Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes LackeyThe Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #13
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.

The threat of Moriarty is gone--but so is Sherlock Holmes.

Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty's network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.

The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty's associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers--and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend--to bring the murderer to justice.

My Review:

The Bartered Brides is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, as was last week’s Mycroft and Sherlock. But in spite of the two stories having more or less the same starting point, the Holmes canon, they couldn’t be any more different in tone or even genre.

Mycroft and Sherlock was a fairly straightforward, albeit excellent, historical mystery. The Bartered Brides on the other hand puts Sherlock Holmes in the midst of a Victorian urban fantasy. This is a world in which magic explicitly works, although most people, including Holmes himself, are at best reluctant to believe in it.

Just because Holmes doesn’t believe in magic doesn’t mean that magic doesn’t believe in him. Particularly in the person of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s chronicler and partner-in-solving-crime. Because Watson is an Elemental Water Master who solves cases that go where Holmes mostly refuses to tread.

Although for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Holmes himself is conspicuously absent for most of this story. The Bartered Brides takes place at a well-known point in the official Holmes canon, after the events of Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty both fell to their purported deaths. And before the events of The Empty House where Holmes returns, not from death after all, but from a long sojourn around the world recovering from his wounds and mopping up the remainders of Moriarty’s criminal organization.

Unlike in the canon, Watson at least, as well as his wife Mary, know that Holmes is alive and on the hunt. Which means that they are also aware that Moriarty’s henchmen in London might very well be hunting them.

But in the meantime, Lestrade is desperate. He does not know that Holmes is still alive. All he knows is that the headless corpses of young women are washing up on the banks of the Thames. He is out of his depth – not atypical for Lestrade. But this case feels weird – and it is – so he calls in his best Holmes substitute, Dr. John Watson and the two young women who assist him with his magical cases, psychic Nan Killian and medium Sarah Lyon-White.

When even their best isn’t good enough, they consider dropping the case. Until an emergency meeting with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, representing Her Majesty’s government and Lord Alderscroft, and leader of London’s Elemental Masters convinces them to stay on the case.

They are both certain that this isn’t the usual kind of serial killer at work. Instead, this series of crimes looks like it’s right up the darker alleys of elemental mastery. Alderscroft in particular is beginning to believe that an Elemental Spirit Master has gone to the bad. And if there’s someone in London dabbling in the foul waters of necromancy he needs to get it stopped.

Nan and Sarah are also right. It would be too much like a bad farce for there to be both a gang of Moriarty’s henchmen out committing evil AND a gang of necromancer’s assistants out doing evil at the same time – even in a city as big as London.

But what could one have to do with the other?

Escape Rating B+: This is a fun book and has become a fun series. Originally the Elemental Masters series seemed to revolve around reworkings of classic fairy tales across various points in time where magic users who were masters of their particular elements were part of the reworking of the tales. And some entries in the series were better than others.

But a few books ago the author moved from reworking fairy tales to dealing with one legendary character in particular. In A Study in Sable she introduced her own versions of Holmes, Watson and the rest of the Baker Street crew. Sherlock was still very much his extremely rational self, but the Watson of this series is very different. His water mastery makes him much closer to Holmes’ equal, albeit in a different sphere. He also has allies and resources of his own separate from Holmes.

This redirection of the series really zings! It can also be read without reading the Elemental Masters series as a whole by starting with either A Study in Sable or an earlier volume which serves as a kind of prequel, The Wizard of London, which introduces the characters of Nan and Sarah as well as Lord Alderscroft, the titular “Wizard”.

The criminal conspiracies in this story do reduce to Occam’s Razor. Two separate gangs doing this much damage would be too much. It is a surprise however to see just how the one set of evil relates to the other – and they are both definitely very evil.

The truth about the headless corpses and their evil purpose will chill readers right down to the bone. As will the mastermind’s methods of obtaining them, which spotlights just how disposable working class women, especially young women, were at this point in history, as well as just how pervasive racial prejudices were at the time.

What makes this subseries so much fun is, of course, the cast of characters. The varying perspectives of this Watson with more agency, his equally powerful wife Mary, and the two young women who are determined to make an independent go of their world lets us see this version of Victorian London from it’s highest pinnacles to very nearly its lowest depths through the eyes of very sympathetic characters.

The villain in this case is deliciously and despicably evil, and we are able to see just enough of his horrible machinations to learn what he’s up to and to wholeheartedly concur with him receiving his just desserts.

