Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa EvansOld Baggage by Lissa Evans
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Harper Perennial on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of the acclaimed Crooked Heart returns with a comic, charming, and surprisingly timely portrait of a once pioneering suffragette trying to find her new passion in post-WWI era London.

1928. Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never given up the fight and the young women who are just discovering it.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that the title of this book is a bit of a pun. The main character, Mattie Simpkin, is referred to as an “old baggage”, meaning a cantankerous old woman. But the point of this story is that she is also carrying a lot of “old baggage”, as in emotional baggage. And that the old baggage actually isn’t carrying her old baggage terribly well, leading to the crisis point in the story.

Mattie is also fond of sprinkling her speech with quotations from authors, historians and philosophers. There’s one that’s used in the book, and is extremely appropriate to the story, even if there seems to be some debate on who originated it.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And so it proves for Mattie Simpkin.

At first, this seemed to be a simple story about someone whose glory days were long behind them – and that same person’s inability to cope with that fact. But it’s not nearly that simple.

As the story begins, it’s 1928. Mattie is in her late 50s, and while she may not think of herself as old, it’s clear that others around her do. (I found this poignant and ironic at the same time as I’m older than Mattie but don’t see myself that way at all. It’s true that “old” starts at least 15 years past one’s own age)

Once upon a time, Mattie was one of the celebrated (and frequently derided) suffragists that marched, agitated and were jailed to goad the powers-that-were to grant women in Britain the right to vote. (It wasn’t any better in the U.S.)

The right was granted, under rather stringent conditions, in 1918 in the exhausted aftermath of World War I. At which point the movement towards women’s equality collapsed. (If this sounds familiar, let’s just say the pattern repeats).

But Mattie has never given up the fight, and ten years later she is still on the lecture circuit, attempting to enlist a new generation of women into the cause. She’s failing, and her lectures are increasingly poorly attended.

The situation changes when an old frenemy comes back into her life, and Mattie is galvanized into bringing young girls of her present some of the same educational and recreational experiences that formed her character. The problem is that her frenemy is plumping for the nascent Nazi party.

And Mattie’s need to prove herself to someone who has never had any intention but to bring her down and keep her there has no end of bad consequences. For Mattie, for her best friend Florrie, and especially for the girls and young women they have taken under their wings.

Escape Rating B+: At first, it didn’t seem like a whole lot happened in this book. Looking back on it, not a whole lot does – at least not in the sense of groundbreaking or earthshaking adventure. But there is plenty of drama underneath the quiet surface.

Initially, Mattie seems like somewhat of a comic figure. She’s an old battle axe who doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s time to put the axe up on the wall. While her mannerisms can be amusing, and her stubbornness is plenty infuriating to her friends and neighbors, she’s also right. Those two things don’t cancel each other out.

The cause was not won, only placated a bit. The fight was not over. Women were not equal. (They still aren’t) But Mattie’s methods don’t do her any favors, and she alienates as many people as she convinces. Probably alienates more people than she convinces.

The quiet drama in the story is the way that Mattie gets led astray, not so much from her cause as from her bedrock straightforward way of going about it.

Because while Mattie may be an old baggage, there are also a couple of nasty pieces of baggage who are deliberately, or not so deliberately, undermining her efforts. And her sense of self is what suffers along the way.

It’s when she finally comes back to herself that she is finally offered that opportunity to be what she might have been. And it’s her redemption that she takes it.

In the end, Old Baggage was nothing like I expected. But it was a charming read every step of the way.

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. ColesWinds of Marque: Blackwood Virtue by Bennett R. Coles
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Blackwood & Virtue #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Bennett R. Coles ranks among my go-to list in SF. Entertaining and intelligent storytelling and terrific characters. In Winds of Marque, Coles may well have invented a whole new subgenre that has me scrambling for a description--Steam Space?  Whatever you call it, a blast to read. Here's hoping that many more adventures are in the offing for Blackwood and company."  Steven Erikson, New York Times bestselling author

The first novel in an exciting science fiction series—Master and Commander in space—a swashbuckling space adventure in which a crew of misfit individuals in the king’s navy are sent to dismantle a dangerous ring of pirate raiders.

In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing them to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring’s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base.

