The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-31-23

Tonight is New Year’s Eve, tomorrow it will be 2024. Which still seems unreal, as 2023 went by really, really fast. Nevertheless, today is 123123 and this is the last post of the year.

In the words attributed to the immortal Groucho Marx, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

It’s also looking like it’s going to be cold, gloomy and just plain nasty this weekend, which makes this picture of Tuna very apropos as he’s definitely brought all the cozy he can into this pose, and we’ll probably spend most of the weekend cuddled up right along with him!

All of us here at Chez Reading Reality, including Mr. Tuna up there, wish you a happy, healthy, safe and snuggly New Year!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Let It Snow Giveaway Hop is Seyma

Blog Recap:

Christmas Day 2023 (Guest Post by Galen)
Best Books of 2023
A- Review: Paladin’s Faith by T. Kingfisher
A Review: Murder at the Serpentine Bridge by Andrea Penrose
A+ Review: The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas
Stacking the Shelves (581)

Coming This Week:

New Year New You Giveaway Hop
Most Anticipated Books of 2024
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known by Seanan McGuire (audio review)
The Twilight Queen by Jeri Westerson (review)
The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz (review)

Stacking the Shelves (581)

This stack is a bit taller than I expected, but then I didn’t expect Amazon to dangle triple kindle points in the Kindle Rewards Beta in front of me this week – and I probably should have. But that’s what brings the remainder of the Barker & Llewelyn series into my Kindle app – not that I needed much coaxing after reading The Limehouse Text this week and being every bit as enthralled as I was with the first two books in the series.

That being said, the book I’m actually most looking forward to in this stack is Requiem for a Mouse because I adore Diesel and am sneakily fond of his human as well. Although, as adorable as that cover picture is, Diesel really shouldn’t eat even a bit of that cheesecake because it would not be at all good for him. No matter how good I expect his book to be for me!

For Review:
The Book That Broke the World (Library Trilogy #2) by Mark Lawrence
The Last Word (Harbinder Kaur #4) by Elly Griffiths
Requiem for a Mouse (Cat in the Stacks #16) by Miranda James
A Ruse of Shadows (Lady Sherlock #8) by Sherry Thomas

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
An Awkward Way to Die ((Barker & Llewelyn #8.5) by Will Thomas
Dance with Death (Barker & Llewelyn #12) by Will Thomas
Fierce Poison (Barker & Llewelyn #13) by Will Thomas
Heart of the Nile (Barker & Llewelyn #14) by Will Thomas

Borrowed from the Library:
The Postscript Murders (Harbinder Kaur #2) by Elly Griffiths

If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas

Review: The Limehouse Text by Will ThomasThe Limehouse Text (Barker & Llewelyn, #3) by Will Thomas
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Barker & Llewelyn #3
Pages: 352
Published by Touchstone on July 4, 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

In The Limehouse Text, Barker and Llewelyn discover a pawn ticket among the effects of Barker's late assistant, leading them to London's Chinese district, Limehouse. There they retrieve an innocent-looking book that proves to be a rare and secret text stolen from a Nanking monastery, containing lethal martial arts techniques forbidden to the West. With the political situation between the British Empire and Imperial China already unstable, the duo must not only track down a killer intent upon gaining the secret knowledge but also safeguard the text from a snarl of suspects with conflicting interests.
Prowling through an underworld of opium dens, back-room blood sports, and sailors' penny hangs while avoiding the wrath of the district's powerful warlord, Mr. K'ing, Barker and Llewelyn take readers on a perilous tour through the mean streets of turn-of-the-century London.

My Review:

I was feeling in a bit of a murder-y mood this week – reading-wise at least. Which seems entirely fitting as we’re ‘killing’ 2023 this weekend and ringing in 2024. Even the first book this week, Paladin’s Faith, fits that murder theme, because the story is wrapped around preventing the protagonist from getting murdered, AND because one of the characters in the story is from a people who call the individual years gods, gods who die at the end of the year as the new year-god is born.

And this series, Barker & Llewelyn is also part of my anticipation for the coming year, as this series has turned into my new comfort read series, just as yesterday’s book was the penultimate story in a series that has formed part of my comfort reading for THIS year coming to an end.

