Review: Heart of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: Heart of Eon by Anna HackettHeart of Eon (Eon Warriors #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance, space opera
Series: Eon Warriors #3
Pages: 213
Published by Anna Hackett on April 21st 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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Okay, maybe hijacking an alien commander’s warship wasn’t her best idea…

Genius computer geek Wren Traynor prefers her high-tech comp lab to socializing with people, and she definitely prefers it over crawling through the bowels of the huge Eon warship she’s hijacked. When Earth’s Space Corps blackmails her into this deadly mission, Wren will do anything to help her beloved sisters and save the Earth from invasion by the insectoid Kantos aliens. That includes entering into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the tall, hunky, and seriously enraged Eon war commander who captains the Rengard.

War Commander Malax Dann-Jad is a born protector and has forged a successful career in service to the Eon Empire. Haunted by an early mission where he lost good warriors, he’s dedicated to protecting his ship and its crew. Especially since his warship is carrying a special, top-secret cargo. But one tiny, infuriating Terran puts all that at risk when she commandeers his ship and refuses to listen to reason.

When the ravenous Kantos set their sights on the Rengard--using sneaky, underhanded tactics--Malax finds himself with an armful of curvy woman. He and Wren must join forces to fight back, and are shocked at their improbable, intense attraction. But with lives at risk, both will learn that strength comes in more ways than one and love can hit when you least expect it, and that in order to survive, you have to put everything on the line.

My Review:

Heart of Eon is the third book in Anna Hackett’s marvelous space opera romance Eon Warriors series. It also feels like it wraps up what I sincerely hope is just the first arc of the series, as these first stories have featured the Traynor sisters, Eve in Edge of Eon, Lara in Touch or Eon, and now Wren in Heart of Eon.

The Traynor sisters were manipulated and coerced by the Terran Space Corps to conduct extremely covert and highly illegal missions in Eon space. The sisters have all been caught between huge rocks and multiple hard places.

When the Terrans made first contact with the Eons, the Terrans acted like superior assholes. This had multiple problems and consequences, besides being just plain rude and stupid. First, the Terrans were far from the superior force. The Eons were light years ahead – and not inclined to put up with a bunch of idiots. Eon space closed itself to Terra, and were just fine with making their entire sector a no-fly zone. The Eons didn’t need the Terrans one little bit.

But not the other way around. The Terrans, still getting their space legs, are now under attack by the insectoid Kantos. The Kantos have a history of literally chewing planets up and spitting out the dead husks, and Earth is next. The Terrans are desperate to get the assistance of the Eons they spurned decades ago.

Their methodology is highly questionable, but the results they’ve achieved by the end of Heart of Eon are hard to argue with. Space Corps “persuaded”, for extremely manipulative definitions of the word persuade, the Traynor sisters to secretly enter Eon space and 1) kidnap a leading Eon starship Commander, 2) steal Eon sacred relics and 3) hijack an Eon warship.

Heart of Eon is the hijacking story, and as the story opens ace computer hacker Wren Traynor is in the bowels of an Eon warship, locked in a virtual battle for control of his ship with Eon War Commander Malax Dann-Jad.

It’s extremely debatable who is winning at this point. Malax has managed to shut down the ship’s faster-than-light (FTL) engines, but Wren is in control of navigation so they are still heading towards her assigned rendezvous point – albeit very, very slowly.

But there are a couple of things that Malax knows but Wren doesn’t. Or rather one bit of information that he’s revealed plenty of times but that Wren doesn’t believe, and one Eon military secret that he is desperate to protect from both Wren and their mutual enemy, the Kantos.

Wren refuses to believe that either, let alone both of her career-oriented military minded sisters have mated. She is particularly disbelieving that they have each become mated to Eon warriors, but they have. Those romances are the stories in the first two books in the series.

Which means that Malax is under orders not to harm Wren. That he’s secretly enjoying the cat and mouse game that they are playing with his ship is something he hasn’t admitted to himself.

He is also laboring under the misapprehension that the experimental nature of his ship is a secret from both the Kantos and from Wren, in spite of her rather effective exploitation of every single hole in his security network.

He’s wrong on both counts. Wren discovers the Helian symbionts secured in his ship when she hides in “their” hidden room from Malax – and one of the symbionts decides to merge with her tablet computer. The resulting entity, who appropriately adopts the name “Sassy” for herself (not itself, definitely herself), bonds with both the computing power of the Terran tablet and with Wren herself.

When the Kantos find the erratically piloted Eon Warship meandering in space, it’s clear from their first salvo that they are aware of the nature of the experiment – and that they plan on capturing the Helians at all costs.

Malax and Wren (and Sassy) will need to join forces to keep all of them out of the Kantos’ grasp. It won’t be easy. But it will allow them to finally give in to the simmering attraction between them.
It’s just going to take a little bit of help from their friends – including the Terran Space Corps.

Escape Rating A-: This entire series has been an absolute shipload of fun, and Heart of Eon is no exception. I love space opera type SFR, and if you do too, this series is a real treat!

Part of what I liked about this particular entry is that Wren is different from her sisters. They are all kickass heroines, but they are thankfully not all heroines in the same mold. Both Eve and Lara were military-types, so they quite literally kicked ass – and it was pretty awesome.

But all women are not alike, not even all sisters are alike. Wren is the different one among the Traynor sisters, but she’s different in a way that’s nearer and dearer to my own heart, as Wren is the geeky nerd in the family. Not that she’s not extremely capable and effective, but her effectiveness is completely different.

That she’s also not the tall, muscular, athletic type of heroine just makes her that much easier to identify with. She’s small and soft and curvy – which gives her a bit of a familiar-type of self-doubt. At the same time, she’s an absolute genius at her computer skills, and rightfully both proud of and confident in those skills. She’s still a heroine, but she’s relatable in her heroine-ness.

Her differences fascinate Malax, who falls for her exactly as she is. And accepts her exactly as she is, including her need to put her skills and talents to work in their fight against the Kantos. She has a job to do, and he doesn’t protest at her doing it – a difficult thing for his protective nature.

