Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Bloodstained Shade


The Bloodstained Shade (Aven Cycle #3)- Cass Morris

Published by Cass Morris

Release Date: January 31, 2023

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead!

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Latona of the Vitelliae, mage of Spirit and Fire, lies still as death. Her fate rests in the hands of her allies, who must redeem her soul from the churning void where Corinna, leader of a banished Discordian cult, has trapped it.

Protected by a cabal of corrupt priests and politicians, Corinna plans her most daring assault yet: a ritual striking at the ancient heart of Aven, with the power to swallow the city in a maw of chaos and strife. Her success would be Aven's doom, and the greatest violence would fall upon the most vulnerable.

Before Sempronius Tarren can join Aven's defense—and his beloved Latona—at home, he must end the war abroad, outwitting the blood-soaked machinations of his Iberian opponents. His own magical talents remain hidden, but dire circumstances tempt him to succumb to ambition and use forbidden tactics to hasten the way to victory.
To defeat Corinna, Aven's devoted protectors will need to perform extraordinary magic, rally support from unexpected quarters, and face the shadows on their own souls.


In The Bloodstained Shade, Cass Morris saves her devoted fans (and main character Latona) from the cliffhanger ending she left us with in Give Way To Night. But she doesn't make anything easy on her characters, clearly being an author who believes that roasting characters in a fire brings out their strongest qualities. Latona and Vibia remain the two main Aven-centered characters, although I was glad to see sisters Aula and Alhena getting more of a role here as well. Both sisters continue to develop as strong secondary characters, willing to face their fears despite the risks, and I'm hoping for even more from them in the next book, particularly from Alhena and her magic. 

We get to see Sempronius, Latona's brother Vitellius, and their allies finish the war in Iberia, and I liked how Morris wrapped that up. enemies became allies, but even among the enemies and the terrible things they were doing, there was a deep humanity to every action. Morris examines how different people handle the gruesomeness of war- this kind of war in particular- in different ways, and can come back sometimes changed for the better, or at least come back thinking differently. Sempronius gets a few shocks along the way and didn't really know what to do with them, or his emotions, or the idea of possibly being vulnerable in any way. I have to admit I rather enjoyed that- suddenly he became a very human character, realizing the mistakes he was making and what he was risking in a way that his confidence had never allowed him to do before. I also have to admit, I'm pretty worried for what Morris is setting him up for in the next book, with a few of the not-very-subtle clues she dropped in this one.  

One of the messages I loved in this book was the idea that we are who we make ourselves. Corinna may get to say it best when she chides Latona for trying to tell Corinna's story. "Never try to reduce another woman down to something smaller than she is" Corinna tells Latona. Corinna has refused to allow that to happen to her from the beginning. But it's a fight Latona's had across the whole series, being made smaller than she is and gradually growing out of that- although it is something she still fights with here. One of the reasons enemies fear Latona (and Sempronius) is for trying to step out of their normal roles in society and reach for something bigger. Throughout the book, and the series, is always the question, will we give in to temptation? Will we blame someone else for out actions? Or will we, in the end, accept that we are both the good and the bad of ourselves, and that can make us weak, or incredibly, unbelievably, strong and united.

Full of fast-paced scenes, and excellent writing, with vastly different characters and places woven together into a brilliant and heart-pounding finale. Secondary characters continue to shine and develop, our main characters continue to show strengths and flaws enough to keep them both likable and relatable. Cass Morris' Aven continues to shine as an ancient Rome-inspired world built into something new and different, and I can't wait for the next book in this incredible series.  

Bloodstained Shade starts with a very good "previously in Aven" summary for readers who didn't reread the first two books before starting Book 3, but I wouldn't recommend starting Shade without having read  From Unseen Fire and Give Way to Night first. This is a series that build from one book to the next. 


Friday, January 27, 2023

The Invention of Murder

 The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death & Detection & Created Modern Crime- Judith Flanders

Thomas Dunne

Released: September 1, 2011

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Murder in the 19th century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous – transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama and opera – even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts.

In this meticulously researched and compelling book, Judith Flanders – author of ‘The Victorian House’ – retells the gruesome stories of many different types of murder – both famous and obscure. From the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, to the tragedies of the murdered Marr family in London’s East End, Burke and Hare and their bodysnatching business in Edinburgh, and Greenacre who transported his dismembered fiancΓ©e around town by omnibus.

