Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth

Review: The Branson Beauty by Claire BoothThe Branson Beauty (Sheriff Hank Worth, #1) by Claire Booth
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Sheriff Hank Worth #1
Pages: 310
Published by Minotaur Books on July 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.
But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.
In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation.

My Review:

The Branson Beauty is an old paddle-wheel showboat, and the book about the events of her last cruise will stick the reader as fast between its pages as the poor old boat is stuck to the shoal its grounded on.

It really was supposed to be a “three-hour tour”, so when the Branson Beauty runs aground, and her passengers find themselves stranded aboard for much, much longer, the number of rescue workers who end up humming the Gilligan’s Island theme seem inevitable. Also hilarious.

But Sheriff Hank Worth stops finding any humor in the situation when he discovers the ship’s captain comatose and locked inside his piloting cabin. The situation turns downright grim when the Sheriff discovers the dead body of a local track star locked inside the captain’s private dining room.

Mandy Bryson was supposed to be away at college in Norman Oklahoma, running track and studying English at Oklahoma University, not dead on an aging cruise ship with finger-shaped bruises clearly circling her throat.

Worth is literally the new sheriff in town. When the previous sheriff moved up to the state legislature, his term as sheriff needed to be filled. Hank, an experienced officer from Kansas City, thought he was ready for a management role. He was certainly ready to move from KC to Branson, where his father-in-law was available to serve as a live-in babysitter for Hank and his wife Maggie’s children. Maggie is on constant call as a surgeon in the local hospital, and Hank’s hours as sheriff are far from predictable at the best of times. Her father needs a bit of their help, and they need heaping helpings of his.

Between the grounding of a local institution, and the murder of a home-town heroine, Hank has his hands overfull. This is his first homicide in Branson, and the first local homicide in a long time that wasn’t a screamingly easy case to solve of drug deals gone wrong or domestic battery gone deadly.

This case is a puzzle from beginning to end, not because the victim had no enemies, but because there are too many competing means, motives and even crimes for Hank to zero in on what parts thwarted young love, stalking, affluenza and insurance fraud played in Mandy’s death.

Or perhaps all of them did.

Escape Rating A-: This one grabbed me from the first undertone hum of “a three-hour tour” and didn’t let me go until I turned the final page. The mystery at the heart of this story kept me turning pages every spare minute all day long.

And that mystery is convoluted as it unfolds, but makes complete sense once it is all revealed. It kept me guessing from beginning to end. The red herrings are all delicious, and all the more convincing for often being partially correct while not necessarily contributing to the solution of the whole.

The author also does an excellent job of conveying the depths of the grief and sadness that consumes not just the family but the whole small community when a young and promising life is cut short so senselessly.

But The Branson Beauty, in addition to being a crackerjack mystery, is also the first book in a new series, and has to introduce its setting and its characters, preparing readers for the stories yet to come. We need to learn who these people are, and why we should care about what happens to them.

In that regard, The Branson Beauty is off to a good start, but there is plenty of work yet to do. This case is overwhelming, and Hank Worth is often overwhelmed by it as well as the responsibilities he has taken on as the sheriff of Branson. He’s still adjusting to his new job and to the small town politics he now must contend with. When his appointment is up in a few short months, Hank will need to run for re-election. To do that he not only has to please his constituents, but has to learn to play with the politicians who are both his peers and his rivals, and in some cases even his bosses. The county commissioners, after all, set his budget.

So while there’s a murder to be solved, that’s not the only crime that Hank uncovers, nor is it the only trail he has to follow. Some of those trails lead him into the murky undergrowth of political corruption and influence peddling, and the reality that the county’s biggest employer has too many ways of influencing people and institutions to look the other way as he bends and even breaks the law. Hank has a tough road ahead of him, and he’s only taken the first steps – possibly even the wrong ones.

The one place where The Branson Beauty needs a little work is in the development of the characters who inhabit Hank’s world. Only one member of his police force stands out, and only because she seems to be the lone female in the ranks, even if she is Hank’s second-in-command. Likewise, it took me quite a ways into the book to figure out whether the female at home Hank referred to was his wife or his daughter, and what she did and where she fit. (It’s his wife and she’s as overworked as he is) I left the story still not certain what the precipitating event was that sent Hank and Maggie to Branson, but I know there was one. I’m looking forward to discovering the answers to all these questions and more in future books. The next book in the series, Another Man’s Ground, is already on my reading schedule this month.

