Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline WinspearPardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs, #3) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #3
Pages: 342
Published by Picador on June 27th 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

London 1930, psychologist investigator Maisie Dobbs must prove Sir Cedric's aviator son Ralph Lawton died when shot down in 1917. In former battlefields of France, she re-unites with Priscilla Evernden, one of whose three brothers lost in the War is somehow connected. The case tests Maisie's spiritual strength and her regard for mentor Maurice Blanche.

My Review:

As part of the lead in to March’s Month of Maisie Readalong I get to dip into the earlier tales of Maisie’s adventures in preparation for reading her newest story, In This Grave Hour, in the middle of Maisie month.

Pardonable Lies was Maisie’s third outing, and even though it is set in 1930, the clouds of World War II are already looming over the horizon. And even though the meat of her case here concerns the Great War now over a decade in the past, it is the oncoming storm that adds the element of danger to her current affairs.

This is also a story about secrets and lies. Not just the kind of military secrets that dog Maisie through this investigation, but also the secrets that we keep in the belief that they protect others, and the lies that we tell ourselves, in the hope that we can prevent more pain.

It is also a story about growing up. Because part of growing up is seeing our elders, our parents and teachers and mentors, as fallible human beings just like ourselves. We reach that point where we see them less as above us and more as our equals. And often, as in Maisie’s case in Pardonable Lies, we come to that point when we discover that our trust in them has been betrayed.

As is frequently the case with Maisie, she is actually working on more than one case during this story. Two of those cases have definite similarities, as they are both missing persons cases leftover from the late war. And Maisie makes the third case tie into one of the other two. There are no coincidences in Maisie’s worldview. When things seem coincidental, as in the two missing persons cases, she views it as the cosmos telling her that she has unresolved issues that will be illuminated in the investigations.

And so it goes. Two families want her to find the final resting place of their lost soldier boys. Actually, flyer boys, as both young men were in the fledgling RAF. A respected barrister made his wife a deathbed promise that he would determine, once and for all, whether their lost son truly died in his plane crash or whether he survived, as his mother always believed.

Maisie’s friend Phyllis Evernden wants Maisie to find out how and where her brother Patrick died. She knows that he’s dead, but now that her own sons are growing up and starting to resemble her lost brothers, she feels the need for closure. She remembers that her parents were notified of his death, but nothing about the circumstances. And now she needs to know.

The cases both lead Maisie back to France. She served as a battlefield nurse, and left too many friends and loved ones behind. She’s worked hard to put it all behind her, but mostly she has just been running as fast as she can to evade the grief and the memories. She knows that returning to the scene of her own devastation is going to bring up things she would rather stayed buried.

Much as both of these cases will resurrect things that other people would prefer she left buried. Especially her now elderly mentor, Maurice Blanche, who returns with Maisie to France with his own hidden agenda.

And someone is trying to kill her. But due to which case? What rock has she turned over that someone will kill to leave unturned?

Escape Rating A: I always look forward to March and Maisie Month. It gives me a terrific excuse to dive into the archives of this series as well as look forward at the latest book. As always, the early book is a treat, as I get to discover where some of the later events took root.

In this particular case, that root is Maisie’s reluctant involvement with the British Secret Service in Journey to Munich. In Pardonable Lies, two of her cases have delved into national secrets that would be better left buried, and the Secret Service as well as her mentor try to divert her attention and make her take the easy way out.

The problem is that the secrets aren’t really buried. They aren’t even dead yet. The spies see the war coming and are all too aware that they will have to mobilize as many of their assets from the last war as are still available (i.e. alive). Maisie’s investigation jeopardizes past, present and future secrets.

The title of this story is very apropos. Maisie normally tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to her clients. In these cases she is caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. Because of official secrets, she cannot tell her friend Phyllis the whole, entire truth about her brother.

In the case of her other client, the barrister, Maisie discovers the truth that he fears, and that he does not want to hear at any cost. And it is a truth that hurts much less than the lie he wants to believe.

And Maisie herself discovers that the many pardonable lies that her mentor has told her over the years of her apprenticeship may not be pardonable after all. The revelations that arise during this case make Maisie re-think both their past and their future association.

Only one case gets Maisie’s usual whole truth; the case of a young prostitute accused of murdering her pimp. The rush to justice on the part of the police, and their willingness to ignore any and all mitigating or contradictory evidence in order to punish this young woman makes readers see both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society. Only Maisie, is willing to believe that this woman might be innocent. And only Maisie is willing to delve into the truth to see that justice is actually done.

But in the process of these investigations, we finally see Maisie lay her own ghosts to their deserved rest. It’s an important part of the development of her character, and it is time for her to move on.

