#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle ArceneauxGlory Be (Glory Broussard Mystery, #1) by Danielle Arceneaux
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by the publisher via Spotify
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Glory Broussard Mystery #1
Pages: 272
Length: 8 hours and 47 minutes
Published by Pegasus Crime, Spotify on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The first in a vivid and charming crime series set in the Louisiana bayou, introducing the hilariously uncensored amateur sleuth Glory Broussard. Perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club.
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment.
When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter—who has troubles of her own—in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors, and longtime ne'er-do wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Lafayette could harbor.
Danielle Arcenaux’s riveting debut brings forth an unforgettable character that will charm and delight crime fans everywhere and leave them hungry for her next adventure.

My Review:

Like most amateur detectives, Glory Broussard begins her first investigation because it’s personal. Her best friend is dead, and the police have ruled that death a suicide. A decision that Glory refuses to believe.

Glory had known Amity Gay since they were little girls in pinafores, and for all the 60-some-odd years of their lives that followed. Glory knew Amita Gay as well as she knew herself, and her friend was looking forward to life, not running away from it.

And through bitter experience, Glory is all too aware that the police, in Louisiana and elsewhere but perhaps especially in Louisiana, discount and disregard the deaths of black people in general and black women in particular.

Because that’s the way it always has been, and in spite of changes on the surface, that’s the way it still is.

So Glory, amateur detective, professional busybody and successful bookmaker (yes, I mean gambling and not bookkeeping) does a bit of surreptitious reconnaissance in her late friend’s apartment and discovers a whole lot of paperwork about a chemical plant that the big company in Lafayette wants to construct right next to a poor black town so they can make even more money and spread more cancer – not necessarily in that order to Glory’s cynical mind.

While the police might have left the paperwork behind because it wasn’t an actual part of the crime scene, Glory knows they didn’t search at all because she found a box of fentanyl-laced lollipops in the back of Amity Gay’s closet. Something that would definitely have been found and confiscated in even a cursory search.

Which means that obviously no search was done, that the police are rushing to judgment because its easier for them – and possibly for the big company with those chemical plant plans.

Glory will just have to nose her way around Amity Gay’s old friends, Glory’s own new enemies and figure out which of the possible parties and motives is responsible for the death of her best friend.

The last thing Glory needs to add to her already overwhelming to-do list is figuring out what her daughter, a successful New York City attorney, is doing back in Lafayette, minding Glory’s business and cleaning up her house. Or, for that matter, figuring out what has the city all fired-up to condemn her house.

Or even, heaven forbid, whether or not her dearest friend, a professed Catholic nun, had been doing something unholy. Again.

Escape Rating B: Glory Broussard does not hold back. Ever. Not within the confines of her own head as she tells this story, and not out loud, either. She’s certainly an acquired taste for her friends and neighbors, and quite possibly for the reader as well.

Glory does not suffer fools, neither does she let said fool out of her sight without telling them that she thinks they are one. Sometimes in great detail. In other words, Glory is a lot, and not exactly universally beloved – or even respected.

To the point where it’s easy to understand why her daughter, successful New York City attorney Delphine, wishes she could get her mother to just shut up now and again, especially when faced with city officials who want to condemn Glory’s house. Not that Glory doesn’t get the best of that situation – along with a whole lot else – in the end.

But part of Glory’s charm, and certainly part of the charm of the story as a whole, is Glory’s bone-deep authenticity. It’s certainly not Glory’s honesty, because she doesn’t seem to have an honest bone in her body – not even in reference to herself and the depression she has sunk into over the years.

What does ring true, particularly in audio, is the relationship between Glory and Delphine, that ‘roses and thorns’ kind of love that can exist between mothers and their adult daughters. Part of both the compulsion to finish this mystery and the difficulty of doing so for this reader is that I heard the echo of every single argument I had with my own mother in the exchanges between Glory and Delphine. That roses and thorns observation was heartbreaking because it felt so very true.

But the story, the mystery, and the eventual, hard-won mutual respect that arises between mother and daughter, follows Glory’s stubborn pig-headedness from something that everyone told her should be left well enough alone to a conclusion she almost wishes she’d never uncovered.

She’s left with the realization that too many of the people she believed in have feet of clay up to the knees. And to console herself, in the end, that justice has been done, along with the new lease on life that becoming an amateur detective has brought her.

Readers, on the other hand, can console themselves with the fact that Glory will be back on the case in another mystery this coming fall!

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A- #AudioBookReview: What Feasts at Night by T. Kingfisher

A- #AudioBookReview: What Feasts at Night by T. KingfisherWhat Feasts at Night (Sworn Soldier, #2) by T. Kingfisher
Narrator: Avi Roque
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror
Series: Sworn Soldier #2
Pages: 160
Length: 5 hours and 2 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Nightfire on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The follow-up to T. Kingfisher’s bestselling gothic novella, What Moves the Dead .

Retired soldier Alex Easton returns in a horrifying new adventure.

After their terrifying ordeal at the Usher manor, Alex Easton feels as if they just survived another war. All they crave is rest, routine, and sunshine, but instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia.

In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.

My Review:

It’s not mushrooms this time. Not that there isn’t something creeping around the old hunting lodge that retired soldier Alex Easton inherited from their family in the remoter parts of their native Gallacia. And not that Easton isn’t still experiencing PTSD and a whole, entire and entirely justified case of the collywobbles at even the thought of anything that might possibly have to do with mushrooms after the fungus-powered monstrosities in Easton’s first outing, What Moves the Dead.

In fact, after the events in What Moves the Dead, it’s not at all surprising that Easton is searching for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s just a surprise that they’ve gone home to Gallacia to find either of those things. Because it is clear from Easton’s opening remarks regarding this trip to their homeland, the whys and wherefores of the whole thing, and their thoughts and feelings about Gallacia and anything to do with it that they would much rather have stayed in Paris.

As Easton makes VERY clear on the way to that hunting lodge they haven’t visited in the past ten years, at least in the conversation they are having with themselves inside the confines of their own head, they are feeling very put upon by this whole trip. Their reluctance, at least, is apparent in the conversation they are having aloud, the one between themselves, their very good horse Hob, their batman and general factotum Angus, and Angus’ mustache, which seems to convey rather strong opinions of its own in spite of not actually being able to say a word.

Besides, it’s all Angus’ fault. Well, Angus’ fault as well as Easton’s own sense of propriety – no matter how much they’d like to let THAT go hang itself at the moment. Because Eugenia Potter, that redoubtable English mycologist who so ably assisted them with the fungal infestation in the House of Usher in What Moves the Dead, has been invited to Gallacia to observe the local fungi, with Easton as her ostensible host.

Honestly, it’s to further Miss Potter’s romance with Angus, but no one is admitting that. It wouldn’t be proper.