With an irresistible cast of swindlers, forgers, and poisoners, the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know, ‘The Invention of Murder’ is both a gripping tale of crime and punishment, and history at its most readable.

Anyone interested in true crime, early crime, or how we as a people came to love watching crime drama on TV needs to read Judith Flanders' The Invention of Murder. 19th-century England saw the development of the police force as we know it (mostly) today, the beginning of the professional detective, the beginning of forensic science and crime analysis. In fiction, the detective story became a new genre, and took off in popularity- from Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to Arthur Conan Doyle. 

But these didn't develop in a vacuum- real life murders inspired many detective plots on page and stage, and science developed to keep up with the criminals. Judith Flanders explores many famous murder cases: from Burke and Hare to Constance Kent; the Marrs; Maria Marten; the Mannerings; poison panics; to, of course the most famous case of the century- Jack the Ripper. She doesn't just look at the cases themselves, but explores public reaction to them- what cases received the most news coverage? The most melodrama stage versions? Why puppet shows and wax images? How did the newspapers influence the Jack the Ripper case- possibly to the point where even today we can't tell fact from fiction? Flanders covers trials that make you want to lock up the judges and cases that make you glad you have nothing to do with 19th-century doctors.

People may have been committing murder since there were other people to kill, but it was the Victorians who made murder the entertainment industry we know it today. Judith Flanders' well written, well researched, and fascinating walk down the dark cobblestone lanes of London and the seemingly innocent village pathways will open your eyes to a whole new take on our modern views of crime and who you should really thank for the detective dramas on TV.

Saturday, January 7, 2023



Phaedra-Laura Shepperson

Alcove Press/Penguin Random House

Release Date: January 10, 2023

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Trigger Warning: Rape, violence, suicide

Synopsis: Phaedra has been cast to the side all her life: daughter of an adulteress, sister of a monster, and now unwilling bride to the much-older, power-hungry Theseus. Young, naΓ―ve, and idealistic, she has accepted her lot in life, resigned to existing under the sinister weight of Theseus’s control and the constant watchful eye of her handsome stepson Hippolytus. 

When supposedly pious Hippolytus assaults her, Phaedra’s world is darkened in the face of untouchable, prideful power. In the face of injustice, Phaedra refuses to remain quiet any longer: such an awful truth demands to be brought to light. When Phaedra publicly accuses Hippolytus of rape, she sparks an overdue reckoning.
The men of Athens gather to determine the truth. Meanwhile, the women of the city, who have no vote, are gathering in the shadows. The women know truth is a slippery thing in the hands of men. There are two sides to every story, and theirs has gone unheard. Until now.

As a fan of Natalie Haynes, I enjoy giving mythological retellings a chance- seeing Greek, Norse, etc. stories from more feminist perspectives and bringing to life the women who were left in the silent shadows of the original stories has lots of potential. Phaedra is a story that had lots of potential, but never quite lived up to it for me. A lot of it was the writing style. Despite having multiple POVs- many, many characters tell this story- all of them sound exactly the same. There is virtually no way of differentiating any of the voices if you just closed your eyes and opened to a page. There is almost no character development among the characters, including the main women, Phaedra and Medea, although I had high hopes for Medea and personally thought some of her scenes were among the best in the book. Phaedra starts out as a young and naive princess who ends up married to Theseus and is in Athens really as a hostage instead of a wife. She is sure she is supposed to witness the gods' justice against the terrible wrongs Theseus has done on Crete. There is hatred in her early on, but that gets banked and we don't get to see it again until pretty much the end. The rest of the time she's . . . not much. You'd think she couldn't be as naive as she acts sometimes, that she'd figure out her status doesn't save her from the terrible things that happen in the Athenian palace. But she never seems to change, or to grow up from the girl we first meet.

