Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Oria’s Enchantment by Jeffe KennedyOria's Enchantment by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #5
Pages: 166
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on January 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A Narrow Escape

With her secrets uncovered and her power-mad brother bent on her execution, Princess Oria has no sanctuary left. Her bid to make herself and her new barbarian husband rulers of walled Bára has failed. She and Lonen have no choice but to flee through the leagues of brutal desert between her home and his—certain death for a sorceress, and only a bit slower than the blade.

A Race Against Time

At the mercy of a husband barely more than a stranger, Oria must war with her fears and her desires. Wild desert magic buffets her; her husband’s touch allures and burns. Lonen is pushed to the brink, sure he’s doomed his proud bride and all too aware of the restless, ruthless pursuit that follows…

A Danger Beyond Death…

Can Oria trust a savage warrior, now that her strength has vanished? Can Lonen choose her against the future of his people? Alone together in the wastes, Lonen and Oria must forge a bond based on more than lust and power, or neither will survive the test…

My Review:

This series began back in Lonen’s War with Princess Oria being betrayed by her own brother, an event that echoes down the entire length of the series so far.

In this latest book in the series, events have almost, but not quite, come full circle, as this title is named for Oria, but the events that it encompasses revolve around Prince Lonen’s brother and his betrayal of Lonen.

But a whole lot of things have happened along the way. Oria, the princess-bird freed from her gilded cage, will have to come into the power that she does not even believe she has in order to save both of their kingdoms – and both of themselves, as well.

Lonen has to grasp his duty and his destiny – even if, or especially because – he needs to leave Oria behind in order for her to be able to leap ahead and save them both.

If she survives a testing process directed by dragons. Either she finally masters her power – or they will destroy her before she destroys everything around her – including herself.

Escape Rating B+: Oria’s Enchantment is the fifth book in what was originally listed as a trilogy – and the story isn’t done yet. It’s turning out to be “trilogy times two”. So a Hexology, or a dual-trilogy, or a sextet.

Sextet feels appropriate, as the Sorcerous Moons series, whatever you call it, is a fantasy romance that does some very interesting things with sex and seduction. Lonen and Oria’s marriage begins as a marriage of convenience because her magic will not allow anyone else to touch her skin-to-skin without causing her tremendous pain. That their relationship changes from cautious allyship to a true marriage in spite of that limitation – and just how far and how sensuously they manage to skate the edge of that restriction, has been steamy as well as fascinating.

About the story as a whole – the story is a whole. By that I mean that the Sorcerous Moons “series” feels like one long story rather than a series of even slightly separate books. Like the Lord of the Rings, where the story that begins in Fellowship ends in Return of the King. The ending of Fellowship is merely a pause as that book does not tell a complete story in and of itself.

So it is with Sorcerous Moons, This is one story from its beginning in Lonen’s War to what looks like will be its ending in the next book, Lonen’s Reign. So start at the beginning and not anywhere in the middle. The individual books are relatively short – so the compilation of the whole is only a moderately sized tome.

The part of the story that takes place in Oria’s Enchantment is a rise from the “waiting game” that occurred in the previous book in the series, The Forests of Dru. That book felt like the trough of the entire story arc, and now we’re on the rise that leads to the conclusion.

Things finally happen here, although mostly in the second half of the book. The first half is a “road story”, of which there have been many in this series. Lonen and Oria do a LOT of travelling, in order to fix what’s wrong in either one kingdom or another – and to give them time to bond as a marital partnership.

It’s in the second half of this story that events begin to ramp up, as Oria finally takes control of her power and her destiny while Lonen forces himself to do the right thing for the kingdom he never expected to rule.

I can’t wait for what should be the epic conclusion to this series in Lonen’s Reign. Because Lonen and Oria are going to have to make a lot of war to fix everything that’s wrong in both Bara and Dru!

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + GiveawayThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

My Review:

The story told in The Lost Girls of Paris is absolutely fascinating, all the more so for being rooted in history.

In some ways it’s a lot like the nonfiction stories in Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and other books that have brought the hidden contributions of women to recent events in history out of the shadows and into the light.

During World War II, women stepped up to do all the jobs that used to be reserved for men before the war, because there were few men left at the homefront. This was true in the U.S. and it was especially true in Britain and France as men were either in the armed services, conscripted into labor camps in France, or dead.