Barker & Llewelyn certainly have become a comfort read, as was evidenced by the way I slipped back into their Victorian London like slipping into a warm bath, and didn’t resurface until my mind had its fill of the mystery and was ready to come back to the real world.

Not that the real, 21st century doesn’t intrude in this series, because it frequently does. Not through ANY anachronisms, but rather as a result of the fact that technology may change but human nature does not. The issues that face Barker & Llewelyn, issues of race, gender, class and socioeconomic inequalities, the tensions between countries and war and peace, have always been part of the human condition.

The author does an excellent job of allowing the reader to experience the roots of specific 21st century issues in 19th century mores, behaviors and actions without ever breaking the character of the era in which this series takes place.

This entry in the series, as looks to be a developing pattern for the stories as a whole, begins at a climactic moment very near the end that seems both shocking and inexplicable as an opening – but fully rivets the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go until the story has caught up to that climax.

Rather like a caper story, which often begins by seeing the results of what got done and then winds its action back to the beginning of how the characters got to that point. After all, there kind of is a caper in The Limehouse Text. Multiple capers, in fact, although that’s not clear to anyone involved when Llewelyn winds his narrative back to begin at the beginning.

Which turns out to be tied up in Thomas Llewelyn’s own beginning as Private Enquiry Agent Cyrus Barker’s assistant. The job Llewelyn has been growing into and abler for every day was only available to him because the previous occupant had become involved in considerably more danger than even his employer had been aware of. Danger that resulted in his murder – a case that Barker has not managed to solve even a year later.

But new evidence in Quong’s murder has been uncovered by a police inspector who turns out to have been a bit too thorough for his own good. Resulting in the reopening of that old case, a new string of deaths and the potential for grave diplomatic incidents in the already fractious relationship between Britain and China – whether those incidents take place in Limehouse, in Peking, or over Cyrus Barker’s grave.

Escape Rating A+: One thing drove me utterly bananas during my reading of The Limehouse Text. I had the vague impression, not that I’d read this before, but that the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series had also tackled a story set in Limehouse – London’s Victorian version of Chinatown – but couldn’t track down precisely which story. I think it may have been “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, but I wasn’t able to nail it down without watching the thing. (Which would have been a treat but not necessarily at 3 in the morning.)

And that was absolutely the only quibble I had with the whole fascinating story, which made The Limehouse Text an excellent book to close out the year!

I got into the Barker & Llewelyn series because of their resemblance to Holmes and Watson, but I’ve stayed, and plan on continuing, because of the ways in which they take that familiar setting and put an entirely different spin on it in the very best way.

A big part of that spin is that Holmes and Watson were, in their own ways, both insiders in a society that rigorously imposed boundaries on all sides. Barker, as a self-educated Scotsman who grew up in China, and Llewelyn, as a Welshman who served a prison sentence, are outsiders and frequently and bitingly reminded of it by the powers-that-think-they-be.

This condition is played with, up, out and over in this entry in the series, as it showcases the contempt with which the British government and its representatives, as well as more of the general public than we’d like to admit, treated both the Chinese immigrants who had settled in London AND the whole entire government of Imperial China which the British continued to rape and pillage on any and all pretexts.

(R.F. Kuang’s Babel also draws on these same historical conditions – but takes them in a rather different direction.)

While all of that is background, it is also an integral part of the mystery, as the item that Quong died for is a sacred text that should never have been smuggled out of China. It does not have the military applications that either the Chinese or the British believe that it might, and it absolutely does belong back where it was stolen from. The conflict within the story is between those who want to profit from it, those who want to use it for its purported military applications, and those who want to see it returned to its rightful place.

With Barker caught in the middle and punched from all sides. Literally.

In the end, this is a clever, convoluted mystery, solved but not truly resolved by fascinating characters, steeped in a culture and a perspective that was not treated with any kind of respect in its time and about which stereotypes promoted during this period still linger. The reader is inexorably drawn in by the mystery and the setting, and left with both the satisfaction of at least some just desserts being served – as a mystery should – while still reeling from the marvelously presented microcosm of all the reasons why ‘colonialism’ is such a disgustingly dirty word in so many places around the globe to this very day.