Easton planned to arrive at the lodge a few days ahead of Miss Potter, expecting to find the place in reasonable shape, just needing a bit of restocking and tidying up. That’s how Easton remembers it from the last time they were there. But Easton also remembers a caretaker taking care of the place, a caretaker that Easton has been paying a salary to for years and years, and as recently as the preceding month.

So, it’s obvious when Easton and Angus arrive that things are not quite what they expected. The house is a mess, the caretaker is a few months dead, and no one seems to be willing to be employed to help Easton and Angus get the place cleaned up and cleaned out, in spite of the good wages in hard currency that Easton is more than willing to pay in this poverty-stricken village where those things are seldom seen or even heard of.

Which is the point where Easton should have rescinded the invitation to Miss Potter and run back to Paris as fast as their horse’s legs could carry them. Because there’s something uncanny about the caretaker’s death, and there’s something dangerous haunting the old hunting lodge.

At least, this time, it’s not mushrooms.

Escape Rating A-: I’m not sure whether to say that What Feasts at Night isn’t quite as creepy as What Moves the Dead, or to say that it is even creepier. Let’s say I’m creeping along that fence and not sure which side I’ll fall off onto.

What Moves the Dead was a creepy story that turned out to be a bit more scientifically inclined than anything that happens within it might lead the reader to expect.

What Feasts at Night, very much on the other hand, reads much more like a fever dream story about pneumonia and PTSD. Or a ghost story about PTSD. Or a nightmare about a ghost that’s strangely cured or killed through PTSD that only masquerades as being about pneumonia. Or all of the above.

The fever dream aspects of the story, particularly as the pneumonia, or the wandering local vampire/ghost creeps its way into the dreams of both Alex Easton and the grandson of the bitter old woman they finally manage to hire to take care of the house, manage to both make the story even creepier AND slow it down at the same time. Because for the longest time not much happens except in dreams and that’s not a quick process until the end. Not helped at all by the fact that no one local will really EXPLAIN anything about what might be happened, and Easton clearly didn’t get told the right stories when they were growing up.

But at that point, where the dream and the ghost and Easton’s PTSD all emerge on the same battlefield, it’s chilling and riveting and every frightening thing the reader has been expecting all along. It just feels like it takes a while to get there. But then, that’s what dreams do.

One thing that does kick the story along, frequently, often, and with more than a bit of a rueful laugh, is that it’s clear from the volume of conversations that Easton has with themself that the author has never met a Fourth Wall she wasn’t more than willing to batter her way through head first, whether using her protagonist’s head or even her own.

Which is one of the things that made listening to What Feasts at Night so much creepy fun, as the narrator, Avi Roque, has a rough, smoky voice that is perfect for Easton as it lets us inside their wry, sarcastic, self-deprecating head even as they tell both themselves and us that they realize that they should have known better at so many points along the way of the story they are now telling, if only they hadn’t let their logic get in the way of observing what was actually happening around them.

I enjoy Alex Easton’s voice, even when I’m not nearly so certain about the story they are telling. Horror is not my jam, but in this case I’m here for the characters, and Easton’s perspective is compelling even when the story they are in the middle of is creeping me right the hell out.

A+ #AudioBookReview: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen

A+ #AudioBookReview: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC RosenThe Bell in the Fog (Andy Mills, #2) by Lev A.C. Rosen
Narrator: Vikas Adam
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery, noir
Series: Andy Mills #2
Pages: 261
Length: 9 hours and 40 minutes
Published by Forge Books, Macmillan Audio on October 10, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Bell in the Fog, a dazzling historical mystery by Lev AC Rosen, asks―once you have finally found a family, how far would you go to prove yourself to them?
San Francisco, 1952. Detective Evander “Andy” Mills has started a new life for himself as a private detective―but his business hasn’t exactly taken off. It turns out that word spreads fast when you have a bad reputation, and no one in the queer community trusts him enough to ask an ex-cop for help.
When James, an old flame from the war who had mysteriously disappeared, arrives in his offices above the Ruby, Andy wants to kick him out. But the job seems to be a simple case of blackmail, and Andy’s debts are piling up. He agrees to investigate, despite everything it stirs up.
The case will take him back to the shadowy, closeted world of the Navy, and then out into the gay bars of the city, where the past rises up to meet him, like the swell of the ocean under a warship. Missing people, violent strangers, and scandalous photos that could destroy lives are a whirlpool around him, and Andy better make sense of it all before someone pulls him under for good.

My Review:

The typical San Francisco fog hides a lot in this historical mystery set in the early 1950s, and gay ex-cop turned private investigator Andy Mills is caught in the thick of it.

It all begins with a case, as most noir-ish detective stories do. A case told from Andy’s often anguished, confused and frequently pained point of view. Because whatever the actual case is, the thing it investigates most is the past that Andy has done his best to get, well, passed.

And failed.

A former lover is being blackmailed. Someone has pictures of the man in a ‘compromising position’ with another man in a hotel room. Pictures that will scuttle Andy’s ex James’ promotion to Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and send him straight to the stockade with a dishonorable discharge.

Andy needs the case because he needs the money. Business for an ex-cop turned P.I. isn’t good when EVERYONE remembers that he used to be a cop – the people who hassle and roust and beat up guys just like them Just like him, which makes the betrayal that much worse.

But more than the business, Andy needs closure. About James. About what happened to the lover who disappeared from his shipboard bunk one night at the end of the war and didn’t even bother to say goodbye. A disappearance that left Andy desperately afraid that they were caught and he was next. A disappearance that caused Andy to nearly blow up his entire life to get away from.

Andy has four days to find the blackmailer and the evidence – or James’ life goes up in smoke. He has no leads and no clues and no certainty that he doesn’t want James to go down for all the agony he left behind when he disappeared to catch the promotions ladder.

It’s only when Andy solves THAT case that he learns that his nostalgia-washed memories of the war and his relationship with James were a lie, and that the real search for identity is the one that Andy has just begun – a search for who he will be and what life he will live now that he has at least caught all the edges he can of living his own truth instead of hiding behind a scrim of lies.

Unless it gets him killed first.

Escape Rating A+: I initially picked up this series in audio for the voice actor, Vikas Adam, who was one of several fantastic narrators of Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons series. The funny thing is that when he’s narrating Andy Mills, the picture I see in my head is Oscar Isaac, but that’s not at all who I see when he’s Kihrin in A Chorus of Dragons and CERTAINLY not the image in my head from when he was Pounce in Day Zero. That’s the alchemy of story for you.

It’s also ironic that, as much as I loved the voice narration, this is one where I flipped to text halfway through because I absolutely HAD to learn whodunnit – and that just wasn’t happening fast enough in audio and I didn’t want to spoil the narration by increasing the speed.

C’est la reading – or listening – vie.

