Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. GreenVery Important Corpses (Ishmael Jones, #3) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: horror, mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #3
Pages: 201
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ishmael Jones travels to the Scottish Highlands on a mysterious dual mission in this intriguing, genre-blending mystery. The Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed."

My Review:

Once upon a time, a tour guide told me that “sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage.” In other words, if you stand around Loch Ness and drink enough Scotch, you’ll definitely improve your odds of seeing Nessie. Or possibly two or three Nessies, depending on how many bottles you need to find the monster in the lake.

Alternatively, as Penny Belcourt discovers in this third book in the Ishmael Jones series, (after The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) all she has to do is go with Ishmael to one of his assignments for the mysterious “Organization” and she’s bound to see A monster if not THE monster.

Whether that’s an actual monster, or just the monster that lurks inside entirely too many of the “people” that the Organization sends Ishmael to deal with, is generally a toss up. It certainly pays to be prepared for either eventuality – and every other they can think of. In their line of work, paranoia isn’t a psychological condition – it’s more of a survival trait.

And if there’s one thing Ishmael Jones is good at, it’s survival. He’s been successfully surviving, and hiding in not so plain sight, since his space ship crashed in 1963 and turned him into a reasonable facsimile of a human male in his mid-20s. Just with a few useful and additional skills as well as an unchanging face and body. Ishmael has been 25 or thereabouts for over 50 years now, and it’s getting harder to hide.

Hence his work for the Organization, which keeps his secrets in exchange for his cleaning up and keeping some of theirs.

That’s what brings Ishmael – and Penny – to Coronach House on the shore of Loch Ness. One of those super-secret cabals that conspiracy wonks love to foam at the mouth about is secretly meeting at this secure and remote house, and that security has been compromised. The first Organization agent sent to figure out what’s gone wrong is dead, and Ishmael is sent to solve the mystery, clean up the mess, and make sure that someone gets the message that messing with the Organization shortens the life expectancy.

But the Organization never sends Ishmael to any easy jobs. That’s certainly the case here – especially as the body count rises and the level of wanton destruction that accompanies each body ramps up from merely vicious to downright cataclysmic.

And as usual, the people that Ishmael is supposed to protect all think that they really don’t have to listen to him. And of course they do, at least if they want to live. Not that they all manage that, either.

There are puzzles within puzzles, and wheels within wheels, as the murderer, whoever or whatever they might be, does his, her or its level best to keep Ishmael so horrified and occupied that he doesn’t have time to put the clues together until it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the books in this series so far, Very Important Corpses was a whole lot of creepy fun. It is very definitely horror-adjacent, which makes it just the right book to review for Halloween.

One of the things that I really like about this series is the way that the horror elements are used as set decoration and distraction – and that Ishmael generally knows that’s their purpose. He’s aware that the increasing level of creepy is designed to put him off his game, and he’s determined not to be sucked in by it.

There is a hidden world in this series, a hidden world that Ishmael is definitely a part of, but he knows what’s possible and what actually isn’t – even if his range of what’s possible veers into fairly weird waters. He believes in aliens because he is one. He believes in alien tech because he’s seen it.

He doesn’t believe in ghosts. Or ancestral monsters like the one that is supposed to haunt Coronach House. And in spite of being garden-variety human, AND seeming rather open-minded about these things, Penny doesn’t believe in them either. She just asks the questions about them that Ishmael refuses to ask.

One of the things I love about this author is that the snark-o-meter is always set to high, and this book was no exception. One of the things I’ve been wondering about was whether that trademark snark would also include this author’s usual throwaway references to the other worlds he has created. While those first two books didn’t, this one does. Not in a way that will keep anyone from getting into this book, but just enough to make a reader already familiar smile in recognition.

At the beginning this series reminded me a lot of Torchwood, with Ishmael as Captain Jack. This particular entry in the series reminded me of a very specific episode of Torchwood, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, where someone from Captain Jack’s past shows up and we get a glimpse of who and what he was before Torchwood. That same thing happens in Very Important Corpses, where someone from Ishmael’s past turns up, and we learn a bit more about what he’s been up to in those 50 plus years.

And just as it was in Torchwood, Ishmael’s old frenemy is not exactly what he appears to be. While I didn’t figure out exactly what he was, that he wasn’t exactly on the up and up was clear fairly early on.