As do we. The latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series is In This Grave Hour. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing it next month.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Echoes in Death by J.D. RobbEchoes in Death (In Death, #44) by J.D. Robb
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, romantic suspense
Series: In Death #44
Pages: 384
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

This chilling new suspense novel from #1
New York Times
bestselling author J.D. Robb is the perfect entry point into the compelling In Death police procedural series featuring Lieutenant Eve Dallas.
As NY Lt. Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke are driving home, a young woman—dazed, naked, and bloody—suddenly stumbles out in front of their car. Roarke slams on the brakes and Eve springs into action.
Daphne Strazza is rushed to the ER, but it’s too late for her husband Dr. Anthony Strazza. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, he now lies dead amid the wreckage of his obsessively organized town house, his three safes opened and emptied. Daphne would be a valuable witness, but in her terror and shock the only description of the perp she can offer is repeatedly calling him “the devil”...
While it emerges that Dr. Strazza was cold, controlling, and widely disliked, this is one case where the evidence doesn’t point to the spouse. So Eve and her team must get started on the legwork, interviewing everyone from dinner-party guests to professional colleagues to caterers, in a desperate race to answer some crucial questions:
What does the devil look like? And where will he show up next?

My Review:

Although the In Death series is as far from a cozy mystery series as it is possible for mystery to get, I still read them for the same reason that I keep up with some of the cozies. I love the cast and crew, and want to check in and see how everyone is doing. Especially Galahad, the big grey cat.

Sometimes the mystery is enthralling or chilling or captivating or all of the above. And sometimes I just get the chance to hang out with the gang for a while. This particular installment of the series turned out to be one of the “hang out with the gang” types.

And that’s not a bad thing.

The case in this story starts out fairly spectacularly. Dallas and Roarke, on their way home from a late dinner party, almost run over a young naked woman in the middle of a blizzard. She’s bloody, bruised, incoherent and hypothermic, but that’s not all. She’s also the victim of a home invasion, where she was raped and her husband was murdered. Which makes her case Eve’s case, and brings a whole bunch of skeletons out of a whole bunch of closets. Not just for poor Daphne Strazza, but also for Eve.

This is one of those cases that tests the motto of Eve’s homicide department. They stand for everyone who is murdered, even the assholes. And Dr. Anthony Strazza was definitely an asshole. He may have been a brilliant surgeon, but he seems to have had the worst “life-side manner” on record. No one had a nice word to say about him. Not his colleagues, not his patients.

And his widow is obviously still scared to death of the bastard, and was so obviously abused by him. If she weren’t such a wreck, she’s be the obvious suspect. And if this wasn’t at least the third in a string of similar, equally heinous, crimes.

This is just the first time that the perpetrator has escalated to murder. But it won’t be the last, and everyone knows it.

But Eve’s objectivity has a few cracks in this one. She sees too much of her abused child self in Daphne, and too much of her cruel and abusive father in Anthony Strazza. And she’s right on all counts. Which never stands in her way. Nothing ever does.

Escape Rating B: I enjoyed spending time with the gang again. And I always like watching Dallas and company do their cop thing, running through the evidence and making the case against the killer.

secrets in death by jd robbBut this was one of their outings where I figured out who done it much, much too early. And once I knew who it had to be, a lot of the work of catching the sick bastard became anticlimactic. I did enjoy watching Eve bait him into a cage and kick the door shut behind him. Watching her wrap a suspect up in his own knots is always fun.

And Galahad’s antics always make me laugh. Eve and Roarke’s byplay about and with the cat will be familiar to anyone owned by a feline.

I already have an ARC of the next book in the series, Secrets in Death. I’m looking forward to another trip to Eve’s New York in few short months.

Review: Flying too High by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Flying too High by Kerry GreenwoodFlying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #2
Pages: 156
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 1st 1970
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Phryne Fisher has her hands full in this, her second adventure. And just when we think she’s merely a brilliant, daring, sexy woman, Phyrne demonstrates other skills, including flying an airplane and doing her own stunts!
Phryne takes on a fresh case at the pleading of a hysterical woman who fears her hot-headed son is about to murder his equally hot-headed father. Phryne, bold as we love her to be, first upstages the son in his own aeroplane at his Sky-High Flying School, then promptly confronts him about his mother’s alarm. To her dismay, however, the father is soon killed and the son taken off to jail. Then a young girl is kidnapped, and Phryne―who will never leave anyone in danger, let alone a child―goes off to the rescue.
Engaging the help of Bert and Cec, the always cooperative Detective-Inspector Robinson, and her old flying chum Bunji Ross, Phryne comes up with a scheme too clever to be anyone else’s, and in her typical fashion saves the day, with plenty of good food and hot tea all around. Meanwhile, Phryne moves into her new home at 221B, The Esplanade, firmly establishes Dot as her “Watson,” and adds two more of our favourite characters, Mr. and Mrs. Butler, to the cast.

My Review:

This has been a hell of a week for me, I’ve been both sick and injured, and nothing that I planned to read is holding my interest. But I recognize that it’s not the books’ fault, it’s most likely mine. I’m out of sorts and looking for instant absorption.

So I went back to Phryne, and was instantly absorbed.

cocaine blues by kerry greenwoodAs in Cocaine Blues, or the TV series based on these books, the mysteries, both of them, are slight. Not that the consequences aren’t serious in both cases, but that Phryne solves them with a quick application of her formidable intellect and what seems like a wave of her hidden magic wand. Along with the occasional application of “the old oil”.