What I loved about this second entry in the Andy Mills series – after 2022’s marvelous Lavender House – was that it combines a typical noir case of searching for an unknown person – actually several missing and/or unknown persons – with a search for identity. And the way that both of those searches are wrapped in fog, smoke and mirrors. Sometimes all at the same time.

Then, wrapped around that mystery like an even denser fog are the questions raised by the historical setting and the damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t problems of living while gay at a time and place where being real was illegal and pretending was illegal and seemingly everyone and everything was peering at every life through a microscope for anyone and anything that could be labeled different from any and every norm.

And what that means for anyone trying to just live their life the best they can where that life has already been declared a criminal act.

In the case of this particular mystery, it leads to a situation where the mystery gets solved but its not possible for good to totally triumph or for evil to get any full measure of its just desserts – and yet it still manages to satisfy as a mystery because Andy has done the best he can and he lives to solve another case another day and that’s all the triumph possible.

Speaking of living to solve another case another day, one of the advantages of waiting a few months to listen/read The Bell in the Fog is that I already know when Andy gets to start on his next case. He’ll be returning to the scene of the crimes and the punishments of his first case in Rough Pages, coming in October. I can’t wait!

Grade A #AudioBookReview: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

Grade A #AudioBookReview: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireCome Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5) by Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Seanan McGuire
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy, urban fantasy, young adult
Series: Wayward Children #5
Pages: 189
Length: 3 hours and 52 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tordotcom on January 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When Jack left Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister—whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice—back to their home on the Moors.
But death in their adopted world isn't always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.
Eleanor West's "No Quests" rule is about to be broken.
Again.

My Review:

I’ve been winding my way through Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series for nearly three years now, since I first read Every Heart a Doorway back in early 2021. I’ve skipped around through the series and had both a grand and a thoughtful time each and every time I’ve returned to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

Clearly, you don’t have to read the series in order to get into it. Although it probably does help to read that first book, Every Heart a Doorway, first. And possibly, in this particular case, Down Among the Sticks and Bones before this one. But now I’m caught up with the whole thing, even though this particular book happens very much in the middle of the series.

All of that is to say that some of this review is bound to reflect my thoughts on the series as a whole because it’s just now whole for me, as well as this entry in the series in particular.

You have been warned.

Much as Jacqueline Wolcott warns her friends at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children just before they follow her through the lightning-keyed door back to her home, the horror-movie hellscape called ‘The Moors’.

A place where EVERYTHING is ruled by science and powered by lightning, where vampires contend with mad scientists and resurrection is as commonplace as blood, where Frankenstein’s monster would be seen as just another citizen – and quite possibly was.

Jack is in dire straits when she returns to the school, and she needs the help of the only friends she can trust to see that, in spite of appearances, she’s still Jack even though she’s in her twin sister Jill’s body. They are the only people who know her well enough to understand that her OCD will not allow her to just adapt to living her life in the unclean thing that murdered her mentor – even if Jill’s full, entire, complete and utterly nefarious plot is to destroy both her sister Jack and the balance that keeps The Moors relatively safe and functional for the human population that was born to a world where vampires contend with mad scientists and drowned gods prey upon ships and shorelines, where the sun only rises behind thick clouds and lightning storms happen whenever the Moon wills it so.

Jack needs help, so she’s gone to the one place where she knows she can get it. Even if it’s the one place she hoped never to return to, because it means that she’ll have to do the one thing she hoped she’d never have to do.

She’ll have to kill her twin sister. Again. She already did it once to save the world she was born to. She’ll have to do it again so that she can save the world that her heart calls home.

Escape Rating A-: The Wayward Children series winds itself around and around and back and forth and over and under and all over again. We first met the Wolcott twins in the very first book in the series, Every Heart a Doorway, but we don’t get their full story until the second book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, while book three, Beneath the Sugar Sky, deals with the effects of their actions in Every Heart a Doorway.

(After listening to the latest book in this series, Mislaid in Parts Half-Known, and liking it very much, I decided to grab this middle book in audio as well – although the readers are very different. The author herself narrates this story, as she did the previous books that featured the Wolcott sisters. McGuire has a formal, somewhat dry, no-nonsense delivery that is utterly fitting for the formal, somewhat dry, no-nonsense Jack Wolcott. Audiobooks just work better when the narrator fits the primary character’s voice and the author/narrator fit Jack to a ‘T’, even when Jack felt like she wasn’t fitting her own self very well at all.)

Come Tumbling Down is still dealing with the effects of Jill’s actions. Which have been the kind of actions that make her behavior and her very nature in this book make all that much more sense. As much as anything that happens in any of the worlds that the doors lead to make sense from the perspective of this world.

From the perspective of their own worlds, they are completely logical. Unless of course they are nonsense worlds to begin with.

One of the core tenets of the whole, entire, Wayward Children series, something that is said by one character or another over the course of the series, is that “actions have consequences”. This particular entry in the series is the story of the consequences of Jill’s actions in The Moors, which were the consequences of Jill’s actions in our world and Jack’s response to those actions, which were, in their turn, a consequence of both of their reactions when they found their door to The Moors. All of which were the consequences of their parents’ treatment and conditioning of them when they were still under their parents’ thumbs and had never gone through a doorway at all.

But that’s EXACTLY the kind of cause and effect that underpins this whole series. Which feels like it is set as a counterpoint to Narnia, where the Pevensie children went through the back of a wardrobe and lived an entire life to adulthood without their actions seeming to have had any consequences at all when they returned to the world they were born to.

As a result of their trips through the doors, the children return ill-adapted to the world where they were born. But that’s in the story. In reality – for certain select definitions of the word – what they exhibit upon their returns are psychological disorders that people are all too frequently misdiagnosed or not diagnosed as having for reasons that have more to do with either parental or medical or societal assumptions and/or expectations than they do with what the people coping or not coping are coping or not coping with.

Which is a long way around to say that there’s more to this series than initially meets either the eye or the reader’s mind. Now that I’ve finished the whole thing – at least so far – the whole thing gets deeper and more meaningful the further you get into it, no matter the order that you get into it in.

So, on the surface there’s a story about vampires and mad scientists set in a place that the great horror movies might have used for their inspiration – if not their actual setting. Underneath that there’s a deeper story about balances of power and how devastating it can be when those balances become unbalanced. And the story of one heroine who is willing to throw her own body into the breach – along with her sister’s corpse – to preserve that balance at truly any and every cost.

At its heart – beating with the power of unbridled electricity – there’s a love story about a young woman who fell so much in love with a monster and the world that created her that she was willing to do anything at all to preserve that happy ever after – even to become a monster herself.

But the soul of the series, in each and every story, is that ‘actions have consequences’ for good and for ill, and that the most important thing, to do and to be, is to ‘Be Sure’ that your choices are the ones that you can live with – or die by.