As the Allied forces prepared for what we now know as D-Day, the Allies needed the French Resistance to step up their sabotage and misinformation efforts. War is, as always, a very dirty business.

When it became nearly impossible to place any more male agents in France, the Special Operations Executive created a women’s section, run by Eleanor Trigg (based on real-life SOE Officer Vera Atkins), to place female agents in France. By that point, there were so few young, able-bodied men around that male agents were unmasked almost as soon as they hit the ground.

It was hoped that women would be able to blend into the remaining population. They were trained to do the dirty work needed to bring that hoped for invasion to fruition – even if they didn’t personally live to see it.

The story of The Lost Girls of Paris is about those female British agents, and the story is told from three perspectives. Eleanor Trigg, the creator of the women’s section, the designer of their training and the person who chose each and every woman who entered the program; Marie Roux, one of the women she recruited who went to France in those dark days, and Grace Healey, a young widow in the immediate aftermath of the war, who discovers a suitcase full of photographs under a bench in New York’s Union Station, and finds herself drawn into a quest to reveal the truth.

Not just the truth of what those women endured, but the truth about their betrayal by their own government – and that same government’s willingness to bury their history along with their bodies – whether their actual corpses can ever be found – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this book. The story it tells is both compelling and harrowing, but some parts more than others.

I found Eleanor Trigg to be a fascinating character. (She reminds me a bit of the character of Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War – a woman who also served in the SOE.) A Jewish refugee from Poland, Eleanor and her mother have reinvented themselves as Englishwomen – but Eleanor is never quite accepted as “one of us” by the government bureaucracy – or its bureaucrats.

She began as a secretary to the Director of the SOE, became his unofficial right hand, and then the chief of the women’s section – only to be unceremoniously discarded even before the end of the war – and set up to be a scapegoat for the dirty deeds done by her agents on behalf of the government and by the government TO her unsuspecting agents.

Eleanor seems like a one-woman representative of all the ways that women were distrusted, disrespected, successful in spite of systemic misogyny, and then betrayed and discarded when they were no longer needed.

Grace’s perspective from the post-War United States is a reflection of that misogyny and betrayal. Her husband died in an auto accident before he deployed, leaving her a widow but not exactly a war widow. She comes to New York City searching for work and purpose in a country that wants all its women to go back to home and hearth and pop out babies. But the soldier who should have returned to her after the war can’t, and she’s not ready to move on.

Putting herself into the middle of Eleanor’s search for truth gives her purpose and new life. As someone who was not a part of the original events, she is both an unimpeachable witness and empathetic searcher.

I’ll admit that I had problems with Marie. The parts of the story that covered her recruitment and training were absorbing – and the story of her capture and torture were harrowing beyond belief, but I stopped being interested in her as a character when she got captured. Not because she was captured, but because of the way it happened. She literally brought it on herself by being TSTL (too stupid to live). Her capture and subsequent torture became inevitable – when they shouldn’t have been. Many of the female agents were captured, tortured and killed through betrayal, bad luck or just circumstance. It wasn’t necessary for Marie to be a fool for love to show the terrible fate of so many of these brave women. For this reader, the spark of romance in this part of the story was unnecessary and detracted from their courage and sacrifice.

On my other hand or hands, the entire story is compelling from beginning to end. I finished it in one day and could not put it down – although I had to pause at points while Marie was being tortured. Those parts of the story are not for the faint of heart – but they are an important part of the story all the same.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls of Paris to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. Green

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. GreenDeath Shall Come by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #4
Pages: 185
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Ishmael Jones is faced with a dead body and a missing mummy in this highly entertaining, genre-blending mystery.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb ...

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world's largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan's latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy.

When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy's curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them ... and why?

My Review:

One of the overall themes that runs through the Ishmael Jones series is misdirection. The villain(s) at least so far, use myths, legends and primal fears to direct their potential victims (and sometimes Ishmael) away from themselves and towards pretty much anything else.

Sort of like the way I am currently misdirecting the kitten from all the interesting things on top of my desk that she can break by putting her battery-operated toy on the floor and hoping it distracts her from knocking my tea over and chewing my phone.