While the boat may have run aground, the story never does. It chugs along quickly and compellingly from its comic opera beginnings to its inevitably sad but ultimately satisfying resolution. I can’t wait to see what mystery Hank has to solve next.

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda James

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda JamesFile M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks, #3) 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 #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 31st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Athena College's new writer in residence is native son and playwright Connor Lawton, known for his sharp writing- and sharper tongue. After an unpleasant encounter, librarian Charlie Harris heads home to a nice surprise: his daughter Laura is subbing for another Athena professor this fall semester. It's great news until he hears who got her the job: her old flame, Connor Lawton...
Fearing competition for Connor's affections, one of his admirers tries to drive Laura out of town. And then, before Connor finishes the play he is writing, he is murdered- and Laura is the prime suspect. Knowing she's innocent, Charlie and his faithful sidekick, Diesel, follow Connor's cluttered trail of angry lovers, bitter enemies, and intriguing research to find the true killer before his daughter is forever cataloged under "M"- for murderer.

My Review:

I am predisposed to like this series. The amateur sleuth is a 50-something librarian named Harris who loves his enormous cat. Said cat is excellent at providing aid and comfort (but mostly comfort) to anyone in his orbit who needs it, and sometimes serves as a great sounding board for his human.

We all talk to our cats, and we all believe that they understand at least some of what we say, and vice versa. Diesel, while rather large for a cat, because Maine Coons are very large cats, acts like a cat a bit on the high end of feline intelligence. But no more than that. One of the things I love about Diesel is that he never does anything that cats don’t do – albeit writ somewhat large. It’s not uncommon for Maine Coon cats to be three feet long from nose to tail, and for the males to top out at over 20 pounds. Diesel is a big, handsome boy with a purr that sounds like, you guessed it, a diesel engine.

And Charlie Harris is very much a librarian. I can easily identify with what he does at work, and why he does it. And also why he loves the parts of this job that he loves, and dislikes the parts he doesn’t love. He rings true as “one of us”. Except for that fascinating habit he has of getting involved in murder. Like so many fictional small town amateur detectives, he does have a gift for tripping over dead bodies and inserting himself into police investigations. It’s a knack that the local police detective finds more annoying than endearing, to say the least.

This particular case hits rather close to home. On the plus side, Charlie’s daughter Laura is home in Athena for the summer, teaching a drama class at the local college where Charlie works. On the minus side, she got the temporary gig through the influence of this year’s resident playwright at the university. And Connor Lawton is a major pain in the ass. Not just to Charlie, but to every single person he comes in contact with. He’s rude, arrogant and downright nasty to all, and no one likes him one bit.

He’s one of those people who is just such a big arsehole that no one seems to mourn him when he’s found dead in his apartment. Rather, the long line of people who might want to do him in stretches rather far.

But once Connor is out of the way, whoever is behind his death turns their gaze upon Laura Harris, and her family finds itself under threat from all sides. Charlie, as usual, feels like it’s all up to him to figure out whodunit – before the killer manages to either kill his daughter or burn down his house with everyone inside.

Escape Rating B: This series is always a good time. I got hooked when I picked up Twelve Angry Librarians, and so far I have yet to be disappointed by a single trip to Athena, Mississippi. I grabbed this one because I bounced hard off of two books, and needed something that I knew would draw me right in, and File M for Murder certainly delivered.

The mysteries in this series are definitely cozy. And not just because Diesel, like all Maine Coons, is a very furry cat. Athena, Mississippi is a small college town, and everyone pretty much does know everyone. When Charlie needs to find the dirt on someone living in town, he knows just who to ask. And when he has to do research on someone’s past doings, he knows just which library has all the resources he needs, as well as the skill to use them.

There are plenty of cat mysteries, but one of the things that I like best about this series is that Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, but just a cat. He doesn’t do anything that cats don’t do. Even in this particular story, where there is one point where Diesel really does save the day, he does it by smelling something off and meowing about it until he gets his human’s attention. Not all of us receive letter bombs (thank goodness) but that a cat would sniff out that the thing just smells “wrong” in a big way is quite possible.