This version of Victorian London is fascinating and magical, in both senses of the word. I hope we have plenty of return visits to look forward to!

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda JamesSix Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #10
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are busy decking the halls for the holidays when an unexpected delivery and a shocking murder conspire to shake up the season in this all new installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

December twenty-fifth is right around the corner, and Charlie is making his list and checking it twice. He is doing his best to show some peace and goodwill toward his nosy neighbor Gerry Albritton, a real estate agent who seems to have designs on his house (and maybe on him, as well), while preparing for a very important role, indeed--his first Christmas as a grandfather.

The last thing Charlie expects is to gain several new additions to his family. Charlie finds a box on his doorstep with five kittens inside and a note begging him to keep them safe. With Diesel's help, Charlie welcomes the tiny felines into the Harris household just as Gerry decides it is time to throw a lavish holiday party.

Determined to make her mark on Athena, Gerry instead winds up dead at her very own party. Though attempts to dig into her past come up empty, Charlie and his girlfriend, Helen Louise, witness two heated exchanges involving Gerry before her death: one with a leading citizen and another with the wife of a good friend. Will one of these ladies wind up on the sheriff's naughty list? Charlie and Diesel have to wrap up the case before the special season is ruined by a sinister scrooge.

My Review:

Even though it still feels too early to talk about the Xmas holidays, this was still the perfect book for this week. Why? Because just like Charlie Harris, we got a kitten this week. But we got just the one, while Charlie found five little ones on his and Diesel’s doorstep.

If our two boys turn out to be half the cat-uncle-babysitter that Diesel does, we’ll be very happy. Also totally astonished.

Back to the book…although our itteh bitteh kitteh is utterly adorable.

This is the holiday entry in the cozy mystery series Cat in the Stacks. Our hero, amateur detective and fellow librarian ends up with two mysteries to solve. One mystery has a suitably heartwarming ending for the holiday season and the other is a convoluted murder case.

There is no such thing as a “heartwarming” ending to a murder case. Someone has died before their time, and someone else needs to pay for bringing that time ahead of schedule.

The first part of the mystery is that stealth placement of five kittens on Charlie and Diesel’s doorstep, along with a note that lets Charlie know that although the kittens owner loves them, his or her male parent is not letting said owner keep them at home. Based on the handwriting, the owner is a child – and said parent is being a Grinch this Christmas.

So Charlie’s first mystery is to find the owner of the kittens, so that he can give that male parent a piece of his mind – as well as get the owner’s take on what to do with the kittens. They are almost old enough to be adopted out, so in the six to eight week range. And he can’t keep all five, as much as he wants to. Diesel is exhausted playing uncle to the brood.

At the same time, there’s a much darker mystery wrapped around the sudden advent of his new neighbor, Gerry Albritton. She claims to have lived in tiny Athena all of her life, but no one seems to recognize her. She looks vaguely familiar, but no one can place her. And there are no females of the right age on the well-known Albritton family tree.

Gerry is a mystery. Also a slightly distasteful one. She comes on much too strong to all of the men who get within grabbing distance, and makes everyone, especially Charlie, uncomfortable with her heavy-handed flirting. She’s also had the most garish holiday light display ever seen in Athena set up in, at and on her house.

Charlie needs blackout curtains to sleep at night.

But everyone in town is invited to the big holiday shindig she is hosting – and no one plans to miss it. Including Gerry’s murderer – whoever they might be. Whoever Gerry might be.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was certainly comforted by reading it. This series is always very cozy, with lots of friendly and family happenings stashed in between the bits of Charlie solving the murder. It is also not a series where you have to read the books in order to get into the action. Although I think it helps to have read at least one or two.

The fact is that I like Charlie. While his penchant for solving murders is a bit outside the usual librarian job description, what makes this series work for me is that Charlie sounds like “one of us”. His experiences as a librarian ring true for me as a librarian. If they didn’t it would throw me out of the story. (This reflects very much on the observations about scientists in Friday’s Putting the Science in Fiction review. When we know something intimately, and an author goes there, if the scenario doesn’t ring true the rest of the book falls flat. Or gets thrown against a wall.)

Charlie reads like “one of us librarians” because his creator is a real-life librarian. I’d be happy to have drinks at a library conference with either one of them.