But it didn’t stop my compulsive turning of the pages, not one little bit. As long as I kept the lights on.

Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySnowfall on Lighthouse Lane (Honeymoon Harbor, #2) by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #2
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on October 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lose yourself in the magic, charm and romance of Christmas in the Pacific Northwest as imagined in JoAnn Ross’s heartwarming Honeymoon Harbor series.

Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, Jolene Harper is forever indebted to the mother who encouraged her to fly—all the way to sunny LA and a world away from Honeymoon Harbor. Although Jolene vowed never to look back, returning home isn’t even a question when her mom faces a cancer scare. Which means running into Aiden Mannion all over town, the first boy she ever loved—and lost—and whom she can barely look in the eye.

Aiden’s black-sheep reputation may have diminished when he joined the marines, but everything he’s endured since has left him haunted. Back in Honeymoon Harbor to heal, he’s talked into the interim role of police chief, and the irony isn’t lost on the locals, least of all Aiden. But seeing Jolene after all these years is the unexpected breath of fresh air he’s been missing. He’s never forgotten her through all his tours, but he’s not sure anymore that he’s the man she deserves.

Despite the secret they left between them all those years ago, snow is starting to fall on their picturesque little town, making anything seem possible…maybe even a second chance at first love.

My Review:

After yesterday’s book of sad I really felt the need for a happy-ever-after pick-me-up, and Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane delivered.

That I had two books in a row with “lighthouse” in the title but that they are complete opposites has turned out to be a good thing.

Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane is the second book in the author’s Honeymoon Harbor series. I haven’t read the first book (I haven’t read this author before) but I didn’t feel lost or left out. Honeymoon Harbor seems like one of those cozy small towns (like Haven Point and Sullivan’s Crossing and Icicle Falls and Thunder Point) where everyone does know everybody’s name and everybody’s business. And where a stranger in town – or a new reader – can easily pick up enough backstory to fit right in.

Not that either the hero or the heroine of this little tale need much background to get up to speed on all the town doings. Both Aiden Mannion and Jolene Harper grew up in Honeymoon Harbor. Aiden, in spite of – or perhaps because of – being the mayor’s son was the town bad boy. Jolene was the daughter of a teenage mother who worked three jobs to keep the two of their heads above water while her ne’er-do-well husband was in and out of jail.

Jolene grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, and Aiden’s antics kept him there. Of course, they fell in love in high school, but they kept their trysts a secret. He was worried about tarnishing her reputation by publicly being the girlfriend of the town bad boy, and she feared that the scion of one of the founding families wouldn’t want to be known as the boyfriend of a girl whose mother was rumored to be turning tricks.

Of course none of the rumors about Jolene or her mother were true, but that never stopped people from spreading rumors – or lies.

Aiden left town for the Marines, and then for several years in the LAPD. Jolene left town and never looked back, parlaying her mother’s talent for hair and makeup into an Oscar-nominated career in Hollywood.

Now they’re both back in town. Aiden because his cop partner was killed in an ambush, and Jolene because her mother is sailing up the river DeNial about a cancer scare. They’re both back in town to pick up the pieces of the lives they left behind.

Aiden finds himself the town’s chief of police after the old chief has a stroke. Jolene has come to make sure her mother gets the tests she needs, and to figure out where to go from here after her apartment goes up in flames and her career goes up in smoke after she signs a well-publicized #MeToo petition.

Which puts them both back in town for the Christmas holidays, ready for their own second chance at their first happily ever after. Just like the Hallmark movies that Jolene and her mother love to binge.

Escape Rating B+: Sometimes you just get the right book at the right time. This was one of those books at one of those times. I wanted a sweet story with a happy ending, and that’s what I got. And I feel so much better!

There is a lot to love about this heartwarming story – and my heart is very warm after reading it. It teeters just on the edge of being too sappy, but never quite falls over that edge. It also flirts with some of the classic romantic tropes that can easily go wrong – but thankfully never goes there, either.

Jolene’s trip to help her mother is a case in point. This isn’t a weepy tear-jerker story, so her mother Gloria has NOT been diagnosed with cancer. Instead, a recent exam found a suspicious lump in her breast, and Gloria is just refusing to get the tests to determine whether there is something to worry about.

