Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson

Review: The Temple by Jean JohnsonThe Temple (Guardians of Destiny #4) by Jean Johnson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Guardians of Destiny #4
Pages: 333
Published by Penguin on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Synod gathers, tell them lies:

Efforts garnered in your pride
Lost beneath the granite face.
Painted Lord, stand by her side;
Repentance is the Temple's grace.

The Guardian of the Fountain of Mendhi is dying, and her successor must step up to the task. Disciplinarian Pelai is ready to accept the burden of managing the powerful magics, but the timing is inconvenient. She has one last Disciplining to perform: assigning the punishment of the three Puhon brothers--men whose lives are entwined with a prophecy of a cataclysmic demonic invasion.

Six months of travel have given Puhon Krais time to reflect on, regret, and repent his many mistakes. But the worst lies just ahead: defying the leadership of Mendhi means suffering harsh punishments at the hands of the Disciplinarians once he comes home. Commanded by his Goddess, the proud Painted Warrior must find the strength to submit to his destiny...or find himself, and his whole world, on the wrong side of history.

For in the end, one brother is destined to save humanity, one will betray humanity, and one will walk away from his humanity.

My Review:

I’ve frequently said that the wait between Jean Johnson’s books is a torment. That’s both especially true in the case of The Temple (it’s been four YEARS!) and especially appropriate in light of the story itself.

Waiting for fulfillment is just one of the sweet torments practiced by the Disciplinarians of the Temple of Menda in this fourth book in the Guardians of Destiny series. Although in the story it’s usually a different kind of delayed gratification used in that torment.

This story takes place in the aftermath of the events of the previous books in the series, The Tower, The Grove, and especially The Guild. At the same time, it also follows the pattern set by those stories, and the prophetic verses that begin each book in the series.

Two of those events have particular bearing on this story. In this world, nations exist to worship a particular deity, or perhaps two. Those deities are not myths, they are real and can manifest in the world. And occasionally do.

The societies reflect their god, and the gods reflect their society. One of the recent events that is still reverberating is the just finished Convocation of Gods and Man, where new nations and new gods are ratified, and gods that have really, really misbehaved get dissolved by their peers.

At the Convocation, the god Mekha was dissolved. His former country is picking up the pieces under the guidance of the Guardians Alonnen and Rexei. Their story is told in The Guild.

But the priests who served Mekha and were powerful because of that service are not willing to go gentle into that good night. Instead, they are desperately searching for any means, no matter how underhanded or terrible, to become powerful again. And they’re not in the least picky about what they’ll have to do, manifest, or summon in order to retake their lost power. Up to and including raising demons from the Netherhells.

The Guardians in all of the lands of this world are studying the prophecies in order to thwart them, and it is far from an easy job. Changing circumstances in one area can make things better in another – or it can actually make things worse later on.

It’s a big butterfly, and the wing flaps can have some seriously nasty consequences if everyone on the side of the light isn’t very, very careful.

The priests power-search has led them to the Great Library of Mendhi, and that’s where that part of the overarching story intersects with both the romance at the heart of this book in the series and the careful balancing of prophecies to make sure that what must happen does happen.

The country that hosts the Convocation gathers a lot of political power, and that ties into the rest of the events. The Elder Disciplinarian of Mendhi sent his three sons on to the Convocation in an attempt to disrupt it and move the location to Mendhi. All the gods were against this attempt, and all the prophecies were clear that this attempt would fail, but the Elder Disciplinarian and his political party refused to be swayed.

The Puhon Brothers have returned home, having failed as expected. Equally, their father expects them to be officially punished for their failure. Which kicks off another round of prophecy, as well as a surprising romance between two people who used to think of each other as enemies, only to discover that they are perfect for each other, after all.

Or after all the prophecies have had their way.

The Grove by Jean JohnsonEscape Rating B+: In spite of the high grade, this is still a mixed feelings kind of review.

First, I have to admit that I loved this story, and found myself sinking right back into this world, even after the unfortunate long absence. It took awhile for all of the threads from the previous books to gather back into my conscious, but the process was helped by a fair amount of backstory that was worked reasonably well into the story at hand.

