen now that the sisters are in charge. 

Each sister has her own secrets. Vickie is the oldest. She comes with her husband Todd and is later joined by her son Quinn. Next comes her sister Faith and her wife Hope and their son Oliver. Finally comes Iris. They are quickly followed by Brenda Black, the attorney who is set to read the Will.

Charley has taken in a new acquaintance with a sob story: abusive boyfriend and a need to hide out until she can get out of town. Bree offers Charley enough money to pay for her grandmother's care for a while which is the main reason she agrees to let her stay in the hotel. 

When Todd is murdered, almost all of the new residents have a reason to want him dead. And then Brenda Black disappears and is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. By this time the storm has hit, suspicions are raised, and secrets are starting to come out.

This was an incredibly twisty story. Todd's relationships with all three sisters certainly give all of them reason to want him dead. And his influence on George Bishop which led to a very unfair Last Will didn't endear him to any of the Bishop sisters. 

Mostly told by Charley, the story also includes flashbacks to some of the secrets the Bishop sisters are keeping. Charley is an interesting character with a hard life. I liked her and was wishing her well as the story went on. 

This was an interesting story. I did feel that the ending was a little too rosy considering the personalities of the sisters. 

Favorite Quote:
But when the person you love most in the world can't remember your name, it leaves you feeling adrift. I want so badly to be seen and heard, to feel like my story, small as it is, matters to somebody other than me. 
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.