For all these reasons, and the reasons outlined in my reviews of the first two books in this marvelous series, Some Danger Involved and To Kingdom Come, I will absolutely be back for more of Barker & Llewelyn’s fascinating cases in 2024. Next up, The Hellfire Conspiracy, the next time I need a comfortingly murderous read!

Review: Murder at the Serpentine Bridge by Andrea Penrose

Review: Murder at the Serpentine Bridge by Andrea PenroseMurder at the Serpentine Bridge (Wrexford & Sloane, #6) by Andrea Penrose
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #6
Pages: 361
Published by Kensington on September 27, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.
But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.
Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . .

My Review:

As the previous book in this series, Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens, represented a door in Charlotte Sloane’s life closing, this sixth book in the series marks a different door in her life opening, albeit a door she believed she’d closed long ago.

In that previous book, widowed and disgraced Charlotte Sloane married the Earl of Wrexford, removing that earlier disgrace but placing herself back in the gilded cage she ran away from more than a dozen years before.

Putting her freedom to the test and the secret of her alter ego, the muckraking political cartoonist A.J. Quill, into even greater danger of exposure – with even more uncertain consequences.

The backdrop of this particular entry in the series is a combination of a very real historical event with a plausibly realistic macguffin into just the sort of case that makes Wrexford & Sloane’s adventures so very appealing.

At first, the murder victim in the prologue would seem to have nothing to do with Charlotte or even Wrex, in spite of his discovery of the corpse. But that is seldom the case in this series. The dead man, Jeremiah Willis, was an engineer of considerable repute, working for the government on a most secret project.

The late Willis’ beloved nephew, in a case of the rather long arm of coincidence, is the ward of one of Charlotte’s newly reconciled family members. It’s clear from the very first meeting that there is something rotten in the relationship between the young Lord Lampson and his guardians, Charlotte’s sister-in-law’s older sister Louisa and her husband, a Mr. Belmont of the Foreign Office.

Charlotte’s brother-in-law (let’s call him that for simplicity’s sake) is an abusive arse. Young Lampson has inherited the title Belmont expected to inherit himself, creating plenty of room for resentment right there – particularly as it appears that the abusive arse had been running up debts in anticipation of a title that he’s not going to get after all. Adding fuel to that conflagration, Lampson is black, as was his late uncle Jeremiah.

Whatever Jeremiah Willis was working on for the British government, he’s dead, the plans for his revolutionary device are missing, and all the crowned and uncrowned heads of Europe are massing in London for a celebration of Napoleon’s defeat and exile to Elba. Creating plenty of opportunity for skullduggery at the highest levels and for the greatest stakes.

It’s a recipe for intrigue – and yet more murder. With Wrex, Charlotte, the Weasels, and their whole eccentric household caught in the middle of the imminent explosion.

Escape Rating A: This was the right book at the right time, and I clearly waited enough time after Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens before diving into Wrexford and Sloane’s first investigation as a married couple. Meaning that I had an absolutely terrific reading time this time around.

As is de rigueur for this series, the historical elements are real or at least plausibly so. Certainly the Peace Celebrations – even if we know from our future vantage point that they were just a tad premature – happened as shown in the story. The scientific and engineering discoveries at the heart of this particular mystery were indeed plausible, and the foundations were as described.

While a ‘repeating rifle’ was not invented at this particular juncture, the concepts were already circulating. The problems that remained to be solved, and eventually were, were not those of ideas or invention, but rather problems of engineering. That the industrial capabilities had not yet reached a point where the machines necessary to make the rifles a truly workable product (I hesitate to use the word ‘viable’ in this instance) were not yet themselves workable.

Obviously the engineering caught up to the concept in the years to come, but they weren’t quite there at this time. But it all makes it that much easier to get into this series and this mystery, because so many of the foundational elements don’t require the willing suspension of disbelief as they are believable in their own right.

What makes this series so fascinating to follow – as much as I enjoy the historical setting – are the people and their relationships. From the very beginning in Murder at Black Swan Lane, Wrexford and Sloane have been an unconventional couple, and the found family they have gathered around them adds to that unconventionality in the best way possible.

(The title of this entry in the series may be familiar, as it pays a bit of homage to a previously-written but historically following unconventional couple, Charlotte & Thomas Pitt, whose final adventures were published in Murder ON the Serpentine.)