This entry in the series is a particularly interesting mixture of sex and politics. There are aspects of the Disciplinarian Order and its administration that will remind readers a bit of Kushiel’s Dart. And like that series, it is made very clear in The Temple that discipline is not all about pain, and that people exist at every point on the pleasure/pain/dominance/submission grid. While there is more “academic” discussion of sex and desire than is usual in most romances, and it goes into quite a bit of interesting territory, there is more discussion than there is actual sex. Or even sexual play and exploration.

I found the discussions to be fascinating and very tastefully done, but there are some readers who may be made uncomfortable. As the discussion within the story is about each person finding what works for them, it seems appropriate to say that it won’t work for some people but it will work for others and that reading it with an open mind may be enlightening.

Your mileage may vary.

The politics of this particular country are very interesting. The Goddess Menda is the goddess of writing, so books and libraries are under her purview. (So is bureaucracy!) That one of the members of the ruling body is the Elder Librarian certainly warmed this librarian’s heart – especially when she invoked powerful spells to protect the secrets of the Great Library.

As much as I enjoyed the story, and as absorbing as I found it, this missed being an A grade because the editing was so terrible that it often threw me out of the story. I read a lot of ARCs, and in an ARC I expect editing errors – that’s part of what the ARC process is for. But this was a finished book, and it contained so many typos and word errors that occasionally even the meaning was obscure and I had to reread in order to put the pieces together.

But once I did piece it together, it was a lot of fun. I just wish that it hadn’t been quite so long since the previous book in the series, and I sincerely hope that it won’t be nearly this long until the next one.

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens

Review: Script of the Heart by Robin D. OwensScript of the Heart: A Celta Heartmates Novel by Robin D Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #9A
Pages: 364
Published by Follow Your Heart on October 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Celta, a place of magic, telepathic animal companions, and romance...Script of the Heart, a story set decades ago, of a couple struggling with love and loss...

Giniana Filix, a dedicated Healer, is desperate to raise funds for an experimental treatment to save her dying FamCat. She has no time or interest in a relationship.

Growing up on an impoverished estate as the last of his line, actor Klay St. Johnswort hears of a script of a lifetime, a script he believes will catapult his career to greatness and enable him to restore his home. Appalled to learn the script has mysteriously disappeared, he is determined to reclaim it at all costs.His desire to be close fuels her fear of abandonment.

Her distrust of actors clashes with his pride in his craft. But they discover a connection they can’t deny. Will their attraction be enough to force them to write their own Script of the Heart?

My Review:

Sometimes, even though, as the saying goes, it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it isn’t actually a duck. The Celta’s Heartmates series is one of those “not a duck” situations, along with Pern, Darkover, Harmony and Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra.

These are all series that read like fantasy and/or fantasy romance, but if you look under the hood – or back in the history of how these places came to be – there’s a space ship lurking in the shadows. Or in the case of Markswoman an apocalypse. And if you’re looking for a book to cross over from one of these genres to the other, something from one of these series might just be your jam.

What I mean is that all of these series feel like fantasy. Their worlds are either lower tech than ours is currently, and/or what tech they have is based on something other than electricity – usually psi power of some kind. The mileage, parsecs and/or warp speed varies.

But these are worlds that have a scientific origin and reverted to a lower level of technology either out of necessity or conscious planning. Usually within the course of the series those origins, if not widely known, are re-discovered.

Celta, in specific, is a lost colony of our very own Earth, in a far-flung future. It was settled by the survivors of three ships from Earth, filled with refugees who left because they were persecuted for their psi-power, called Flair in this series. By the time that Script of the Heart takes place, Celta has been established for centuries. Life on Celta is not perfect (no place is perfect) but it is good for most people most of the time.

Celta also seems like a reasonable place to live. This society seems to actually work and not merely lurch from crisis to crisis. The world creation in this series is top-notch every step of the way.

This story, in spite of its designation as #9a in the series, is a full-length novel. But it takes place chronologically during the events of Heart Journey. You don’t need to have read that to enjoy this, but you do probably need to have some other exposure to Celta before diving into Script of the Heart. Starting with either Heart Mate (the first published book in the series) or the story Heart and Sword (included in the Hearts and Swords collection) the first story in the internal world chronology, should be enough to get you hooked.

