Review: The Temple by Jean Johnson

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

Synod gathers, tell them lies:

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or after all the prophecies have had their way.

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

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

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

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

Your mileage may vary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Review: Markswoman by Rati MehrotraMarkswoman (Asiana, #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Asiana #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager on January 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

My Review:

This one sits right on the border between YA fantasy and Adult epic fantasy. I say this as more of a warning, in that the “official” genre designations on both Goodreads and Amazon emphasize the epic fantasy aspects and gloss over the young adult heroine. I enjoyed the book a lot, and am hoping to get an eARC for the second book in the series, Mahimata, but I’m not sure I would have picked it up if I’d known it was YA. So I’m not sorry in the least that I did, but your mileage may vary.

The Asiana series is also part of the “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but isn’t actually a duck” school of fantasy-flavored science fiction. Or, if you prefer, science fiction that feels like fantasy. Like Pern or Celta, worlds that were created or found by science but have either regressed or chosen to live in a way that feels fantasy-like. I suspect that the SFnal origin will come into play later in this series, just as it does in both Pern and Celta.

In the case of Asiana, this world is a far-future, extremely post-Apocalyptic version of quite possibly our own Earth. The Apocalypse in question is so far back in the distant past that it is by this point a matter of myth and legend rather than history, but it is definitely there. The Orders of Peace of which the Order of Kali that Kyra belongs to is one, are known to be descendants of that long ago catastrophe.

More than long enough ago that the rules, regulations, strictures and beliefs have morphed considerably over the centuries. But at their heart lies that long ago, planetary-wide devastation.

But this story takes place in that far-future “present” and focuses on the struggles of the young Markswoman, Kyra.

Markswomen are bonded to their specially forged blades, and serve as peacekeepers, guards, judges and sometimes assassins throughout the world of Asiana. We meet Kyra as she undertakes her first Mark, the death that signifies a change in her status from apprentice to full-fledged Markswoman.

For Kyra it is also a personal quest, as her mark is the son of the man who wiped out her entire clan. It is justice, as his father murdered her clan’s future, she in turn kills his.

But it also marks the beginning of a long journey. One in which Kyra discovers that what she has been taught is not all that it seems – and that betrayal comes most easily from those that are closest to us.

It is a lesson that sends Kyra on a journey across the continent and back, because the person who has been betrayed is Kyra’s teacher and not herself. And Kyra is the only person capable of resetting the balance.

Escape Rating B+: Markswoman is the opening of a terrific epic fantasy – one that is all the better for having its roots somewhere other than the Western traditions that so often flavor epic fantasy.

The story also sits on that dividing line between coming-of-age and coming-into-power. Kyra is on the cusp of becoming a full Markswoman as the story begins. She is uncertain about her place in the Order of Kali and in her world in general. And she has to leave home in order to figure out what her destiny is and where she truly belongs. For most of the story, she is constantly learning lessons – not the formal lessons that comprised her novitiate and apprenticeship in the order, but the life lessons that will allow her to move forward.

One of the hardest, as it so often is, is the lesson about letting go. Not giving up, but of learning which are the battles to be fought and which are the injustices to be forgiven. We feel her indecision, her desperation, her frustration and her impatience. We also feel her need to make things right, and the conflict that brings to her heart.

But, as I said at the beginning, this story lies on the knife edge between YA and epic fantasy. The one place where it slips into YA territory is in its treatment of potential romantic relationships, as it very nearly falls into the dreaded love triangle trap. It doesn’t quite fall, but it gets a bit too close for comfort.

This also leads to wondering about the complete gender segregation of all of the Orders of Peace and how on Earth – or Asiana – that possibly works. Admittedly, we do get hints that it doesn’t. But it does make one wonder how Kyra’s nascent relationship with a Marksman from another order is going to work – if at all – or how much trouble it’s going to get them both into if they survive.

Which leads to my fair warning about the end of the book. Because Markswoman ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. While I wonder what took me so long to read it, I’m also glad that the eARC for the second book is already available. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to  Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl (The Lady Travelers Society, #3) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on November 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set sail for love in this sparkling new adventure in #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander’s Lady Travelers Society series.