A big part of what makes them special is Charlotte’s alter ego as the satirist A.J. Quill, both that she does it and how she became Quill in the first place. She stepped off the path of aristocratic respectability, broke open the bars of the gilded cage of expectations for the young women of the ton, and took the road not taken by eloping with her art teacher – only to return older, sadder, wiser, widowed and broke. So she took up her late husband’s pen and became A.J. Quill, acquiring a career, a reputation, and two orphaned guttersnipes into the bargain.

And eventually, the Earl of Wrexford, adding bliss and frustration in equal measure, as the happiness of her marriage often conflicts with the frustration of having to at least appear to obey the rules she escaped as a young woman.

So, much of Charlotte’s progress in this book is the acknowledgement that there will be times she will have to put her own need for action aside in order to operate in areas that she, and only she, now has access to.

As well as dealing with the angst that she, and only she, experiences as her husband continues to throw himself into danger and the two boys she took for her own begin their own road to manhood, following right behind him – if not leading him straight into the thick of it. While knowing that she will not always be able to follow while being observed by the beady, censorious eyes of the haut ton.

In short, Murder at the Serpentine Bridge is, like all the stories so far in this terrific series, a story about change. The Napoleonic Wars may not actually have ended – although everyone believes that they have and the handwriting is very much on the wall. The old alliances and the old rivalries will shift in response to the coming rapprochement between Britain and France. This war may be ending, but new conflicts already loom on the horizon, and all sides are looking for a military advantage in those wars yet to come.

The Industrial Revolution is gearing up, pun definitely intended. The mystery that Wrex, Charlotte, and their friends face is rooted in the turning of those gears. Charlotte wants justice for Jeremiah Willis’ murder. The government needs to find the traitor in their midst, loath as they are to admit one exists. Wrex wants to make certain that Willis’ engineering marvel does not fall into the hands of his country’s enemies. And that no other bodies fall while they figure out whodunnit.

Meanwhile, everyone is chasing everyone else’s tails into danger, as the government’s intelligence services are unwilling to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing (shades of yesterday’s book) and everyone is unwittingly keeping vital clues from even their nearest and dearest.

I’m here for the wonderfully accurate historical setting, the tasty red herrings that get sprinkled throughout the mystery, and the ever-changing and developing relationships among Charlotte and Wrex’ increasing circle.

A new member of which gets added in the close of this entry in the series. We’ll see what effect the inclusion of young ‘Falcon’ has on the adventures of Charlotte’s adopted sons, Raven and Hawk, in the books to come.

Next up, Murder at the Merton Library. Which already sounds like just my kind of story!

Review: Paladin’s Faith by T. Kingfisher

Review: Paladin’s Faith by T. KingfisherPaladin's Faith (The Saint of Steel, #4) by T. Kingfisher
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance, romantasy
Series: Saint of Steel #4
Pages: 446
Published by Red Wombat Studio on December 5, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

Marguerite Florian is a spy with two problems. A former employer wants her dead, and one of her new bodyguards is a far too good-looking paladin with a martyr complex.
Shane is a paladin with three problems. His god is dead, his client is much too attractive for his peace of mind, and a powerful organization is trying to have them both killed.
Add in a brilliant artificer with a device that may change the world, a glittering and dangerous court, and a demon-led cult, and Shane and Marguerite will be lucky to escape with their souls intact, never mind their hearts. . .

My Review:

There’s a classic saying about large organizations at cross-purposes within themselves, that the right-hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Marguerite Florian’s problem with the Red Sail mercantile empire is that their “right hand does not know who the left is killing”.

This is Marguerite’s problem because the person that the Red Sail’s left hand intends to kill is her. Which she has some strenuous objections to. Most people would.

Marguerite has tried all sorts of methods for getting the Red Sail off her back. Most parts of the organization think that she’s just a loose end, someone who knows something they shouldn’t but who clearly has no plans for doing anything about it. Someone who can be watched but otherwise left alone.

Other parts of the organization want to use her life – or rather her death – to score points against the others. For every Red Sail branch she does enough favors for to earn amnesty, there’s another who hates that branch and wants to add her body to their tally of tit for tat.