It’s not that I don’t love Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series, because I do, but one talking cat mystery series is probably enough. Or at least it is for this reader.

Another thing that I enjoy about this series is that Charlie is not always the first person to solve the mystery, the best person to solve the mystery, or even the person who saves the day by solving the mystery. In Charlie’s cases, he does get in the way of the police as often as he helps them. He doesn’t always do the cliche thing of getting all the suspects together for the big reveal. Sometimes the solution is anti-climactic, and Charlie is a step behind the police. It feels more human, and more likely, that an amateur sleuth would be as much of a hindrance as a help, while it still gives the reader a chance to put the pieces together along with Charlie, mistakes and all.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy and fun mystery series, with lovely people in an interesting setting, check out Charlie and Diesel. You don’t have to start with Murder Past Due (I didn’t) – this series is just good cozy fun wherever you jump in.

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann

Review: The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne BrockmannThe Admiral's Bride (Tall, Dark & Dangerous, #7) by Suzanne Brockmann
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military romance, romantic suspense
Series: Tall, Dark & Dangerous #7
Pages: 256
Published by Mira Books on April 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

His mission was to pretend that Zoe Lange, beautiful young scientist—nearly half his age!—was his new bride. Former Navy SEAL Jake Robinson was sure that his romantic years were behind him, but for God and for country, he would look into Zoe’s beautiful dark eyes, kiss her senseless, hold her as if he would never let her go... and then, when the job was done, do just that.

The only problem was, with each hour in Zoe’s company, the stakes were becoming higher. The game more real. And the dangers within their "honeymoon" chamber more and more apparent...

My Review:

I borrowed this one from the library because I was jonesing for a good older man/younger woman romance. I read a lot of fanfic, and one of the pairings that I’m following from a video game I’m playing deals with this trope, so I had a taste for it. And I’ll admit that I was looking for one where the story was finished. As much as I love fanfic, one of the problems with reading a lot of it is that even the best stories don’t always get finished, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

But it gave me a yen for a story with this trope, and browsing the Goodreads list brought this one to the top. That it also reminds me a another fanfic pairing was an added bonus.

The Admiral’s Bride was originally written in 1999. Technology has changed, and has certainly become more ubiquitous. On that other hand, the terrorist militia group that the Admiral and his Bride have to infiltrate could be ripped from today’s headlines. Technology may change, but human nature doesn’t seem to.

The Admiral in this story is Jake Robinson. And he really is an Admiral, or at least he is now. But he’s a former Navy SEAL, and Admiral is the nickname that his unit gave him back in Vietnam, where he seems to have made it his own personal mission to rescue units that Command said couldn’t be saved from the enemy.

The hospital started keeping track, calling the men he saved “Jake’s Boys”. There were nearly 500 of them by the end, and one of the last ones was intelligence agent Zoe Lange’s father. As Zoe wasn’t conceived until after her dad came home from Vietnam, Zoe quite literally owes Jake Robinson her life.

She’s hero-worshipped him from afar for almost her entire life. Which does add a certain amount of complication when they finally meet face-to-face. Because the man hasn’t lost a scintilla of his looks or his charisma in the 30 years since ‘Nam. He’s already the fuel for entirely too many of Zoe’s fantasies, but meeting him in real life turns out to be much more electrifying than she ever imagined.

And it’s completely mutual, as much as Jake keeps telling himself it shouldn’t be. He’s only been a widower for three years, and he still thinks of himself as married. Zoe is a member of his team, and should be off-limits. And if that wasn’t enough of a reason to back off, she’s 24 years younger than he is, she couldn’t possibly be interested in him.

But of course she is. And in the circumstances in which they find themselves, pretending a relationship is the only way to get the mission done. And when the pretense turns real, it gives them both a reason to survive.

If the entire mission doesn’t go totally FUBAR first.

Escape Rating B+: This was exactly what I was looking for. So I dove right in and came up for air about four hours later, ready to read the book I was supposed to read (actually yesterday’s review of Cover Fire).