But Heart of Eon definitely feels like Wren’s show. And Sassy’s. Definitely Sassy’s. Sassy saves the day with a little bit of help from her Terran and Eon friends. Sassy is just a terrific character, in every sense of the word character. I hope we see her again.

Speaking of again, this series could have ended here. The Traynor sisters have all found their happy ever afters and they’ve accomplished their mission of getting the Eons on board for fighting against the Kantos WITH the Terrans.

But the ending of Heart of Eon foreshadows a new romance brewing between the captain of the Terran ship that helped save the day and the Eon Commander who can’t seem to stop himself from sparring with her, verbally if not otherwise. Yet.

I hope we see that romance, and the future of the Eon alliance with Terra in future installments of this series!

Review: Cat Chase the Moon by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Chase the Moon by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Chase the Moon (Joe Grey #21) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: eARC
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Joe Grey #21
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on April 23, 2019
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Feline P. I. Joe Grey and his friends pounce on three investigations that may connect to one larger mystery—including one case that is very personal—in this hair-raising installment in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s beloved, award-winning series.

Joe Grey and his partner, Dulcie, are frantic when Courtney, their pretty teen-kitten goes missing. Aided by their two- and four-legged friends, they hit the streets of Molina Point in search of their calico girl. Has Joe Grey and Dulcie’s only daughter been lured away by someone and stolen? Is she lying somewhere hurt, or worse?

Courtney has no idea that everyone is desperately looking for her. Locked in an upstairs apartment above the local antiques shop, she’s enjoying her first solo adventure. When she first met Ulrich Seaver, the shop’s owner, Courtney was frightened. But the human has coddled and pampered her, winning her trust. Sheltered by her parents, her brothers, and her kind human companions, the innocent Courtney is unaware of how deceptive strangers can be. She doesn’t know that Ulrich is hiding a dangerous secret that could threaten her and everyone in this charming California coastal village.

With his focus on finding Courtney, Joe Grey has neglected his detective work with the Molina Point Police Department. Before his daughter disappeared, Joe found a viciously beaten woman lying near the beach. Now the police investigation has stalled, and the clever feline worries his human colleagues may have missed a vital clue. Joe is also concerned about a family of newcomers whose domestic battles are disturbing the town’s tranquility. Loud and abrasive, the Luthers’ angry arguing, shouting, and swearing in the early hours of the night have neighbors on edge and the cops on alert. One of the couple’s late-night shouting matches masked the sounds of a burglary, and now a criminal is on the loose.

Though the crimes are as crisscrossed as the strands of a ball of yarn, Joe Grey’s cat senses tell him they may somehow be linked. It’s up to the fleet-footed feline and his crime-solving coterie to untangle the mysteries before it’s too late.

My Review:

There is a sadness that permeates this tale  from the very beginning. While in the end good triumphs and evil gets its just desserts, the ending is bittersweet and something about that feels like it’s woven throughout the entire story.

It’s that all of the mysteries – which do, of course, get solved in the end – all have their roots in something not merely awful but also heartbreaking – and they all connect up at the end into one giant ball of wrong that brings a whole lot of grief in its wake – as well as the beginning of healing. And more adventure.

The story begins when a wandering Joe Grey discovers a half-dead woman half-buried in a shallow grave. He breaks into a nearby cottage, and the Molena Point PD receives a phone call from their favorite “snitch” letting them know where to get the body before it becomes a dead body.

As bad as that sounds, we don’t yet know (and neither does Joe Grey) just how that poor woman’s story is going to tangle into the others.

The family that has moved in across the street from Joe Grey’s humans, Clyde and Ryan, does not put the fun in dysfunctional. It’s more like the Luther family is one spark away from taking their regular domestic arguments over the line into the kind of domestic situation that gives police officers everywhere nightmares.

There’s plenty of sadness to be found in that mess, as the adults are at best neglectful and at worst borderline abusive of the pre-teen girl that they have dragged away from her beloved grandfather and equally cherished horse, leaving all three, the girl, the horse, and the grandfather in emotional distress.

A grandfather who not only misses his granddaughter, but one who has put the puzzle pieces together to figure out that his sons and his daughter-in-law are the ones behind the rash of robberies currently in progress in and around Molena Point.

His family is causing no end of trouble for everyone in town, but they are still his family. And he fears, rightly or wrongly, that getting them all locked up will see his granddaughter lost to him in the bowels of family services hell.

Just as it seems that nothing in town is going right, tragedy strikes directly at the heart of Joe Grey’s family when his daughter, the beautiful if occasionally silly half-grown kit Courtney, is kidnapped (catnapped?) by someone who promises her a life at the center of worshipful crowds IF she is willing to live that pampered life in a gilded cage.

Joe is frantic at the loss of Courtney, heartsore at the plight of Mindy, and worried at the situation of the woman he rescued. When it all comes together, it also falls apart. With deadly results.

Escape Rating B: With a cozy series like Joe Grey’s, the reader comes to expect a lighthearted tone to even some of the darkest investigations. And much of this series is pretty light and fluffy – as fluffy as the cats’ fur.

But this entry isn’t the least bit fluffy. It also ends on more of a fantasy note than has been seen in this series in a while, in spite of the series origins in the author’s contemporary fantasy novel The Catswold Portal. The speaking cats all have their origins in that realm beyond the portal, and it’s time again for one of them to make the journey into that Netherworld.

But not before we all work our way through everything current wrong in Molena Point.

So much is wrapped up in the dysfunction of the Luther family. Zebulon doesn’t seem like a bad sort, so one has to wonder what warped all of his kids – but his progeny are all seriously bad. That he doesn’t want to turn in his own kids while still needing to turn in his own kids is a dilemma that no parent wants to face no matter how criminal those kids turn out to be as adults. That he turns his depression over his granddaughter being forced to move out into a determination to discover just how wrong his sons have gone leads to nowhere but grief for all concerned.

It’s a sad situation that permeates the story. Readers will find themselves wondering why, when every adult for miles around knows that young Mindy is being neglected if not abused, no one can manage to rescue her. In the end, she has to rescue herself and her grandfather. And she’s not even a teenager yet!