I also like that Diesel, Charlie’s big, handsome Maine Coon cat, is intelligent for a cat but does not veer into human intelligence. I love Joe Grey in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s series of the same name, but one cat detective is enough. Instead, Diesel makes himself a big part of the story by doing what cats do best – taking care of their people, making sure their people take care of them and getting into just the right amount of mischief.

Although Diesel’s role in this story is to keep the clowder of rambunctious kittens OUT of mischief. It’s an exhausting job, but somebody definitely has to do it!

The solution to the mystery of who dropped the kittens at Charlie’s door had just the right kind of light touch to offset the family crisis that Charlie has to deal with and especially with the increasing mystery that surrounds Gerry Albritton. Not just the mystery of her death, but first the mystery of her life. It’s impossible for either the police or Charlie to figure out whodunnit until they are able to discover who it was that got done.

Gerry’s life is a tragedy that turned into a triumph and ultimately back into the tragedy of her death.Once they figured out who she was, it was all too easy to figure out who benefitted from her death.

But the final tragedy was appropriately leavened by the advent of the most rambunctious of the kittens into Charlie and Diesel’s life. For good this time!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-21-18

Sunday Post

There’s a very good chance that one of this week’s reviews is going to be postponed to make room for a review of The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi. I’m in the middle of the audiobook right now and so far it is absolutely awesome. And the man himself is going to be just a hop, skip and a jump away from us this week. On Thursday he’ll be doing a reading in Athens GA sponsored by Avid Bookshop. If you like his writing, or just like SF, and you’re going to be within reasonable driving distance of Athens (or somewhere else on The Consuming Fire tour), Scalzi always gives a great reading and an interesting and amusing time is always had by all.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the October Of Books Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Hero by Anna Hackett is Linda R.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop is Dan D.

Blog Recap:

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
A- Review: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
B+ Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett
A- Review: Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse
B+/C+ Review: Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt vs. The Science of Science Fiction by Mark Brake
Stacking the Shelves (310)

Coming This Week:

Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James (review)
The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey (review)
Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson (review)
Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven (review)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (review)

Stacking the Shelves (310)

Stacking the Shelves

I realized a couple of things this week. Because I finished Endgames, the 12th book in the Imager Portfolio over the weekend, I discovered that I really, really want to read the first three books in the series again. Not just because it’s been 10 years since I read them, but because Endgames is the end of the middle sequence in the world chronology. The series as a whole started at what is now the endpoint of that chronology. I’m really curious to see how what we know now matches up with what the author wrote then.

I also figured out that now that I’ve stopped depressing myself by listening to the news on the radio, I have about 5 extra hours of audiobook listening every week. Plenty of time to run through a whole lot of books! So I grabbed the first three Imager books in audio. I think I must have listened to one or more books in the series at some point, so I’m looking forward to hearing the reader again – and hearing how some of the more tongue-twisting names are actually pronounced!

For Review:
The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Warrior of the World (Chronicles of Dasnaria #3) by Jeffe Kennedy

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Imager (Imager Portfolio #1) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Imager’s Challenge (Imager Portfolio #2) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Imager’s Intrigue (Imager Portfolio #3) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy (preorder)

Review: Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt vs. The Science of Science Fiction by Mark Brake

Putting the Science in Fiction: Expert Advice for Writing with Authenticity in Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Other Genres by by Dan Koboldt, Chuck Wendig , Gareth D. Jones, Bianca Nogrady, Kathleen S. Allen, Mike Hays, William Huggins, Abby Goldsmith, Benjamin Kinney, Danna Staaf, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Judy L. Mohr, Anne M. Lipton, Jamie Krakover, Rebecca Enzor, Stephanie Sauvinet, Philip Kramer, Gwen C. Katz
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback
Genre: science, science fiction
Pages: 266
Published by Writer’s Digest Books on October 16th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:
Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy,” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction (dankoboldt.com/science-in-scifi). Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

 

The Science of Science Fiction: The Influence of Film and Fiction on the Science and Culture of Our Times by Mark Brake
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction, history
Pages: 272
Published by Skyhorse Publishing on October 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
Goodreads

We are the first generation to live in a science fiction world.

Media headlines declare this the age of automation. The TV talks about the coming revolution of the robot, tweets tell tales of jets that will ferry travelers to the edge of space, and social media reports that the first human to live for a thousand years has already been born. The science we do, the movies we watch, and the culture we consume is the stuff of fiction that became fact, the future imagined in our past–the future we now inhabit.