And along the way she manages to show up the local police inspector, a man who is so stubborn that even his fellow coppers give him a wide berth. Benton isn’t stupid, exactly, but he certainly does have fixed ideas. And once one of those ideas gets fixed in his head, nothing will dislodge it.

Certainly not a female detective, amateur or otherwise.

William McNaughton is found dead in his garden, and his son Bill is immediately arrested for the crime. Not that Bill didn’t have a motive. Not that half of Melbourne didn’t have a motive. The elder McNaughton was a bully, a wife beater and a child abuser. His own child, his daughter. No one was safe from him, and no one misses him.

But no one thinks Bill actually killed him, except that one stubborn cop. There’s no real evidence, just that the younger McNaughton seems to be the only person in the immediate proximity who had the brute strength required to drive the rock into the late unlamented’s skull.

And if solving this little pickle wasn’t enough, Phryne also gets involved in the rescue of a kidnapped child. The only thing tying these two cases even remotely together is that one of the kidnappers is such a nasty pedophile that his predilections make the late Mr. McNaughton seem a model citizen by comparison.

Of course, Phryne figures out both solutions in one blink of her grey-green eyes. But it takes the mustered forces of all of her friends and “irregulars” to scotch the kidnappers and find the real murderer.

And it’s an absolute hoot from beginning to end.

Escape Rating A-: The Phryne Fisher series are popcorn books for me. By that I mean that I pick one up, expecting to take just a nibble, then a handful, and discover a couple of hours later that I’ve eaten the whole bag. And I don’t mean crappy burned microwave popcorn either. This is the really good stuff, like Garrett’s or KuKuRuZa. Fresh, flavorful and completely addictive.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the characters seem to have stepped off the page and into the TV show. Except for Jack Robinson and Mrs. Butler, everyone in the books appears in the show exactly as they should be. It adds to that absorption. I read the book and I see the characters in my head. I hear their voices and it all fits.

It also all floats along on the strength of Phryne’s personality, which is formidable. I would never want to get in this woman’s way, but I would love to have drinks with her. It’s hard not to imagine the stories she would tell, and they would all be marvelous.

One of the things that is more obvious in the books than the TV show is the aspect of the “We Have Always Fought” narrative that is present but not beaten to death. Phryne is a woman who always does whatever she wants and is always capable of accomplishing whatever she needs to. She can fight, she can shoot, she can fly a plane, and she can vamp any man she wants. She seems to have never found a situation she couldn’t conquer, in one way or another. This is something that male heroes carry off all the time, but we seldom read of women, particularly in time periods before our own, who are as omni-capable as Phyrne.

Likewise, Phryne has surrounded herself with a group of equally daring professional women. When she needs a lawyer, she knows just the woman for the job. Likewise when she needs a second pilot, or a doctor. Phryne may not be out there marching for suffrage, although I could certainly see her doing it, but she keeps putting her money where her own actions are, supporting other women in nontraditional roles. And she doesn’t do it by saying “oh look at me supporting another woman” it’s that she sees that the best person for a particular job is always someone she knows and trusts, and in the end, most of that circle is made of highly competent women like herself.

When I need another reading pick-me-up, I know I’ll be returning to Phryne’s world again and again.

Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David Fisher

Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David FisherLeonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner, David Fisher
Format: audiobook, ebook, hardcover
Source: publisher, purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, biography
Pages: 278
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on February 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.
Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. In this powerfully emotional book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life.
As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

My Review:

Yesterday was NASA’s Day of Remembrance, in honor of all those who lost their lives in the quest for space, particularly the tragic losses of Apollo I and the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Because so many people have entered the space program and the aerospace industry because they fell in love with the idea of space travel while watching Star Trek, William Shatner’s semi-biographical, semi-autobiographical book about his friendship with the late and very much lamented Leonard Nimoy seemed like an appropriate book for this week.

shatner nimoy youngTo this reader, it felt as if the book, while purporting to tell the story of Leonard Nimoy’s life, ends up combining autobiography with biography. These two men knew each other very well for a very long time, came from somewhat similar backgrounds, and found themselves yoked together, whether they liked it or not (and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t) by their performances in what everyone expected would be a short-lived TV program.

Instead, Star Trek became a phenomenon and none of the lives that it touched were ever the same. Particularly theirs.

Because Star Trek altered the trajectory of both their lives in ways that were both bizarre and profound, this book also serves as a personal recollection of the production of the original series. While many of these stories have been told before, it is still interesting to hear them again from someone who lived through those events.

A group which gets smaller and smaller every year. Dammit.

The other story that is told here is that of the life and occasionally hard times of a working actor in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of television. There is never a good time to be an actor. It’s a lot of tiny parts, short run work, and cab driving (in Nimoy’s case) or waiting tables or some other job that can be dropped and picked up on the whim of a casting director.

And even though these stories are now more than 50 years in the past, that struggle still resonates. The reader can see how those years formed the characters of the men who performed those iconic characters, and how much those characters both represented pieces of their core selves, and how much those characters influenced who they became.

For a fan, this is a fascinating story, all the more so because it rings so true in the author’s voice.