The situation with Courtney felt a bit odd. It seemed like a very weird tangent of the main case, because her kidnappers have catnapped her not because they know she can talk, but because she resembles a lot of historical portraits of magical cats and they think they can wrap an expensive traveling exhibit around her and the art works. This seems more fantastical to me than the speaking cats. YMMV.

There are also a couple of serious notes among Joe Grey’s circle that add to the atmosphere. Joe Grey himself, with his feline instincts and human intelligence, seems to have more and deeper questions about who and what he is and what it all means as the series goes on. His attitude is maturing in ways that make him question the meaning of it all – and that scare him, if he would admit to being scared – out of at least a couple of his nine lives.

The other thing I’m wondering about as a reader is the dilemma faced by Charlie Harper, the police chief’s wife. Charlie knows about the cats, her husband does not, in spite of the number of incredibly excellent tips the police have received from their elusive snitches. Max is suspicious of Joe Grey in particular, and Charlie is lying to her spouse. That’s a situation I expect to come to a nasty head in some future book in the series.

But speaking of future books, I love this series, and always look forward to my next trip to Molena Point for more adventures with Joe Grey, Dulcie and their clowder of speaking cats. This particular book was a bit darker than I expected, but I still enjoyed checking in with the gang and finding out how everyone is doing.

I’ll be back again next year to see how they’re all getting on, and whether the MPPD has figured out the identity of their favorite snitches yet!

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa EvansOld Baggage by Lissa Evans
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Harper Perennial on April 16, 2019
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The author of the acclaimed Crooked Heart returns with a comic, charming, and surprisingly timely portrait of a once pioneering suffragette trying to find her new passion in post-WWI era London.

1928. Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never given up the fight and the young women who are just discovering it.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that the title of this book is a bit of a pun. The main character, Mattie Simpkin, is referred to as an “old baggage”, meaning a cantankerous old woman. But the point of this story is that she is also carrying a lot of “old baggage”, as in emotional baggage. And that the old baggage actually isn’t carrying her old baggage terribly well, leading to the crisis point in the story.

Mattie is also fond of sprinkling her speech with quotations from authors, historians and philosophers. There’s one that’s used in the book, and is extremely appropriate to the story, even if there seems to be some debate on who originated it.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And so it proves for Mattie Simpkin.

At first, this seemed to be a simple story about someone whose glory days were long behind them – and that same person’s inability to cope with that fact. But it’s not nearly that simple.

As the story begins, it’s 1928. Mattie is in her late 50s, and while she may not think of herself as old, it’s clear that others around her do. (I found this poignant and ironic at the same time as I’m older than Mattie but don’t see myself that way at all. It’s true that “old” starts at least 15 years past one’s own age)

Once upon a time, Mattie was one of the celebrated (and frequently derided) suffragists that marched, agitated and were jailed to goad the powers-that-were to grant women in Britain the right to vote. (It wasn’t any better in the U.S.)

The right was granted, under rather stringent conditions, in 1918 in the exhausted aftermath of World War I. At which point the movement towards women’s equality collapsed. (If this sounds familiar, let’s just say the pattern repeats).

But Mattie has never given up the fight, and ten years later she is still on the lecture circuit, attempting to enlist a new generation of women into the cause. She’s failing, and her lectures are increasingly poorly attended.

The situation changes when an old frenemy comes back into her life, and Mattie is galvanized into bringing young girls of her present some of the same educational and recreational experiences that formed her character. The problem is that her frenemy is plumping for the nascent Nazi party.

And Mattie’s need to prove herself to someone who has never had any intention but to bring her down and keep her there has no end of bad consequences. For Mattie, for her best friend Florrie, and especially for the girls and young women they have taken under their wings.

Escape Rating B+: At first, it didn’t seem like a whole lot happened in this book. Looking back on it, not a whole lot does – at least not in the sense of groundbreaking or earthshaking adventure. But there is plenty of drama underneath the quiet surface.

Initially, Mattie seems like somewhat of a comic figure. She’s an old battle axe who doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s time to put the axe up on the wall. While her mannerisms can be amusing, and her stubbornness is plenty infuriating to her friends and neighbors, she’s also right. Those two things don’t cancel each other out.

The cause was not won, only placated a bit. The fight was not over. Women were not equal. (They still aren’t) But Mattie’s methods don’t do her any favors, and she alienates as many people as she convinces. Probably alienates more people than she convinces.

The quiet drama in the story is the way that Mattie gets led astray, not so much from her cause as from her bedrock straightforward way of going about it.

Because while Mattie may be an old baggage, there are also a couple of nasty pieces of baggage who are deliberately, or not so deliberately, undermining her efforts. And her sense of self is what suffers along the way.

It’s when she finally comes back to herself that she is finally offered that opportunity to be what she might have been. And it’s her redemption that she takes it.

In the end, Old Baggage was nothing like I expected. But it was a charming read every step of the way.

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. ColesWinds of Marque: Blackwood Virtue by Bennett R. Coles
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Blackwood & Virtue #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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"Bennett R. Coles ranks among my go-to list in SF. Entertaining and intelligent storytelling and terrific characters. In Winds of Marque, Coles may well have invented a whole new subgenre that has me scrambling for a description--Steam Space?  Whatever you call it, a blast to read. Here's hoping that many more adventures are in the offing for Blackwood and company."  Steven Erikson, New York Times bestselling author

The first novel in an exciting science fiction series—Master and Commander in space—a swashbuckling space adventure in which a crew of misfit individuals in the king’s navy are sent to dismantle a dangerous ring of pirate raiders.

In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing them to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring’s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base.

Posing as traders, Daring’s dashing second-in-command Liam Blackwood and brilliant quartermaster Amelia Virtue infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry.

But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring’s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from below decks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other.

Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Blackwood and Virtue must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander—and their mission—before Daring falls prey to the very pirates she’s meant to be tracking.

My Review:

The blurbs and the reviews for this book say the same two things fairly consistently. One, that it’s a whole lot of fun. Two, that it’s Aubrey and Maturin (Master and Commander) in space.