The Science of Science Fiction is the story of how science fiction shaped our world. No longer a subculture, science fiction has moved into the mainstream with the advent of the information age it helped realize. Explore how science fiction has driven science, with topics that include:

Guardians of the Galaxy Is Space Full of Extraterrestrials? Jacking In: Will the Future Be Like Ready Player One?
Mad Max Is Society Running down into Chaos? The Internet: Will Humans Tire of Mere Reality?
Blade Runner 2049 When Will We Engineer Human Lookalikes? And many more!
This book will open your eyes to the way science fiction helped us dream of things to come, forced us to explore the nature and limits of our own reality, and aided us in building the future we now inhabit.

My Review:

I have served on various book judging committees over the years. Recently I was part of a group picking the best science fiction for the year. I’m not going to say where or when, but it’s a list where the jury is still out.

But it made me think about what makes good science fiction – and conversely what doesn’t. Which led me to not one but two books in the virtually towering TBR pile, Putting the Science in Fiction and The Science of Science Fiction, both of which have been released this month.

It seemed like a golden opportunity to do a compare and contrast instead of a more traditional review.

I thought that these books would work together well. Putting the Science in Fiction was all about the inputs. It is exactly what I expected it to be. Much fiction, both written and filmed, includes some science in some form. Police dramas and mysteries deal with forensic science. Medical dramas – and not a few mysteries – deal with medical science. Science fiction, of course, is all about taking science out to the nth degree and then playing with it.

But lay people often get things wrong. There are lots of things about science that get shortchanged or simplified in order to make better drama. Anyone who is an expert in whatever has just gotten completely screwed up will cringe and just how far off-base the writer or director has just taken the science in their story.

We all do it for our own fields. And when it happens it throws the knowledgeable reader out of the story – no matter how good the rest of it might be.

Putting the Science in Fiction turns out to be a surprisingly readable collection of essays by science and engineering experts explaining the very, very basics of their fields to those of us whose expertise is somewhere else. It serves as a terrific guide for any writer who wants to follow the dictum of “write what you know” by learning more so they know more so they have more to write about.

On my other hand, The Science of Science Fiction is not what I expected it to be. I was kind of expecting it to be about SF that did well – not necessarily in the science aspect at the time so much as in the way that it captured the imagination – even to the point where the SF created the science it postulated.

There is a famous story about Star Trek: The Original Series and the invention of the cell phone that comes to mind.

But that’s not where this book went. Although that would be a great book and I hope someone writes it.

Instead, The Science of Science Fiction reads more like a history of SF written thematically rather than chronologically. It takes some of the basic tenets and tropes of SF and lays out where they began – sometimes surprisingly long ago – to where they are now.

It’s an interesting approach but it didn’t quite gel for this reader.

By way of comparison, both books talk about the science and the influences of Michael Crichton’s classic work of SF, Jurassic Park.

Putting the Science in Fiction does two things, and it does them really well. First, it conveys that “sensawunder” that SF does when it is at its best. The author of the essay is a microbiologist, who puts the science of the book in context – both the context of what was known at the time it was written (OMG 1990!) and what has been discovered since, and comes to the conclusion that he didn’t do too badly based on what was known at the time. Discoveries since have made his science fictional extrapolation less likely than it originally seemed. It’s hard to fault the author for that.

But what the author of the essay also does is to show how the book not only grabbed his interest and attention but continues to hold it to the present day, even though he knows the science isn’t remotely feasible. The book does a great job of taking just enough of the science in a direction that we want to believe is possible.

After all, who wouldn’t want to see a real live dinosaur? Under very controlled conditions. Much more controlled conditions than occur in the book, of course.

The Science of Science Fiction also discusses Jurassic Park. (A classic is a classic, after all) But instead of talking about the science of cloning the author goes into a couple of other directions. First he sets Jurassic Park within the context of other “lost world” works of science fiction. That’s a tradition that goes back to Jules Verne and even further. But it feels like the fit of Jurassic Park as part of that lost world tradition doesn’t quite fit.

The other part of this Jurassic Park discussion has to do with the way that scientists are portrayed in SF. Science makes the story possible. Scientists in fiction tend to work toward proving they can do something – in this particular case proving they can clone dinosaurs from preserved DNA. It takes a different kind of scientist, someone dealing in chaos theory, to posit that just because it CAN be done doesn’t mean it SHOULD be done. That’s a discussion I would love to see expanded. And I’d have liked this book more if it had been expanded here.