Escape Rating B+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, sometimes I talk about what I feel. Fair warning, this is one of those “feelie” reviews.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the end of the original series. I watched some of those early episodes with my dad, so there are a lot of memories tied up in this for me. Also, the stories that Shatner tells at the very beginning of the book, about his and Nimoy’s shared background as first-generation Americans (or Canadians) in Jewish immigrant families is also the story of my parents’ generation. With very little alteration, my mother could tell similar stories.

As a fan, I read a lot of the “making of Star Trek” books that came out in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories that Shatner relates were also a part of those books, but they are told slightly differently from one participant’s perspective than they were in those more “reporting style” books. Different both in the sense that we all remember things differently, and that it seems as if Shatner glosses over some of his behavior that drove his colleagues crazy at the time, and for years later. Some of the more contentious incidents seem to have faded from memory a bit.

We are all the stars of our own stories, possibly in this case more literally than for the rest of us.

This was a book where I both read the book in ebook, looked at the pictures in the hardcover, and listened to the audio. I would have the audio on in the car, and then pick up with the book at lunch and after I got home. One of the things that comes through on the audio is that the author often sounds tired. He frequently ran out of breath on the longer sentences. I kept wanting to tell him to take a breath in the middle, or grab a glass of water. I wanted to be there as he told his story.

shatner nimoy laughing lateIn the end, this is a book for the fans.It is way more about the history of Star Trek than any other single topic. As a fan, I found the story interesting and often charming. Perhaps I should say “fascinating” as Spock often did.

For readers who are not fans, or for later readers who are looking to find out what all the fuss was about, this is not a book that analyzes the influence of Star Trek or its characters on pop culture and the explosion of science fiction into movies, TV and mainstream literature. That’s a book for someone else at some other time.

But for those of us who loved those men and the show that they created, and which created them, this book is a marvelous way to remember them both.

As his most famous saying goes, Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered. And he is missed.

Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona AndrewsOne Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #3) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #3
Pages: 257
Published by Ilona Andrews on December 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog.
Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.

My Review:

sweep in peace by ilona andrewsThis one is all about family. The one you are born to, and the one that you make. With Dina stuck in the middle, trying to protect all of them. Not just because that’s her job, but because that’s who she is.

This is also a story about grace under pressure, or under fire. Laser fire.

The plot is driven by the two things that drive Dina – the need to find her missing parents, and the need to protect her guests. In this story those two things become inextricably entwined, thanks to a little push from George the interfering Arbitrator. While this whole mess could be payback for the way he screwed Dina over in Sweep in Peace, knowing George it is much more likely that he has plans to use Dina again in the future. We’ll see.

Our story begins with Dina receiving the one thing she can’t ignore – a message from her sister Maud. Maud is in big trouble. And she’s on a remote planet in the middle of the Holy Anocracy, which is vampire territory. So Dina sends out the equivalent of an intergalactic distress call to her vampire friend, Lord Arland of House Krahr. Dina needs his help to rescue her sister. And she’s more than willing to ignore Arland’s fascination with her in order to get it. Fortunately for Dina, her werewolf, Sean, is not willing to let Arland try to fascinate Dina without his presence.

And besides, the planet where Maud is marooned is completely lawless. It’s where the vampires send their castoffs and casteless. Dina is going to need both of them to rescue Maud.

Except its more of an extraction than a rescue. Maud is holding her own just fine, but she’s accomplished what she came to do and it’s time for her and her daughter to leave. Even though Maud is human, just like a good vampire wife she has taken vengeance on all of her late and actually unlamented husband’s killers. It’s time for her to go.

And while Dina is relieved to get Maud back to earth, along with Maud’s daughter (and Dina’s niece) Helen, Arland is absolutely mesmerized. Maud’s combination of human frailties with vampire sensibilities is something he can’t resist. Maud’s doing plenty of resisting for both of them. And Sean is grateful to have Arland out of the competition for Dina. Not that the two alphas aren’t metaphorically, and occasionally literally, still pissing on trees to mark their respective territories.

But it’s a good thing that they have mostly settled their difference, because Dina is going to need all the help she can get. She’s received an offer that is much too good to be true. She can get an answer to her question about where to find her parents from an unimpeachable source. But in order to do so she has to accept the most literally noxious guests in the galaxy – and fend off their fiendishly devious and mindlessly fanatic killers. For as long as it takes.

Or as long as she can.

Escape Rating A: They say that blood is thicker than water, but Dina’s story proves that its not just the blood you share together, but also the blood you shed together. Because her mission in One Fell Sweep places the Gertrude Hunt in the middle of an all out war.

There is a lot of commentary hidden in this particular fight. Her guests are the Hiru. They have been hunted to extinction by the Draziri. For religious reasons. Or unreasons. The Draziri priesthood labeled the Hiru as anathema, and told their followers that killing a Hiru would wipe away the sins of the killer and all their ancestors, no matter how heinous the crime. Even killing a priest could be washed away by killing a Hiru.