Harry Armstrong has spent years in Egypt, recovering relics and disregarding rules. Now he’s back in England with a new title and a new purpose: penning his exploits. But his efforts are overshadowed by London’s favorite writer about Egypt—a woman they call The Queen of the Desert, of all things. Worse, her stories—serialized in newspapers and reprinted in books—are complete rubbish.

Miss Sidney Honeywell didn’t set out to deceive anyone. It’s not her fault readers assumed her Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt were real! Admitting her inadvertent deception now would destroy her reputation and her livelihood. But when the Earl of Brenton challenges her to travel to Egypt to prove her expertise, accompanied by his dashing, arrogant nephew, what choice does she have but to pack her bags?

With the matchmaking founders of the Lady Travelers Society in tow, Harry is determined to expose Sidney’s secret. But the truth might not be as great a revelation as discovering that love can strike even the most stubborn of hearts.

My Review:

I kept expecting Amelia Peabody Emerson to walk through the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel at any moment. Not that this is her story, but she and her entourage would have fit right into the adventures of Harry Armstrong, Sidney Honeywell and the gaggle of elderly ladies who are alternately chaperoning and matchmaking the couple – when they’re not aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise or two.

And there’s no dead body – not quite. Not even the one that Sidney and Harry expect to find.

But this is definitely a romp from beginning to end. It’s lighthearted, occasionally light-fingered, and frothy fun.

Sidney has been supplementing her meager income by writing. She has fictionalized the Egyptian adventures of her late grandmother in Cadwallender’s magazine, and the series has been a huge success.

But Sidney knew she was writing fiction, admittedly fiction with an underpinning of fact as well as a scholar’s knowledge of Egypt and her antiquities. However, her readers seem to believe that her stories are absolutely factual from beginning to end.

And the meddling founders of the Lady Travelers Society, not having gotten their members in enough trouble in the previous outings of the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen and The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger) can’t seem to resist getting themselves a bit too involved when the Earl of Brenton takes offense at Sidney’s stories.

He claims they are complete bunk, and that Sidney, who writes as Mrs. Gordon, is deceiving her audience unconscionably. What he’s not admitting is that he is incensed that Sidney’s fluff pieces are celebrated while he can’t seem to find a publisher for his earnestly written, utterly factual – and deadly dull – accounts of his own travels in Egypt.

So they’re off on a jaunt to Egypt, paid for by the magazine, so that Sidney can prove her expertise, or Harry can prove she’s a fraud and get a guaranteed publishing contract. With the founding “Lady Travelers” along as chaperones and comic relief, managing to finally take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of.

Sidney claims to be Mrs. Gordon, Harry claims to be his own nephew, and the reporter sent by the magazine hovers over everything, hoping to get a story that will make his career, one way or another.

Then Harry’s somewhat disreputable past catches up with Sidney’s new-found spirit of adventure, and they find themselves in the midst of a classic farce of a treasure hunt.

With so much fun to be had, sun, sand, adventure and the trip of a lifetime, how could they not fall in love? With Egypt, and especially with each other?

Escape Rating B+: This is absolutely wonderful, marvelously tasty, complete and utter fluff. It’s delicious.

It would also make a great Shakespearean comedy. Sidney is deceiving Harry. Harry is deceiving Sidney. The reporter is deceiving everyone. Except that everyone seems to know that everyone is deceiving everyone else and no one is willing to admit it.

And that just adds to the sense of fun and adventure.

It’s also a lot of fun the way that Sidney’s real-life adventures in Egypt seem so much like her fictional adventures. Her friends think she’s been kidnapped by white slavers, when the truth is that an Egyptian princess is a fan of her work, so she gets to spend a night in the harem with the princess and her family.

She steals a priceless Egyptian antiquity from a nefarious smuggler, only to discover that it’s the key to a much greater treasure and a much bigger adventure.

She begins by revisiting the scenes of her grandmother’s greatest adventures – only to have a great adventure of her own. And to clear up her grandmother’s unfinished business.

Her contest with Harry brings out Sidney’s inner adventurer at every turn, and allows her to become the woman she was meant to be. Not because he sweeps her off her feet – although he eventually does – but because he treats her as an equal combatant in their rivalry.