Reality Ratings: These two books struck me completely differently. Putting the Science in Fiction is both readable and does what it sets out to do – excellent points for a work designed to help writers do a more informed job of including science in their fiction. I therefore give Putting the Science in Fiction a B+.

Howsomever, The Science of Science Fiction doesn’t work nearly as well. It reads much more like a history of SF than it treats with the science of SF. That it breaks that history up into themes rather than treat it chronologically makes it jump around a bit. As SF history, it’s not nearly as readable as Astounding or An Informal History of the Hugos or What Makes This Book So Great?. While I will be tempted to dip back into Putting the Science in Fiction again when I need some explanatory material on a particular science in SF, I won’t be inclined to go back to The Science of Science Fiction. I give The Science of Science Fiction a C+

One final recommendation. Do not read the chapter in Putting the Science in Fiction about plausible methods for kicking off the Zombie Apocalypse at breakfast. Or any other meal!

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WhitehouseMycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


The new novel by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starring brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

Now a force to be reckoned with in the War Office, the young Mycroft Holmes is growing his network of contacts and influence, although not always in a manner that pleases his closest friend, Cyrus Douglas. A Trinidadian of African descent, Douglas has opened a home for orphaned children, while still running his successful import business.

When a ship carrying a cargo in which Douglas was heavily invested runs aground on the Dorset coast, Mycroft convinces his brother Sherlock to offer his services at the orphanage while Douglas travels to see what can be salvaged. Sherlock finds himself surprisingly at home among the street urchins, but is alarmed to discover that two boys show signs of drug addiction. Meanwhile Douglas also finds evidence of opium use on two dead sailors, and it becomes clear to Mycroft that the vile trade is on the ascent once again.

Travelling to China on the trail of the drug business, Mycroft and Douglas discover that there are many in high places willing to make a profit from the misery of others. Their opponents are powerful, and the cost of stemming the deadly tide of opium is likely to be high...

My Review:

Combine “portrait of the detective as a young truant” with “portrait of the spider at the heart of the British government as a young bureaucrat” and you get a couple of the parts of Mycroft and Sherlock.

This is also a story where we begin to see our heroes becoming the people that we know they will become. Not merely Sherlock the intelligent, intolerant, sociopathic detective, but also Mycroft as the rather bloated and nearly agoraphobic spider at the heart of the government’s web – a web that he himself will spin in the decades to come.

And part of what makes this work, both the first book in the series, Mycroft Holmes, and this latest, is that the authors tell a story about these much-beloved brothers that is new to our eyes while still fitting into the canon that we already know – the world that they will eventually inhabit but that for them is yet to come.

But this story is a followup to the authors’ Mycroft Holmes – a book that was published in 2015 but that I didn’t get around to until earlier this year. I enjoyed it so much that I actually bought Mycroft and Sherlock when it came out – there were no ARCs and I really wanted to see what happened next.

Not that we don’t know what happens eventually to the Holmes Brothers, but I wanted to see the next steps that this story would take to get from here to there.

This is both a sequel and not. The events of the first book do have consequences in this one, but not the case itself. And it’s fascinating and if you enjoy Holmes’ pastiches I definitely recommend it.

Those consequences are rather surprising – because they revolve around the health of the protagonists and not further involvement in that particular case. At the end of the first story Douglas survived a near-fatal gunshot wound, resulting in a couple of slugs sitting uncomfortably near his heart. For the man of action that he has been, his need to either restrict his actions or attempt to protect his vulnerability is not easy.

Mycroft is just not feeling well – surprisingly unwell for a healthy young man in his mid-20s. That last messy case included an untreated bout of malaria, resulting in a weakened heart. So both Mycroft and his friend Douglas suffer from similar ailments, albeit from different causes.

And with different results. Mycroft (and Sherlock) both know about Douglas’ condition. But Mycroft, secret-keeper that he is, keeps his condition to himself – even when it would behoove him to reveal it. He can’t stand to admit to a weakness – particularly when he feels that his work is not yet done.

But his reticence adds to the distance in his relationship with his brother -a distance that will continue to have consequences for the rest of their lives.

There is a case here, and it’s a typical Holmesian farrago of convoluted means and hidden motives, with the addition of the right hand (in this case Mycroft) not knowing what the left hand (in this case Sherlock) is doing – and vice versa. With nearly fatal results – multiple times.

It is also a case where the story explores conditions at the time. As the saying goes, “The past is another country, they do things differently there.” The heart of this case is the drug trade – which is surprisingly legal for the most part yet still has aspects that are hidden in dark shadows.