In spite of Cover Fire being science fiction romance and The Admiral’s Bride being an almost 20-year-old contemporary, they have a surprising amount in common. In both cases, the black hats are a repressive, conservative cult conducting terrorist attacks. And in both stories, the man is career military while the woman is an intelligence operative. Both romances feature people who believe that the person they have fallen for could not possibly be interested in them, and that they have no possible future together. The reasons may be different, but the emotions they engender are surprisingly similar.

And both cults contain entirely too many people who are absolutely nucking futz. The crazy, hate-fueled BS gets a bit hard to read. In neither case are the heads of these arseholes places we want to stay for any length of time.

But one does get caught up in both the action and the romance of The Admiral’s Bride. Jake and Zoe are in tremendous danger, and they have to work together (and get their heads out of their emotional asses) in order to survive and succeed.

At the same time, one of the things that this book does well is to air the doubts that are all going through Jake’s head. 24 years is a big age gap. He and Zoe are not at the same places in their lives. It is hard to think about forever with someone, when your version of forever is 20 or 30 years shorter than theirs. The other person is potentially signing up for a lot of pain at the end. There are ways to deal with all of those issues, and this story doesn’t gloss them over. That Zoe’s job is so dangerous actually helps the situation. The mess they are in together brings home the possibility that she could be cut down in the line of duty at any moment.

That this story reminded me of a lot of early NCIS fanfic (which I love) was just a bonus. It was all too easy to see Gibbs as Jake Robinson, even though he’s not nearly tall enough. But it still added to my enjoyment of a story that just plain hit the spot.

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry GreenwoodUrn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #8
Pages: 187
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on April 1st 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The redoubtable Phryne Fisher is holidaying at Cave House, a Gothic mansion in the heart of Australias Victorian mountain country. But the peaceful surroundings mask danger. Her host is receiving death threats, lethal traps are set without explanation, and the parlour maid is found strangled to death. What with the reappearance of mysterious funerary urns, a pair of young lovers, an extremely eccentric swagman, an angry outcast heir, and the luscious Lin Chung, Phrynes attention has definitely been caught. Her search for answers takes her deep into the dungeons of the house and into the limestone Buchan caves. What will she find this time?

My Review:

I bounced hard off the book I intended to read for today. It was so dark and twisted it was literally giving me nightmares. So I switched to a murder mystery, where evil always gets its just desserts – and I don’t have to wade through the disgusting course of its mind in the process.

Urn Burial is the 8th book in the Phryne Fisher historical mystery series by Kerry Greenwood, following immediately after Ruddy Gore. While some events that occurred specifically in both Ruddy Gore and Blood and Circuses do have a slight impact on events, most notably that the nature of the circumstances in both those cases have led Phryne to be willing to attend a country house party far from home, it is not necessary to have read the previous entries in the series to enjoy Urn Burial.

On that other hand, those whose only familiarity with Miss Fisher comes from the TV series may find themselves put off just a bit. Most of the characters in the TV show mirror their counterparts in the books, but there are two notable exceptions. Jack in the books, while a good and intelligent cop, is nothing like Jack in the TV series, being a happily married middle-aged man in the books who likes working with Phryne but has no other relationship with her, nor should he. And Lin Chung, who Phryne meets In Ruddy Gore, is only a one-time dalliance in the TV series, but in the books is her frequent paramour.

Unlike much of the book series, Urn Burial has not been re-released with new covers in the wake of the popularity of the TV series, and those two differences are probably the key.

But I turn to Phryne when I get disgusted with whatever I intended to read. I always enjoy the books, and love the dip back into Phryne’s world alongside her intelligent and intense personality. And Urn Burial was no exception.

This is a country house party mystery. There’s a bit of irony there, as by the time that Urn Burial takes place, the country house party scene has become passe even in its English home, while in Australia there never was such a scene. And there was certainly never such a setting as Cave House. It is described as the kind of amalgamation of weird architectural features that hurts both the eye and the aesthetic sense, with secret passages going in every direction. And it is remote enough that it is regularly cut off from the main road, whenever the river rises too high – or in the case of this story, just high enough.