That she also helps him solve the mystery that has been dogging him for two long and lonely years makes them earn their happy ever after – while providing just desserts for the true villain of the piece.

This series is simply loads of fun, and every trip with the Lady Travelers Society is always a lovely adventure. I’m looking forward to their next adventure in The Lady Travelers Guide to Happily Ever After when it comes out in June. It’s sure to be another marvelous lark!

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Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

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

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

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

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe KennedySeasons of Sorcery : A Fantasy Anthology by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy, Jennifer Estep
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance
Pages: 410
Published by Brightlynx on November 13, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

WINTER'S WEB BY JENNIFER ESTEP

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . .

 A WILDERNESS OF GLASS BY GRACE DRAVEN

 The stretch of sea known as the Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced.

 A CURSE FOR SPRING BY AMANDA BOUCHET

 A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves.

 THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER BY JEFFE KENNEDY

 As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

My Review:

Jeffe Kennedy seems to be participating in one of these fantasy romance anthologies every year, because that’s where I get them from. There’s always a story from her awesome Twelve Kingdoms series, and I’d get the whole thing for that alone. But the other stories are frequently awesome, occasionally even awesomer, so I’m glad to collect the set!

Seasons of Sorcery contains four fantasy romance novellas, all but one set in its author’s ongoing series.

Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep is set in her Elemental Assassin series, which I haven’t read – or at least not yet. The story takes place at a Renaissance Faire in an urban fantasy-type world where magic exists but seems to be mostly, but not totally, hidden in plain sight. As I said, I haven’t read this series, but I still enjoyed the story. The Ren Faire setting always provides an interesting backdrop for urban fantasy, and this story is no exception. I suspect that the story didn’t have quite the resonance for me as it would for readers who are familiar with the series, but it still worked well and I didn’t feel lost at all. I liked it more than enough to put this series on the towering TBR pile!

Escape Rating for Winter’s Web: B+

Although A Wilderness of Glass by Grace Draven is set in her Wraith Kings world, which I have not read, the setting felt awfully familiar. Only because it was. This story is set in the same town and among the same people as Night Tide, her fantastic story in Teeth Long and Sharp. A story that I loved.

I didn’t find this story to be quite as good as Night Tide, possibly because it was a bit too reminiscent of The Shape of Water. Albeit with a slightly different version of the happy ending. At least as far as we know.

Escape Rating for A Wilderness of Glass: B

There’s nearly always one story in a collection that doesn’t work for me. It’s the nature of collections that you get to sample authors you may not be familiar with, but might like because they are like someone you already do.

Not that any fantasy romance reader is not familiar with Amanda Bouchet and her terrific Kingmaker Chronicles!

But A Curse for Spring by Amanda Bouchet is the story in this collection that just didn’t work for me. Which is ironic because it is the one story that is not in a previously created world of any kind. For this reader, the problem with this story was that it felt too obvious. It seemed clear from the very beginning what was going on, who was responsible, and how the problem was going to get solved. I kept wanting the story to either just get on with it or go someplace interesting – but it did neither.

Escape Rating for A Curse for Spring: C

Last but definitely not least, The Dragons of Summer by Jeffe Kennedy. This is the story that I got this collection for, and it did not disappoint – although it did occasionally infuriate – but in a good way.

This story is set in Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. While it seems to take place directly after The Arrows of the Heart, much of the emotional heft of the story comes from its relationship to the heroine of her Chronicles of Dasnaria series. The long shadow cast by the lost Dasnarian princess Jenna still looms over her brothers Harlan and Kral. Neither of them know their sister’s fate, but both had a hand in setting her on her path.

It’s not just her brothers that are ignorant of whether Jenna is alive or dead. The final book in that series, Warrior of the World, is due out on January 8. I’ve never been so glad to have an ARC! It’s not so much that either the previous story, Exile of the Seas, or this short story end in a cliffhanger as that it is now obvious that Jenna’s fate is going to be the key that resolves EVERYTHING in both series.

It’s just the kind of ginormous wrap-up that makes readers salivate waiting for the next book in the series. But it also means that this story, of all the stories in the collection, is the one that really only makes sense if you’ve followed the series. And if you love fantasy romance and you haven’t read the series, what on earth are you waiting for? Begin your journey with The Mark of the Tala, and settle in for a marvelous read.