But the soul of the case is about family, and the infinite number of ways in which trying to help can go oh so terribly wrong.

Escape Rating A-: I liked this every bit as much as the first book. Which was a lot. This was certainly another case of right book, right time. I was just in the mood for more Holmes (I have another one in the queue as well) but this was just right.

Part of what makes these two books so good is the addition of Cyrus Douglas. For the most part, the original canon dealt with the Victorian era from an upper-middle class white point of view. The addition of Douglas as a main character forces Mycroft and Sherlock to deal with the parts of the world that men of their race and class generally ignored.

At the same time, Douglas also serves as the adult in the room. In his mid-40s by this point in the story, he has a wealth of real-life experience – and the scars to go with it – that the Holmes boys lack. Douglas can be a voice of reason that makes the brothers stop and think for a minute – or at least make Mycroft stop and think for a minute – in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

Both of the Holmes are a bit melodramatic at this point in their lives. We never think of them as young because they were not in the canon, but in these stories, with Mycroft in his mid-20s and Sherlock in his late teens, they are very young indeed – and it shows in their actions as well as their thought-processes.

At the same time, we are able to see the elements of what will become their known personas beginning to gel. Mycroft is beginning to retreat from the wider world, becoming more focused on his governmental duties and on the forces that only he can see. While this case brings him temporarily out of himself, we can also see that it is temporary.

Sherlock’s methods are clearly under development in this case, but his personality is nearly set. And we see both happen as he learns how to handle disguises and starts the seeds that will become the Irregulars while at the same time he is still wearing his heart on his sleeve – and learning to hide it.

If you want to find yourself up to the neck in the Victorian era and several steps behind two of the most famous detectives in history, this book is a really fun read. I hope there will be more!

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Rescue by Anna HackettMission: Her Rescue (Team 52 #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Team 52 #2
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on October 7th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When archeologist January’s plane is shot down over the Guatemalan jungle, she knows she’s being hunted for the invaluable Mayan artifacts she’s carrying. Only one man and his team can save her…the covert, black ops Team 52, and the distrusting former CIA operative who drives her crazy…

Dr. January James has a motto: live life to the fullest. A terrible incident in her past, where she lost both her mother and her innocence, taught her that. Now she spends her days on archeological digs doing the work she loves. When her team uncovers a pair of dangerous artifacts in an overgrown temple, she knows they need to be secured and safeguarded. But someone else knows about the artifacts…and will kill to get them.

Working for the CIA, Seth Lynch learned the hard way that people lie and will always stab you in the back. He has the scars to prove it. He lives for his work with Team 52—ensuring pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. When he learns that the feisty, independent archeologist who works his last nerve has died in a plane crash, he makes it his mission to discover who the hell is responsible.

Deep in the jungle, Seth rescues a very-much alive January and it is up to him to keep both her and the artifacts safe. Hunted from every side, their attraction is explosive and fiery, but with January’s life on the line, Seth must fight his own demons in order to rescue the woman he can no longer resist.

My Review:

In this followup to the first book in the series, Mission: Her Protection, the circumstances are just a bit different but the outcome ends up being very, very similar. Archaeologist January Jones already knows who and what Team 52 is and does – because they “appropriated” an artifact from one of her previous digs.

This time she’s on her way to Area 52 willingly, because she knows that whatever her team has found its every bit as much their bailiwick as it is hers. Meaning that while the two solid jade orbs are certainly a priceless archaeological treasure, there is also something uncanny about them. They may be the key to the power of the ancient and secretive Snake Kings, but that key is also trouble that Team 52 is better equipped to deal with than she is.

A conclusion that is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt when her plane back to civilization from the jungles of Guatemala is shot down in the middle of said jungle by a group intent on killing her and taking the orbs. January is rescued in the nick of time by Team 52, who are equally intent on saving both her and the orbs – particularly Team 52 agent Seth Lynch, who is more intent on January than those orbs.

Seth and January have tangled before – on that previous occasion when Team 52 tried to take her artifacts first and talk second. January clipped him upside the head with a metal pipe in the process and no one has let him forget it. Not that he could forget. Something about January gets right under his skin and pisses him off every time they meet.

They dislike each other with an intensity that is clearly hiding a lot of other things that neither of them is ready or willing to feel. But sharing a near-death experience does have a way of stripping the inhibitions – especially when those are inhibitions that a person really, really needs to let go of.