A particularly appropriate cliché as Marguerite’s attributes in that regard are exceptionally noteworthy – as MANY of the characters in this fourth entry in the Saint of Steel series can’t help themselves from noticing. Notably Shane, one of the very few remaining Paladins of the dead god, that titular Saint of Steel.

And that’s where the nature of the secret and the remit of the White Rat, the god who has taken Shane and his fellow Paladins under their wing, comes into play.

The White Rat, in the able and energetic person of Bishop Beartongue, is the god who sees a problem and gets it fixed. One of the things that makes pretty much all of their relief efforts everywhere more expensive than they need to be is that the price of salt is also fixed, not in a good way and not by good people. Specifically the Red Sail organization which has a monopoly on the large scale mining, production and most importantly, shipping, of salt.

Marguerite has helped the Bishop and the Rat – and those Paladins – a time or two before this story. She needs their help now to hunt down that loose end the Red Sail keeps trying to kill her over.

All Marguerite needs to do is locate the artificer who has invented a method for large-scale salt production that the Red Sail will clearly do anything to keep from publicizing her work. Because once it’s known that circumventing their monopoly is possible, it WILL be done. It will bankrupt Red Sail, cause short term economic hardships for any economy that is dependent on either the high price of salt, the high taxes on salt, or receiving favors from Red Sail. But in the long term, salt will be cheaper, the Rat’s relief efforts will cost less money and therefore require less in the way of donations and tithes from their members, and a whole lot of people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder (the folks the Rat specifically serves) will be better off.

So Bishop Beartongue lends Marguerite Shane and Wren, two of the former Paladins of the Saint of Steel ,to be her bodyguards while she hunts through the cutthroat Courts of Smoke, a place where dirty deals get done both dirt cheap and VERY expensively. A place where someone is bound to brag that they have a pet artificer who does genius work. Or, if someone doesn’t brag, they’ll at least leave papers lying around.

Marguerite just has to stay alive long enough to find the artificer. For that, she’ll need bodyguards who can’t be bribed or bought, seduced or suborned. She needs a paladin – or two.

Little does she know that both of her bodyguards are quite capable of being seduced. Just not in any of the ways that she ever expected – and with none of the results that could ever have been imagined.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve written a LOT to get to the point where I can talk about what I thought of the book, which makes a good metaphor for the book itself. Because Paladin’s Faith is a very big story of ‘hurry up and wait’. Marguerite’s literal task is to hurry up and get to the Court of Smoke then to spend endless amounts of time hoping that teeny-tiny clues will drop into her waiting ear. Or Wren’s or Shane’s waiting ears. While not giving themselves away to any agents of Red Sail who are undoubtedly lurking in hopes of discovering the exact same information.

It’s the spy game and a lot of actual spying is waiting for the ‘click’ of the right clue. Hurrying just gives the game away – which will get them all killed. Also a LOT of other people killed, as Paladins of the Saint of Steel do NOT go either gently or quietly into that good night. They ALWAYS take a lot of their enemies with them when they go. It’s what they are, it’s what they do, it’s what their god chose them for in the first place.

So a huge part of this book is taken up in that waiting and watching, and the frustration of not finding much while Marguerite knows her enemy is hot on her heels. The frustration of waiting for clues is compounded by the sexual frustration of BOTH Marguerite and Shane. The heat they generate practically steams off the page, to the point where the reader wants to groan right along with Marguerite as Shane carries out a mental routine of self-flagellation because he believes he shouldn’t and he’s not worthy and he’ll only fuck things up even more than they already are. Which honestly isn’t even POSSIBLE but his guilty complex is so damn loud that he can’t hear anything except the voice in his head telling him he’s a fuckup and that’s all he’s ever been or will be.

One of the best parts of, not just this book but the whole, entire series so far is that it is told in the author’s inimitable voice, and her character development is both always excellent and done with absolutely oodles of snark and self-realization layered with frequent, self-deprecating humor on all sides.

Howsomever, by the nature of that waiting game a LOT of this story is extremely interesting character development with a fair bit of adding to the depth of the worldbuilding but one does, like one of the side characters, Davith, want them to just ‘get on with it’ one way or another, either to get a move on in their mission or just make a move on each other.

Once both of those things finally happen, the story is a race to a surprising and delightful finish.