The first thing is definitely true. Winds of Marque is a whole lot of fun. I’m a bit less sure about the second thing – and I’m saying that as someone who read the entire Aubrey and Maturin series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is a romp of swashbuckling derring-do, but set in space in the distant future – on a Navy ship under letters of marque (government-licensed piracy) with a mission to find the real pirates and wipe them out before humans end up in a war with the insect-like Sectoids.

Our plucky heroes are Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Petty Officer Amelia Virtue. Fraternizing between the ranks is about to become the least of their problems.

Blackwood, second-son of the nobility and Executive Office (XO) of the HMSS Daring, has a reputation for coddling, chivying and generally outmaneuvering dunderheaded noble Captains so that they manage not to kill their entire crews in acts of noble idiocy. He’s unfortunately good at his job – because it’s bad for his career. Someone has to take the blame for the untouchable nobles’ disasters, and it’s generally their frustrated XO.

Virtue is the newly promoted quartermaster of the Daring. She’s relatively young, hyper-competent, and has the combined duty of making sure the Daring is fully supplied without resorting to Naval stores while instructing Blackwood in just how different the life of a commoner ranking sailor is from that of even a second-born noble son.

It’s probably going to be the making of him, if they survive the mess they are currently in.

Because nothing about their mission is exactly what it seems. Not the inexperienced but not unintelligent Captain Lady Sophia Riverton, not the pirates and certainly not the Sectoids.

That there’s a noble fop on board who is just dead certain that he can do everything better than his Naval superiors but social inferiors is nearly the deadly icing on a very explosive cake.

And it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B+: I had a great time while I was reading this. The verve and drive of the narrative really sweeps the reader along. But, I’m not sure how well it holds up upon further reflection. Not that I won’t pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. I did have a great time.

Part of the problem for this reader may be in all those comparisons to the Aubrey and Maturin series. Which was marvelous and excellent and terrific and if you enjoy naval stories or Napoleonic war stories is highly recommended. The audio is particularly good.

One issue, at least so far, is that Blackwood is not analogous to Aubrey (neither is Riverton) and there is no Maturin, at least so far. And that one aspect of the story, the Napoleonic wars in space, has been done before by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series. (It’s also been done in fantasy in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik!)

Where it is similar to the Aubrey and Maturin series is in its detailed descriptions of the working of the ship. That the Daring is a ship powered by “solar sails” makes that resemblance more pronounced, but also a bit out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s that we’ve become so used to FTL (Faster Than Light) ships being sleek and powered internally that solar sails feel less possible (not that FTL drives in general are possible at the present) or that the whole “sailing” aspect feels like an artificial way for the author to insert sailing jargon and terminology that would not otherwise be present.

One aspect of the story, although not the primary aspect, is the developing romance between Blackwood and Virtue. As much as I like both characters, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to sell the romance. While it does take a reasonable amount of time for them to fall in love, because the story is told from Blackwood’s perspective we don’t see enough of Virtue’s thought processes to “feel” their romance. It’s a not nearly enough significant glances and conversations about ship’s business that fall into bed – or rather office floor at a crisis point.

Although this is a navy that has given up on anti-fraternization regulations, these are people from two different worlds that don’t mix. If they are going to be together, there need to be a whole lot more conversations about how that’s going to work. Because what Virtue tells Blackwood is correct – as a noble he can do anything at all to her, up to and possibly including murder but certainly including rape and assault – and he will never be punished because he’s a member of the aristocracy and she’s a commoner. That power imbalance is going to require one hell of a reckoning at some point.

The book this reminds me of the most is The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. That book incorporates its equivalent ship jargon much more smoothly. Transferring the terminology of sailing vessels to an airship that sails the air felt smoother even if the war they are flying in is just as deadly. That story also includes a noble fop, but that one manages to get better – if not less foppish – as the adventure goes along.

The situation that the Daring finds herself in is a well-worn and well-loved trope. The ship of misfit naval personnel go rogue with official sanction but no official backing to do a job that desperately needs to be done – but that no one in the official navy wants to be caught dirtying their hands to actually get done. If they complete their mission someone else will get the glory, but if they fail the survivors will take all the blame.

And it’s so much fun that none of them can resist signing up for another mission. Readers won’t be resisting either!

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Review: Midnight Riot by Ben AaronovitchMidnight Riot (Peter Grant, #1) by Ben Aaronovitch
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Rivers of London #1
Pages: 298
Published by Del Rey on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

My Review:

I’ve had this in my kindle app forever, to the point where I had to check to see exactly how I got it. Finding out that it was 6 years ago was kind of a shocker. I do get around to things eventually, but eventually can clearly be a very long time.

I picked it up now because I have to read the latest book in the Rivers of London series for one of my reviewing commitments and wanted to at least see where it all began.

I was not disappointed. Midnight Riot is a terrific introduction to the Rivers of London and definitely lives up to all the marvelous things that have been said about it.

This book reminds me of so very many things. First, it is absolutely urban fantasy. In some ways, kind of old school urban fantasy, hearkening back to urban fantasy’s roots in the mystery genre.

Because we sure do have a mystery. What we also have is a cop. An honest-to-goodness sworn police officer, Peter Grant, just out of his probationary period in the Metropolitan Police and really hoping to do something more interesting than push paper for his entire career.

Ghost-hunting, however, was not on his career radar. Not even remotely. When the ghost of Nicholas Wallpenny tells PC Grant that he witnessed the previous evening’s sensational murder, Grant isn’t quite sure he believes the evidence being presented right before his eyes. And ears. And slightly stunned brain.

But going back the next night to interview the witness again brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the one man in the Met who will believe him.

The next morning Constable Peter Grant’s career has possibilities that he never even dreamed of. And dangers that may be way, way more than the Academy ever trained him to handle.

Escape Rating A-: First and foremost, I had a whole lot of fun with this one. It’s a terrific book and a great intro to the series.

One of the things that struck me as I read was just how “British” the book felt. It seemed like there were no concessions made for any potential American readers. Either you’ve read enough/seen enough on PBS to get the points where the two nations are divided by the common language, or you don’t.