And the Hiru are totally unobjectionable as people. They are kind and peaceloving. But their planet was destroyed by the Draziri, and they are biologically incapable of living anywhere else without environmental suits. The worst part is that these are truly awful environmental suits, and they apparently stink to high heaven. Which makes Hiru difficult guests at best, and dangerous at worst. Not because the Hiru do anything dangerous, but because the Draziri ruthlessly hunt them down wherever they go. And the fanatic Draziri do not give a damn about Earth’s neutrality or the possibility of exposing the inn network. They’ve already been banned from Earth altogether, and they ignore that prohibition as well. In pursuit of a Hiru, they have no scruples and no morals and will let nothing get between them and their target. Until Dina puts the Gertrude Hunt between the Draziri and her Hiru guests.

And all hell breaks loose.

Anyone who misses the commentary about the damage done by religious fanaticism and religious intolerance isn’t reading the same book the rest of us did. The lesson is sharp and brutal and the ending makes it stick with the reader long after the story is over.

Religion, particularly religious fanaticism, is a tremendous force. When it is turned towards evil, it is a terrible one. We all make our own gods. And all institutions protect themselves first.

One of the other things I loved about this particular installment of the series is that every single member of Dina’s family gets their chance to shine and to contribute to the fight. I also love the way that the author resolved the love triangle. That could have gone all sorts of wrong. Instead, we have the opportunity for another beautiful love story and one that makes sense in the context of the series.

A couple of thoughts about this particular book before I finish. The Hiru, at least in their environmental suits, are ugly in so many ways. The Draziri, on the other hand, are physically beautiful even if morally bankrupt. I’m not sure whether the appropriate aphorism is the one about “all the is gold does not glitter” or the one about “pretty is as pretty does, but ugly goes clean through to the bone”. Maybe both.

clean sweep by ilona andrewsI have fallen in love with this series. I started Clean Sweep one night, and simply couldn’t let go until I had read the whole thing. These were books well worth staying up late to finish. And now I’m waiting, just like everyone else, for Ilona to begin serializing book 4 on her website, just as she did with the first three books. It will give me another reason to look forward to Fridays.

Blood is thicker than water, and family is more important than anything else. But that includes family of choice. Definitely and defiantly.

Review: Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sweep in Peace by Ilona AndrewsSweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles, #2) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #2
Pages: 237
Published by Ilona Andrews on November 13th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina's door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance.
Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn...and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it's all in the day's work for an Innkeeper…

My Review:

clean sweep by ilona andrewsAfter finishing Clean Sweep in nearly one sitting, I absolutely couldn’t resist pouring through the entire series ASAP. Which I did. And it was glorious.

But specifically about Sweep in Peace…this book adds depth to the world the author has created, and to the characters in the series, particularly Dina, but pretty much everyone her life touches. Or is touched by.

Dina is in kind of a pickle. As she always seems to be in one way or another. In order to remain a viable inn, the Gertrude Hunt needs guests. Her symbiotic relationship with the people who stay with her means that the more guests she has, the more powerful they are, the more she is able to do. And be.

So when an Arbitrator asks her to host an intergalactic peace conference, Dina feels that she needs to take the job. She needs the money AND she needs the guests. So even though she knows that she is literally the inn of last resort, and that keeping her warring guests from bringing the more active parts of their conflict inside her walls, she still needs the money and the guests. And hopes for an increase in the inn’s rating if she is successful, even as she knows that she has about as much chance of success as a snowball in hell.

Speaking of hell, that’s what the fight is all about. The planet Nexus is hell. Or the nearest equivalent that anyone wants to see. But the vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde and the space merchants of Baha are all fighting over it. It may be hell, but it’s a hell that contains valuable minerals that the vampires and the Horde both want. And the merchants sit on the only land stable enough to have transportation facilities to get those minerals off-planet.

And nobody wants to give an inch of ground, even though it is in their bests interests. The vampires and the horde have both spilled too much blood, and the merchants, as it turns out, have nowhere else to go. It’s a stalemate, until Dina and the Arbitrator step in.

Or rather, until the Arbitrator backs Dina into a corner and forces her to step in. Whether she will step out alive is anyone’s guess. No one gets out of hell unscathed. Not even by proxy.

Escape Rating A: I love this series. Did I say that already? Probably multiple times?

Dina reminds me quite a bit of Marley Jacobs in A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark. Both Dina and Marley wield the same kind of quiet power. And also espouse the same flavor of “neutrality” that will defend those it chooses to the death. Of the other person. Or thing. Or whatever.

The most interesting character in this story is George, the Arbitrator. His tactics in every situation are the exception that proves the rule about whether ends that unquestionably serve the greater good can possibly justify extremely questionable means. Every once in a blue moon, the ends actually do justify the means. Which doesn’t make those means any less terrible. It might just make them even more terrible. George knows that every lie he tells, every truth he omits, every action he takes, is designed to move all his pawns, especially including Dina, into the exact right position to achieve his aims, and he does not care how much he damages those pawns along the way, as long as he achieves his goal. Which is admittedly, a worthy one. And might possibly be worth the cost. Or would be if George were the one to pay it. But he isn’t.

Normally, one says that one would not want to be on someone’s bad side. In George’s case, being on his good side isn’t actually any less dangerous.