Posing as traders, Daring’s dashing second-in-command Liam Blackwood and brilliant quartermaster Amelia Virtue infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry.

But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring’s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from below decks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other.

Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Blackwood and Virtue must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander—and their mission—before Daring falls prey to the very pirates she’s meant to be tracking.

My Review:

The blurbs and the reviews for this book say the same two things fairly consistently. One, that it’s a whole lot of fun. Two, that it’s Aubrey and Maturin (Master and Commander) in space.

The first thing is definitely true. Winds of Marque is a whole lot of fun. I’m a bit less sure about the second thing – and I’m saying that as someone who read the entire Aubrey and Maturin series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is a romp of swashbuckling derring-do, but set in space in the distant future – on a Navy ship under letters of marque (government-licensed piracy) with a mission to find the real pirates and wipe them out before humans end up in a war with the insect-like Sectoids.

Our plucky heroes are Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Petty Officer Amelia Virtue. Fraternizing between the ranks is about to become the least of their problems.

Blackwood, second-son of the nobility and Executive Office (XO) of the HMSS Daring, has a reputation for coddling, chivying and generally outmaneuvering dunderheaded noble Captains so that they manage not to kill their entire crews in acts of noble idiocy. He’s unfortunately good at his job – because it’s bad for his career. Someone has to take the blame for the untouchable nobles’ disasters, and it’s generally their frustrated XO.

Virtue is the newly promoted quartermaster of the Daring. She’s relatively young, hyper-competent, and has the combined duty of making sure the Daring is fully supplied without resorting to Naval stores while instructing Blackwood in just how different the life of a commoner ranking sailor is from that of even a second-born noble son.

It’s probably going to be the making of him, if they survive the mess they are currently in.

Because nothing about their mission is exactly what it seems. Not the inexperienced but not unintelligent Captain Lady Sophia Riverton, not the pirates and certainly not the Sectoids.

That there’s a noble fop on board who is just dead certain that he can do everything better than his Naval superiors but social inferiors is nearly the deadly icing on a very explosive cake.

And it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B+: I had a great time while I was reading this. The verve and drive of the narrative really sweeps the reader along. But, I’m not sure how well it holds up upon further reflection. Not that I won’t pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. I did have a great time.

Part of the problem for this reader may be in all those comparisons to the Aubrey and Maturin series. Which was marvelous and excellent and terrific and if you enjoy naval stories or Napoleonic war stories is highly recommended. The audio is particularly good.

One issue, at least so far, is that Blackwood is not analogous to Aubrey (neither is Riverton) and there is no Maturin, at least so far. And that one aspect of the story, the Napoleonic wars in space, has been done before by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series. (It’s also been done in fantasy in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik!)

Where it is similar to the Aubrey and Maturin series is in its detailed descriptions of the working of the ship. That the Daring is a ship powered by “solar sails” makes that resemblance more pronounced, but also a bit out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s that we’ve become so used to FTL (Faster Than Light) ships being sleek and powered internally that solar sails feel less possible (not that FTL drives in general are possible at the present) or that the whole “sailing” aspect feels like an artificial way for the author to insert sailing jargon and terminology that would not otherwise be present.

One aspect of the story, although not the primary aspect, is the developing romance between Blackwood and Virtue. As much as I like both characters, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to sell the romance. While it does take a reasonable amount of time for them to fall in love, because the story is told from Blackwood’s perspective we don’t see enough of Virtue’s thought processes to “feel” their romance. It’s a not nearly enough significant glances and conversations about ship’s business that fall into bed – or rather office floor at a crisis point.

Although this is a navy that has given up on anti-fraternization regulations, these are people from two different worlds that don’t mix. If they are going to be together, there need to be a whole lot more conversations about how that’s going to work. Because what Virtue tells Blackwood is correct – as a noble he can do anything at all to her, up to and possibly including murder but certainly including rape and assault – and he will never be punished because he’s a member of the aristocracy and she’s a commoner. That power imbalance is going to require one hell of a reckoning at some point.

The book this reminds me of the most is The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. That book incorporates its equivalent ship jargon much more smoothly. Transferring the terminology of sailing vessels to an airship that sails the air felt smoother even if the war they are flying in is just as deadly. That story also includes a noble fop, but that one manages to get better – if not less foppish – as the adventure goes along.