If you have, it adds to the immersion, as it did for me. If you haven’t, I suspect you spend either a lot of time Googling Britspeak or get bogged down and give up. I was fully immersed from the opening page. Your mileage may vary.

Howsomever, one thing I did wonder about was whether it is/was common practice for single constables to have their living quarters in their stations. Or to at least have that possibility. Because that didn’t feel contemporary to me, I found myself thinking of this as a bit near-future, or at least more alternate history than urban fantasy sometimes is.

After flailing around for what Rivers of London reminded me of most, I think in the end it’s a cross between a police-procedural and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Possibly with a bit of his American Gods added to put some actual deus into the occasional ex machina.

Whatever it is, it’s fascinating. As the first book in the series, Peter Grant finds himself introduced to the world of magic, including the standard opening lessons in his brave new world. As well as a drop into the deep end of the pool (river) when his Chief Inspector is temporarily knocked out of the action by a bullet.

Peter makes for an interesting insider/outsider investigator. He begins as a mixed race man in London, already somewhat of an outsider in spite of having been born there. The story is told from his first-person perspective, which exposes his interior thoughts on being a black man in a white city to the reader in all their world-weary cynicism – particularly when he’s riding the tube.

He’s also the newbie in the world of magic, and everyone seems to want to take advantage of his lack of knowledge – as people frequently tend to do – even if, or especially because they are either deities, genii locorum, or both.

In a fight between gods, ghosts and monsters, Peter feels like the one sane voice attempting to hold it all together. Even during a midnight riot.

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker

Review: Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom BakerDoctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by BBC Books on January 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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What are you afraid of?

In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travellers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.

With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

My Review:

They say that you never forget your first Doctor. The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, was mine. The first episode I saw was The Talons of Weng Chiang. It was the late 1980s and Doctor Who was broadcast on WTTW in Chicago at 11 pm every Sunday night. It says a whole lot about a whole lot of things that my hour or so with the Doctor every weekend was often the high point of my week.

Listening to Tom Baker read his own Doctor Who novel was like stepping back into my very own TARDIS, and taking a trip back in time and space to those long ago nights – when both of us were a LOT younger. I heard his voice now, but the picture in my head was of my Doctor, then.

And it made for a marvelous adventure.

The Fourth Doctor with Harry and Sarah Jane

The adventure itself feels like, or that should be sounds like, pretty much exactly like, one of the stories from the Fourth Doctor’s early years, when his companions were journalist Sarah Jane Smith and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan from UNIT.

The Doctor, along with Sarah Jane and Harry, find themselves on a relatively remote island off the English coast, having been taken there by the Doctor’s somewhat wacky TARDIS. They take advantage of the lovely day but find themselves ambushed by scarecrows of all things. Scarecrows that have taken the places of nearly all the villagers in this little town. By the time the Doctor figures out what has happened to the villagers and what the menacing scarecrows are all about, both he and Harry have been infected by the scarecrow virus.

It then becomes a race against time to find some way of eliminating the scarecrows and saving the remaining villagers – and themselves – before time runs out. And they fail. Only to find themselves in the adventure behind the adventure that was there all along.

What made this adventure particularly suited to an audiobook read by the Doctor is that the readers are not observing this adventure at third-hand. Instead, the Doctor is on trial – yes, again – in front of the assembled Time Lords who, as usual, are not at ALL amused by his recent behavior. Or his previous behavior (or even his future behavior).

So the story is the Doctor’s testimony, as he is telling the Time Lords what happened, what he did, and why he did it. In the audio, as he tells it to them – along with forays into his thoughts about the proceedings, the interruptions to the proceedings and the jeering from his Time Lord audience – we’re in his head, hearing him tell the story to them – and to us.

Let’s just say that in this instance the first person voice really, really works. The Doctor, MY Doctor, told me a fantastic story of one of his adventures.

And I loved every single minute of it.

Escape Rating A+: This is the point where I simply squee in delight.  I had a ball, to the point where I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, often while on a treadmill in the midst of other people who must have thought I was a loon.

But then, a lot of Time Lords firmly believe that the Doctor, particularly in this incarnation, was a loon. That he often behaved like one may have added a bit to that belief. More than a bit.

This story reads, or particularly listens, like one of the best of the Fourth Doctor’s madcap (with serious bits) adventures. If you enjoyed “Classic” Who, you’ll love this too. (I fully recognize that I am giving this an A+ because I loved every single second of it. I’m well aware that this is a book, and an experience, that won’t work nearly as well for someone who is not a fan.)

At the same time, the story also feels like Tom Baker’s love letter to the character he played so long and so well, two of his companions, particularly one of his obvious favorites, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as to the arc of the character and the series as a whole.

There are loving (and accurate) references to not only his three predecessors in the role, but also to the future, including a particularly heartfelt interchange with Thirteen. There’s also a sequence in the TARDIS where Sarah Jane Smith sees the arc of her whole life in pictures. The pictures she described were instantly recognizable as scenes not only from previous events in her life, but as future events, including scenes from her later appearances in the show in the episode School Reunion and her own Sarah Jane Adventures.

I’m not ashamed to say that those scenes made me tear up a bit, as did Sarah Jane’s letter to the Doctor in the postscript.

The adventure of Scratchman both travels well-worn and well-loved paths with the Doctor, and goes to places that the reader/listener does not expect. And it’s a lovely trip though a very personal time machine every step of the way.

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora GossThe Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical mystery
Series: Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1
Pages: 402
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on June 20, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

My Review:

The apostrophe is in the wrong place. Because this story is really the strange case of the alchemists’ daughters. There are, or were, entirely too many alchemists, and their daughters, well, their daughters are the heroines of this tale.

Every last one of them. Even Diana.

With an able assist from Sherlock Holmes. And occasionally the other way around.

The story begins with Mary Jekyll. Yes, that Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll is long dead, but not until after he transferred the family wealth – which was considerable once upon a time, to a bank account in Budapest under someone else’s name.

Mary and her mother have been barely scraping by on her mother’s life income, with a bit of help from selling everything in the family home that isn’t nailed down. But Mary’s mother has just died, along with that life income.

Mary is broke. She has a house that no one wants to buy, furnished with the few items that were so worn or broken that no one would buy those, either.