By the way, it’s not working on the cat. And it usually doesn’t work on Ishmael Jones, either.

In previous books in this series, the creepy misdirection has either been ghosts (The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) or family monsters like the Hound of the Baskervilles (Very Important Corpses).

Having explored two branches of horror that Ishmael absolutely does not believe in, the phantom of misdirection is Death Shall Come isn’t a phantom – it’s a mummy!

Penny Belcourt, Ishmael’s human partner, loves mummy stories. Actually, so does Ishmael, but he prefers the Karloff classics and she liked the Brendan Fraser romantics. Both recognize that reanimated corpses do not walk among us – not even among the looted and stolen collection of Egyptian artifacts at Cardavan House.

Which does not mean that someone isn’t perfectly willing to exploit the fear of that possibility for their own evil ends. The question, as always, is who is the monster among them. What kind of monster are they?

And can Ishmael and Penny stop them before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: I pick up this series whenever I feel that my snark-o-meter needs filling – because this author’s work is always snarktastic to the max.

Ishmael Jones is one of the Men in Black. He’s also one of the aliens that the Men in Black usually monitor, but in this particular case, the organization that he works for – oh so cryptically named “The Organization” – does not know, at least as far as Ishmael knows, that he is not exactly from around here.

What they do know is that he has secrets to keep – and so do they. So when his boss asks him to come to the remote family pile and pretend to be an Egyptologist, Ishmael goes along with the game. His Colonel will “owe him one” and Ishmael knows that someday he’ll need to collect.

The setup is very reminiscent of an English country house mystery, as are all of the books in the series so far. But this isn’t cozy, it’s way more like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Ishmael can’t prevent all of the deaths, but he can try to keep the numbers from reducing to that “none”.

Sometimes he’s more successful than others.

Part of the fun of the series is the way that the standard horror tropes get turned on their heads. Ishmael does not believe in the supernatural – but that doesn’t mean that the people he is attempting to protect don’t. They get spooked pretty easily, and he usually spends a fair bit of time trying to keep them together for their own good – and he usually fails. He also usually has something snarky to say about it.

Early in the series, I said that Ishmael reminds me of Captain Jack Harkness in the Doctor Who and Torchwood series(es) . And that’s still true. Both in the sense of their immortality and in the sense that they both have holes in their memories, and that sometimes things that no one wants to meet jump out at them from one of those holes.

In the end, that’s what flips this series from mystery/horror to science fiction. Mummies don’t walk, but strange, weird and dangerous things do fall out of the sky. Ishmael should know – after all, he’s one of them.

Read this series with the lights on, and not right before bedtime. I made the mistake of reading this right before I went to sleep, and it gave me really, really weird dreams. But not scary enough to scare me off from coming back Into the Thinnest of Air the next time my snark-o-meter needs a re-charge.

Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva LeighDare to Love a Duke (The London Underground, #3) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club in the London Underground, passion could lead to love… if they dare

Thomas Powell, the new Duke of Northfield, knows he should be proper and principled, like his father. No more dueling, or carousing, or frequenting masked parties where Londoners indulge their wildest desires. But he’s not ready to give up his freedom just yet. The club is an escape, a place where he can forget about society and the weight of his title… and see her, the woman he’s wanted forever.

Lucia—known as Amina—manages the Orchid Club, a secret society where fantasies become reality. But for Lucia, it’s strictly business, profitable enough to finance her dream: a home for the lost girls of the streets. Surrounded by lovers, she only observes, unwilling risk her future for any man. No member has ever intrigued her...until him, the masked stranger whose heated looks sear her skin. After months of suppressed longing, they dare to give in to temptation…

But the late duke’s legacy comes with a shocking secret, and the scandal threatens to destroy everything Tom loves… his family, the Orchid Club, and even Lucia.

My Review:

This is the third book in the author’s London Underground series, and it makes a fine and fitting conclusion to that series. But it also works as a standalone. The story in this entry bears some resemblance to the circumstances in the first two (From Duke Till Dawn and Counting on a Countess) but the reader knowing where they are and who the characters are in Dare to Love a Duke is not dependent on having read the other books first.

Not that they are not a lot of fun in their own right!