In spite of the flare of heat that rises between them, they are coming from very opposite perspectives. January’s response to tragedy is to live life to the fullest, and feel things to the utmost. Seth’s response has been to emotionally cut himself off from trusting other people – and that includes January. That especially includes January.

A mistake that nearly costs both of them everything.

Escape Rating B+: I still find the titles of this series to be endlessly cheesy – however the stories are anything but. Unless one considers the cheese to be well-toasted over a very hot flame – because there’s plenty of heat between the hero and heroine.

At least so far, this is not a series where you need to read from the beginning. I enjoyed Mission: Her Protection a lot, it’s a terrific action-adventure romance – as is Mission: Her Rescue – but the stories don’t build on one another very much. There’s more of an introduction to the team and its work in the first book but not so much that a new reader can’t pick it up from context in this one.

Team 52 is also a spinoff of the author’s previous action-adventure romance series, Treasure Hunter Security. But again, prior knowledge of that series isn’t required for this one. There are a couple of mentions of people from THS, but they are minor mentions. It was enough to give a fan reader like myself a smile of recognition, but not knowing wouldn’t take anything away from enjoying this book.

The two things outside of THS that the Team 52 series reminds me of are Stargate and M.L. Buchman’s military romances, particularly his Night Stalkers series. Team 52, both the way that it seeks out previously hidden advanced tech and the way that its base operates – as well as where it operates – seem very similar to the Earth-bound parts of Stargate Command. There’s just no gate. Stargate also had a warehouse in Area 51 – right next door to the Team 52 operation and warehouse in Area 52.

The romances remind me of the Night Stalkers series quite a bit. Seth Lynch in particular is very similar to Colonel Michael Gibson in Bring On the Dusk. Both of them are secret operatives and both have serious trust issues. But the whole Night Stalkers series are military romance where the heroes and the heroines are equals in every single way, and that is the feeling that is also captured in Team 52. No damsels ever get rescued – they rescue themselves and sometimes they rescue the hero as well, and not just in the emotional sense.

One of the other ways that Team 52 resembles military romance as well as action-adventure is that all of the protagonists, both male and female are scarred in one way or another. Sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes both. These are all people who have been seriously carved up by life, whether because they live life on the edge or because their previous experience has pushed them that way. A big part of each story is the way that they make each other strong in their broken places.

That they often end up fused together by the heat they make together is icing on a very delicious cake!

Review: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

Review: When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera LewisWhen the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 240
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Marjorie Herrera Lewis’s debut historical novel the inspiring true story of high school teacher Tylene Wilson—a woman who surprises everyone as she breaks with tradition to become the first high school football coach in Texas—comes to life.

"A wonderfully touching and beautiful story…Tylene makes me laugh, cry, and cheer for her in ways I have not done in a long time.”—Diane Les Bocquets, bestselling author of Breaking Wild  

It's a man's game, until now...Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas. Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on. Each September brings with it the hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.

Now, the war has changed everything.  Most of the Brownwood men over 18 and under 45 are off fighting, and in a small town the possibilities are limited. Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy’s knee. She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.

Faced with extreme opposition—by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees and even the players themselves—Tylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team—and the town—to a Friday night and a subsequent season they will never forget.           

Based on a true story, When the Men Were Gone is a powerful and vibrant novel of perseverance and personal courage.

My Review:

This is an absolute awesome story – and it is all the better for being based on a true one. It also has a surprising amount of resonance. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tylene Wilson was a real person. She really did coach men’s football in Brownwood Texas during World War II, as the title says, when all the men were gone. One of the differences between the fictional Tylene and the factual Tylene was that the real Tylene coached college football, not high school.

But, as has so often happened, the real Tylene’s achievements, like so many women’s achievements, has been lost to history – and that’s in the spite of the fact that WW2 is still in living memory – albeit for a decreasing number of people. The author of this book was inspired by the case of a real, 21st century woman who is following in Tylene’s fading footsteps, coaching men’s college football.

Without nearly enough historical documentation, the author was forced to fictionalize Tylene’s achievement – and the struggles that she went through to achieve it. The fictionalized version of her story is compelling AND has plenty of resonance with today.

Tylene knows football. And she knows it really, really well. Her dad taught her, both how to play and how to analyze plays. Not because he had a not-to-secret yearning for a son, but because Tylene had rickets as a child. The cure for rickets is Vitamin D, most easily found in good old sunshine.