Into her rather threadbare lap a mystery is dropped. She discovers that her mother had a secret bank account to pay for the maintenance of “Hyde” in a charitable home for Magdalens. There is, or at least was, a £100 reward for information leading to the capture of Edward Hyde at a time when  £100 was a veritable fortune.

Mary appeals to Sherlock Holmes to discover whether the reward is still available, and finds herself dragged into the middle of one of Holmes’ cases. Someone is murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel. Again.

Not Jack the Ripper this time, not that this perpetrator doesn’t have at least as much surgical skill as old “Leather Apron”. Because this murderer isn’t cutting his victims up indiscriminately. He’s taking body parts – a different part each time.

Standing in Whitechapel, over the partially vivisected corpse of poor Molly Keen, Mary Jekyll finds the purpose of her life.

But it takes her sister, Diana Hyde (yes, that Hyde) to reveal to her that she’s a monster. A monster just like all of the alchemists’ daughters.

And it’s glorious.

Escape Rating A+: I had this on my kindle, but for some reason did not get around to it when it first came out. A fact which now surprises me, as the presence of Sherlock Holmes in pretty much anything usually has me eager to start it.

But I found it again, on sale from Audible, and this time dove right in. I was utterly captivated from the very first scene. To the point where about halfway through I couldn’t stand not knowing what came next, and switched from the marvelous audio to the book so I could finish faster. And immediately got the second book (European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) in audio because I was having so much fun!

What makes this story so refreshing is that unlike the Sherlock Holmes canon or most Victorian (and entirely too many other eras) the entire story is told from the perspective of the women. Holmes is assisting Mary in her case while she assists him in his. While he may not think of her as an equal, he certainly doesn’t treat her much differently, or honestly much better or worse, than he does Watson.

The story here is one of discovery. Mary discovers the truth of her identity as well as her purpose. Because this is the story of the creation of the Athena Club, which becomes both a sisterhood and a home.

A sisterhood of monsters, and a home for same.

It’s so much fun because all of the women have different histories, different voices, and they each get to tell their own stories. That we see both the stories and the writing of them is part of the fun as the narrative alternates between the case that Mary finds herself in the midst of and the actual writing of that case, with all of the women in the room participating, or sometimes obstructing, the writing thereof.

These are all women from literature whose stories were originally, and generally unfaithfully, told by the men who created them (one way or another) without their input or consent. So it is empowering to hear their voices tell their stories. It is telling that the one time a woman did tell one of their stories, she left her out so that she could someday, hopefully, tell her own.

As she does.

It is also an absolute hoot to hear their arguments over those stories. And it’s marvelous to watch them take control of their own lives, in spite of the tiny box that society wants to place them in just because they’re women.

They see themselves as monsters because of their fathers’ experiments on them. Society sees them as monsters because they have broken open the cage that society wants to place them in.

And that’s what makes the story so glorious. And so much delightful – and occasionally grisly – fun.

Reviewer’s Note: Whoever labeled this YA must have had their brain removed like poor Molly Keen.

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda JamesArsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #6
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on February 15, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In Athena, Mississippi, librarian Charlie Harris is known for his good nature—and for his Maine coon cat, Diesel, that he walks on a leash. Charlie returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but taking the plunge into a recent acquisition will have him in over his head…   Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. The books were recently discovered among the personal effects of an ancestor of Mrs. Long’s husband. The mayor would like Charlie to preserve and to substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Andrew, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.   Andrew’s rival for his party’s nomination is Jasper Singletary. His Southern roots are as deep as Andrew’s, and his family has been bitter enemies with the Longs since the Civil War. Jasper claims the Long clan has a history of underhanded behavior at the expense of the Singletarys. His allegations draw the interest of a local reporter who soon asks to see the diaries. But she mysteriously vanishes before Charlie has a chance to show them to her…   Now Charlie is left with a catalog of questions. Even if the diaries turn out to be fakes, they could still be worth killing for. One thing is certain: Charlie will need to be careful, because the more he reads, the closer he could be coming to his final chapter…

My Review:

I picked this to read this week because this is National Library Week. I was looking for something that related to libraries in some way, and I was in the mood for a little bit of comfort reading. Any entry in the Cat in the Stacks series always fills both of those requirements!

I think that my friend Attila the Archivist would have a field day with this one. Not only does she love cats (Diesel is always a sweetie) but the mystery revolves around some Civil War diaries that are donated to the local university archives, and there’s a lot in here about proper handling of fragile material, the necessity of preservation, and just how much time and effort goes into preparing material for the collection and ultimate use by scholars.

And all of that mostly factual (I think, I’m not an archivist) information serves as the raisins in what turns out to be this very tasty Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie of a case.

(Diesel the cat always tries to get the cookies, but raisins aren’t good for cats. His human, Charlie Harris, seems to love Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and gets tempted by them fairly often in the story.)

The archival parts of this story begin when one of the prominent local families in tiny Athena Mississippi donates four volumes of Civil War-era diaries to the university archives. The Long family has been prominent in Athena since its founding in the early 1800s, and there will be plenty of history students at the university who will look to those diaries for research papers once they are available for use.

But archivist/librarian Charlie Harris is besieged from the moment the diaries are placed in his care. A local reporter demands access before the diaries have even been properly evaluated. And one of the history professors demands exclusive access to those same diaries – even more loudly and rudely – the moment they arrive in Charlie’s hands.

Things get crazier from there, as they often do when Charlie gets involved. He seems to be a magnet for trouble – and murder. Or he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. (Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending upon one’s perspective. The local police detective seems to be of two minds about this. As one might imagine!)

The diaries are stolen. Then they’re mysteriously returned. And then, that loud and rude professor gets murdered. Charlie and those diaries find themselves in the thick of the case – and caught in the middle of a local political race that shouldn’t relate to 150-year-old diaries but somehow does just the same.

This is a case where words matter. Even words written over a century and a half ago. Or perhaps especially over those words.

Escape Rating B: I had a terrific time with this story – a terrific time that was certainly enhanced by the inclusion of a short story at the end that finally tells the tale of when Charlie met Diesel.