Like all country house mysteries, this one has attracted more than it’s share of quirky characters, not limited to the host, hostess, Phryne and Lin. And as so often happens in Phryne’s cases, if not in mysteries in general, in spite of the relatively small number of guests and servants, and the isolation, there are not one but three perpetrators operating within the confines of Cave House. It is up to Phryne to sort out exactly who has done what before anyone else winds up dead.

Escape Rating B+: While Phryne is often not very comfortable for those around her, for me she has become a comfort read, and so it proved here. I had a great time with Urn Burial, in spite of the death threats as well as the actual deaths. In the end, Phryne always serves justice. And I needed that rather badly.

The story is both typical for Phryne and atypical for the country house mystery it pokes at. And poke it certainly does. Phryne finds a clue in a copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first Hercule Poirot mystery and the exemplar of the country house mystery.

Another, more tongue-in-cheek poke at the mystery forms created by Dame Agatha Christie was embodied in one of the members of the house party. An elderly lady, knitting quietly in a corner, occasionally inserting a cogent comment adroitly and exactly when and where needed, named Miss Mary Mead. St. Mary Mead was the village where Miss Jane Marple resided, when she was not visiting some friend or relation and solving a crime – usually by sitting in the corner, knitting, and listening with both ears wide open. Miss Mary Mead is Jane Marple in every detail, with one exception. At the end, when all the secrets are revealed, Mary Mead has no problem admitting that she really is a private detective, which Marple never does.

The case here is as convoluted as anything Phryne has ever encountered. It seems to be about inheritances, about fathers and sons and providing, or not, for the next generation. And definitely about taking what one feels one is owed. But in the middle of that, there’s a case of bullying and abuse that threatens everyone in its path, and muddies the waters and motives of all the guests.

Watching Phryne tease out who did what to whom, and why, is always a treat.

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland SandersTender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 96
Published by Amazon Digital Services on May 2, 2017
Amazon
Goodreads

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

When this book was released last week, I was in a fowl, er, foul mood. I couldn’t pinpoint eggs-actly why that was so, I’d just been in a funk for a few weeks. This book brought up nuggets of inspiration that I really didn’t know I had waiting in the wings. So, let’s get right to it.

Guest Review by Amy:

To be fair to this work, we really need to spend some time on this cover image; like most historical romances, the cover art has little-to-nothing to do with the actual content of the book, and here we have an extreme case: Harland Sanders (1890-1980), in his later white-haired years, yet still obviously muscular, carrying a woman wearing “mom jeans” circa 1980s…on the cover of a Regency novel, circa 1811-1820. The art itself was so amusing when it popped up on my Kindle that I had to show my husband, who also laughed himself into a fit. The masterstroke, for both of us, was having her holding a piece of chicken (in her right hand). Let’s not forget the white linen suit with the sleeves cut off–showing off those breathtakingly muscular arms on the…er…handsome Colonel.

Fortunately, perhaps, for us all, the content of the book just doesn’t give us that image of Sanders. What it does deliver is a sharp lampooning of Every. Regency. Ever. Written. I was telling my best friend about this book the morning after reading it, and I likened it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show: campy on its own, but crammed full of inside jokes and jabs at the thing it is lampooning, just as RHPS is full of jabs at the classic cinema. If you don’t understand those jabs, it’s hilarious, but if you do, it’s even funnier.

Lady Madeline Parker is old enough to marry–though, as the book points out, we modern people would not think so. She considers herself a bit of an ugly duckling, of course, though she and her younger sister Victoria both have “the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces.” Madeline’s hair is dark brown and in unruly curls, while Victoria has long, blonde hair. Madeline’s other problem is that she’s really not interested in marrying, certainly not merely for position, as her parents are working to arrange. If she’s to marry, she wants it to be for love, and only then after she’s had a while to roam about and see the world.

For her groom-to-be’s part, he’s quite a dashing gent: Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury. He’s not terribly older than Madeline, which she’s grateful for, but he just doesn’t move her. Little sister Victoria claims he “looks like a fairy-tale prince,” of course, but Madeline isn’t impressed. He’s nice enough, and not ugly, but nothing about him grabs her attention or her interest. “He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” she asserts privately to her sister. Her older brother, Oxford student Winston, is the only person who really gets her, it seems.