While Gloria’s friend shouldn’t be revealing her secrets to her daughter, everyone in her mother’s salon heard her when she got the phone call – so not exactly a well-kept secret.

Not that there are many well-kept secrets in Honeymoon Harbor, except the ones that absolutely have to be.

The story here, in its ebbs and flows, is Jolene and Aiden’s journey, not to their past, but to their present – complete with a ghost of Christmas present perched on Aiden’s shoulder.

All of the loose ends of their lives, both their first teenaged love and their current adult trials are all wrapped up with a nice, neat bow at the end of the story. If you like a good happy-ever-after, this one is a treat.

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

I am giving away a copy of Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane to one lucky US commenter on this post!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel GaynorThe Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 383
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home comes a historical novel inspired by true events, and the extraordinary female lighthouse keepers of the past two hundred years.

They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”

1838: Northumberland, England. Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands has been Grace Darling’s home for all of her twenty-two years. When she and her father rescue shipwreck survivors in a furious storm, Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, the subject of poems, ballads, and plays. But far more precious than her unsought fame is the friendship that develops between Grace and a visiting artist. Just as George Emmerson captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart.

1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson has been sent away from Ireland in disgrace. She is to stay with Harriet, a reclusive relative and assistant lighthouse keeper, until her baby is born. A discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s family history. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be linked forever by their instinctive acts of courage and love.

My Review:

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter might have been more appropriately titled if the apostrophe had been in a different place. Because this isn’t the story of one lighthouse keeper’s daughter, but instead about two lighthouse keepers’ daughters, living in lighthouses both a century and an ocean apart.

As the story opens, we aren’t sure what links our two heroines – although we certainly do find out.

In 1838 on the coast of Northumberland, Grace Darling is the daughter of the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on Farne Island. As a woman, she can’t officially be the assistant lighthouse keeper, or have a hope of inheriting the duties of the lighthouse keeper from her father, but she loves the lighthouse and the work every bit as much as her father and her brothers do.

In the midst of a terrible, Grace, that night’s lookout, sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to a “so near but yet so far” rock. The storm will sweep those pitiful survivors away if Grace and her father can’t get to them. But the storm is more than capable of sweeping Grace, her father and their tiny boat away if they try.

That trying turns Grace into a heroine, rowing the boat with her father and holding it against the storm as he helped the few survivors into the boat. Her heroism made a her national heroine, and brought her unwanted attention for the rest of her life.

In 1938, Mathilda Emmerson has been sent from her home in Ireland to Newport, Rhode Island, to the care of her cousin Harriet Flaherty, herself the lighthouse keeper in Newport. Mathilda is in disgrace, having fallen pregnant after a night of indiscretion. Her mother intends for her to have the child in America, leave it behind, and return to her life as the dutiful daughter of a politician.

In Mathilda’s possession is Grace Darling’s book of procedures of lighthouse keeping, and her locket. The items have been passed down in her family from mother to daughter for the past century.

Through the eyes of Grace in the 19th century and Mathilda in the 20th, we learn how Grace’s book made its way from Northumberland to Ireland to America, and finally about the ties that bind these two women from such different times and places.

And that those ties are much closer than Mathilda ever thought.

Escape Rating B: For this reader, this was ultimately a sad book, and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at points. But it felt to me as if the sadness wins out. I think how a reader will feel about this will depend on which of the two women one ends up identifying with. I found Grace’s story to be ultimately tragic. I identified with her strong desire to find and keep a sense of purpose, but I wanted better for her than she had.

Her doomed romance felt like a bit of a misunderstandammit to me. They did love each other, they would have been happy together, but neither of them could break out of the restrictions of their time to actually say anything.

Grace Darling by Thomas Musgrave Joy

As fiction, it felt disappointing. Discovering afterwards that Grace’s part of the book is based on a true story, and that the real Grace Darling never married and died young as she does in the book, makes her part of the story make more sense.

I still wish she’d had a happier ending, or was a bit less of the tragic romantic heroine.

Matilda’s story is the one that is supposed to stick with the reader, and its ending is ultimately hopeful, albeit bittersweet. She does come into her own as the lighthouse keeper, but not until after some rather melodramatic family business that was foreshadowed more than a little bit. And, in keeping with the tone of the book, she has to suffer her own tragedy before she triumphs.