The situation that the Daring finds herself in is a well-worn and well-loved trope. The ship of misfit naval personnel go rogue with official sanction but no official backing to do a job that desperately needs to be done – but that no one in the official navy wants to be caught dirtying their hands to actually get done. If they complete their mission someone else will get the glory, but if they fail the survivors will take all the blame.

And it’s so much fun that none of them can resist signing up for another mission. Readers won’t be resisting either!

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben AaronovitchMidnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Rivers of London #1
Pages: 298
Published by Del Rey on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

My Review:

I’ve had this in my kindle app forever, to the point where I had to check to see exactly how I got it. Finding out that it was 6 years ago was kind of a shocker. I do get around to things eventually, but eventually can clearly be a very long time.

I picked it up now because I have to read the latest book in the Rivers of London series for one of my reviewing commitments and wanted to at least see where it all began.

I was not disappointed. Midnight Riot is a terrific introduction to the Rivers of London and definitely lives up to all the marvelous things that have been said about it.

This book reminds me of so very many things. First, it is absolutely urban fantasy. In some ways, kind of old school urban fantasy, hearkening back to urban fantasy’s roots in the mystery genre.

Because we sure do have a mystery. What we also have is a cop. An honest-to-goodness sworn police officer, Peter Grant, just out of his probationary period in the Metropolitan Police and really hoping to do something more interesting than push paper for his entire career.

Ghost-hunting, however, was not on his career radar. Not even remotely. When the ghost of Nicholas Wallpenny tells PC Grant that he witnessed the previous evening’s sensational murder, Grant isn’t quite sure he believes the evidence being presented right before his eyes. And ears. And slightly stunned brain.

But going back the next night to interview the witness again brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the one man in the Met who will believe him.

The next morning Constable Peter Grant’s career has possibilities that he never even dreamed of. And dangers that may be way, way more than the Academy ever trained him to handle.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I had a whole lot of fun with this one. It’s a terrific book and a great intro to the series.

One of the things that struck me as I read was just how “British” the book felt. It seemed like there were no concessions made for any potential American readers. Either you’ve read enough/seen enough on PBS to get the points where the two nations are divided by the common language, or you don’t.

If you have, it adds to the immersion, as it did for me. If you haven’t, I suspect you spend either a lot of time Googling Britspeak or get bogged down and give up. I was fully immersed from the opening page. Your mileage may vary.

Howsomever, one thing I did wonder about was whether it is/was common practice for single constables to have their living quarters in their stations. Or to at least have that possibility. Because that didn’t feel contemporary to me, I found myself thinking of this as a bit near-future, or at least more alternate history than urban fantasy sometimes is.

After flailing around for what Rivers of London reminded me of most, I think in the end it’s a cross between a police-procedural and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Possibly with a bit of his American Gods added to put some actual deus into the occasional ex machina.

Whatever it is, it’s fascinating. As the first book in the series, Peter Grant finds himself introduced to the world of magic, including the standard opening lessons in his brave new world. As well as a drop into the deep end of the pool (river) when his Chief Inspector is temporarily knocked out of the action by a bullet.

Peter makes for an interesting insider/outsider investigator. He begins as a mixed race man in London, already somewhat of an outsider in spite of having been born there. The story is told from his first-person perspective, which exposes his interior thoughts on being a black man in a white city to the reader in all their world-weary cynicism – particularly when he’s riding the tube.

He’s also the newbie in the world of magic, and everyone seems to want to take advantage of his lack of knowledge – as people frequently tend to do – even if, or especially because they are either deities, genii locorum, or both.

In a fight between gods, ghosts and monsters, Peter feels like the one sane voice attempting to hold it all together. Even during a midnight riot.

Something to Marble At Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Something to Marble At Giveaway Hop, hosted by MamatheFox!

The name of this hop brings to mind all sorts of terrible puns, doesn’t it?

There’s marbled paper, like the background of the hop image. There are marble countertops. And there are marble statues. There are lots of marble statues. Then there’s marble cake. Ooh, that sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

And then there are good, old-fashioned marbles.