The course of true love never does run smooth, and that is certainly true in Script of the Heart – along with a rather large helping of “pride goeth before a fall”. Klay St. Johnsworth is a respected actor at the height of his career. He is also the last of his respected but not in the least wealthy line.

Giniana Filix is a respected healer who was abandoned by her family of actors. This has not left her with a very high opinion of the profession, and in some ways rightly so. She’s done her best to make her own way, but at the moment it isn’t quite enough.

Her FamCat, Thrisca, is the “oldest of the old” of the telepathic, highly intelligent FamAnimals that live on Celta. Thrisca is dying. Giniana will do anything to earn enough money to allow Thrisca to participate in an expensive and experimental procedure that might just save her life – if Giniana doesn’t work herself into illness along the way.

Giniana doesn’t have time for romance, or even friendly relationships. She’s working every hour of the day and night to earn the money for Thrisca’s treatment. But that’s when she meets Klay, and can’t make herself resist the actor – no matter how much she distrusts his profession.

It’s mostly Giniana’s pride that gets in the way, as well as her lingering resentments of her family situation. It’s not just that her parents were actors, but that they were profligate with their money, sparing with their affection, and never seemed to put anything before their own careers and especially their own selves. Not even each other and certainly not their daughter.

That her mother spent her life looking for a man to sponge off of has left Giniana with a fear of taking help, at least help in the form of money, from anyone. Even someone she is coming to love.

But Klay has his own pride. He wants to help Giniana. But he needs for her to accept him as he is, because his career is every bit as much a part of him as hers is of her. It’s up to Klay with a little bit of help from her FamCat (and her FamCat’s FamCat) to get Giniana to finally see that sometimes we all need a little help from our friends.

Escape Rating A-: Script of the Heart is simply a lovely romance between two interesting people in a fascinating place.

It’s not just that Klay and Giniana are great people to follow into a romance, but also that their story shows a side of Celta that we don’t see all that often. While many of the stories involve couples who operate at the highest echelons of this society, Klay and Giniana are both in the lower-middle class. They both have to work for a living, and they have to live off what they make. They also have to worry about scrimping and saving and not always having quite enough to meet their everyday needs, even with careful planning.

We’ve seen a few people at the very low end of this society get vaulted into the upper class, but it’s been a while since we’ve followed people in this situation, if ever. It’s impossible not to feel for Giniana and her desperate need to keep her oldest and best friend, her FamCat Thrisca, alive and well if at all possible. Those of us who have companion animals know that feeling of watching a beloved friend slip away and being unable to stop it.

The FamKitten Melis offers the comic relief in this story, as Klay brings her to Giniana in the hopes that Melis may be able to ease her grief if the worst happens to Thrisca. That the old FamCat herself adopts the kitten gives Thrisca a bit of a new lease on life. But the FamCats in general are simply a joy to read. (We have a little kitten of our own right now, and Melis is VERY kitten!)

So a lovely romance, with happy endings all around. Especially for the FamCats!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-9-18

Sunday Post

This has been one of THOSE weeks. We’ve both been sick all week, with a cough that won’t quit, and is bad enough and deep enough that I expected to cough up my toenails, from the inside, on more than one occasion. We’re both at the point where we still don’t exactly feel good, but we both feel less bad. So things are looking up.

This week coming up features a bunch of books that I seem to have missed when they first came out – under the influence of the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. As well as the first book in Anna Hackett’s new SFR series – a book which I have been eagerly awaiting. Lets just say it was definitely worth the wait!

Current Giveaways:

The Frame-Up by Megan Scott Molin
Ask Me No Questions by Shelly Noble (4 copies) + Drink Coasters
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B- Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
A- Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle
A- Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (317)

Coming This Week:

Script of the Heart by Robin D. Owens (review)
The Temple by Jean Johnson (review)
Half Empty by Catherine Bybee (review)
Want Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates (review)
Edge of Eon by Anna Hackett (review)
Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (317)

Stacking the Shelves

What is it about traveling? Probably all the recycled air and recycled germs on the plane and in the airport. We both came back from our Thanksgiving trip with whatever crud is going around, and let me tell you, it’s really nasty crud. There’s been a whole lot of coughing, and sneezing, and coughing around here. I keep expecting to cough up my toenails – from the inside. Horrible stuff.