Escape Rating for The Dragons of Summer: A

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Pages: 160
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.

My Review:

Although Nevada and Rogan’s wedding is the setting – or the excuse – for this story, this is definitely NOT Nevada’s story, unlike the rest of the Hidden Legacy series so far.

This is Nevada’s sister Catalina’s story, which makes this novella a kind of bridge book in the series, as the focus switches from Nevada, who has found her happy ever after with Connor Rogan. Future books need to feature other characters, and it looks like we’re going to be treated to watch every member of the Baylor family come into their own and find their HEA, starting with Catalina.

The setup of this variation on our world began in the awesome Burn for Me. Diamond Fire is not meant to be read as a standalone, it is an integral part of the series and I think that too much is left to previous knowledge. After all, why would you care about Nevada and Rogan if you hadn’t watched their struggle?

Also, the house rivalries, politics and downright internecine warfare probably only make sense if you start at the beginning. This series is so awesome that it is no hardship whatsoever.

But this is Catalina’s story through and through, and it is not a romance. I think there’s going to be one on the horizon for her, eventually, but Catalina has to learn to love herself and accept her gift before she can manage to love anyone else.

That’s more true for her than most, because Catalina’s gift is love. Not real love, but obsessive love. Love-potion-type-love along with stalker-level obsession. Their world doesn’t have a name for her gift, but we’d call her a siren. When she lets her gift loose, anyone she focuses on is compelled to love her to the exclusion of all else.

Which means that Catalina is never sure whether someone likes her for herself, or because she wanted them to. The only people who seem to be immune are her family – but then, they love her anyway.

The story in Diamond Fire is all about Catalina protecting her sister from too many distractions while she’s playing bridezilla (just a bit) and to keep Nevada from using her invasive gift, truthseeking, to break the minds of her in-laws in order to find out just who wants to sabotage her wedding.

Instead, it’s up to Catalina to not just follow the more mundane clues, but to convince whoever those clues lead to to tell her everything she needs to know – by whatever means necessary – and whether she wants to know or not.

Catalina’s afraid that she’ll end up with a trail of mindless love slaves following her around – and that she’ll like it that way. But she’ll do anything for Nevada – no matter what dark places it leads her to.

There might even be something shiny and sparkly at the end.

Escape Rating B+: This is short, and in the end sweet – but not without plenty of interesting angst in the middle.

It is not a starting point for this series – so start with Burn for Me. Or wait for the first book in the Catalina trilogy that’s coming out in 2019. Just don’t start here. The world of the Primes, while it bears a superficial resemblance to our 21st century, certainly has some hidden depths that are not explained in this novella.

Instead, this one falls much more on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy divide. Catalina is the amateur detective, and she has a case to solve. Someone stole the heirloom tiara that Nevada is supposed to wear down the aisle at her wedding. The tiara isn’t worth much – relatively for this uber-rich family – but it is important. Also well-known, so it’s not an item that can be fenced.

It seems like the only people who would have any motive for the theft are Nevada’s in-laws. Because of their psychic powers, they are also the only people who could have done it. And they are all in attendance for the wedding – however resentfully or reluctantly.

So Catalina has to do what detectives do, sort through all of the possible suspects, suss out their possible motives, and eventually figure out whodunit – not that the result isn’t a complete surprise. And not that she doesn’t uncover a whole lot of other crap that the family wishes had remained unknown. But that’s what House Baylor Investigations has always done – discover the truth – even when it hurts.

But the point of the story is on Catalina coming out of Nevada’s very tall (metaphorically speaking) shadow. And it’s the making of her. She learns that she can trust herself, and that’s one of the hardest lessons of all.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

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

To celebrate the release of DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews, we’re giving away one paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2Nnhq6v

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/12/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Bartered Brides by Mercedes LackeyThe Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #13
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.

The threat of Moriarty is gone--but so is Sherlock Holmes.

Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty's network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.

The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty's associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers--and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend--to bring the murderer to justice.

My Review:

The Bartered Brides is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, as was last week’s Mycroft and Sherlock. But in spite of the two stories having more or less the same starting point, the Holmes canon, they couldn’t be any more different in tone or even genre.