Last but not least, the marbles in your head. As in losing them. Occasionally finding them. Wondering if the cat is playing with them (one way or another). Or maybe that’s just my house. The kitten plays with everything!

What marbles are you thinking of? What kinds of things are you “marbling” at this season? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at Reading Reality’s usual blog hop prize.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

A slightly early “Happy Easter” to those of you that celebrate Easter. This is one of those years when Easter and Passover actually do coincide, so this is also a slightly early Happy Passover.

Easter weekend is also one of those days that marks an unofficial start of Spring, particularly for those who are in more northerly climes. By this time in Chicago, the flowers are out and the weather is warm. It’s also the point where the longer days really start to kick in.

In Anchorage, April is either “Breakup” or “Mud Season”, if not both. Breakup because the frozen waterways literally break up. And it’s very, very muddy.

In Atlanta, we had a very rainy weekend. After all, April Showers are another hallmark of the season.

I’m sure this wasn’t the first time, but we noticed that there are pre-colored Easter eggs available in the grocery store. This just feels like cheating to me. Even my mom helped me color Easter eggs, in spite of Easter not being our holiday! What is the world coming to? LOLOLOL

In closing, my annual peek into the strange phenomenon that is Peeps!

Jurassic Peeps!

Just in case you want to read a good book with your Peeps, take a chance in the Rafflecopter for your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more “hoppy” prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-14-19

Sunday Post

Now I know that the Blogo-Birthday Giveaway Celebration is REALLY over. All of the rafflecopters have ended, and it’s time to announce the winners for all the giveaways. I’d like to thank everyone who participated, and everyone who reads and follows Reading Reality. You all make it a blast!

Both of the remaining giveaways end early this week, but fear not! I have new ones starting on the very same days!

I was clearly not as awake as I thought on Saturday. I prepped my Stacking the Shelves post but forgot to publish it! It was THAT kind of week! Now that the taxes are done for the year, hopefully this week will be a bit less fraught.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Worth Melting For Giveaway Hop (ends TOMORROW!)
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Rain Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of any book in the Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito series by Anne and Tony Hillerman is Danielle.
The winner of any book in the either Pitt series by Anne Perry is Helen.
The winner of the $25 Amazon Gift Card is Cali.
The winner of the $25 Book(s) is Laura.

Blog Recap:

A Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris
B- Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
B Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
A+ Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
A+ Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker
Stacking the Shelves (335)

Coming This Week:

Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Giveaway Hop
Something to Marble At Giveaway Hop
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (review)
The Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles (review)
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (review)

Stacking the Shelves (335)

Stacking the Shelves

Ouch! This one got kind of big, didn’t it? Oodles of things came in for my committee, for a contest I’m judging, and just because they looked good. And some thing fell into more than one category – but not nearly enough!

Some of this is tsundoku, that fear of running out of things to read. While I never actually run out of things to read, I do occasionally run out of things I’m in the mood for at a particular moment. Doesn’t everyone?

For Review:
The Body Lies by Jo Baker
The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Dearly Beloved (Match Made in Heaven #1) by Peggy Jaeger
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
Finding Kat (Windsor Falls #5) by Kimberley O’Malley
Forgotten Bones (Dead Remaining #1) by Vivian Barz
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
The Girl in Red by Christina Henry
How to Hack a Heartbreak by Kristin Rockaway
The House of Brides by Jane Cockram
How Could She by Lauren Mechling
Learning to Love (Serendipity #3) by Jennifer Wilck
A Love Like Yours (Love Story Duet #1) by Robin Huber
Mischief and Mayhem (Whiskey Sisters #2) by L.E. Rico
Must Be Crazy (Darling Cove #3) by Deborah Garland
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
The Reluctant Princess (Charm City Hearts #1) by M.C. Vaughan
Relative Fortunes (Julia Kydd #1) by Marlowe Benn
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
Second Time Around (Second Glances #1) by Nancy Herkness
Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter
Summerlings by Lisa Howorth
Treacherous Strand (Inishowen #3) by Andrea Carter
Winter Grave (Embla Nyström #2) by Helene Tursten
You, Me and the Sea by Meg Donohue

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss (audio)
His Contract (Legally Bound #3) by Rebecca Grace Allen

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom BakerDoctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by BBC Books on January 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What are you afraid of?