But I still got a few interesting books this week, as I do every week. Reading is definitely my happy place! And WOOT! I don’t know what made me look, but there’s a Jean Johnson book that I managed to miss. And have now started. WOOT!

For Review:
Edge of Eon (Eon Warriors #1) by Anna Hackett
Flare Up (Boston Fire #6) by Shannon Stacey
The Infamous Duchess (Diamonds in the Rough #4) by Sophie Barnes
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Mahimata (Asiana #2) by Rati Mehrotra
Terminal Uprising (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse #2) by Jim C. Hines
The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr
Who Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr #14) by C.S. Harris

Purchased from Amazon:
The Temple (Guardians of Destiny #4) by Jean Johnson

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble + GiveawayAsk Me No Questions (A Lady Dunbridge Mystery #1) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #1
Pages: 352
Published by Forge on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble, Ask Me No Questions is the first in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series featuring a widow turned sleuth in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City.

A modern woman in 1907, Lady Dunbridge is not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm.

From the decadence of high society balls to the underbelly of Belmont horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

Although this is the first book in a new series, it has a bit of the feeling of starting in the middle (in a good way), as Lady Philomena Dunbridge seems to have already solved at least one mystery ahead of the police when we first meet her. In London. Being lectured to and ordered about by her father.

Who seems to have forgotten that Phil is a widow of independent means, and no longer under his control. He also doesn’t seem to understand just how determined she is to stay that way.

In her determination, Phil takes herself off to America to stay with her best friend, Beverly Reynolds. Phil is hoping that Bev’s membership in the smart set of Gilded Age New York City will provide her with the entree that she needs into New York high society.

And far, far away from the stultifying traditions of “jolly olde England” where she will be forced, one way or another, to occupy the place reserved for dowager countesses. At 30ish, Phil is much, much too young to be a dowager, or to put herself on any kind of shelf.

She comes to New York to live.

Only to be greeted at the dock by the corpse of Bev’s husband, leaving her with a mystery to solve.

That Reggie Reynolds was shot by Bev’s gun would automatically make her a suspect, even if he hadn’t been found in the arms of his mistress.

At first, the police seem determined to pin Reggie’s murder on either Bev or the mistress. And while Phil has no compunctions about letting the poor floradora girl face the music if she’s guilty, it doesn’t seem possible. Especially when a second dead body turns up in Bev’s library, also shot with her gun.

And that’s where the story goes off to the races. Literally. Because Reggie had a horse running at Belmont, and Devil’s Thunder was favored to win. Favored to win enough that all of Reggie’s many, many creditors should have been paid off.

Unless, of course, that was the point of his murder after all.

Escape Rating A-: Phil reminds me a great deal of Phryne Fisher, and for this reader, that’s an excellent thing. Although the Lady Dunbridge series is set in Gilded Age New York, as is Joanna Shupe’s marvelous Four Hundred series, it’s Phil’s likeness to Phryne that sticks in my mind. And also more than a bit of Lydia Kang’s excellent A Beautiful Poison)

Both women are more than a bit cynical and jaded. While the both acknowledge benefits of kowtowing to society expectations, they also are very much aware of just how hollow and hypocritical those expectations are. Phil has to live by her wits a bit more than Phryne does, so she gives a bit more than lip service to those expectations, but their attitudes are similar.

And while Phil does not bed hop to the degree that Phryne does, it is clear that she also takes her pleasures where she finds them, if a bit more discreetly than her Australian counterpart.

Phil has also become an amateur detective, although in her first official outing she is still at the point where she becomes involved because a friend – and also herself – are under threat of being embroiled in the police investigation. She’s not yet taking paying clients – although there’s a hint that she may have an unofficial, semi-official paying client in future books.

What makes Phil so much fun is that she definitely has all of her wits about her, and never, ever looks down her nose at anyone who might be able to help her in her investigations. Like her butler and her lady’s maid, both of whom seem to be quite a bit more than they seem.