Mycroft and Sherlock was a fairly straightforward, albeit excellent, historical mystery. The Bartered Brides on the other hand puts Sherlock Holmes in the midst of a Victorian urban fantasy. This is a world in which magic explicitly works, although most people, including Holmes himself, are at best reluctant to believe in it.

Just because Holmes doesn’t believe in magic doesn’t mean that magic doesn’t believe in him. Particularly in the person of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s chronicler and partner-in-solving-crime. Because Watson is an Elemental Water Master who solves cases that go where Holmes mostly refuses to tread.

Although for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Holmes himself is conspicuously absent for most of this story. The Bartered Brides takes place at a well-known point in the official Holmes canon, after the events of Reichenbach Falls, where Holmes and Moriarty both fell to their purported deaths. And before the events of The Empty House where Holmes returns, not from death after all, but from a long sojourn around the world recovering from his wounds and mopping up the remainders of Moriarty’s criminal organization.

Unlike in the canon, Watson at least, as well as his wife Mary, know that Holmes is alive and on the hunt. Which means that they are also aware that Moriarty’s henchmen in London might very well be hunting them.

But in the meantime, Lestrade is desperate. He does not know that Holmes is still alive. All he knows is that the headless corpses of young women are washing up on the banks of the Thames. He is out of his depth – not atypical for Lestrade. But this case feels weird – and it is – so he calls in his best Holmes substitute, Dr. John Watson and the two young women who assist him with his magical cases, psychic Nan Killian and medium Sarah Lyon-White.

When even their best isn’t good enough, they consider dropping the case. Until an emergency meeting with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, representing Her Majesty’s government and Lord Alderscroft, and leader of London’s Elemental Masters convinces them to stay on the case.

They are both certain that this isn’t the usual kind of serial killer at work. Instead, this series of crimes looks like it’s right up the darker alleys of elemental mastery. Alderscroft in particular is beginning to believe that an Elemental Spirit Master has gone to the bad. And if there’s someone in London dabbling in the foul waters of necromancy he needs to get it stopped.

Nan and Sarah are also right. It would be too much like a bad farce for there to be both a gang of Moriarty’s henchmen out committing evil AND a gang of necromancer’s assistants out doing evil at the same time – even in a city as big as London.

But what could one have to do with the other?

Escape Rating B+: This is a fun book and has become a fun series. Originally the Elemental Masters series seemed to revolve around reworkings of classic fairy tales across various points in time where magic users who were masters of their particular elements were part of the reworking of the tales. And some entries in the series were better than others.

But a few books ago the author moved from reworking fairy tales to dealing with one legendary character in particular. In A Study in Sable she introduced her own versions of Holmes, Watson and the rest of the Baker Street crew. Sherlock was still very much his extremely rational self, but the Watson of this series is very different. His water mastery makes him much closer to Holmes’ equal, albeit in a different sphere. He also has allies and resources of his own separate from Holmes.

This redirection of the series really zings! It can also be read without reading the Elemental Masters series as a whole by starting with either A Study in Sable or an earlier volume which serves as a kind of prequel, The Wizard of London, which introduces the characters of Nan and Sarah as well as Lord Alderscroft, the titular “Wizard”.

The criminal conspiracies in this story do reduce to Occam’s Razor. Two separate gangs doing this much damage would be too much. It is a surprise however to see just how the one set of evil relates to the other – and they are both definitely very evil.

The truth about the headless corpses and their evil purpose will chill readers right down to the bone. As will the mastermind’s methods of obtaining them, which spotlights just how disposable working class women, especially young women, were at this point in history, as well as just how pervasive racial prejudices were at the time.

What makes this subseries so much fun is, of course, the cast of characters. The varying perspectives of this Watson with more agency, his equally powerful wife Mary, and the two young women who are determined to make an independent go of their world lets us see this version of Victorian London from it’s highest pinnacles to very nearly its lowest depths through the eyes of very sympathetic characters.

The villain in this case is deliciously and despicably evil, and we are able to see just enough of his horrible machinations to learn what he’s up to and to wholeheartedly concur with him receiving his just desserts.

This version of Victorian London is fascinating and magical, in both senses of the word. I hope we have plenty of return visits to look forward to!