In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travellers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.

With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

My Review:

They say that you never forget your first Doctor. The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, was mine. The first episode I saw was The Talons of Weng Chiang. It was the late 1980s and Doctor Who was broadcast on WTTW in Chicago at 11 pm every Sunday night. It says a whole lot about a whole lot of things that my hour or so with the Doctor every weekend was often the high point of my week.

Listening to Tom Baker read his own Doctor Who novel was like stepping back into my very own TARDIS, and taking a trip back in time and space to those long ago nights – when both of us were a LOT younger. I heard his voice now, but the picture in my head was of my Doctor, then.

And it made for a marvelous adventure.

The Fourth Doctor with Harry and Sarah Jane

The adventure itself feels like, or that should be sounds like, pretty much exactly like, one of the stories from the Fourth Doctor’s early years, when his companions were journalist Sarah Jane Smith and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan from UNIT.

The Doctor, along with Sarah Jane and Harry, find themselves on a relatively remote island off the English coast, having been taken there by the Doctor’s somewhat wacky TARDIS. They take advantage of the lovely day but find themselves ambushed by scarecrows of all things. Scarecrows that have taken the places of nearly all the villagers in this little town. By the time the Doctor figures out what has happened to the villagers and what the menacing scarecrows are all about, both he and Harry have been infected by the scarecrow virus.

It then becomes a race against time to find some way of eliminating the scarecrows and saving the remaining villagers – and themselves – before time runs out. And they fail. Only to find themselves in the adventure behind the adventure that was there all along.

What made this adventure particularly suited to an audiobook read by the Doctor is that the readers are not observing this adventure at third-hand. Instead, the Doctor is on trial – yes, again – in front of the assembled Time Lords who, as usual, are not at ALL amused by his recent behavior. Or his previous behavior (or even his future behavior).

So the story is the Doctor’s testimony, as he is telling the Time Lords what happened, what he did, and why he did it. In the audio, as he tells it to them – along with forays into his thoughts about the proceedings, the interruptions to the proceedings and the jeering from his Time Lord audience – we’re in his head, hearing him tell the story to them – and to us.

Let’s just say that in this instance the first person voice really, really works. The Doctor, MY Doctor, told me a fantastic story of one of his adventures.

And I loved every single minute of it.

Escape Rating A+: This is the point where I simply squee in delight.  I had a ball, to the point where I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, often while on a treadmill in the midst of other people who must have thought I was a loon.

But then, a lot of Time Lords firmly believe that the Doctor, particularly in this incarnation, was a loon. That he often behaved like one may have added a bit to that belief. More than a bit.

This story reads, or particularly listens, like one of the best of the Fourth Doctor’s madcap (with serious bits) adventures. If you enjoyed “Classic” Who, you’ll love this too. (I fully recognize that I am giving this an A+ because I loved every single second of it. I’m well aware that this is a book, and an experience, that won’t work nearly as well for someone who is not a fan.)

At the same time, the story also feels like Tom Baker’s love letter to the character he played so long and so well, two of his companions, particularly one of his obvious favorites, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as to the arc of the character and the series as a whole.

There are loving (and accurate) references to not only his three predecessors in the role, but also to the future, including a particularly heartfelt interchange with Thirteen. There’s also a sequence in the TARDIS where Sarah Jane Smith sees the arc of her whole life in pictures. The pictures she described were instantly recognizable as scenes not only from previous events in her life, but as future events, including scenes from her later appearances in the show in the episode School Reunion and her own Sarah Jane Adventures.

I’m not ashamed to say that those scenes made me tear up a bit, as did Sarah Jane’s letter to the Doctor in the postscript.

The adventure of Scratchman both travels well-worn and well-loved paths with the Doctor, and goes to places that the reader/listener does not expect. And it’s a lovely trip though a very personal time machine every step of the way.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1
Pages: 402
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on June 20, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

My Review:

The apostrophe is in the wrong place. Because this story is really the strange case of the alchemists’ daughters. There are, or were, entirely too many alchemists, and their daughters, well, their daughters are the heroines of this tale.

Every last one of them. Even Diana.