That love is all there is is all we know of love is all too true. And terrible the lengths it will drive us to. Which is a big part of what George is counting on, to Dina’s cost.

In the end, this story comes to be about the cost of war and the price of peace. Robert E. Lee was right, it is a good thing that war is so terrible. In this particular case, it isn’t just that war is hell, but this war is on hell. And for hell. Each party in this war is wallowing in their own hell. Once they understand that they are all in it together, they are finally able to break free. Together.

Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Review: Clean Sweep by Ilona AndrewsClean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #1) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
Pages: 235
Published by Ilona Andrews on December 2nd 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.
And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

My Review:

There aren’t many books about innkeepers, but after reading this I have to wonder why. Of course, the Gertrude Hunt is a very special kind of inn, and Dina Demille is certainly not an ordinary innkeeper.

This place is magic. It also has magic.

But it’s a particular kind of magic that has just as many roots in SF as it does in Urban Fantasy. And the roots of the Gertrude Hunt are particularly deep. That’s what inns do, at least the very special ones.

The system of inns and innkeepers in this series blends magic with science fiction in interesting ways. Dina’s guests are often extraterrestrial, and her ability to protect them is more than magical. She doesn’t ride her broom, she spears her enemies with it. But only when they threaten the inn.

And that’s what this story is all about. A threat to the inn. Or at least, something that Dina decides threatens the inn, and its neutrality and its secrecy. Someone is killing dogs in Red Deer, Texas. And cattle. And farmers. And whoever that someone is, they are leaving a particular calling card that Dina recognizes as being from someplace other than Earth.

Of course, the arrival of the space-vampires is also a big clue. They’ve come to take out whatever is marauding in Dina’s neighborhood. If they can. And Dina is willing to help them, for the good of everyone. Even if her own personal werewolf and the leader of the vampires have engaged in a cockfight. Over her.

But Dina is there to do her job, protect her guests, and help her neighbors. No matter what it takes.

Escape Rating A: Like the Gertrude Hunt inn itself, this book is completely charming.

And it also has its hilarious moments. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Costco quite the same way again. The alien hunter-creatures invading the canned food aisle, being pelted by supersized cans courtesy of a fellow shopper with an excellent throwing arm and the will to use it is one that I won’t forget for quite a while.

The juxtaposition of complete otherworldliness with total normality was an absolute hoot.

But the story here is all about Dina, and Dina deciding what kind of innkeeper she is going to be. She’d be within her rights to batten down the Gertrude Hunt’s hatches and wait until someone else takes out the intergalactic killers. The deaths of her neighbors are not technically her responsibility, as the presence of the deadly dahaka and his hunters is not her fault.

But she can’t do it. These are her friends and neighbors, and she feels obligated to do what she can, no matter the risk to herself and her inn. Which doesn’t stop her from driving a hard information bargain with the vampires when it turns out that the whole mess is their fault. There’s something about vampires and convoluted internal politicking that just seems to transcend series.

I loved this glimpse into a world that both is and is not our own. Dina is a terrific heroine who knows just what she is capable of and has a strong ethical center. She’s capable of kicking ass, but that’s not her first response. She thinks first and then does.

I’m wondering what the author plans to do with the incipient love-triangle that has reared its handsome head. Or heads. The vampire is right, in the Earth stories where a vampire and a werewolf fight over a woman, the vampire always wins. Which doesn’t make it the right thing for Dina. At this early stage, there is an unwelcome strain of possessiveness on the part of both males, and Dina rightfully steers clear of both of them. She has her own calling. She isn’t going to fall into line behind either of theirs, no matter how charismatic (and they definitely are) they might be.

This is a development I’m going to be fascinated to watch.

My friends over at The Book Pushers have collectively raved about this series, and now I know why. This book was absolutely awesome, and I can’t wait to catch up with the series. And probably won’t wait, which will leave me in the same boat as everyone else, waiting breathlessly for the next installment.

Review: Justice Calling by Annie Bellet

Review: Justice Calling by Annie BelletJustice Calling by Annie Bellet
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1
Pages: 154
Published by Createspace on July 23rd 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Gamer. Nerd. Sorceress. Jade Crow lives a quiet life running her comic book and game store in Wylde, Idaho. After twenty-five years fleeing from a powerful sorcerer who wants to eat her heart and take her powers, quiet suits her just fine. Surrounded by friends who are even less human than she is, Jade figures she's finally safe. As long as she doesn't use her magic. When dark powers threaten her friends' lives, a sexy shape-shifter enforcer shows up. He's the shifter world's judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one, and he thinks Jade is to blame. To clear her name, save her friends, and stop the villain, she'll have to use her wits... and her sorceress powers. Except Jade knows that as soon as she does, a far deadlier nemesis awaits. Justice Calling is the first book in The Twenty-Sided Sorceress urban fantasy series.

My Review:

This first book in the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series reads like classic urban fantasy. And since urban fantasy is one of my go-to genres when I’m in a reading slump, that made Justice Calling a perfect read this week.