When she accuses Hippolytus of rape and the statesman Trypho convinces her to bring it to trial, the modern reader sees plenty of the MeToo movement trying to rise up in ancient Athens. The problem being, of course, women have no voice in ancient Athens and the men who will do the voting are the men who are behaving just the same to the servants in the palace. Maybe Phaedra's status will mean something to them, maybe not. One of the most realistic and heartbreaking scenes in the book is between Phaedra and Theseus when he comes to ask her to stop the trial before his son can be judged. After all, why should his life be ruined because she suffered for a few minutes? It made me want to cry and be sick at the same time, because you know this was genuinely how this man understood the situation, and how generations since have and still do think.

By the end of the book we see the limited choices women in this world have: the vast majority, the 'night chorus', choose to silently accept the violence done to them and find small ways of avoiding the worst of it-working in pairs, putting sleeping draughts in men's wine, moving in shadows to avoid being seen. Medea has made choices others condemn her for, but she believes were right. What will Phaedra choose?

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Sleep No More

 Sleep No More (Lost Night Files 1)- Jayne Ann Krentz

Berkley Publishing

Release Date: January 3, 2023

Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead!

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: Seven months ago, Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March, and Amelia Rivers were strangers, until their fateful stay at the Lucent Springs Hotel. An earthquake and a fire partially destroyed the hotel, but the women have no memory of their time there. Now close friends, the three women co-host a podcast called the Lost Night Files, where they investigate cold cases and hope to connect with others who may have had a similar experience to theirs—an experience that has somehow enhanced the psychic abilities already present in each woman.

After receiving a tip for their podcast, Pallas travels to the small college town of Carnelian, California, to explore an abandoned asylum. Shaken by the dark energy she feels in the building, she is rushing out when she’s stopped by a dark figure—who turns out to be the women's mysterious tipster.

Ambrose Drake is certain he’s a witness to a murder, but without a body, everyone thinks he’s having delusions caused by extreme sleep deprivation. But Ambrose is positive something terrible happened at the Carnelian Sleep Institute the night he was there. Unable to find proof on his own, he approaches Pallas for help, only for her to realize that Ambrose, too, has a lost night that he can’t remember—one that may be connected to Pallas. Pallas and Ambrose conduct their investigation using the podcast as a cover, and while the townsfolk are eager to share what they know, it turns out there are others who are not so happy about their questions—and someone is willing to kill to keep the truth from coming out

A new Jayne Ann Krentz series gives us mysteries on top of mysteries, friendship, and romance. Sleep No More starts things off by introducing us to three friends: Pallas Llewellyn, Talia March, and Amelia Rivers- none of whom had met before going to a job at the Lucent Springs Hotel. They left the hotel not only best friends, but without remembering what happened to them overnight- and all three now possessing enhanced psychic powers. Pallas can enter a waking trance state and draw what she sees in the energy, although it isn't always easy to translate what that means. The three friends now run a podcast to reach others who have lost nights with possible paranormal connections and Amrose Drake is sure he has a case for them: his own.

Ambrose has actually lost two nights, but on one of them he's pretty sure he saw a woman murdered. Or at least her body being carried off. No one will believe him without a body, but Pallas does and the two start investigating the town of Carnelian. Using the podcast as a cover they look into the Carnelian Sleep Institute, and plenty of locals are willing to share gossip on the odd doctor who runs it. The Institute may or may not be a legitimate sleep study clinic, but it certainly has somethings going on and may connect to not only Ambrose's lost nights but his own enhanced psychic powers. 

I really enjoyed Pallas (loved her name!) and Ambrose, partly for how completely out of their depth they were. They weren't like Krentz's other psychic characters who have been psychic all their lives and are used to using their gifts as just part of their normal range of talents. They may have had 'sensitivities' all their lives but only turned into psychics with full blown powers after their 'lost nights'. Having to adjust to a "new normal" has been difficult and they've been handling it as well as possible. Pallas had it a little easier because she had two friends with similar experiences she could talk to, Ambrose had to deal with everything alone and ended up questioning his sanity a lot along the way. That "psychic mystery" will be the overarching one to tie the three books together and I think Krentz set things up really well here. We got enough breadcrumbs to want more but no where near enough to figure out what was going on. The "individual mystery" felt personal since Ambrose needed to know the murders had happened as much for his sanity as anything else, so he had a really stake in it from the beginning. Otherwise it will feel familiar to Krentz fans: the small town, quirky characters, and slow burn romance over the developing partnership of Pallas and Ambrose. Krentz's trademark humor help the characters get through some harrowing situations and I enjoyed the book very much.