For a story that is for the most part rather quiet – giant storms notwithstanding – the story is very readable and pulls the reader along, or rather back and forth across time and the ocean, from one protagonist to another.

Discovering that Grace Darling was a real historical figure was quite a surprise after finishing the book. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. While her life isn’t stranger than fiction, it certainly made for an interesting story.

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-28-18

Sunday Post

If you are US citizen, have you voted yet? If not, are you planning to vote? It is your right as a citizen to vote. Personally, I also feel that if you are eligible to participate but don’t participate in the process, you really don’t have the right to complain about the result. (If you’re not a US citizen but you vote in your own country, I think you get reciprocal complaining rights. The world has become way too small to pretend that what happens someplace else does not affect where you are and vice versa.)

And on the bloggy and bookish front, the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop ends, appropriately, on Halloween, the spookiest day of the year. Also appropriately, but for an entirely different reason, the October Of Books Giveaway Hop ends on Wednesday, too, since Wednesday is the last day of October. The November of Books Giveaway Hop starts the next day. As it should, on November 1.

The year is winding down. Once Halloween has passed Thanksgiving will be looming on the horizon, and along with it, the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop. If you’re a blogger, please sign up to hop with us – Black Friday is the perfect day to post a giveaway. And if you’re a blog follower, it’s the perfect day to spend a few minutes doing a little holiday present shopping for yourself!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the October Of Books Giveaway Hop (ends WEDNESDAY!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop (also ends WEDNESDAY!)

Blog Recap:

B+ Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James
B+ Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
A- Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
B Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler
B- Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood
Stacking the Shelves (311)

Coming This Week:

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor (blog tour review)
Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by Jo Ann Ross (blog tour review)
Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green (review)
November of Books Giveaway Hop
Time’s Children by D.B. Jackson (review)

Stacking the Shelves (311)

Stacking the Shelves

This week’s collection is certainly an interesting group! There are two books I’ve already reviewed, which is certainly unusual. And one book that already has two strikes against it. It seemed like I was the only person in the world who did not like Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, but I’m already hearing raves about her new one and decided to get the ARC anyway. We’ll see.

For Review:
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Dragon Age Library Edition Volume 2 by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir and illustrated by Carmen Carnero, Fernando Heinz Furukawa
Pirate’s Passion (Sentinels of Savannah #2) by Lisa Kessler
Unbroken Cowboy (Gold Valley #5) by Maisey Yates
The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Purchased from Amazon:
The Consuming Fire (Interdependency #2) by John Scalzi  (REVIEW) (ebook purchased from Amazon and signed hardcover purchased at author signing event!)
Magnolia Mystic (Sentinels of Savannah #1) by Lisa Kessler (review)

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark (Phryne Fisher Mystery #16) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #16
Pages: 274
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 2, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going. But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation. No one tells Phryne Fisher what to do. At the Manor House, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party dallies with two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men, and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming. The jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold. Heaven. It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from further disaster."

My Review:

I have been having a hankering to visit with Phryne Fisher again, and this seemed like the time to do it. This is even a Christmas story – well technically a post-Xmas story, so it even seemed to fit with some of my other recent books. Even if late October does seems too early to talk about – or read about, the Christmas holidays.

When I finished this one, I tried to describe the story to someone, and got absolutely lost for words. I’ll have to do better here. One thing I will say for sure, when I finished I couldn’t imagine that this one had ever been filmed for the series. Wikipedia says that it WAS filmed, but the only thing that the filmed version and the book version have in common in the title.

This is not the same story – not at all.

Which doesn’t mean the book version isn’t interesting, and doesn’t make for a hell of a read. Bits of it occasionally read like an opium dream of Coleridge’s, but that does make sense. There are a LOT of drugs of all types in this story – and ALL of them were perfectly legal at the time.

Not that the police don’t involved in the end, and certainly not that Phryne doesn’t have sometimes to investigate from the very beginning, because both are certainly true. Drugs may not have been illegal in 1928 in Australia – but blackmail and murder certainly were.

The plot, and the subplots, and the counterplots, all take place at the “Last Best Party of 1928” – at least all the parts that take place after Ember the cat kills the poisonous coral snake who was all wrapped up as a Christmas present for Phryne.