With an able assist from Sherlock Holmes. And occasionally the other way around.

The story begins with Mary Jekyll. Yes, that Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll is long dead, but not until after he transferred the family wealth – which was considerable once upon a time, to a bank account in Budapest under someone else’s name.

Mary and her mother have been barely scraping by on her mother’s life income, with a bit of help from selling everything in the family home that isn’t nailed down. But Mary’s mother has just died, along with that life income.

Mary is broke. She has a house that no one wants to buy, furnished with the few items that were so worn or broken that no one would buy those, either.

Into her rather threadbare lap a mystery is dropped. She discovers that her mother had a secret bank account to pay for the maintenance of “Hyde” in a charitable home for Magdalens. There is, or at least was, a £100 reward for information leading to the capture of Edward Hyde at a time when  £100 was a veritable fortune.

Mary appeals to Sherlock Holmes to discover whether the reward is still available, and finds herself dragged into the middle of one of Holmes’ cases. Someone is murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel. Again.

Not Jack the Ripper this time, not that this perpetrator doesn’t have at least as much surgical skill as old “Leather Apron”. Because this murderer isn’t cutting his victims up indiscriminately. He’s taking body parts – a different part each time.

Standing in Whitechapel, over the partially vivisected corpse of poor Molly Keen, Mary Jekyll finds the purpose of her life.

But it takes her sister, Diana Hyde (yes, that Hyde) to reveal to her that she’s a monster. A monster just like all of the alchemists’ daughters.

And it’s glorious.

Escape Rating A+: I had this on my kindle, but for some reason did not get around to it when it first came out. A fact which now surprises me, as the presence of Sherlock Holmes in pretty much anything usually has me eager to start it.

But I found it again, on sale from Audible, and this time dove right in. I was utterly captivated from the very first scene. To the point where about halfway through I couldn’t stand not knowing what came next, and switched from the marvelous audio to the book so I could finish faster. And immediately got the second book (European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) in audio because I was having so much fun!

What makes this story so refreshing is that unlike the Sherlock Holmes canon or most Victorian (and entirely too many other eras) the entire story is told from the perspective of the women. Holmes is assisting Mary in her case while she assists him in his. While he may not think of her as an equal, he certainly doesn’t treat her much differently, or honestly much better or worse, than he does Watson.

The story here is one of discovery. Mary discovers the truth of her identity as well as her purpose. Because this is the story of the creation of the Athena Club, which becomes both a sisterhood and a home.

A sisterhood of monsters, and a home for same.

It’s so much fun because all of the women have different histories, different voices, and they each get to tell their own stories. That we see both the stories and the writing of them is part of the fun as the narrative alternates between the case that Mary finds herself in the midst of and the actual writing of that case, with all of the women in the room participating, or sometimes obstructing, the writing thereof.

These are all women from literature whose stories were originally, and generally unfaithfully, told by the men who created them (one way or another) without their input or consent. So it is empowering to hear their voices tell their stories. It is telling that the one time a woman did tell one of their stories, she left her out so that she could someday, hopefully, tell her own.

As she does.

It is also an absolute hoot to hear their arguments over those stories. And it’s marvelous to watch them take control of their own lives, in spite of the tiny box that society wants to place them in just because they’re women.

They see themselves as monsters because of their fathers’ experiments on them. Society sees them as monsters because they have broken open the cage that society wants to place them in.

And that’s what makes the story so glorious. And so much delightful – and occasionally grisly – fun.

Reviewer’s Note: Whoever labeled this YA must have had their brain removed like poor Molly Keen.

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda JamesArsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #6
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on February 15, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Athena, Mississippi, librarian Charlie Harris is known for his good nature—and for his Maine coon cat, Diesel, that he walks on a leash. Charlie returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but taking the plunge into a recent acquisition will have him in over his head…   Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. The books were recently discovered among the personal effects of an ancestor of Mrs. Long’s husband. The mayor would like Charlie to preserve and to substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Andrew, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.   Andrew’s rival for his party’s nomination is Jasper Singletary. His Southern roots are as deep as Andrew’s, and his family has been bitter enemies with the Longs since the Civil War. Jasper claims the Long clan has a history of underhanded behavior at the expense of the Singletarys. His allegations draw the interest of a local reporter who soon asks to see the diaries. But she mysteriously vanishes before Charlie has a chance to show them to her…   Now Charlie is left with a catalog of questions. Even if the diaries turn out to be fakes, they could still be worth killing for. One thing is certain: Charlie will need to be careful, because the more he reads, the closer he could be coming to his final chapter…

My Review:

I picked this to read this week because this is National Library Week. I was looking for something that related to libraries in some way, and I was in the mood for a little bit of comfort reading. Any entry in the Cat in the Stacks series always fills both of those requirements!