There are two things that I really love about this series. One is that the author is very clearly “one of us” librarians. Charlie Harris didn’t necessarily have to be a librarian, but since he is, it is important, at least to me, that he seem realistic. If he weren’t it would throw me (and probably most librarians) totally out of the story. The series is popular and ongoing, so it’s clear that the author managed to straddle the line between satisfying those of us “in the know” while still entertaining general readers.

Charlie Harris is a librarian that I’d love to have coffee with at any conference. And he’d fit right in.

The other thing is that while Diesel is most definitely large and in charge and utterly adorable, he’s just a cat. An extremely large cat – although not unrealistically so – but just a cat. He’s good at the things that cats are good at, bad at – and in the same manner – the things that cats are bad at. But he’s not more than felinely intelligent – if a bit high on the feline intelligence scale. But then, I’ve had cats of my own who were high on that scale – and also one who was extremely dim. There’s a range and Diesel fits within it.

This is my way of saying that series like The Cat Who and Sneaky Pie Brown and my personal favorite Joe Grey may be a lot of fun, but most cats should be cats and not detectives.

The case in this book turned out to be fascinating in a number of ways. One part of it was the application of the old saw about “academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small.” The corner of this mess that revolves around the tenure chase and the emotions engendered feels very realistic – even though that part of the case gets a bit far-fetched.

There’s also a lot about family history and family reputations and long-held grudges and resentments and how all of that plays out in the political arena. As well as more than a bit about the corruption of politics and just how the need to protect both a legacy and a reputation in that field can lead many people astray.

And at the heart of it all is the diary of a sometimes flighty young woman who matured at a time when the world was falling down around her. As well as the havoc she inadvertently wrecked and the strength she found to endure.

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat SebastianA Duke in Disguise (Regency Imposters, #2) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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One reluctant heir

If anyone else had asked for his help publishing a naughty novel, Ash would have had the sense to say no. But he’s never been able to deny Verity Plum. Now he has his hands full illustrating a book and trying his damnedest not to fall in love with his best friend. The last thing he needs is to discover he’s a duke’s lost heir. Without a family or a proper education, he’s had to fight for his place in the world, and the idea of it—and Verity—being taken away from him chills him to the bone.

One radical bookseller

All Verity wants is to keep her brother out of prison, her business afloat, and her hands off Ash. Lately it seems she’s not getting anything she wants. She knows from bitter experience that she isn’t cut out for romance, but the more time she spends with Ash, the more she wonders if maybe she’s been wrong about herself.

One disaster waiting to happen

Ash has a month before his identity is exposed, and he plans to spend it with Verity. As they explore their long-buried passion, it becomes harder for Ash to face the music. Can Verity accept who Ash must become or will he turn away the only woman he’s ever loved?

My Review:

I finished this a week or so ago, but unlike my usual habit, I did not immediately write up the review. It took me a few days to figure out why I didn’t want to revisit the book.

I think it’s that I was disappointed.

I expected to love this book. The first book in the series, Unmasked by the Marquess, was filled with light and verve and was just amazeballs. The author had managed to take a genre that has been done to death and took it into an entirely new direction with its genderqueer heroine (Robin thinks of herself as “she”, so she is the heroine, after all) and its unashamedly bisexual hero.

That they don’t just find each other, but fall in love and marry, and that the titular Marquess loves Robin exactly as she is, male clothing, behavior and ALL, was remarkably refreshing. And a whole lot of fun.

After that, and after her two highly regarded male/male Regency series, The Turners and Seducing the Sedgwicks, I was expecting something other than the rather traditional male/female romance I got in A Duke in Disguise.

This is an author whose Twitter bio proclaims her as “writer of Marxist tracts with boning…” In A Duke in Disguise, we got plenty of the Marxist tracts, as heroine Verity Plum heads a publishing house that publishes radical political tracts – and is branching out into publishing very dirty books with plenty of boning.

That Verity is politically active, and that she very definitely works for her living, makes her a bit different from the standard Regency heroine. Verity isn’t just part of the radical political movement, she’s also unashamedly bisexual and is completely unwilling to marry – because marriage will cost her the independence she both needs and prizes.

But the hero of this tale feels like he’s a bit too much cut from the standard Regency hero mold. In fact, he reminds me a teensy bit of the hero of A Most Unlikely Duke (although I liked that book considerably more), in that he has no clue that he is a duke until a series of fortunate (actually unfortunate from his perspective) coincidences returns him to the family who gave him away for adoption when he was a toddler.

Before he discovers he’s a duke, James Ashby makes his living as a highly skilled engraver. He’s the artist who is designing the plates for that dirty book that Verity plans to publish.

Ash, as he’s called, Verity and her brother Roger, have been friends for years, forming a family-of-choice for the seemingly orphaned Ash. However, Ash has been in love with Verity for years – merely too afraid to risk the friendship he needs for a romantic relationship that he’s sure has very little chance of working out.

His angsty pining over Verity gets to be a bit much after awhile – and feels very traditional at the same time – albeit with the proverbial shoe on the other foot. He pines after her, while she is aware of the sexual tension and the risk that it might be more – or might explode in their faces – but it doesn’t break her heart or interfere with her rational processes in quite the same way – at least not for a considerable while into the story.

When Ash discovers he’s the heir to a dukedom, he finally decides to risk a relationship with Verity – because he believes it will be brief. He assumes that once she discovers that he is part of the aristocracy they both loathe, she will leave him behind without a second thought.

And he will have some beautiful but bittersweet memories to keep him warm in the cold company he must keep in order to rescue his aunt and all of his family’s dependents from the murderous impulses of the man who will otherwise inherit the title and the power that goes with it.

In the end, Ash gives up love for duty, and Verity, surprising to both of them, gives up independence for love. It does all tie up neatly with a bow.

I expected more fun and much less tradition.

Escape Rating B-: I was disappointed in comparison with the previous book in the series, but that doesn’t mean that A Duke in Disguise was not a fun read – because it mostly was. I’ll also confess that I thought that Verity was a much more interesting character than Ash – in spite of his sudden and unexpected elevation.