Telling Phryne to stay away from something is probably the best way to get her to do the exact opposite – and so she does. That “Last Best” party is a country house party being thrown by the Templars, a famous, and infamous brother and sister who have an amazing amount of charisma, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money, and a desire to surround themselves with beautiful people and over-the-top experiences.

Someone wants to kill Gerald, the brother of the pair. Gerald wants Phryne to figure out who is threatening him. It all sounds like rather a lark at first – spending a long weekend with the over indulged rich and the famous for being famous.

The Templars seem to be a lot like the Kardashians – but with more class – and much more style.

And it is a lark, until not one but two children go missing under very mysterious circumstances. And before Phryne learns that the person who plans to kill Gerald is a well-known, well-paid, and extremely well-trained assassin. One who seems to believe that toying with Phryne is all fun and games until she starts to win the game. And then she’s just one more bit of prey on his list.

But he’s also on hers – just as soon as she figures out who he is.

Escape Rating B-: I admit that I was hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter than this from Phryne. I should have taken the title as a clue that this wasn’t going to be as much of a romp as this series usually is.

There was something ineffably sad about this story. Not just because we’re watching a crazed serial killer plot in the background, although that’s part of it. A lot of songs and epigrams are used to introduce the chapters, and many of them invoked death, grief or both. This story is also set at the dying of not just a year, but of an era, even though the participants don’t know it.

And not just, as seems inevitable at the end of the story, the last of the Templars’ largesse, but also that this is set at the end of 1928. This really is, not just the “Last Best Party of 1928” but also the last, best holiday party of the “Roaring 20s”. The crash is coming, and it’s going to be a big one.

Part of why I think this story would be impossible to film is the sheer number of subplots. It makes me think of what a real country house party might have been like. There are so many events going on all the time, and so very many people who have small parts to play in some but not all of them.

Of course there are the acolytes surrounding the Templars, and all of the petty jealousies that crop up with large groups of people are vying for the attention of just two – while they are competing mostly with each other.

But there’s so much else going on. The themed party nights, the jazz players, the polo players, and the games. Oh the games. There are more parlor games being played at any point in this story than there are parlors in the biggest country house imagined.

It’s a portrait of a world that is gone. But the overabundance of activities means that the story doesn’t pay equal attention to every single one, and doesn’t wrap up all of its many loose ends.

And yet, when the story is over and Phryne returns to town in her beautiful Hispano-Suiza, it still feels like the whole farrago has come to a proper ending, complete for the overall picture if not the tiny details.

I still want to visit Phryne again, the next time I’m in the mood to hear Phryne’s very singular voice. A voice that is every bit as heady as the drinks she so lovingly describes – and imbibes.

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler

Review: Magnolia Mystic by Lisa KesslerMagnolia Mystic by Lisa Kessler
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #1
Pages: 103
Published by Entangled: Amara on July 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two words: Immortal Pirates. It doesn't get better than that! Sexy, spicy, and so much fun--I can't wait for the next one! - Alyssa Day, NY Times bestselling author

Skye Olson is a psychic like her mother, and her grandmother before her, but a bad break up with the man she thought was her soulmate has left her confidence in her abilities shaken. While she's in crisis, a real estate tycoon from Atlanta swoops in with his eyes on her shop.

Colton Hayes spent his mortal life plundering royal ships with his pirate crew, but one holy relic changed everything. Now he and the rest of the crew protect the port of Savannah from their captain who traded his cutlass for a fountain pen.

When Colton discovers the captain wants to build a hotel in the heart of historic Savannah, he sets out to stop him, but nothing could prepare him for the sexy smile and violet eyes of the Magnolia Mystic.

Magnolia Mystic was previously a part of the Magnolias & Moonshine collection.

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

I’m in the middle of a big, deep, slightly heavy book, and found myself looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier to balance it out. Not that I’m not loving the other book, because I am, but there’s so much going on that I need to take it in smaller bites.

Why I thought undead pirates was going to be lighter, I’m not sure. But Magnolia Mystic is certainly lighter and even a bit fluffier than the other book.

Also, the pirates are not undead, they’re more like undying. The crew of the Sea Dog are 250-plus years young, after drinking from the Holy Grail. Yes, that Grail, the one that the Knights of the Round Table were chasing after in the King Arthur stories.