I think that my friend Attila the Archivist would have a field day with this one. Not only does she love cats (Diesel is always a sweetie) but the mystery revolves around some Civil War diaries that are donated to the local university archives, and there’s a lot in here about proper handling of fragile material, the necessity of preservation, and just how much time and effort goes into preparing material for the collection and ultimate use by scholars.

And all of that mostly factual (I think, I’m not an archivist) information serves as the raisins in what turns out to be this very tasty Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie of a case.

(Diesel the cat always tries to get the cookies, but raisins aren’t good for cats. His human, Charlie Harris, seems to love Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and gets tempted by them fairly often in the story.)

The archival parts of this story begin when one of the prominent local families in tiny Athena Mississippi donates four volumes of Civil War-era diaries to the university archives. The Long family has been prominent in Athena since its founding in the early 1800s, and there will be plenty of history students at the university who will look to those diaries for research papers once they are available for use.

But archivist/librarian Charlie Harris is besieged from the moment the diaries are placed in his care. A local reporter demands access before the diaries have even been properly evaluated. And one of the history professors demands exclusive access to those same diaries – even more loudly and rudely – the moment they arrive in Charlie’s hands.

Things get crazier from there, as they often do when Charlie gets involved. He seems to be a magnet for trouble – and murder. Or he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. (Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending upon one’s perspective. The local police detective seems to be of two minds about this. As one might imagine!)

The diaries are stolen. Then they’re mysteriously returned. And then, that loud and rude professor gets murdered. Charlie and those diaries find themselves in the thick of the case – and caught in the middle of a local political race that shouldn’t relate to 150-year-old diaries but somehow does just the same.

This is a case where words matter. Even words written over a century and a half ago. Or perhaps especially over those words.

Escape Rating B: I had a terrific time with this story – a terrific time that was certainly enhanced by the inclusion of a short story at the end that finally tells the tale of when Charlie met Diesel.

There are two things that I really love about this series. One is that the author is very clearly “one of us” librarians. Charlie Harris didn’t necessarily have to be a librarian, but since he is, it is important, at least to me, that he seem realistic. If he weren’t it would throw me (and probably most librarians) totally out of the story. The series is popular and ongoing, so it’s clear that the author managed to straddle the line between satisfying those of us “in the know” while still entertaining general readers.

Charlie Harris is a librarian that I’d love to have coffee with at any conference. And he’d fit right in.

The other thing is that while Diesel is most definitely large and in charge and utterly adorable, he’s just a cat. An extremely large cat – although not unrealistically so – but just a cat. He’s good at the things that cats are good at, bad at – and in the same manner – the things that cats are bad at. But he’s not more than felinely intelligent – if a bit high on the feline intelligence scale. But then, I’ve had cats of my own who were high on that scale – and also one who was extremely dim. There’s a range and Diesel fits within it.

This is my way of saying that series like The Cat Who and Sneaky Pie Brown and my personal favorite Joe Grey may be a lot of fun, but most cats should be cats and not detectives.

The case in this book turned out to be fascinating in a number of ways. One part of it was the application of the old saw about “academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small.” The corner of this mess that revolves around the tenure chase and the emotions engendered feels very realistic – even though that part of the case gets a bit far-fetched.

There’s also a lot about family history and family reputations and long-held grudges and resentments and how all of that plays out in the political arena. As well as more than a bit about the corruption of politics and just how the need to protect both a legacy and a reputation in that field can lead many people astray.

And at the heart of it all is the diary of a sometimes flighty young woman who matured at a time when the world was falling down around her. As well as the havoc she inadvertently wrecked and the strength she found to endure.