A- #AudioBookReview: A Body on the Doorstep by Marty Wingate

A- #AudioBookReview: A Body on the Doorstep by Marty WingateA Body on the Doorstep (London Ladies' Murder Club, #1) by Marty Wingate
Narrator: Naomi Frederick
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: London Ladies' Murder Club #1
Pages: 288
Length: 9 hours and 3 minutes
Published by Bookouture on January 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Fiercely independent Mabel Canning can’t wait to begin working for the Useful Women’s Agency. But when she discovers a body on her client’s doorstep, it’s time to add solving murders to her job description…
London, 1921: Mabel Canning is proud to be a modern woman working for the Useful Women’s Agency, carrying out tasks for gentlewomen from flower arranging to washing muddy dogs. But when she answers the door for wealthy widow Rosalind Despard, she almost chokes on her cucumber sandwich when she finds a soldier’s body on the doorstep.
As she offers tea to the policemen of Scotland Yard, Mabel can’t resist getting drawn into the investigation. Who was the mysterious dead man? And why was he holding a letter for Rosalind, written by her husband on the day he disappeared?
As Mabel hunts for clues, she joins forces with Rosalind’s handsome brother, former detective Park Winstone, and his adorable terrier, Gladys. But when Mabel suspects she is being followed, the detective duo know that time is running out before the killer strikes again.
As she investigates, Mabel discovers dusty old photographs that help her reveal the soldier’s true identity. But as she gets closer to uncovering the young man’s murderer, she knows she’s also one step closer to danger... Can she outsmart the killer and save Park and Rosalind before they also turn up dead as doornails?
A totally unputdownable and utterly charming Golden Age cozy mystery from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

Miss Mabel Canning has arrived in London in 1921 after FINALLY managing to convince her father that it was no longer scandalous for an unmarried woman to live on her own and support herself in the big city. She’s also running away from her whole village’s firmly held belief that she should marry the local vicar – who is also her best friend’s widower after the ravages of the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Mabel has always dreamed of going to London and living on her own, and she sees poor, dear Ronald as a brother and absolutely NOT a potential spouse. In her mid-30s, Mabel isn’t even certain she wants one of those. She’s certain she doesn’t want any of the available men back home in Peasmarch.

We meet her on her first assignment for the Useful Women’s Agency. She’s been tasked with helping newly declared widow Rosalind Despard at the wake for her late and much lamented husband. But Rosalind isn’t even certain that her husband Guy is actually dead. He’s been missing for seven years and has been declared legally dead so that his business affairs can be taken care of. It’s all about closure – a closure that Rosalind isn’t sure she’s either ready or even eligible for.

So it’s a very strange wake, under rather unusual circumstances. Circumstances that only get stranger and even more unusual when a dead man thumps into the front door with a seven-year-old letter from Guy Despard in his pocket.

No one knows who the dead man is. No one knows what the letter has only turned up seven years after Guy’s disappearance. No one is entirely certain whether the letter is real or merely an elaborate hoax.

But the dead body is certainly real enough to bring the police to the house and open up all the questions and insinuations that Rosaline Despard has been dealing with all these years.

This is certainly not closure, not for Rosalind and not for any of her friends and family. And not for Miss Mabel Canning, who has befriended the widow and is determined to help her get that closure – one way or another – while doing her best to keep her own body and soul together along the way.

Escape Rating A-: This was lovely, very much a case of the right book at the right time, as I’ve been in a bit of a murder-y mood this week – actually this whole entire year so far.

From the beginning, Mabel Canning’s situation at the Useful Women’s Agency reminded me of something, and it’s a something that very much fits. The ‘Golden Age’ detective series about Lord Peter Wimsey, written by Dorothy Sayers, is also set in the 1920s, and the world has some of the same feel even if Mabel is seeing it from much more towards the middle of the social strata.

But during the Wimsey series, Lord Peter funds an agency for independent women, very much like the Useful Women’s Agency. He hires Miss Katharine Climpson’s agency to investigate situations in various cases where women will have entry and he does not, much like Mabel Canning uses the Useful Women’s Agency to get herself involved in a murder investigation.

Unlike Miss Climpson, Miss Kerr and the Useful Women’s Agency really existed – without Miss Canning’s particular specialty – because there was a need for independent women to make their own livings after World War I followed by the flu epidemic wiped out much of the generation of men they would otherwise have married.

The mystery in The Body on the Doorstep is quite nefarious, multi-layered and much closer to home than anyone imagined at its beginning. Well, not the police as they ALWAYS assumed that the wife did it. An erroneous assumption, of course, otherwise we wouldn’t have a mystery on our hands.

The story is cozy without being twee, and its setting in London as seen through the eyes of a woman on the verge of ‘middle-age’ gives her perspective a combination of freshness and maturity at the same time.

There are plenty of murders, and they are often all too gruesome, and yet the details are smudged just enough that the reader ‘gets’ the gruesomeness without being bathed in the blood – so to speak.

But the story works well because we’re following Mabel Canning, and her opening herself to the city and all its possibilities for independence and purpose makes her interesting to follow. We empathize with her every bit as much as she empathizes with the characters who become caught up by the ever expanding tendrils of the murder and its cover up.

I listened to this one for about half its length, and the narrator gave Mabel just the right voice for her inner thoughts and outer expressions. But I got so caught up in the mystery itself that I had to see whodunnit and switched to text because it’s a)faster and b) a whole lot easier to thumb to the end. Although I resisted that temptation by simply finishing in one sitting.

I liked Mabel, I enjoyed her two steps forward, one step back, looking over her shoulder investigation through friendship and a sincere desire to help, and am happy to say that there are two more books in this series – at least!

Particularly because there’s a hint of a possibility of romance for Mabel in this first book, and I’m hoping that we’ll learn whether they will or they won’t in A Body at the Seance, which is out now, and A Body at the Dance Hall, coming in April.

Review: Mislaid in Parts Half Known by Seanan McGuire

Review: Mislaid in Parts Half Known by Seanan McGuireMislaid in Parts Half-Known (Wayward Children, #9) by Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy, urban fantasy, young adult
Series: Wayward Children #9
Pages: 160
Length: 4 hours and 40 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tordotcom on January 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Dinosaurs and portals, and a girl who can find both in the latest book in the Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning series.
Antsy is the latest student to pass through the doors at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children.
When her fellow students realize that Antsy's talent for finding absolutely anything may extend to doors, she's forced to flee in the company of a small group of friends, looking for a way back to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go to be sure that Vineta and Hudson are keeping their promise.
Along the way, temptations are dangled, decisions are reinforced, and a departure to a world populated by dinosaurs brings untold dangers and one or two other surprises!
A story that reminds us that finding what you want doesn't always mean finding what you need.

My Review:

This book and certainly the Wayward Children series as a whole, feels like the perfect story to start off the new year.

Why?