By classic urban fantasy, I mean really, really classic. The sorceress of the title learned to focus her magic by using Dungeons & Dragons manuals. It doesn’t get much more basic than that.

It isn’t that DnD works per se, just that those manuals provide a lot of order and focus for someone just learning to use powers that aren’t supposed to work in this world, but somehow do. Jade Crow started out as a nerd, and at first the manuals must have seemed like just good fun, until the magic started working.

Now there isn’t a whole lot of fun involved, but there certainly is a challenge.

The story is also classic in another sense – Jade is on the run from a crazy-stalker ex-boyfriend. But unlike the usual versions of that trope, where the stalker wants to either possess or kill his victim, Jade’s ex Samir is a sorcerer who definitely does want to kill her, but then he plans to eat her heart and steal all her power. And I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally.

Jade has spent the past several years hiding in plain sight. She owns a comic book/game shop in Wylde, Idaho. Wylde is a remote little town on the junction of a whole bunch of ley lines. About half the town’s population is made up of shifters, and lots of other interesting and magical species have made a home there. Jade’s next door neighbor is a leprechaun, and her best friends are all shapechangers of one kind or another.

There are original-recipe humans in town, especially among the student population of the local community college. And when one of Jane’s friends turns up as a taxidermy exhibit, Jane finds herself hunting the college for a wannabe sorcerer who seems to have found a nasty route to power.

But Jane stands at a crossroads, not just literally in Wylde but figuratively in her own life. At the crossroads between running away again, or finally deciding to stand and fight. Into her dilemma rides Justice, in the person of a sexy enforcer who has come to Wylde to either save her friends, save Jade, or all of the above.

Or watch her run away from her friends and her responsibilities, and watch her let her friends die to save herself. Again.

Escape Rating A-: Justice Calling is the introduction to the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. The case that Jane has to solve is not all that hard to figure out. I almost said it was relatively minor, but that’s not strictly true. It’s easy, but what it represents is important. So not minor.

As an introduction, a lot of this story is taken up with setting the stage and getting all the characters on it. Not just Jane herself, but also her friends who start out a bit like a Scooby-gang, and Justice. Justice in this case is a person named Alek. Justice is his job. He represents the shifter council and is judge, jury and executioner whenever a shifter is harmed.

Alek and Jade find each other almost irresistible, which sets up what will be the long-running romance arc of the series. But his part in Justice Calling is to bear witness to Jade’s decision, and to help her save her shifter friends if she decides “correctly”.

As a big bad, Jade’s ex Samir sounds really, really bad. And evil. And dangerous. Jade hides because that’s what she’s always done. She’s afraid for herself, but she’s more afraid for her friends. Samir has used her family-of-choice against her before, and he’ll have no qualms about doing so again if he finds her.

level grind by annie belletBy the end of the story, the reader is invested in the characters and feels the emotional heft of Jade’s decision to stay and fight. The battle looks to be a long and bloody one.

This is a relatively short book, as are the other stories in the series. Which may explain why the author recently re-released the whole thing in two omnibus volumes, Level Grind and Boss Fight. I seem to have both bought Justice Calling and picked up the omnibuses (omnibi?) from Edelweiss, so I’ll be working my way through the series. And glad to do so.

Review: Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Cocaine Blues by Kerry GreenwoodCocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #1
Pages: 175
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

This is where it all started! The first classic Phryne Fisher mystery, featuring our delectable heroine, cocaine, communism and adventure. Phryne leaves the tedium of English high society for Melbourne, Australia, and never looks back.The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honorable Phryne Fisher--she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions--is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.
Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism--not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse--until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.

My Review:

Cocaine Blues is simply tremendous fun. Not just that heroine Phryne Fisher is obviously having a marvelous time, but also that the book is fun to read. And Cocaine Blues works excellently as an introduction to the characters and the place and time in which it is set.

The series is named for, and absolutely stars, its heroine Phryne Fisher. Phryne is a bundle of fascinating contradictions, and her rather eclectic background serves the story well. And for those who have watched the utterly marvelous TV series based on the books, the characters as portrayed, with the exception of Jack Robinson, perfectly match the characters as described, at least so far.

Admittedly, in the book Phryne seems to be in her late 20s, but all of the experience she has accumulated (and definitely enjoyed!) make her seem a better match for the actress who plays her in the series, Essie Davis (seen in the book cover picture), who is in her 40s.

But I digress, just a bit. And why shouldn’t I? Phryne often does.

The series is set in late 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne was not exactly on the beaten path at that point, so the setting is novel, while the time period is a road well traveled. It’s a nice mix of what we know and what we don’t. As much as I liked the setting, occasionally the slang drove me nuts. Most of it was easy to figure out from context after a few minutes of thought, but the meaning of “U.P.” still escapes me.

The strength of the story, what makes it so much fun to read, is the characters. The mystery isn’t all that difficult to solve, but watching Phryne and company pull together and solve it is an absolute blast.

Phryne’s character shines through, and readers need to love her voice to be interested in the series. The story, and all the other characters, orbit around her like satellites. I’ll admit that I loved her voice. It’s irreverent and world-weary, and her inner thoughts reflect her somewhat cynical perspective on the way that things are. She may need to pretend a certain attitude to get what she wants or where she wants, but on the inside we see what she really feels.