The pirate crew of the Sea Dog actually found the thing. They were raiding a Spanish treasure ship that was supposed to be carrying a fortune in gold doubloons. Instead, there was just one battered chest, containing a cup that refilled itself.

But that was two and a half centuries ago, and a pirate, even an undying one, still has to make a living. Colton Hayes is making his by taking tourists out of the Port of Savannah in his replica Sea Dog.

And that’s where he meets Skye Olson, the woman he’s been fated to meet for all those years. She’s fated either to be his salvation or his doom, and from the first it’s a bit hard to tell which.

She’s in recovery from a really bad breakup – and swears that she’s swearing off men when she meets Colton. He’s literally gobsmacked by seeing that old prophecy fulfilled – the one that said that meeting the violet-eyed woman would bring about both his life and his death.

Because after meeting Skye, the curse or blessing of the Grail (depending on perspective) stops working. Not completely, but pretty darn obviously. One of Colton’s crewmates is in a devastating car wreck. And while the man doesn’t die like anyone else would, he also doesn’t instantly heal the way that the Sea Dog crew always have.

Their immunity seems to be coming to an end – just at the point where Colton has discovered a woman that he loves enough to want to be able to grow old with.

But not every member of the crew is so willing to give up on immortality. And that’s when they discover that the Grail, the cup they’ve been successfully hiding for over two centuries, has gone missing.

And that Uncle Sam wants them to steal it back.

Escape Rating B: This was just lots of fun. It’s also lots of introduction as this is the first book in the series. In fact, I found this one by seeing a promo for the next one, which is due out in November.

I liked Skye as a character and found her easy to identify with. Not the whole seeress gig, not that it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. And I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we discover that it was Skye’s great-great-great-grandmother who made the original prophecy.

But her situation otherwise is one that is easy to be sympathetic to. She’s a smart woman who usually takes care of herself but made a mistake in trusting the wrong man and now doubts her ability to pick the right one – or at least a good one.

However, it’s the situation that Colton and his crewmates are in that really grabbed my attention and kept it. Instead of the undead curse that struck the pirates in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, we have something that might either be curse or blessing. Not undeath, but seemingly everlasting life.

What do you do with all those centuries? How do you keep from falling into depression, ennui, or outright evil? Not that one member of the crew hasn’t become, if not true evil, at least the 21st century version of everyday evil – a ruthless property developer.

That Colton realized that he had to let Skye in on the secret if they were to have a chance – and how he went about it, worked very well. Especially when it wasn’t Colton that she believed, but another one of his crewmates who had been her lifelong friend. That the story went down easier from someone she already trusted made sense.

The ending was where the series takes off and leads to parts unknown. Who knew that the U.S. government had an agency devoted to ferreting out the supernatural? And why wouldn’t they? But the it takes a thief to catch a thief twist at the end is the one that will keep this series going – and I liked it – a lot.

I’m looking forward to continuing my voyage on the Sea Dog with the Sentinels of Savannah next month in Pirate’s Passion.

Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

Review: The Consuming Fire by John ScalziThe Consuming Fire (The Interdependency #2) by John Scalzi
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Interdependency #2
Pages: 320
Published by Tor Books on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


The Consuming Fire
--the second thrilling novel in the bestselling Interdependency series, from the Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author John Scalzi

The Interdependency, humanity's interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it--unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth--or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy... and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

My Review:

There is a description that claims that science fiction is a fantasy of political agency. That is certainly true of The Consuming Fire, and the entire Interdependency series so far. It could also be said that in this series, a significant part of the story is just which characters have fantasies that they in particular have political agency. Actually fantasies that they have considerably more political agency than they really have. Part of the story is watching at least some of those characters get disabused of that notion – and occasionally with extreme prejudice.

Another way of looking at this story is that it is all about power. There’s that old saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely, but it doesn’t quite apply here. No one really has absolute power. The person who seems on the surface to have the most, Emperox Grayland II, mostly seems to have the kind of power that the Queen of England has. That is, the power to advise, the power to encourage, and the power to warn. Her power isn’t quite that restricted, but it feels close to that – especially from her perspective.