Ugly Duckling Who Isn’t, Girl Wants To Break The Pattern, Arranged Marriage, Troublesome Younger Sibling, Wise Older Brother…the only Regency trope we’re missing is the dashing rake who actually does win her affections, at this point.

Madeline must, of course, run away. On the night before her wedding. So, she does. She and her horse, cleverly named Persephone, spend one uncomfortable night in a forest, then one night in a run-down inn, and end up by the sea. Please take note: when you live on an island, all directions will lead you to the sea sooner or later.

She finds a small fishing town. She rides into town, bold as brass, hitches her horse outside a tavern, and strolls in, asking for a job. The head barkeep is, as she surely must be, a non-local; a redheaded, dark-eyed Irish lass named “Caoimhe”. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it, for I haven’t a clue. But ponder the worldly-wise Caoimhe a moment – how many Irish redheads do you know with dark eyes? Yeah, me either. When asked, she tells Madeline where she wound up: the village is named Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea. I kid you not.

The tavern itself, The Admiral’s Arms, is described two different ways in the course of about a page and a half. Madeline enters “a dim place, lit only by the occasional lantern or two, with wooden tables and a fireplace that was currently bare,” but a couple of hours later, as she is learning her job, she’s enjoying a spectacular view, which the tavern exploited “for all it was worth by installing giant windows that showed a view of the harbor and the sea beyond.” This and other glaring continuity errors are peppered throughout, and they just add to the fun.

On her first night there, Madeline must of course meet…Harland Sanders. The most handsome man she’d ever seen, naturally. He was “tall, dressed like a sailor,” with light and fair hair, “framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back and her were almost the exact color of the sea.” Oh, please! This younger avatar of the famously-curmudgeonish Sanders is, of course, Not Who He Appears To Be (yet another great trope). I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending, but serious readers of Regencies could write the rest of this tale easily. At only 96 pages, this tale moves fast, and the utterly-predictable denouement comes at you like a runaway locomotive.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. YUM Brands, the owner of KFC, is releasing this novella as a marketing gimmick, not even as a serious work. There are a number of breathtaking flaws, like the continuity errors I pointed out, the needless wealth of outdated adjectives, and the tired old tropes–but were these errors deliberate? When I look at the piece as a whole, I can’t help but wonder. Will it win a “Pullet-zer” prize? Not a chance. But it was cheep…er, cheap – you’ll shell out at most a dollar for this ebook – and to me, it was a fun, silly read, and a mood-booster that I just didn’t see coming. Don’t take it too seriously; it’s way too campy for that. But if campy is your thing – Tender Wings of Desire might be a sleeper hit for you. Chick lit? Absolutely. But worth crossing the road for, in my opinion.

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

Editor’s Note: When this book showed up on my Facebook feed I was too chicken to read it, so Amy graciously leapt into the breach. Or bucket. I’m very glad she did. I expected the hilarious yet thoughtful review, but had no idea it would also snap her out of a reading slump. And I’m so grateful that Amy was willing to go where no wings have flown before, so that the rest of us don’t have to. I am also grateful that the rating for this one was NOT spicy, because my mind still won’t go there.

For anyone dying of curiosity, this is a real book, and KFC, admittedly with tongue firmly in cheek, released it for a real reason – Mothers’ Day is one of their busiest days of the year. There seem to be nearly 400,000 families who think that the easiest way to give a hard working mother (and they are all hard-working) a night off is to pick up a bucket of chicken from KFC. And I bet there will be even more this year, as people who can’t believe this is a real thing go to KFC to discover if this is a real thing. Which it is, this weekend, free with every $20 Fill-Up Meal. Or for 99 cents at Amazon.

Me, I’m still back at OMG I’m too chicken to read this. Thanks Amy!

Review: Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin Hearne

Review: Grimoire of the Lamb by Kevin HearneThe Grimoire of the Lamb (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #0.4) by Kevin Hearne
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Pages: 64
Published by Del Rey on May 7th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

There's nothing like an impromptu holiday to explore the birthplace of modern civilisation, but when Atticus and Oberon pursue a book-stealing Egyptian wizard - with a penchant for lamb - to the land of the pharaohs, they find themselves in hot, crocodile-infested water.
The trip takes an even nastier turn when they discover the true nature of the nefarious plot they've been drawn into. On the wrong side of the vengeful cat goddess Bast and chased by an unfathomable number of her yowling four-legged disciples, Atticus must find a way to appease or defeat Egypt's deadliest gods - before his grimoire-grabbing quarry uses them to turn him into mincemeat.