Girls didn’t play a lot outside, even in small-town Texas, in the early 20th century. But boys certainly did. So Dad learning football and baseball and any other sport or activity that would make his little girl eager to get out into the sunshine – and get well and stay well. It worked.

And it gave Tylene a lifelong love of the sport.

World War II was a period when all the young men went to war – and all the young women went into the factories. I have my parents’ high school annuals from that period, and the teachers all had, as the saying went at the time, “one foot in the grave and the other one on a banana peel”. There were no young teachers. It is easy to imagine that in a small town like Brownwood, there were no young men, period, who were not either medically ineligible (and therefore would have been medically ineligible to have played football) or had served and been invalided out.

There do seem to be plenty of older men. But just because someone can “Monday Morning Quarterback” with the best of them doesn’t mean that they have any of the actual knowledge required to coach a real team, even a high school team. The lack of real knowledge may stop them from volunteering to coach or being qualified to do so. Of course it does not stop them from complaining that a woman can’t possibly know enough to coach – even if she does.

Her situation feels real – only because it was. What adds to the poignancy is that this story takes place in the fall of 1944. She wouldn’t have known it the time, but her desire to keep the high school football program going for one more year would save the lives of those boys who would have enlisted instead of hanging around tiny Brownwood. She just wanted to give them one more year of adolescence before they went to war. She probably saved their lives.

But the forces arrayed against her, while couched in the even more overt misogyny of the mid-century, sound all too similar to the voices that every 21st century woman has heard in her life about why women are unsuited to this, that, or the other thing because whatever it is is supposed to be the province of men.

All those men sound shrill and frightened and very, very real. And they haven’t changed a bit in all the years since.

Escape Rating A-: This was an incredible book – and a very fast read. This is also one of those times when I wish there had been just a bit more of the story. While it does end on a paradoxically high note, I wanted more. At least an epilog where we get to find out how the season went and witness the announcement of the end of the war and the impact on the school, students and town. (Yes, I know it’s fiction. I still wanted more closure.)

Which does not mean that I did not enjoy the book, because I certainly did. And the ending, while it felt a bit premature, was definitely at a high point. Not because her team won the game, but because she won the team – and, it seemed, the town.

But it’s the chorus of naysayers that stick with me, because it all sounded so damn familiar.

Tylene faced endless amounts of sexual harassment – from every side – all the time. The opposing coach for her team’s season opening game was ready to forfeit. He was convinced that it would be less embarrassing for his team to forfeit the game and take a loss than it would have been to play the game and win in a rout. He never considered that it would be a fair and close game, win or lose. He couldn’t believe that a woman could possibly coach that well, or that a team would support a woman coach that well.

While her husband was supportive, he was also very, very shaken. There were points when the negativity and the pressure were so intense that he also wanted her to give in and give up. His best friend and the mainstay of his business refused to do business with him after Tylene became the coach. The school board held a special meeting to remove her from the job – and no one in town told her about the meeting in advance.

And any woman who does not hear the echoes of those scared, shrill male voices rising against Tylene shouting in today’s news hasn’t been paying attention. That kept me riveted to the book from beginning to end – and haunts me still.

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

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Halloween is creeping closer and closer. That means it’s time for the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds!

That also means that ’tis the season for pumpkin spice everything. OMG.

Are you Team Pumpkin Spice Everything?

Or are you Team Pumpkin Spice NOOOOOO?

Lucifer (not actually MY Lucifer but his evil twin!) and I will be over here while you decide. Answer in the Rafflecopter below for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book. If you decide to buy pumpkin spice ANYTHING with the gift card, please do not let me know!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-14-18

Sunday Post

Yesterday the Caffeinated Reviewer and I kicked off the sign up for this year’s Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop. YAY! Black Friday just seems like a perfect day for a bloghop. While you’re doing all of your other online holiday shopping, be sure to stop by and maybe pick up something for yourself!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the October Of Books Giveaway Hop
Hero by Anna Hackett

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green
B- Review: Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe
B+ Review: Desert Hunter by Anna Hackett + Pets in Space 3 Spotlight + Giveaway
A- Review: The Arrows of the Heart by Jeffe Kennedy
A Review: Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee
Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop Sign Up
Stacking the Shelves (309)

Coming This Week:

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrara Lewis (blog tour review)
Mission: Her Rescue by Anna Hackett (review)
The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey (review)
Putting the Science in Fiction by Dan Koboldt (review)