In the beginning of this series, there were seven surviving Paladins of the messily departed Saint of Steel; Stephen, Istvhan, Galen, Shane, Wren, Marcus and Judith. Stephen’s story was told in the first book in the series, Paladin’s Grace, Istvhan’s in the second, Paladin’s Strength, Galen’s in the third, Paladin’s Hope, and now Shane’s in Paladin’s Faith. Which does lead on to the belief – or certainly to the HOPE, that there will be three more books in the series. Based on events in this book, Wren’s is likely to be next – which would be awesome. And Judith’s story is going to be a humdinger. But whatever or whoever’s story is coming next, I’m already looking forward to it!

Best Books of 2023

For the first time, EVER, I managed to get this down to an actual “Top Ten” list. A couple of years back, I added the A++ rating in the hopes of making this easier. It didn’t exactly work the way I planned, as I intended the A++ rating to be special and rare, and that’s pretty much been how it has worked.

So there really shouldn’t be 10 A++ books in a year. And there aren’t. But I remember full well which of the A+ books really caught my heart or my imagination, the ones that I kept referencing and shoving into people’s actual hands as appropriate. So those are here as well because that’s what makes those books their own special kind of ‘best’.

(For the full and complete list of A+ reads, just click HERE.)

There’s usually an ‘Honorable Mention’ or two in these lists, titles where I learned just how excellent they are way too late for them to be considered as part of the ‘best books’ of the current year – and this year is no exception. I recently discovered the Barker & Llewelyn series of historical mysteries, and have been utterly captivated by the first two book books in the series which I read this year. So if you’re looking to sink your reading teeth into a long-running mystery series that will keep you enthralled for weeks if not months, consider Barker & Llewelyn.

Without further ado, in these waning days of 2023 (as represented by the above photo by Engin Akyurt via Unsplash) Reading Reality’s Best Books of 2023!

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree
Ebony Gate by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle
Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden
Fall by Tracy Clark
Generation Ship by Michael Mammay
Murder Crossed Her Mind by Stephen Spotswood
Never Too Old to Save the World edited by Alana Joli Abbott and Addie J. King
The New Guys by Meredith Bagby
Prophet by Sin Blaché and Helen MacDonald
The Stars Undying by Emery Robin

Honorable Mention:
Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas
To Kingdom Come by Will Thomas

Christmas Day 2023

Hecate the tortoise shell cat lying on a window seat.
Hecate is clearly working very hard today.


Happy Christmas to all who celebrate. This post is especially for those for whom Christmas is a working day.

One book that caught my eye is Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat . . . but 1.4 million NHS staff are heading off to work. In this perfect present for anyone who has ever set foot in a hospital, Adam Kay delves back into his diaries for a hilarious, horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking peek behind the blue curtain at Christmastime.

This is a love letter to all those who spend their festive season on the front line, removing babies and baubles from the various places they get stuck, at the most wonderful time of the year.

I would have tried to sneak in a capsule review but… gasp! the book is not readily available in ebook form. I’ve got a hardcover on order; maybe a review will show up in a few days.

Some more readings:

The First Christmas from The EMS Siren:

We arrived at the ER entrance and my partner opened the side door to help her out and into a wheelchair. Before turning to step down she looked at me, there was uncertainty on her face, the unknown of what was going on in her mind and in her future was palpable, but now he was here with her. She smiled a little smile and clasped my hand, nothing needing to be said.

From RedHat, 5 tips for being the family holiday sysadmin:

It’s the holiday season. That means an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family who we haven’t seen for a while, eat too many desserts, and use up the remaining vacation days before the New Year. For those of us who work in IT, that also means a chance to help our relatives with all of their technical problems.

Via Vox, an interview with Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, The history of Jews, Chinese food, and Christmas, explained by a rabbi:

In the last 35 years, Chinese restaurants on Christmas have really become this sort of temporary community where Jews in the United States can gather to be with friends and family. It’s a secular way to celebrate Christmas, but it’s also a time to shut out Christmas and announce your Jewish identity in a safe environment.

(And since Chinese dishes made from pork or shrimp are hardly kosher, Gaye Tuchman and Harry G. Levine on “Safe Treyf”: New York Jews and Chinese Food.)