She’s also fearless in a way that women seldom are in fiction. She is living her life exactly as she wants it, and will only kowtow to society when she feels it’s necessary, not because it’s “the done thing”.

Phryne is also the living embodiment of Sophie Tucker’s classic saying: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor — and believe me, rich is better.” Phryne was literally dirt-poor as a child in Melbourne, until all the men standing between her father and a rich title in England got killed in the Great War. Suddenly, she’s a wealthy heiress. And while she loves the life and the indulgences it provides, she has never lost sight of where she came from. It’s that background that enables her to relate to all the people she gathers around her, from Bert and Cec, the itinerant taxi drivers, to Dot, her earnest, well-meaning and down-on-her-luck, maid and assistant.

The mystery is not that difficult to solve, but the journey to that solution sparkles and fascinates from beginning to end. Just like Phryne Fisher.

Escape Rating A-: This was the right book at the right time for me. I loved it every bit as much as the TV series, although differently. I saw and heard the characters as they are portrayed in the series, and with the exception of Jack, those portraits meshed perfectly. In the book, Jack is described as being completely average and utterly forgettable. In the series he is anything but, as Phryne seems to be discovering.

miss fisher murder mysteries complete setFor those who have seen the series and wonder how the book matches the episode, this is one of the few times where the TV show actually is better. The plot is a bit tighter, and what are two loosely connected mysteries in the book become one single and stronger mystery in the episode.

As I wait in hope for a Season 4 of the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries, I am thrilled to have discovered Phryne in print as a way to while away the time.

Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. JamesThe Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, mystery
Pages: 152
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on October 25th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time--swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author's own word, add up to a delightful "entertainment." The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is "pure Agatha Christie." . . . A "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh's godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather's mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author's sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex--not to say the most damning--aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James's legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.

My Review:

I was in the mood for something mystery-ish, and in need of a short book, when I ran across Kristine Kathryn Rusch’ review of The Mistletoe Murder. Not only was her review very positive, but she reminded me of all the reasons that I loved the late, lamented P.D. James’ work. I got hooked on Dalgliesh after seeing it on PBS, many, many moons ago, and read the whole series. So discovering that this collection included a couple of new-to-me Dalgliesh stories sealed my fate.

This is a collection of four stories, two set in the early years of Adam Dalgliesh’ career, but the other two set longer ago and farther afield. But all of the stories take place during the Christmas season, no matter what the year.

The title story, The Mistletoe Murder, is chilling. Part of that chill is in the evolution of the amateur detective’s perspective, as she finds herself both wanting to solve the murder and deciding to act as judge and jury in rather peculiar circumstances. That the mystery is ripped from the pages of the author’s own past just adds to its appeal. What makes this story stand out is its ending. The final revelation makes both the amateur detective and the reader re-think everything that has happened.

The second story, A Very Commonplace Murder is also a fairly commonplace mystery. For this reader, it was the one disappointment in the collection. The outcome was both sad and predictable. Although the story, like its narrator, attempted to be clever about the outcome, it felt a bit hackneyed. And sad.

cover her face by pd jamesThe final two stories were the Dalgliesh stories. The last story first, because it comes first in the character’s history, even before the first published book in the series, Cover Her Face. In The Twelve Clues of Christmas the future Scotland Yard Commander is a mere Sergeant at the Met, and while early in his career, is already considered an up and coming officer with a brain in his head and a bright future ahead of him. This is a case he gets dragged into on his way to his aunt’s for Christmas, unfortunately for the perpetrators. They thought they’d be pulling a fast one on a local copper. The nice thing about this story is that not only does the young Dalgliesh figure out the deception, but so does the local inspector who has been pulled away from his Christmas dinner to wrap up the case.

And finally the remaining story in the collection, The Boxdale Inheritance. At this point, Dalgliesh is in the middle of what has already become a stellar career. Based on his rank at the Met, this story takes place around the time of Shroud for a Nightingale. But the case he is confronted with has nothing to do with anything that has crossed his desk at work. Instead, the case is brought to him by his godfather, an Anglican clergyman with a sticky sense of right and wrong. Canon Hubert Boxdale is the recipient of a large bequest from a woman he calls Great Aunt Allie. As much as the elderly Canon needs the money, he refuses to accept it if it is tainted, and it very well might be. Over 60 years ago Great Aunt Allie was acquitted of murdering her husband, even though everyone in the courtroom believed that she committed the crime that gave her all that delicious money. So Adam agrees to look into whether or not justice was done all those years ago. The truth, after all, is still out there. But the way that he works around to it shows off all of his skills at detection.

Escape Rating A-: This is a terrific collection for fans of the author and her most famous character. It reminded me just how much I miss Dalgliesh, particularly the early books. They are both missed and it was a treat to visit them again, however briefly. And The Mistletoe Murder is simply an excellent story, both as a mystery and as a character study.

If you find yourself in a mystery mood, this is a great introduction to the author and her work, or serves as a delightful visit with an old and dear friend.