She also never looks a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s an actual horse – or at least an actual clue about a horse. The recommendation she receives from a mysterious stranger to read Sherlock Holmes’ Adventure of the Silver Blaze is a bit of a clue-by-four, but her pursuit of said clue is every bit as much fun as her pursuit of the mysterious stranger.

I simply had a lot of good fun with Phil, much as I do with Phryne. If you enjoy historical mysteries featuring intelligent and cynical female detectives, this is a real gem and I sincerely hope the series continues. Soon.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle

Review: A Duke Changes Everything by Christy CarlyleA Duke Changes Everything (Duke's Den, #1) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #1
Pages: 371
Published by Avon on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the first novel in Christy Carlyle’s sizzling Duke’s Den series, three men, intent on making a fortune, discover irresistible opportunities . . .

Nicholas Lyon gambled his way into a fortune and ownership of the most opulent, notorious gentlemen’s club in England. But when Nick’s cruel brother dies, he inherits a title he never wanted. The sooner Nick is rid of the estate that has always haunted him, the sooner he can return to the life he’s built in London. But there’s one obstacle—the exquisite Thomasina Thorne.

When the new heir to the Tremayne dukedom suddenly appears in Mina Thorne’s life, she’s flustered. Not only is he breathtakingly handsome, but he’s also determined to take away her home and position as steward of the Enderley estate. If Mina learns what makes the enigmatic duke tick, perhaps she can change his mind—as long as she doesn’t get too close to him.

With each day Nick spends with Mina, his resolve weakens as their colliding wills lead to explosive desire. Could she be the one woman who can help him finally bury the ghosts of his past?

My Review:

There are multiple ways to interpret the title of this lovely historical romance, and all of them are equally applicable to the story.

It could be that BECOMING a duke changes everything, because it certainly does for Nick Lyon.

It could be that the ARRIVAL of a duke changes everything, because it definitely does that for both Thomasina (Mina) Thorne and the ducal estate at Enderley.

It could also be that the new duke himself, Nick Lyon, changes everything related to being a duke, to dealing with his own past and forging his own future.

And it’s a whole lot of fun every single step of the way.

There’s also just a bit of a “Beauty and the Beast” vibe to this story. Nick Lyon certainly thinks of himself as a beast. He isn’t but his late and unlamented father drummed the idea into him often enough – and left Nick with the physical as well as the emotional scars to make it seem all too inevitable.

Mina is every bit as practical a girl as Belle, and also very much in love with books, as the heroine of the Disney version of the story certainly was. There’s even Gaston-a-like in this tale if you squint a bit.

Mina and Nick begin on opposite sides. She has devoted her life to taking care of the estate, but most importantly its people. Nick’s plan is to strip the estate bare and rent it out to whoever will give him the most money. Not because he actually needs the money, but because he absolutely cannot stand the place. Every moment he is forced to spend there reminds him of the torment he and his mother suffered at the hands of his abusive father.

On the one hand, it’s hard to blame Nick for his feelings. And on the other, the old man is dead, as is Nick’s older brother. Any of the people who participated in or colluded with his abuse are dead and gone. He can’t make them suffer anymore. But abandoning his responsibilities will hurt the people of the estate and the nearby village.

Mina tries to make him see the place through her eyes of love and duty, while he tries to avoid letting her see the depth of his pain. When they manage to meet in the middle, the find a place where they can both belong – together.

Escape Rating A-: A Duke Changes Everything is an absolutely delightful historical romp – without being nearly as frothy as historical romances can sometimes be.

Just because no one talked about either child abuse or spousal abuse, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen in historical eras. It just wasn’t punished, at least not unless the spouse or the child had enough and either ran away and/or killed the perpetrator. Then the victims got punished.

Nick was beaten, starved, imprisoned and eventually escaped with the help of his mother and the butler. His mother died in exile in Paris and Nick lived by his wits, eventually returning to England and opening an extremely successful gambling den. He remakes himself completely, but never heals from the abuse.