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-24-23

Today is Christmas Eve. Once upon a time, this day would be a literal shopping hell on earth. I find myself wondering how much that has changed with online shopping being so ubiquitous.

Whether today is the official or unofficial start of your holiday, or merely part of your holiday weekend. Let me wish you Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas as appropriate for you and yours. (Galen will be doing the Xmas Day post, so this is my opportunity to wish you the very best of the holiday season.

Speaking of the very best, sometime this week I’ll be posting my Best Books list for the year. As soon as I finish Paladin’s Faith to decide whether or not it belongs on the list!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Let It Snow Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Fall 2023 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop is Sherry

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise Ryan
A++ Review: Fall by Tracy Clark
A- Review: Like Thunder by Nnedi Okorafor
Winter 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop
B Review: The Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper
Stacking the Shelves (580)

Coming This Week:

Christmas Day 2023 (Guest Post by Galen)
Paladin’s Faith by T. Kingfisher (review)
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman (review)
Murder at the Serpentine Bridge by Andrea Penrose (review)
Best Books of 2023 (feature)

Stacking the Shelves (580)

I’m not sure pretty is even the correct word for this bunch of covers. The West Passage takes that prize, although there honestly isn’t a lot of competition. Very much on the other hand, there are three books in this stack that I am eagerly anticipating, one of which I didn’t even know was going to exist until I saw it on Edelweiss.

That would be The Daughters’ War by Christopher Buehlman, the unexpected PREQUEL to The Blacktongue Thief. Not that I wouldn’t still love to see the SEQUEL that story is begging for sometime soon – although not as soon as I’d hoped since this came first. I’ve also been eagerly awaiting Navigational Entanglements by Aliette de Bodard, as I said in my review of her Seven of Infinities a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t know about you, but I’m absolutely looking forward to not just one but TWO three-day weekends in a row. There should be plenty of time over the holidays for lots of wonderful reading.

Happy Holidays INDEED!

For Review:
A Body on the Doorstep (London Ladies’ Murder Club #1) by Marty Wingate (audio)
The Daughters’ War (Blacktongue #0) by Christopher Buehlman
Gravity Lost (Ambit’s Run #2) by L.M. Sagas
In the Shadow of the Fall (Guardians of the Gods #1) by Tobi Ogundiran
Lightning Strikes the Silence (Lane Winslow #11) by Iona Whishaw
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known (Wayward Children #9) by Seanan McGuire (audio)
Navigational Entanglements by Aliette de Bodard
Navola by Paolo Bacigalupi
The West Passage by Jared Pechaček

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5) by Seanan McGuire (audio)

If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

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Review: The Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper

Review: The Butterfly Collector by Tea CooperThe Butterfly Collector by Tea Cooper
Narrator: Emily Barrett
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, timeslip fiction
Pages: 400
Length: 10 hours and 43 minutes
Published by Harper Muse on November 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

What connects a botanical illustration of a butterfly with a missing baby and an enigma fifty years in the making? A twisty historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.
1868 Morpeth Theodora Breckenridge, still in mourning after the loss of her parents and brother at sea, is more interested in working quietly on her art at the family's country estate than she is finding a husband in Sydney society, even if her elder sister Florence has other ideas. Theodora seeks to emulate prestigious nature illustrators, the Scott sisters, who lived nearby, so she cannot believe her luck when she discovers a butterfly never before sighted in Australia. With the help of Clarrie, her maid, and her beautiful illustrations, she is poised to make a natural science discovery that will put her name on the map. Then Clarrie's new-born son goes missing and everything changes.
1922 Sydney When would-be correspondent Verity Binks is sent an anonymous parcel containing a spectacular butterfly costume and an invitation to the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball on the same day she loses her job at The Arrow, she is both baffled and determined to go. Her late grandfather Sid, an esteemed newspaperman, would expect no less of her. At the ball, she lands a juicy commission to write the history of the Treadwell Foundation - an institution that supports disgraced young women and their babies. But as she begins to dig, her investigation quickly leads her to an increasingly dark and complex mystery, a mystery fifty years in the making. Can she solve it? And will anyone believe her if she does?

My Review:

There’s a butterfly effect in chaos theory. You know the one, or at least the way it plays out in fiction, particularly in relation to time travel, that a tiny change halfway around the world creates incrementally increasing changes in circumstances the further one gets from that first new flap of the titular butterfly’s wings.