As has been true in the previous books in the series, the romance here is between a newly minted nobleman and a woman of not merely lesser rank and status but also someone who has been operating on the shady side of the street in one way or another. The heroine of From Duke Till Dawn is a confidence trickster, while the heroine of Counting on a Countess is a smuggler. There weren’t a lot of legal, well-paying professions for women during the Regency, or let’s face it, for centuries before or after.

The heroine of Dare to Love a Duke is the manager of an unusual but not exclusive sex club. A club that admits anyone and everyone. All the participants are masked. Anything goes, and anyone can have sex with anyone else – or multiple anyone elses. The only requirement is that consent is king, queen and knave. People can, and do, do whatever they want – but only what they want. No force, no coercion, no “persuasion”. Only freely given consent.

The hero is the newly invested Duke of Northfield. His father has just died and Tom has inherited the title, along with a whole slew of expectations and a tonne of responsibility. On what he believed was his last night of relative freedom, he finally seduces, or is seduced by, or they both simply give in to the sexual chemistry that has always swirled between himself and Lucia, the manager of the Orchid Club.

Only to discover the following morning that his father can’t possibly have been the paragon of virtue that he claimed to be – because Lucia comes to the Duke of Northfield’s house to deliver the monthly profits from her club which he owns – only to discover that the new duke is the man she just spent a long and very pleasurable night with.

The situation is a mess. If it comes out, it will be a scandal that will affect his mother’s place in society and his sister’s prospects for marriage – not that those aren’t already threatened enough.

Tom’s father was a staunch Tory, a member of the conservative political faction that wants to preserve the status quo, keep power in the hands of the wealthy aristocrats, and oppress the poor, the nascent middle-class, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t one of them.

His father’s friends are pressuring him to remain in their faction, and are holding his sister’s marriage to the man she loves as hostage. Sparing her will force him to reject the stirrings of his own conscience.

When he can’t decide he turns to Lucia, spending a weekend in the house he owns while working incognito as one of the team. A few short days working himself to exhaustion, while spending blissful nights with Lucia, give him the space he needs to decide whose man he will be, and at what price.

The courage of his convictions nearly costs him everything – but it also gives him the greatest prize of all.

Escape Rating B+: Eva Leigh also writes action-adventure romances as Zoe Archer, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Zoe Archer also writes historical romances as Eva Leigh. In either case, one of the reasons that I love this author is that she does an excellent job of writing heroines who are able to kick ass, figuratively always and occasionally also literally, while still fitting into their time and place.

This is particularly important when it comes to historical romance. I’ve frequently talked about the tightrope walking involved in creating historical heroines with enough agency for 21st century readers to identify with while making sure that these standout women still feel like they fit into their setting. A book I reviewed last week failed to walk this tightrope, and when that happens it does break the willing suspension of disbelief At least for this reader.

Lucia has had a difficult life, and it’s a life that has left scars. She’s not a pampered princess in a gilded cage. She’s had to make her own way in the world since she was 12, and she’s done it any way she could. Including on her back. It’s brutal but it’s also realistic – there just weren’t that many options. Being forced to make her own way has given her very different attitudes from the kind of privileged ladies that have often been the heroines of historical romance. She knows how to take care of herself because she’s had to. And she’s all too aware that in the end she only has herself to rely upon. No one has ever rescued her, and until she meets Tom she has no reason to believe that anyone ever will.

She’s aware of what society thinks of her, but she’s also all too aware that pride and propriety will not fill an empty belly or keep a roof over one’s head. She tries not hurt anyone, but she does what she must and she lives with the consequences.

On the one hand, Tom has had an easy life. And on the other, he is suddenly weighed down by a huge responsibility – and it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. He knows that he’s privileged and he wants to use his position to make life better for others as much as he can. He’s between a rock and a hard place when his father’s old allies attempt to blackmail him into following their dictates instead of his conscience. His dilemma is made all too real by throwing his sister’s happiness under the carriage wheels rather than his own. He is caught between warring duties – his duty to protect his sister and his duty to help others.

It was a relief when he finally told his sister what his choices were and what the cost would be – and that she agreed with him all the way – as their mother initially does not. And when the feces hits the oscillating device his sister stands by him.

In the end, as with the other books in this series, the story is about the unconventional couple finding a way to defy convention, rise above it, and grab their happy ever after with all hands.

 

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
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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