 I can't wait for the next one in the series!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Spotlights for December 2022


 Here are a few of the new releases from December of 2022 that I didn't write a blog post on, but a spotlight through Goodreads reviews:

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Release Date: December 6, 2022

Nonfiction/Polar Exploration

Set against the backdrop of the Titanic disaster and World War I, filled with heroism, tragedy, and scientific discovery, Buddy Levy's Empire of Ice and Stone tells the story of two men and two distinctively different brands of leadership: one selfless, one self-serving, and how they would forever be bound by one of the most audacious and disastrous expeditions in polar history, considered the last great voyage of The Heroic Age of Discovery.

 Beaverland: How One Weird Rodent Made America- Leila Philip

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Release Date: December 6, 2022


Before the American empires of steel and coal and oil, before the railroads, there was the empire of fur. BEAVERLAND tells the tumultuous, eye-opening story of how beavers and the beaver trade shaped American history and culture and our environment. Beginning with the early trans-Atlantic trade in North America, Leila Philip traces the beaver’s profound influence on our nation’s early economy and feverish western expansion, its first corporations and multi-millionaires.


Into the West: Mercedes Lackey 

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Release Date: December 13, 2022


Baron Valdemar and his people have found a temporary haven, but it cannot hold all of them, or for long. Trouble could follow on their heels at any moment, and there are too many people for Crescent Lake to support. Those who are willing to make a further trek by barge on into the West will follow him into a wilderness depopulated by war and scarred by the terrible magics of a thousand years ago and the Mage Wars. But the wilderness is not as empty as it seems. There are potential friends and rapacious foes....

....and someone is watching them.

 Tudors in Love: Passion and Politics in the Age of England's Most Famous Dynasty- Sarah Gristwood

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Release Date: December 13, 2022

Nonfiction/Medieval History

In this ground-breaking history, Sarah Gristwood reveals the way courtly love made and marred the Tudor dynasty. From Henry VIII declaring himself as the ‘loyal and most assured servant' of Anne Boleyn to the poems lavished on Elizabeth I by her suitors, the Tudors re-enacted the roles of the devoted lovers and capricious mistresses first laid out in the romances of medieval literature. The Tudors in Love dissects the codes of love, desire and power, unveiling romantic obsessions that have shaped the history of the world

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Into the West

Into the West (Founding of Valdemar #2) - Mercedes Lackey

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Release Date: December 13, 2022

Synopsis: Baron Valdemar and his people have found a temporary haven, but it cannot hold all of them, or for long. Trouble could follow on their heels at any moment, and there are too many people for Crescent Lake to support. Those who are willing to make a further trek by barge on into the West will follow him into a wilderness depopulated by war and scarred by the terrible magics of a thousand years ago and the Mage Wars. But the wilderness is not as empty as it seems. There are potential friends and rapacious foes....

....and someone is watching them.

In the sequel to BEYOND, Mercedes Lackey picks up pretty much where Book 1 left off. Baron Kordas and his people have fled the Empire and are now looking for a new home where they aren't going to dispossess anyone already living there. Most of the book felt very much like a 'bridge' book, that awkward book between where things start and how things end that doesn't quite know how to keep up the pace. It is character driven, alternating between Kordas and Delia as each of them becomes used to their new lives on the move, how best to do what needs to be done in order to survive, and what their new role really is in everything. I liked seeing behind Kordas' facade: seeing his concerns and flaws and how very human he is, how unsure he is of what he's doing and how much trouble he has delegating things to others because of how much responsibility he feels. If you've read other trilogies in the Valdermar cannon you know that the myth of the first King is him being pretty much perfect, so it's good to see the human truth behind that myth. Delia was a bit more annoying for me. Her crush on Kordas felt forced, especially since he's married to her sister. But I liked seeing her growing up and coming into her own with her Gift.

The pace was really slow for about 3/4s of the book, with little side quests and plenty of repetitious speeches about who they should strive to be as a people along the way. Then, right when I didn't think I could handle anymore, BANG!, everything changed and I couldn't put the book down.