Mina was a child on the estate when Nick left, younger than he. And the sons of the duke, even if the duke believed that Nick was a bastard, did not associate with the daughter of the steward. Mina grew up in the same place Nick was tortured under the loving care (and occasionally benign neglect) of her father. When he died, she slid into his place – and Nick’s brother either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

What makes this story work so well is the way that they change each other’s lives. Mina gets Nick to see that his responsibilities don’t have to be the painful burden that they have been, and he gets her to see that she can both take care of her responsibilities and also let go enough to enjoy the world she’s always longed to see.

Part of what made this story so lovely was the way that it ended, as Nick and his partners decide – with a bit of a push from Mina – to change the focus of their gambling den from betting on games of chance to betting on inventors. The next book in the series, Anything But a Duke, looks like it will be loads of fun!

Reviewer’s Note: I KNOW I’ve read a book with a similar premise (Lord inherits estate and arrives to discover his steward is a woman) sometime in the not too distant past. I’ve been trying to find it, but so far, no joy. If you recognize it, please let me know in the comments. I’m going bananas!

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Featuring Stories by: Peter S. Beagle, Rhys Bowen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jamie Freveletti, Alan Gordon, Gregg Hurwitz, Toni L. P. Kelner, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Harley Jane Kozak, D. P. Lyle, Weston Ochse, Zoe Sharp, Duane Swierczynski, and F. Paul Wilson.

My Review:

Welcome to my review of the biennual collection of Sherlock Holmes-inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. This is an every two years treat, as evidenced by my reviews of the previous collections in this quasi-series, A Study In Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes.

The stories in all of these collections were inspired by Holmes, one way or another, and are commissioned for the collections. And like all collections, they are a bit of a mixed bag. The game, however, is definitely afoot, both in stories that feel like they could be part of the original canon, and in stories that take their inspiration from the Great Detective without necessarily featuring him in either his Victorian guise or a more contemporary one.

I have several favorites in this year’s collection, one each to reflect the different aspects of Holmesiana that are represented here.

My favorite story in the manner of the master himself The Case of the Missing Case by Alan Gordon. It takes place before the canon begins, when Mycroft is still working his way up the government ladder, and Sherlock, in his very early 20s, has not yet taken up rooms with Watson. And is not yet quite as sure of himself and his methods as he will later become. It actually fits quite nicely into the period between the excellent Mycroft and Sherlock by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Whitehouse, and the beginning of the official canon.in A Study in Scarlet.

In this story we see a very young Sherlock justifying his continuing presence in London to the consternation of his parents and the absolute chagrin of brother Mycroft by solving the case of a missing violinist and saving his brother’s life. This story also provides a rather lovely explanation for Sherlock’s acquisition of his famous Stradivarius.

This collection has relatively few Holmesian stories set in the Victorian era. Most are either modern variations of Holmes – or modern detectives, whether amateur or professional, who use Holmes’ methods.

Of the contemporary Holmes stories, I can’t decide between Hounded by Zoe Sharp and The Ghost of the Lake by Jamie Freveletti. They are such completely different versions of the 21st century Holmes that choosing between them is impossible.

Hounded by Zoe Sharp is so much fun because it is a contemporary reworking of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It shows just how timeless the canon can be, by transplanting from the 19th century to the 21st and still making it all, including the ghostly hound, work.

The Ghost of the Lake, on the other hand, is a 21st century version of Holmes that owes a lot to both Elementary and Sherlock without feeling like an imitation of either. In this story, Sherlock Holmes is a 21st century operative for a secret British government department who has come to Chicago to prevent the kidnapping of an American national security specialist who has plenty of tricks up her own sleeve – and who is every bit Holmes’ equal in every way.

I liked, not only the portrayal of Holmes in this story, but also the character of Dr. Hester Regine. And I loved the trip down memory lane to Chicago, my favorite of all of the places that we have lived.

Last but not least, the story that took the phrase “inspired by Sherlock Holmes” to new heights. And depths. And several places in between. That would be The Adventure of the Six Sherlocks by Toni L.P. Kelner. This story both spoofs the love of Holmes and celebrates it at the same time, as its amateur detectives find themselves using Sherlock Holmes’ own methods to investigate a murder at a convention of Sherlock Holmes fans.