Because new years are all about doors closing, doors opening, and taking the opportunity to start with a fresh slate and reinvent yourself and how you see the world, and that’s a big part of what the Wayward Children series is all about.

Beginning with Every Heart a Doorway, the series is a metaphor for finding the place where you belong, the place that your heart calls home, and then getting tossed out of that personal Eden and being forced to make a whole new start on a whole new you – whether you want to or not.

Especially when you don’t. And when you no longer belong in the place you originally came from. You really can’t go home again because it’s not the place you remember and the people who once loved you no longer see you as theirs.

The story in this particular entry in the series picks up where the previous book, Lost in the Moment and Found, left off. Antsy has returned to Earth from the Shop Where the Lost Things Go, nine-years-old in a sixteen-year-old body, still angry at the shopkeeper Vineta and terrified that someone will figure out her secret.

Which they do. Both of her secrets. Her friends figure out that she isn’t nearly as mature as her body appears to be. Her enemies figure out that Antsy left the shop with a talent for finding anything – including other people’s doors – and have absolutely no care in the world about what the doors cost and zero intention to pay for it themselves because that’s what other people are for.

But Antsy can find anything when she needs it badly enough. Including a way out when she and her friends are cornered by the magically mesmerizing head mean girl and her clique of magically reinforced sycophants.

Leading Antsy and company to break one of the School’s most sacred rules. They think they’re hunting for an escape route, but what they’re really searching for is the place that at least one of their hearts calls home. In other words, they’re going on a quest.

A quest to find the one place that Antsy literally can’t afford to return to. Unless she takes it over – for herself.

Escape Rating A: Before I get started on the book, I want to mention that I listened to this one in audio – and that feels like a bit of an afterthought, which is rare. The book was excellent, as you can tell from the rating. But this is a case where the fact I was listening to it instead of reading it didn’t impinge on my consciousness at all. The experience felt seamless, as though the narrator was downloading the story directly into my brain. Which was VERY much unlike Under the Smokestrewn Sky, where the narration detracted from the story.

I said at the top that this book was perfectly themed for the start of the year, because of its fundamental metaphor about doors opening and reinvention that just dovetails perfectly with the thoughts and feelings we all have about the old year ending and the new year beginning.

Ironically, however, this entry in the series is much more about closing doors than it is about opening them, although it definitely carries the theme of self-reflection and reinvention and finally being sure of who one needs to be in the world and their life in it.

At first, the story feels very much a part of the YA genre which the series is often pigeonholed into, as out-of-place, out-of-time Antsy is being persecuted by a powerful clique of ‘mean girls’. It’s only when she starts revealing herself for who she really is and what she really can do that we start to see her as considerably more capable and mature than either her nine-year-old head or her sixteen-year-old body would be capable of.

Because her moral compass is firmly pointed towards doing the right thing, and she’s very sure indeed what that right thing is – at least in the context of the Shop, its doors, its costs, and its purpose. It wants her back, and she wants to go, but it’s more than that. It’s that she’s ready to do the necessary for the shop and for herself. She’s grown up in the ways that matter, she just has to recognize that fact.

She has to ‘Be Sure’, and by the story’s end, she finally is.

But along Antsy’s journey we see other doors that open and close for other ‘wayward children’. Discovering that her best friend is happy and somewhat safe in the world her own heart calls home, even if it’s a world that none of the rest of the travelers would be remotely interested in staying, gives her strength and much-needed closure.

However, the series as a whole feels like it’s winding down, as it should. The young children in the first part of the series are now teenagers and their life paths are reaching out for them. One way or another, their doors are opening, giving them one last chance to be sure enough to go home.

What got me about this entry in the series was the way that the doors and the futures they represent felt like metaphors for life, for making or finding a life filled with magic and purpose. It doesn’t HAVE to be the magic of the doors – because happiness is a magic all its own. All one has to do is find it. And BE SURE.

I’m sure I’ll be back for the next book in this series, currently untitled but scheduled to be published this time next year.

Review: Like Thunder by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: Like Thunder by Nnedi OkoraforLike Thunder (The Desert Magician's Duology #2) by Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Délé Ogundiran
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: African Futurism, climate fiction, fantasy, science fiction
Series: Desert Magician's Duology #2
Pages: 336
Length: 10 hours and 23 minutes
Published by DAW, Tantor Audio on November 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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This brand-new sequel to Nnedi Okorafor’s Shadow Speaker contains the powerful prose and compelling stories that have made Nnedi Okorafor a star of the literary science fiction and fantasy space and put her at the forefront of Africanfuturist fiction
Niger, West Africa, 2077
Welcome back. This second volume is a breathtaking story that sweeps across the sands of the Sahara, flies up to the peaks of the Aïr Mountains, cartwheels into a wild megacity—you get the idea.
I am the Desert Magician; I bring water where there is none.
This book begins with Dikéogu Obidimkpa slowly losing his mind. Yes, that boy who can bring rain just by thinking about it is having some…issues. Years ago, Dikéogu went on an epic journey to save Earth with the shadow speaker girl, Ejii Ubaid, who became his best friend. When it was all over, they went their separate ways, but now he’s learned their quest never really ended at all.
So Dikéogu, more powerful than ever, reunites with Ejii. He records this story as an audiofile, hoping it will help him keep his sanity or at least give him something to leave behind. Smart kid, but it won’t work—or will it?
I can tell you it won’t be like before. Our rainmaker and shadow speaker have changed. And after this, nothing will ever be the same again.
As they say, ‘ Onye amaro ebe nmili si bido mabaya ama ama onye nyelu ya akwa oji welu ficha aru .’
Or, ‘If you do not remember where the rain started to beat you, you will not remember who gave you the towel with which to dry your body.’

My Review:

Like Thunder is the second half of the Desert Magician’s Duology, and the follow-up to the utterly excellent Shadow Speaker. Like that first book, Like Thunder is a story within a story, as the whole duology is a tale of a possible future, and a lesson to be learned, told by the Desert Magician himself.

But it is not the Desert Magician’s story, no matter how much that being meddled with the characters and the events that they faced. Just as Shadow Speaker was the story of Eiji Ugabe, the titular shadow speaker herself, Like Thunder represents her best friend Dikéogu Obidimkpa’s side of the events that followed.

Shadow speaking is but one of the many transformations and strange, new powers brought into this world after the ‘peace bombs’ were dropped and the oncoming nuclear catastrophe was transformed into something survivable for the human population.

A survival that seems to be more contingent on the adaptability of not just the humans of Earth, but also the sentient populations of ALL the worlds that have become interconnected after Earth’s ‘Great Change’ caused a ‘Great Merge’ of several formerly separated worlds.

The story in Shadow Speaker very much represented Eiji’s perspective on the world, as Eiji’s first impulse is always to talk, and to listen. An impulse that combines her youthful belief that people CAN be better if given the opportunity, and is likely a result of her talent for speaking with not just the shadows of the dead, but directly into the minds of other people and animals.