My Review:

With great power comes great responsibility, at least according to the Spiderman mythos. But there are plenty of people who want that great power, but want to completely sidestep that whole great responsibility price tag. While history and politics are both littered with the bodies of the victims of those “great” figures, in urban fantasy that shortcut to great power usually travels down the road to hell, often paved with no good intentions whatsoever. That shortcut is nearly always dark magic.

And so it proves in Grimoire of the Lamb.

The Druid now known as Atticus O’Sullivan is 21. That’s 21 centuries old, not 21 years. But his magic keeps him looking much closer to 21 years old, and if that’s what people want to assume, he’s happy to let them.

While Atticus isn’t old enough to have visited Egypt when the pyramids were built, he is more than old enough to have visited Egypt before the Library at Alexandria was burned to the ground. And that long ago bit of library looting is the root of this story.

In the 21st century, Atticus lives in Tempe, near Arizona State University, and owns a shop that sells a combination of new age trinkets, minor magical items for the knowledgeable practitioner, arcane-seeming (and sometimes really arcane) used books and very special herbal teas that help students study just before exams.

While Atticus does seem to sell a few safe or relatively safe used books, most of his collection belongs in the Restricted Section at Hogwarts, or the nearest local equivalent, which happens to be a magically locked case in his shop.

And that case contains at least two books that are on semi-permanent loan from the defunct Library of Alexandria. One is that Grimoire of the Lamb, which Atticus believes is an ancient cookbook. The other is a book he calls Nice Kitty, which he describes somewhat like an illustrated guide to tantric sex to be practiced in the worship of Bast.

Bast is not happy that Atticus has that book. She’s so unhappy, in fact, that Atticus has avoided going to Egypt for centuries. But now he’s stuck.

An evil wizard has just stolen the cookbook, but only after informing Atticus that it isn’t a cookbook. That poor lamb isn’t for dinner, it’s a blood sacrifice to one of the ancient Egyptian gods. And it’s a sacrifice that will let the sorcerer kill his (and his god’s) enemies and place himself in a position of power. Someone has seriously given in to the dark side of the Force, and not just because he discovered the book by conjuring up a demon.

So Atticus, along with his faithful Irish wolfhound Oberon, takes off for Egypt to track down that stolen (or is that re-stolen) book, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: I was looking for something quick and fun, and this certainly filled the bill. I was tempted to say light and fun, but Atticus often isn’t light. There are always plenty of humorous moments, if only within the confines of Atticus’ own thoughts, but there’s also always something darker at work.

And even if Atticus doesn’t provide a lot of levity, Oberon always does. When Bast’s many, many, MANY minions chase Atticus and Oberon through the streets of Cairo, poor Oberon’s attempts to visualize just how many cats are following them nearly breaks the poor dog’s enhanced brain. Bast commands a lot of cats. All the cats. And they all chase Atticus and Oberon with a vengeance. Possibly literally.

Grimoire of the Lamb is a prequel story to the Iron Druid Chronicles. Although it takes place before the absolutely marvelous Hounded, it was written after it, so while it introduces the characters we are familiar with, it also already knows who they are and what they are supposed to be.

This story is more intimate than Hounded in that the only two characters that we are familiar with are Atticus and Oberon. His werewolf lawyer appears in a phone call, but doesn’t participate in the action. This one is all on the druid and his dog.

Especially on Atticus. Just as in Hounded, the story is written in first-person singular, so we are always inside Atticus’ head, even when he’s gibbering to himself in pain. Which is often. Atticus gets knocked around a lot.

Tangling with a crocodile, let alone a crocodile god, is always messy. Especially when, as so often happens with Atticus, he’s making it all up as he goes along.

One of the fun things about this series is the way that it mixes multiple ancient mythologies with contemporary sensibilities. Atticus has survived by adapting from century to century and country to country. He never forgets who he is, where he comes from, or what he remembers, but he doesn’t cling to the dead past. There’s probably a lesson in there someplace.