*Warning: Mild spoilers ahead*

A touch of 'deus ex machina' suddenly makes anyone familiar with the cannon reevaluate everything they've been reading when the HawkBrothers arrive with the perfect place for our refugees to live. If you haven't read the others, that's ok, you're mostly just missing 'Easter eggs'. Now things go from plodding to the more interesting how-to-turn-a-Vale-into-a-city, meeting people who use amazing amounts of magic, different sentient species, and you see how Valdemar is going to start coming together. 

I admit, I am still not a fan of Lackey's 'newer' style of writing, which uses a more relaxed writing style, more rambling and tangents, plenty of 'now's and 'well's, as if we are listening to someone talking or thinking out loud even when we aren't. But it has been her style for long enough now that I've learned to deal with it, even though I prefer her older writing style better. The basic plot is still interesting enough that I want to find out what happens and how it will happen.

I definitely recommend reading BEYOND first, as Book 1 in the series will help you get invested in the characters and their journey beforehand.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Monday, December 5, 2022

Well Traveled

 Well Traveled- Jen DeLuca


Release Date: December 6, 2022

Rating: πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

Synopsis: A high-powered attorney from a success-oriented family, Louisa "Lulu" Malone lives to work, and everything seems to be going right, until the day she realizes it’s all wrong. Lulu’s cousin Mitch introduced her to the world of Renaissance Faires, and when she spies one at a time just when she needs an escape, she leaps into the welcoming environment of turkey legs, taverns, and tarot readers. The only drawback? Dex MacLean: a guitarist with a killer smile, the Casanova of the Faire… and her traveling companion for the summer.

Dex has never had to work for much in his life, and why should he? Touring with his brothers as The Dueling Kilts is going great, and he always finds a woman at every Faire. But when Lulu proves indifferent to his many plaid charms and a shake-up threatens the fate of the band, Dex must confront something he never has before: his future.
Forced to spend days and nights together on the road, Lulu’s interest in the kilted bad boy grows as he shows her a side of himself no one else has seen. The stresses of her old lifestyle fade away as she learns to trust her intuition and follow her heart instead of her head. But when her time on the road is over, will Lulu go with her gut, or are she and Dex destined for separate paths?

Louisa "Lulu" Malone comes from a family of overachievers and has been working so hard to get ahead in her high powered law firm that she longer remembers what its like to enjoy, let alone have, a life. One Saturday the boss pushes too far and she realizes just how ridiculous it all is. Her phone winds up a tub of water and she's having a minor meltdown in the middle of a Renaissance Faire. Fortunately, Stacey (Well Played) and the Dueling Kilts are there and offer her a ride since they're headed to Willow Creek, where Lulu's cousin Mitch (Well Matched) lives. With no job and no electronics, Lulu is forced to unplug and take stock of her life. Which includes not only admitting she hasn't relaxed in five or six years, but includes noticing her traveling companions- like hot guitar player Dex MacLean.

Everyone says Dex is only out for a good time, the Lothario with a girl at every Faire. And at first he flirts outrageously with Lulu, exactly like his reputation. But as she ignores his ridiculous flirting, Dex becomes more like the rest of the band, a casual friend. Eventually, she sees something in him that his family seems to have overlooked. That maybe there's more to Dex than just a good time. 

At first I wasn't sure about this pairing. How was Dex going to become someone we could properly swoon over when readers of the series knew him as a good time guy who is pretty much allergic to relationships? But the answer is to never doubt Jen DeLuca. By bringing in Lulu she gives Dex someone who doesn't know him or his reputation ahead of time, someone both willing to accept what she sees and to see behind the front to the person he's becoming. Dex is adorable as he confusedly discovers he might want a relationship after all and I had to hand it to him- he made far fewer mistakes than many guys make. I loved Lulu as the strong, take-charge-take-names person she is who can also be vulnerable, and discover a softer, mystic side to herself. This was a lovely people-can-change book; not necessarily because of love, but because of opening themselves up to new things, new opportunities, new people, and discovering what does make them happy instead of what they think should make them happy (or make others happy).  

Jen DeLuca is back and she brought the whole Faire with her! What's not to like about a strong woman doubting herself, finding herself (and love), thanks to the magic that is the Renaissance Faire? Nothing, that's what. Huzzah and rejoice and the latest Jen DeLuca romance-Well Traveled is not just a beautiful cover!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review