Her talent is to see others’ points of view and to project her own. She’s young enough to believe that if there is understanding, there can be peace.

Like Thunder is not Eiji’s story, and it shouldn’t be. Instead, it’s a kind of mirror image. Just as Eiji’s talent leads her to foster peace and understanding, her friend Dikéogu’s talent is violent. Dikéogu is a stormbringer, someone who brings all of the violence of nature and all of the violence visited upon him in his scarred past to every encounter with his friends, with his enemies, and with his world.

And within himself.

The world through which we follow Dikéogu in this concluding volume of the Desert Magician’s Duology is the direct result of Eiji’s peacemaking in her book. Because, unfortunately for the world but fortunate for the reader enthralled with their story, Eiji didn’t really make peace because peace is not what most of the people present for the so-called ‘peace conference’ had any desire for whatsoever.

And have been maneuvering in the background to ensure that the only peace that results in the end is the peace of the grave. Someone is going to have to die. Too many people already have. It’s only a question of whether Dikéogu and Eiji’s feared and reviled powers will save the world – or end it.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved Shadow Speaker, I came into this second book with some doubts and quibbles – all of which were marvelously dashed to the ground at the very beginning of Dikéogu’s story.

Eiji and Dikéogu were both very young when their adventure began, but by the time they met they had both already seen enough hardship and disaster to fill a whole lifetime for someone else. But Eiji was just a touch older than Dikéogu, and the differences between her fourteen and his thirteen mattered a lot in terms of maturity.

In other words, Eiji was definitely on the cusp of adulthood in her book, making adult decisions with huge, literally world-shaking consequences, while Dikéogu frequently came off as a whiny little shit, an impression not helped AT ALL by the higher pitched voice used by the narrator for his character.

Dikéogu had PLENTY of reasons for his hatreds and his fears – but that doesn’t mean that they were much more enjoyable to listen to than they were to experience. Less traumatic, certainly, but awful in an entirely different way.

But Like Thunder takes place AFTER the events of Shadow Speaker. (This is also a hint that neither book stands on its own) Whiny thirteen becomes traumatized fifteen with more experience, a bit more closure for some of the worst parts, a bit more distance from terrible betrayals – and his voice drops. (This last bit, of course, doesn’t matter if you’re reading the text and hearing your own voice in your head, but matters a lot in audio.)

Dikéogu’s life experience, particularly after he was sold into slavery by his own uncle at the age of twelve, have taught him that the world is pain and strife and that he has to defend himself at all times and that people will believe ANYTHING if it allows them to stay comfortable and maintain their illusions and their prejudices.

He learned that last bit from his parents, Felecia and Chika Obidimkpa, the power couple of THE West African multimedia empire. They betrayed him into slavery, they betrayed him by pretending he was dead, they betray him every single time they broadcast a program filled with ridiculous nostalgia for a past that never was and disallows and disavows Dikéogu’s existence as a stormbringer, a ‘Changed One’ with powers granted by the ‘Great Change’ they hate so much.

It’s no surprise that his parents are in league with his enemies.

What is a surprise, especially to Dikéogu, is how much of his story, how much of his trauma and how many of his tragedies, are directly traceable to that first betrayal AND his inability to deal with its consequences to himself and the magic he carries.

So, very much on the one hand, Like Thunder is a save the world quest with a surprising twist at its end. A twist at least partly manufactured, and certainly cackled over, by the Desert Magician. And absolutely on the other hand, it’s a story about a young man learning to live with the person he has become – and very nearly failing the test. ALL the tests.

Whichever way you look at it, it is compelling and captivating from the first page – or from the opening words – until the very last line of the Desert Magician congratulating themself on a tale well told and a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful message delivered.

Review: We Are the Crisis by Cadwell Turnbull

Review: We Are the Crisis by Cadwell TurnbullWe Are the Crisis (Convergence Saga #2) by Cadwell Turnbull
Narrator: Dion Graham
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, horror, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Convergence Saga #2
Pages: 338
Length: 9 hours and 7 minutes
Published by Blackstone Publishing on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In We Are the Crisis—the second book in the Convergence Saga from award-winning author Cadwell Turnbull—humans and monsters come into conflict in a magical and dangerous world as civil rights collide with preternatural forces.
In this highly anticipated sequel, set a few years after No Gods, No Monsters, humanity continues to grapple with the revelation that supernatural beings exist. A werewolf pack investigates the strange disappearances of former members and ends up unraveling a greater conspiracy, while back on St. Thomas, a hurricane approaches and a political debate over monster’s rights ignites tensions in the local community.
Meanwhile, New Era—a pro-monster activist group—works to build a network between monsters and humans, but their mission is threatened by hate crimes perpetrated by a human-supremacist group known as the Black Hand. And beneath it all two ancient orders escalate their conflict, revealing dangerous secrets about the gods and the very origins of magic in the universe.
Told backward and forward in time as events escalate and unravel, We Are the Crisis is a brilliant contemporary fantasy that takes readers on an immersive and thrilling journey.

My Review:

This book is a monster. The kind with tentacles that slither into the sort of places where even fools’ hindbrains stop them from rushing in and angels rightfully fear to tread.

There are also monsters in this book, because that’s the premise behind the entire Convergence Saga, which began with No Gods, No Monsters. Which is both a play on the old anarchist slogan, “No Gods, No Masters.” as well as part and parcel of the whole mind screw of the series so far.

Because there are certainly people acting monstrously on both sides of the human/monster divide.

That divide was made apparent in that first book, as the ‘things that go bump in the night’ walked out of the shadows and confronted a line of cops who got scared and/or trigger happy and killed them all. Even though that particular set of monsters, werewolves one and all, did nothing overtly threatening. They merely threatened the human belief that garden-variety humans were at the top of the food chain.

Which they were suddenly and obviously not.

We Are the Crisis continues the exploration of a universe where at least some of the creatures who have always walked among us have come out of the monster closet and in a bid to live their lives openly among us. (Also, it is very much a continuation that expects the reader to have already been introduced to the multiple threads of this story in No Gods, No Monsters. In other words, start there, not here.)

Some humans are afraid, and some of those who are afraid are acting out of their fear in the most monstrous way possible. But isn’t that exactly what humans do?

But it’s not just about this world, and that’s where the story picks up its tentacles and shakes them at the reader along with shaking the reader’s view of what is going on and where it’s going on at and who is pulling the strings and the levers.

Because this is a story of the multiverse, one where the monsters are emerging on multiple worlds, generally with catastrophic results, at least for themselves. Those worlds are converging – and so are those catastrophic results.

And that crisis? It’s spreading, from one to another, like a multiverse-wide case of the plague. One that everyone is going to catch – unless someone, some monster, finds a better way. Even though they’ll more than likely die trying.