She was different from the usual run of Regency heroines, while still being plausible. Ash, in spite of the illness that caused his family to send him away, felt too much like he was cut from the standard cloth.

The story reminds me rather a lot of Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh, in a couple of important ways. Ash, like the hero of that story, conceals his heritage in order to spend time with the woman he loves – a woman he believes that he will have to give up because of their relative positions in society – and a woman who he believes will not want to be part of that society with the restrictions that it places on the women in it.

Unfortunately, the two books also resemble each other in the way that both were good reads in themselves but slightly disappointing compared to their predecessors in their respective series. Your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. HarrisWho Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr, #14) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #14
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on April 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The death of a fiendish nobleman strikes close to home as Sebastian St. Cyr is tasked with finding the killer to save his young cousin from persecution in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

When the handsome but dissolute young gentleman Lord Ashworth is found brutally murdered, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is called in by Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy to help catch the killer. Just seven months before, Sebastian had suspected Ashworth of aiding one of his longtime friends and companions in the kidnapping and murder of a string of vulnerable street children. But Sebastian was never able to prove Ashworth's complicity. Nor was he able to prevent his troubled, headstrong young niece Stephanie from entering into a disastrous marriage with the dangerous nobleman.

Stephanie has survived the difficult birth of twin sons. But Sebastian soon discovers that her marriage has quickly degenerated into a sham. Ashworth abandoned his pregnant bride at his father's Park Street mansion and has continued living an essentially bachelor existence. And mounting evidence--ranging from a small bloody handprint to a woman's silk stocking--suggests that Ashworth's killer was a woman. Sebastian is tasked with unraveling the shocking nest of secrets surrounding Ashworth's life to keep Stephanie from being punished for his death.

My Review:

In contemporary mystery, it is usually considered a requirement that the investigator be an impartial observer, that he or she not have any relationship to the victim or the possible suspects. Although it is often a plot point that an involved detective pursues the case anyway.

No such restriction hampers Sebastian St. Cyr. His investigations, though often at the behest of Bow Street, are always at least somewhat unofficial. And as a high-ranking member of the aristocracy during the Regency, it’s not as if a Bow Street Runner, no matter how high-ranking within the still-rudimentary force, could tell him what to do in any case.

This is ironically similar to the situation that surrounds the dead man, Lord Ashworth. Sebastian St. Cyr knew the man and loathed him, as did seemingly everyone who crossed the man’s path. A path that includes, unfortunately, St. Cyr’s beloved niece Stephanie.

She has the misfortune to be married to the man. A man who St. Cyr was certain was guilty of multiple brutal murders of young street children. (That story is in Where the Dead Lie.) But just as St. Cyr can’t be ordered about because of his rank, Ashworth was too highly ranked to ever be held accountable for his many, many crimes.

It seems all too fitting that Ashworth, a known sexual sadist, was found naked, tied to his own bed and hacked to death by so many stab wounds that it is impossible to ascertain the murder weapon. Only that the killing was extremely vicious and certainly personal.

The problem for St. Cyr is that he’s a bit sorry he didn’t do the job himself, but he fears that his niece may have done. She had plenty of motive – she’s just far from the only person who had plenty.

As much as St. Cyr feels relieved that this killer has been put out of his niece’s – and the entire city’s – misery, when the dead reprobate turns out to be merely the first in a host of corpses, he needs to figure out who slew this very wicked man – before that person kills another innocent – and before his niece is officially charged with the crime.

Although the murder of Ashworth and his procurer could be considered a public service, the murder of the innocents who might have chanced to know just a bit about the crime is not.

St. Cyr must seek the truth, no matter how dangerous the places to which it leads – or how many people try to stop him – permanently.

Escape Rating A: This series is dark and gritty and fascinating at every turn. This particular entry sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the last – at 2 am.

But fair warning, if you love the glitz and glitter of the Regency era that was popularized by Georgette Heyer and is the way that the Regency is most often portrayed, this series may not be for you. Because this series explores the extremely seedy underbelly of the Regency. It drags what has been swept far under the carpet into the light of day and has a lot of trenchant things to say about the divide between rich and poor, the extreme privilege of the aristocracy and the trampling of pretty much everyone from the lowest rag-and-bone picker to the solidly middle class.

The glitter of the Regency rested on one hell of a lot of garbage, and this series pokes into it all. It’s not a pretty sight – nor is it meant to be..

What makes this particular case so compelling is that we, and St. Cyr, know that Ashworth was rotten to the core. And even if one has not (yet) read Where the Dead Lie, St. Cyr’s investigation provides more than enough information about Ashworth’s actual crimes and his pure contempt for pretty much everyone other than himself to make the reader every bit as glad the man is dead as St. Cyr.

That he got away with so much not just disgusting but outright criminal behavior is its own indictment of both the man and the society that allows him to prey on so many people.

We also see St. Cyr’s conflict over the whole affair. He wanted the man dead. He knows Ashworth was guilty of so much. And yet, he needs to find justice. Not just to keep the accusations away from his niece, but also to keep the new predator from continuing his spree.

Part of what makes St. Cyr such a fascinating hero is the way that he deals with his own privilege and his own demons. Because he has plenty of both. But it’s his demons that drive him to assist Bow Street, no matter how many powerful people – including his own father-in-law – warn him off, over and over again.

This case, like many that St. Cyr involves himself with, has political implications that loom over the investigation. In this particular case it’s the visit by one of the Tsar’s sisters, in anticipation of the defeat of Napoleon and what will be intense political machinations over the ensuing treaty.

That one of the Princess’s noble attendants was one of the dead man’s many playmates adds to the complications, while the impending defeat of Napoleon seems like a hazy dream. The war has gone on for so very long, and has left so many scarred. St. Cyr included.

This series is dark and gritty and fascinating and compelling. While I haven’t managed to read every book (I need more round tuits to catch up!), every single one that I have read has been gripping from the opening pages – no matter how long its been since my last foray into St. Cyr’s world.

And the reveal of who slew this wicked man was a surprise and a shock and a marvelous conclusion to this dark, decadent and delicious story. I’ll be back for St. Cyr’s next investigation!