The story reminds me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb, where an author is murdered at a science fiction convention – but if “Six Sherlocks” uses that book as a springboard, it’s a very light spring.

Even the idea of a cooking show featuring actors portraying Holmes and Watson is hilarious. But when someone murders “Holmes” at the Sherlock Holmes convention, there are too many pretend Sherlocks and nearly not enough real ones to crack the case. This one is a light and fun send up of fan conventions in general and Sherlock Holmes mania in particular as well as being a cute mystery.

Escape Rating B+: Overall I enjoyed this collection. There were a couple of stories that just weren’t quite my cuppa, and one or two where it felt like they were a bit too far off the Holmesian tangent to be in this collection.

I read it in a day, finding myself getting so caught up in each story that I almost finished before I knew it. If you like Holmes or Holmes-like or Holmes-lite stories, this collection is every bit as much of a treat as its predecessors.

Of all the stories in all these collections, the one that still haunts me is from the first one, A Study in Sherlock. It’s The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman, and it’s the one that I still most want to be true.

Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop,  hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

Winter is coming. Here in Atlanta, that may only be theoretical (it’s 60 here today) but it is coming. It may have already come where you are. In fact, it may have already come with a vengeance where you are!

As I’ve mentioned before, we have moved around a lot. We also moved over the summer. Last winter, the entire second floor of the house was freezing all winter. We’re still finding the hot spots and cold spots in this house, but we’ve already discovered we’re a location for one of Murphy’s Laws. The coldest room in the house is the master bathroom. It has two outside walls and it’s bloody freezing. Unfortunately that is one room where one is guaranteed to be spending at least some time partially unclothed. Talk about freezing your buns off!

The warmest room in the house is the downstairs  half bath, which, as you might imagine, only solves part of the problem with the above.

As both of us have a tendency to use the “throne room” as an otherwise cozy place to read, this is a bit of a problem – but I’m sure we’re motivated to figure it out.

But speaking of reading, winter is a terrific time to curl up with a good book, a cup of your hot beverage of choice, and a cuddly cat, dog, or other warm furry creature. To facilitate your resources for doing just that this winter, I am giving away the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a book (or books if you can manage it) up to $10 in value from the Book Depository. Just answer the question in the rafflecopter for your chance at the prize!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + GiveawayThe Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1) by Meghan Scott Molin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Golden Arrow #1
Pages: 287
Published by 47North on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

My Review:

First of all, think of Batman. Not because he appears in this story, except by mention. As does every geeky/nerdy movie, TV show, book, comic and game that you can think of. And a few you probably can’t. (Not just because a few of the geek references are made up for the purposes of this story, but because no geek, no matter how dedicated, is into absolutely every geekish everything on every geekish axis. I say this as someone who is fairly geeky, and recognized most but not quite all of the references and in-jokes.)

And I’m not sure if someone without at least a passing knowledge of geekdom will enjoy this story, because there are a LOT of in-jokes. And while the point of the romance part of the plot is that MG finally realizes that she doesn’t need to find someone who knows the ins and outs of geek culture in order to find her happily ever after, it does help the reader to know what at least some of what the flying references refer to.

Back to Batman. Among all of the famous superheroes, Batman is the one who is just “original recipe” human. He may be incredibly rich, and probably has a heaping helping of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but underneath the batsuit is just a (usually really, really buff) man. No extra-terrestrial origin, no mythic ancestors, no science experiment gone wrong. Just as Batman responds in Justice League to the question, “What are your superpowers again?”. His answer, “I’m rich.”. And that’s all.

The “caped crusader” who turns out to be at the heart of the mystery in The Frame-Up, the Hooded Falcon, is just like Batman. Not nearly as rich, but just as human. And only human. Excessively trained, and with a desire to see justice done, but merely human.

As a comic book, the original Hooded Falcon died decades before the opening of the events in this story, but MG Martin is a writer for Genius Comics, the company founded on the popularity of the Hooded Falcon. And even though the Falcon’s original creator is long since dead, his son still publishes a comic under the Hooded Falcon name – admittedly without any of his father’s, or his father’s creation’s spirit.