Escape Rating B+: The story so far, with the separation of its many and various threads and its detachment from its characters, reads like a kind of fever dream. Or at least it feels that way when read by its marvelous narrator Dion Graham.

I’ve listened to both books in the Convergence Saga, and Graham’s voice always hypnotizes me. He gives a terrific performance the perfectly matches the laid-back nature of the storytelling, ashe voices the character who stands outside the story and observes all the crises as they occur – and relates those crises and how they got there to us.

His narration carried me through points and places where even when it was clear what was happening in the moment the way it all fit together was totally obscured, which is exactly the way the story was being told – amidst not one but multiple fogs of a war yet to come.

(Full confession, I would cheerfully listen to Dion Graham read the most boring book in existence and I’d still be utterly enthralled. However, at least so far, the Convergence Saga has been anything BUT boring. Confusing at points, but never, EVER dull.)

Part of what makes this story so compelling is its blend of commentary about the real present with the historic paranormal with the outright fantastic. The treatment of the monsters and the meteoric rise of a well-funded organization to put them down has entirely too many parallels to both history and the present for that to be coincidental, and it makes the treatment of the so-called monsters just that much more chilling because it is just that much more real.

At the same time, there’s a dawning revelation that is easy to overlook – particularly in audio because the references to it flash by so quickly – that although the same kind of thing is happening to all these people – it’s not happening in the same universe. That the woman who met – and disliked – the real Aleister Crowley isn’t part of the same history as the woman who was mentored by a vampire which isn’t the same universe as the man who detaches from his world to view all the others.

So that crisis, which at first feels like it’s happening very fast and all over, diffuses across multiple worlds and then draws itself back in again. Just in time for what looks to be a resounding cataclysm that will hopefully be resolved in the third book in this projected trilogy.

Readers, including this one, will certainly be on tenterhooks waiting for that final book, because this story – and this crisis – is far from over.

Review: Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon Sanderson

Review: Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon SandersonStephen Leeds: Death and Faxes by Brandon Sanderson, Max Epstein, David Pace, Michael Harkins
Narrator: Oliver Wyman
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Legion #1.5
Length: 5 hours and 54 minutes
Published by Recorded Books on June 7, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

From #1 New York Times Bestselling, Hugo Award-winning author, Brandon Sanderson, and co-authors Max Epstein, David Pace, and Michael Harkins comes an audio-first techno-thriller addition to the universe of Stephen (Legion) Leeds.
Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are all quite mad.
A one-man team of experts, Stephen Leeds is a genius of unparalleled mental capabilities who can learn new skills or master entire scholarly disciplines in mere hours. However, these skills come at a price. Stephen must compartmentalize his brain, with each of his new skill sets being held by an “aspect”—a hallucination his mind creates with their own fully-developed personality, life, and limitations. Without these aspects, and the delicate construct of reality they provide for him, Stephen is unable to control his mind and engage with the real world.
So when an unprecedented Internal Revenue Service data breach stumps the FBI, Stephen is brought in to investigate. With the help of his aspects, he must uncover the connection between millions of stolen tax returns, a mysterious hacker named Enoch, a strange, cutting-edge technology that uses soundwaves to transfer data, and a nearly extinct Mesopotamian religion which once rivaled Christianity. What Leeds discovers along the way will reveal the devastating consequences of this new technology, test the limits of his aspects, and lead him face to face with a man hell-bent on vengeance, for which no cost is too high.
Stephen Leeds: Death and Faxes is a new entry in Brandon Sanderson’s Stephen Leeds saga and chronologically takes place between the novellas Legion and Legion: Lies of the Beholder.

My Review:

The case that finds Stephen Leeds in this audio-only entry in the Legion series is rather more mundane – and initially less personal – than the cases he solved in the three novellas that make up Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds; Legion, Skin Deep and Lies of the Beholder.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is left up to the reader – or in this case listener – to judge.

The title gives a hint, as it’s both a play on the saying about the inevitability of ‘death and taxes’ as well as a mystery that begins with a very high-tech application of a rather old technology. A massive data breach at an IRS datacenter has been perpetrated by using the still-functioning fax machines as both a backdoor into the once-believed secure system AND a method of transmitting sound waves that can either soothe or destroy.

Those sound waves certainly soothed the IRS staff into an entire afternoon of hazy dreaming that allowed the hack to take place while the entire staff was quite literally blissfully unaware – and unremembering.

That’s not the case when Stephen Leeds is finally called in. With the help of his ‘aspects’, his mental projections of the many facets of his strange genius, he was able to determine both when and how the hack took place.

Which is when the mysterious hacker struck directly at Stephen and his abilities for the first, but absolutely not the last, time, rendering his aspects comatose and taking Stephen himself nearly to the edge of collapse.

It’s only the beginning, because Stephen is determined to get to the bottom of this case, following a trail of victims around the country even as the structure of his increasingly fragile mental landscape falls into tatters.

While a seemingly omniscient enemy waits in the shadows of cyberspace, blocking Stephen’s every avenue to both resolution and escape.

Except one, hidden in the very place that the hacker has done his best to destroy. Inside Stephen Leeds’ own mind.

Escape Rating B-: I have mixed feelings about this one, and I’m not even sure if I can completely articulate why. But I’m certainly going to try.

I picked this up because I loved this series as it originally stood, which may be part of the problem. Initially, the Legion series was really a single story broken up into three parts that were published as separate novellas. It may not have been intended that way when the first book, Legion, was published 2012, but by the time the third book, Lies of the Beholder, came out in 2018 it seemed as if the trilogy told a complete story that came to a satisfying ending for the whole thing – even if, or especially because – it was a bit of a mind screw at the end.

So I wasn’t expecting to see Stephen Leeds again when I found this audio-only entry in the series. An entry that doesn’t occur AFTER Lies of the Beholder, but instead between the first book, Legion, and the second book, Skin Deep. So it took a bit of mental adjustment on my part to get back into the world of ten years ago and back into what was then still an incomplete story.

In other words, Stephen Leeds had himself and the aspects of his genius a bit better figured out by the end of the final book, so it was weird to see him back to a more uncertain state of himself. A combination of angst, uncertainty and even impostor syndrome that felt like it pervaded this book even more than in the stories published previously.

At the same time, it also seemed as if that very angst and uncertainty was an intent of the mysterious hacker, and it’s a part of Stephen’s perspective that didn’t get fully resolved at the end.

One of the things that struck me about Death and Faxes, and it’s the impression I’m left with now that I’ve finished, is that Stephen doesn’t feel quite like himself in this story – although his aspects are very well drawn. As this production was a cooperative effort rather than just a single writer, it may be that the characterization felt a bit off because this time around it ironically came from more than one mind – just as Stephen’s genius often appears to.