However, the desire for absolute power does seem to corrupt absolutely. Or at least that’s the model that the Nohamapeton family seems to be following. The Countess Nohamapeton wants absolute power. She wants her family to control the throne. So far, she’s sacrificed two sons to that ambition and possibly her daughter as well. Not to mention all the other people she has arranged to have eliminated along the way. And she’s still plotting.

There’s that saying about diplomacy being war waged by other means. In this book there’s a corollary that applies – politics is civil war waged by other means. There are a lot of cutthroat politics in this one, sometimes with throats literally being cut – or shot – or wrecked.

This is also a story about inevitable change, and the many, varied and frequently counterproductive ways that people react in the face of that change. Interstellar commerce is founded on and dependent upon a poorly understood means of faster-than-light interstellar travel, called “the Flow”. The Flow has been more or less dependable for a millennium, and people have gotten very, very used to the idea that it will always be dependable.

But it isn’t. The Flow is collapsing – hence the title of the first book in the series, The Collapsing Empire. Flow scientists barely understand the flow well enough to predict the collapse. They certainly don’t understand it well enough to prevent the collapse.

So all that anyone in the Interdependency can do is react to the eminent collapse.Often, but not always, badly.

Of course there are a few people, and at times it seems like very few, who are doing the best they can to save as much as possible, however they can. It’s a more difficult task than it might be, because the Interdependency doesn’t seem to have many planets that can support human life. Not many actually equals just one – and it’s a planet that has already been partially cut off from the Flow.

Everyone else lives on habitats that orbit planets that happen to have been conveniently located for the Flow streams. Which is going to literally turn to hell (not) on Earth as they each get cut off from the supplies and equipment they need to maintain those high-tech habitats.

The Emperox Grayland II is one of those people who are trying to save, if not the Interdependency itself, at least as many of the people in it as is possible. But she has very few allies, and plenty of people who want to skim the cream off the status quo for as long as possible.

At the end of the book – although certainly not the end of the story – Grayland’s enemies discover that SHE is the consuming fire – a fire that will turn their petty machinations to ash in pursuit of her goal to save everyone else – or at least as much of everyone else as is possible.

Escape Rating A-: The Interdependency, at least so far, is a very political space opera. This is a government that was deliberately created to have wheels within wheels. Keeping those wheels properly greased has been the millennia long job of the Wu family. After all, creating the Interdependency and getting themselves installed as the Imperial Family was all about their wheels getting greased. They made sure that the setup also greased all the wheels of anyone who could have stood in their way at the time.

The creation of the Interdependency was a very cynical act. Effective, but cynical. The current Emperox isn’t nearly as cynical as some of predecessors, but she has plenty of motivation to do her best. And plenty of even more cynical people to keep from killing her. If you like political SF, this series so far is a lot of fun. It’s not a situation that one would remotely want to be in, but the machinations are fascinating to watch.

All in all, I have to say that The Consuming Fire is typical Scalzi. If you like the author, as I certainly do, you will eat this one up with a spoon, and then moan and complain when you reach the bottom of the bowl.

(Admittedly, if you don’t already like Scalzi, this book will probably not change your mind. It’s very typical of all the things I read him FOR. Which, if they don’t work for you, this book won’t either.)

I started this on audio, and Wil Wheaton again did an awesome job reading the story. His normal just slightly snarky tone is perfect for this author, because there is always a lot of subtle and sometimes not so subtle, snark in his work. But I wanted to see how this installment ends – and I felt the need to finish the book before we see the author in person on Thursday, so I bought the ebook and finished in an hour.

It is also hilarious to hear someone reading all of Kiva Lagos’ dialog. Kiva may possibly be the most profane character I’ve ever run across. She clearly does not know how to construct a sentence without at least one f-bomb in it. Her lines are funny to read, but almost brutal – and appropriately so – when read.

The Consuming Fire is not the place to start this series. The setup of the Flow and the way that the Interdependency interdepends upon it is all set up in the first book, The Collapsing Empire. And that’s also where we get introduced to all of the characters that make this story so much fun.

This is also, thank goodness, not the place where this story ends. There will be at least one more book. Because things are always darkest just before they turn completely black – and they haven’t turned completely black yet.

I’ll be over here, waiting with the proverbial bated breath, until they do. Hopefully next year, in the very tentatively titled The Last Emperox.

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes LackeyThe Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by 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
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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: supplied by 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!