But someone in LA is committing crimes that recreate panels from the classic Hooded Falcon adventures. This person seems to have taken up either the banner of the Falcon himself, or perhaps that of the Falcon’s creator. Either way, there’s a vigilante on the streets of LA who has put himself (or possibly herself) in the sights of LA’s current generation of drug kingpins.

The police want to stop the crime spree before it’s too late. After a chance encounter, Detective Matteo Kildaire recruits MG as a police consultant expert on all things geek in general, and on her hero the Hooded Falcon in particular.

But all the clues point much, much too close to home, both for MG and Matteo. When his creator died, the Hooded Falcon was on the trail of both the drug kingpins AND the dirty cop who was covering for them.

History seems to be repeating, with both MG and Matteo caught in the crossfire. This time it’s not a crossfire of BAM and KAPOW, but real guns firing real bullets and dealing real death. They have to find the faces behind the masks, before it’s too late for our heroes.

After all, in real life there’s no possibility of a failure saving reboot if they get it wrong.

Escape Rating B-: The Frame-Up felt a bit like two books in one. One book that I really liked, and one that I really didn’t.

The first third or so of the story is the setup. We get introduced to MG, her coworkers at Genius Comics, and the opening frames of her relationship with Matteo. That relationship begins by being intimately tied to the case – not that it doesn’t take on a life of its own.

But the introduction to MG’s world is hard to take. MG is the lone female at Genius Comics. We see things entirely from her perspective, and that’s a realistically scary place to be. Geekdom in general, and geekdom-creation spaces in particular, are rightfully notorious for their misogynistic dudebro culture. Women are made to feel unwelcome, and it’s deliberate. MG is correct in her belief that she has to be “more badass” than any of the guys just to be taken half as seriously  – no matter how unfair it is or how much it hurts to be that defensive all the time.

Matteo, with his need to find an “in” so that he can surreptitiously scope out the company, absolutely DOES undermine MG’s position. That she falls for him rather than boot him to the curb at the first opportunity rankles quite a lot.

And the whole setup makes for very hard reading.

Once things are significantly setup, the story kicks into a higher gear and becomes a lot of fun.

The mystery is definitely a wild and crazy ride, only missing a few scattered BAMs and KAPOWs to make it completely part of the comic hero genre. I really liked MG’s nerdiness and felt for her desire to be her authentic best self. I particularly liked the way that Matteo, while he is a “virgin” when it comes to geek culture, is open minded about everything he experiences. It’s easy to see that he accepts MG for who she is, loves her as she is, and doesn’t feel any need to cram her into a box that won’t fit – as her parents and so many people in her life have previously tried to do.

The case has a lot of heart to it. It’s about children taking care of, writing wrongs for, or attempting to get past the legacies of their parents. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, and how real people come to fit into those places – whether they intend to or not.

And in the best superhero tradition, good triumphs, evil gets its just deserts, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. At least until the next supervillain comes along…

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Frame-Up to one lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-2-18

Sunday Post

On the one hand, both of us are sick. One of the folks we visited over Thanksgiving had the crud, and now we have the crud. No one is happy about the crud.

On that other hand, in spite of the above, we went to the second night of Elton John’s farewell tour last night here in Atlanta. And it was absolutely awesome. Captain Fantastic is still fantastic, and the show was terrific. I’m so very glad we went, even if we’re both paying for it a bit today. If the tour is coming to your town, get tickets.

And on my alien third hand, it was a damn good week for books. And this coming week includes one of my annual treats, the latest collection of Sherlock Holmes inspired stories edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. I’m planning to start it this afternoon, and it looks like fun. As always. A cup of tea, a sleepy kitty, and Sherlock Holmes. If I have to be sick, that’s great company to spend the day with!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Black Friday Giveaway Hop is Jennifer R.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop is Polly K.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Gratitude Giveaway Hop is Allie G.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the November of Books Giveaway Hop is Jaime L.

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
B- Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett
A- Review: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh
A- Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
B+ Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra
December of Books Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (316)

Coming This Week:

The Frame-Up by Megan Scott Molin (blog tour review)
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (review)
A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle (blog tour review)
Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble (blog tour review)