That butterfly effect turns out to be a metaphor for this entire story – complete with resultant chaos – even though there’s no time travel in the usual sense. There’s just a story that takes place at multiple points in the same time stream, with a particularly well-traveled species of butterfly at the heart of each of those multiple points.

The monarch butterfly is a familiar sight in North America. But when and where this story begins, it was not, which is tied up in the very reason why the familiar Monarch is called Wanderer in Australia – because it somehow managed to wander from North America to the Land Down Under, a journey far longer than a butterfly’s lifespan, even if a colony could manage that distance out of sight of land on their beautiful but fragile wings.

So we first meet amateur lepidopterist Theodora Breckenridge when a then unknown to her wanderer butterfly alights on her fingers in 1868 outside the village of Morpeth on the banks of the Hunter River. In New South Wales, Australia. Where no monarch butterfly has EVER been seen to that date.

Just laid-off newspaper reporter Verity Binks’ introduction to the same species occurs in 1922, in the form of a masquerade costume for the upcoming Sydney Artists’ Masquerade Ball. She receives a package from an unnamed and un-guessed at benefactor, consisting of an invitation to the Artists’ Ball she could not otherwise afford – and a caped costume in the shape and form of a wanderer butterfly’s distinctive wings.

The link between Theodora in 1868 and Verity in 1922 is in the person of a third woman, Clarrie, and an unthinkably terrible but murderously profitable criminal enterprise that still cries out for justice.

A justice that Verity is determined to provide, whoever it hurts and whatever it costs.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that I ended up with mixed feelings all over the place while listening to and reading The Butterfly Collector. In the end, the 1922 story carried me through, but it’s the 1868 story that held the most bone-chilling horrors. Real-life horror, like revenge, is compellingly served ice cold – and the horrors of this story, based on real historical events – had plenty of chills to deliver.

I had two issues with this story, and the first one led to the second in a way that made the first half a fairly hard go for reasons that are certainly a ‘me’ problem but could also be a ‘you’ problem if we have some of the same inclinations.

One of the issues I’m finding increasingly hard to get through in female-centered historical fiction of any kind is the ubiquitous and nearly obligatory opening third – if not a bit longer – that details all the restrictions that women faced in whatever period the story is set in regards to having agency and independence. As this book alternates between three historical female perspectives, each of whom are hedged about by such restrictions on all sides, it took a lot of pages to get each of them into places where they had some freedom of movement.

In the end, I found myself following Verity’s part of the story in 1922 the most easily because Verity IS in a position to act on her own for reasons that are mostly tragic. Her parents and grandparents are deceased, she has no male siblings, it’s after WW1 which cost her her job as a newspaper reporter but doesn’t stop her from finding freelance work, which she does and which kicks off the mystery of the piece.

Neither Theodora nor Clarrie have true freedom of movement, Theodora for societal expectation reasons and Clarrie because of restrictions due to her socioeconomic class. That they are able to help each other eases those constraints for both of them, but it takes a while for the situation to reach that far.

That I was frustrated by the slow pace of the early parts of all their stories led to my second frustration. I began this book in audio, but the story was going slowly for all the above reasons and the actually quite good quality of the narration made it worse. Which may seem contradictory, but as the reader was doing an excellent job with the Australian accent – or so it seemed to my American ears – her reading cadence was slower than I could stand in a story that was already proceeding at a snail’s pace.

Once I switched to text it all got better, and I was able to finally be captured by the increasingly frenetic pace of the mystery of it all. Not just a terrible crime, but decades of a profitable series of terrible crimes come to light and sticks a knife into Verity’s heart AND her perceptions of her family’s history in a way that makes the whole story both sing and sting at the same time.

I picked this book up because I fell hard for several of the author’s previous books, The Woman in the Green Dress, The Cartographer’s Secret and The Girl in the Painting. While The Butterfly Collector didn’t work nearly as well for me as those earlier books, the heart of the mystery is both awfully compelling and compellingly awful, and it did engage me fully once the story really got into it. So while I’d recommend this particular book with some caveats, I’ll still be picking up the author’s next book, The Talented Mrs Greenway, when it reaches these North American shores.