Also, Leeds just plain angsts a LOT in this story, even more than in the other parts of the series, and that angst dragged the resolution of the mystery out even more than the hacker’s admitted genius and manipulation did. This was a case where I would have gladly switched to text, just to get on with it, if there had been one, but there isn’t.

So, a whole lot of mixed feelings, leaving me with the conclusion that fans of the series, like me, will probably enjoy the trip down memory lane to visit Stephen and his aspects again. (However, the comment in the blurb about Stephen being perfectly sane but his hallucinations all being quite mad isn’t merely a bit off – it’s completely wrong. A fair number of his aspects are quirky and/or eccentric, but none of them are actually ‘mad’, and neither is Stephen Leeds. His coping mechanism is just eccentric and sometimes expensive, but works for him and does no harm to anyone else. There are worse ways to get by.)

If you’ve enjoyed the previous entries in the series, Death and Faxes is an interesting but not 100% successful addition to Leeds’ story. And if you’ve listened to any of the other books in the series, that this production is voiced by Oliver Wyman, the same actor who worked on the rest of the series, helps carry the listener along into accepting this later work as part of the whole.

But if the description of Stephen Leeds’ genius and methods of coping with it sound like fun but you’ve not met him before, it would be better to start your acquaintance with the first exploration of Stephen’s journey in Legion.

Review: A Power Unbound by Freya Marske

Review: A Power Unbound by Freya MarskeA Power Unbound (The Last Binding, #3) by Freya Marske
Narrator: Josh Dylan
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, gaslamp, historical fantasy, M/M romance
Series: Last Binding #3
Pages: 432
Length: 16 hours and 7 minutes
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tordotcom on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

A Power Unbound is the final entry in Freya Marske’s beloved, award-winning Last Binding trilogy, the queer historical fantasy series that began with A Marvellous Light.
Secrets! Magic! Enemies to. . .something more?
Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, would love a nice, safe, comfortable life. After the death of his twin sister, he thought he was done with magic for good. But with the threat of a dangerous ritual hanging over every magician in Britain, he’s drawn reluctantly back into that world.
Now Jack is living in a bizarre puzzle-box of a magical London townhouse, helping an unlikely group of friends track down the final piece of the Last Contract before their enemies can do the same. And to make matters worse, they need the help of writer and thief Alan Ross.
Cagey and argumentative, Alan is only in this for the money. The aristocratic Lord Hawthorn, with all his unearned power, is everything that Alan hates. And unfortunately, Alan happens to be everything that Jack wants in one gorgeous, infuriating package.
When a plot to seize unimaginable power comes to a head at Cheetham Hall―Jack’s ancestral family estate, a land so old and bound in oaths that it’s grown a personality as prickly as its owner―Jack, Alan and their allies will become entangled in a night of champagne, secrets, and bloody sacrifice . . . and the foundations of magic in Britain will be torn up by the roots before the end.

My Review:

This series, The Last Binding, has always been a story about power, wrapped inside a bit of pretty fantasy romance and steeped in the verbal byplay of a comedy of manners. But at the heart of all the fluff and froth, of which there has been a delicious amount, is a core of cold, hard steel.

The question has always been whose, whose power, whose needs, who decides who are the many and who are the few, and who gets to wield all the power at the foundation of British magic.

Because there really is a crisis coming, not just to British magic but to the world as a whole. That crisis, based on timing, is World War I. So the looming threat on the horizon is all too real. The problem is that too many at the pinnacle of power have decided that they are the only people capable of wielding that power, and that anyone who stands in their way is to be cut down. Permanently – and all too often with malice aforethought.

That they’ll frankly be doing their enemy’s work for them doesn’t occur to any of them. That no one has had even a thought to how the power was intended to be held and wielded doesn’t even cross their minds.

But it does cross the minds of our ragtag group of, let’s call them questioners of whether any ends justify the means that are being gone to. Especially as ALL of them have been the victims of those means in one way or another.

A Power Unbound begins by answering the questions raised early in A Marvellous Light, the questions about how and why Jack Alston, Lord Hawthorn, lost his magic and his twin sister in the first place. The questions about just how long this nefarious plot has been going on, and just how early it sunk to its terrible depths.

Depths which are displayed on the grandest stage possible for all the magical world to see, as no one bats an eye as long as they get to keep their own power. But magic itself has a say, and it has finally found agents through whom it can be said.

Their world will never be the same. Nor should it be.

Escape Rating B: I am all over the map about this story, because it is such a wild mixture of historical fantasy, power tripping and political shenanigans, mystery, romance and comedy of manners. Whether any reader will fall in love with the series probably depends on which parts of the melange they are in this thing for.

Which is where all the reading mileage is going to end up varying. A LOT.

I got into the first book, A Marvellous Light, for the magical and political skullduggery. It begins as a murder mystery and then dives into the murky depths of magic and politics and starts the whole series on its meditations about power and its ultimate corruption. A marvelous queer romance also occurs during the course of that story, but it never took a backseat to the magic and the mystery.

But the balancing act between the romance and the magical mystery tour started to tip in the second book in the series. I did enjoy A Restless Truth for its shipboard antics and the way it moved the search for the Last Contract two steps forward and one step back, but it felt a bit like the romance got a bit in the way of the parts of the story I was there for.

From my perspective, A Power Unbound got a bit too bound up in the romance between Jack and Alan for the first half of the book. A reader who is in this series for its romances will probably feel a lot differently, but for this reader it felt like the story was spinning its wheels in endless setup as Jack and Alan teetered on the knife edge of ‘will they, won’t they’. In the first half of the story the romance was at the center of the story rather than the magical mystery political pot boiling over and scalding our entire band of heroes, and I had hoped for the reverse.

At about the halfway point, which is where I switched from audio to text because I needed the story to just get on with it, the pace picked up, the amount of feces hitting the oscillating device increased dramatically, the plots on both sides got ever more convoluted, Murphy’s Law rained all over everyone, and the whole thing galloped towards an epic conclusion that was not quite the one that anyone expected but was absolutely perfect as a way of bringing the runaway plot train to a satisfying stop.

(For anyone considering the audio, the narrator did an excellent job, I just wanted the whole thing to move along faster than audio naturally or even unnaturally does. I do listen to audio because I love the voices. Mickey Mouse’s voice is another thing entirely – although it would have been hilarious for the sex scenes, it would absolutely have set the wrong tone.)

I find myself back at my earlier statement. How much a reader will love A Power Unbound will depend on which parts of the story that reader is here after. If you’re here for the romance, this one is a delight. If you’re here for the magical power and politics contest, the second half is fantastic but the romance-centered first half gets in the way of figuring out all of the whos and why they done what they done. (The whos are mostly obvious, but the whys are considerably less so.)

No matter which side of that divide you fall on, anyone who has fallen for this marvelous cast of sinners with the occasional saintly impulse will be thrilled by the epic, world-shattering ending!