Most of the time when Atticus is forced to deal with myths, legends and deities, they are from his own Celtic pantheon. But he remembers the other old gods, and they certainly remember him. Bast certainly does. And will. He’s planning to steal Nice Kitty back, as soon as he heals up from dealing with Sobek the Crocodile God. Hopefully for the last time.

But this is certainly not my last time visiting Atticus and Oberon.

Review: Mitla Pass by Leon Uris + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Mitla Pass by Leon Uris + Excerpt + GiveawayMitla Pass by Leon Uris
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook,
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 496
Published by Estate of Leon Uris on December 13th 2016 (first published July 1st 1988)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A “riveting” New York Times bestseller by the author of Exodus about an American in Israel drawn into the danger of the Suez Crisis (Library Journal). How did Gideon Zadok, an American novelist and screenwriter, end up pinned by artillery shells in Mitla Pass? It was never his plan to fight someone else’s war. He came to Israel to research a book, but also to escape a crumbling marriage, a dysfunctional family, and the pressures of newfound success in the States. But in fleeing from personal troubles he charged headfirst into one of the great global crises of the twentieth century. Perhaps Leon Uris’s most introspective work, Mitla Pass portrays a man caught between his own demons and the epic sweep of Middle Eastern history.

I still remember when I first picked up one of Leon Uris’ books. It was in the early 1970s, and I was at my grandparents’ apartment after Sunday School. As usual, my dad was arguing politics with my grandfather (his father) and also as usual, it looked like it was going to take forever. As usual. I discovered a beat-up copy of Exodus lying around, and started reading. I could always get lost in a good book, and I certainly got lost in this one. After devouring Exodus, I went back and read some of the author’s earlier books, like Battle Cry, and then picked up subsequent volumes as they came out, always certain of being swept away by a great story. QBVII turned out to be my favorite. I loved the ending.

So when the Estate of Leon Uris contacted me about featuring one of his books, it provided me with the opportunity to become re-acquainted with an author I had fond memories of. It was also a bit of struggle to find one of his books that I had not read. In the end, we settled on Mitla Pass (the only other possibility was The Haj. I had read everything else way back when).

Today seemed like the perfect day for this review. Yesterday, April 23, was annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and Mitla Pass, like so many of the author’s books after Battle Cry, reflects both on the author’s Jewish heritage and on the scars left behind by the Holocaust, not just on the survivors but on the world that finally admitted the truth of the atrocities. In so many ways, the vast swath of death and destruction of the Jewish communities in Europe under the bootheel of the Nazis led directly to the formation of the State of Israel. And, in due historical course, to the story told in Mitla Pass.

My Review:

The story in Mitla Pass is told both in its present, late October 1956, and in its past, the past of all of the characters in the novel that led them to be part of that particular moment.

The main focus of the story is writer Gideon Zadok, who has come to Israel to write a book about the birth of the modern State out of the fires of Zionism and the ashes of the gas chambers. Gideon is an American who made his reputation as a writer on the strength of his best-selling book about his experiences as a Marine in the Pacific Campaign of World War II. (Any and all resemblances to the author of the book are probably intended).

After months of research, Gideon finds himself and Israel in the middle of a crossroads. He doesn’t think that he has quite captured the soul of the people. Of his people. And Israel is being squeezed on all sides by its Arab neighbors. The proximate causes of the 1956 Suez Crisis were Egypt’s embargo of Israeli shipping through the Suez Canal, and the English and French desire to take the Canal back from Egyptian control. The alliance between the Israelis and the English and French was very shaky, with everyone looking over their shoulders at probably interference from the Americans, the Russians, or both at any moment.

So Gideon, now somewhat trusted by the Israelis, gets himself attached to a paratroop drop into the western edge of the Sinai Peninsula. But the story really isn’t about that completely FUBAR’ed drop. It’s about everything that came before.

And it’s a marvelous story.

Escape Rating B: It is a marvelous story, and I was caught up in it until the wee hours of the morning. That’s part of what I remember about the author’s work – once you got sucked in, you stayed sucked until the end.

But the world has changed a bit since this story was written in 1988, and even more so since the period it covers, 1956 and the years that came before. And I’ve changed since the 1970s and 1980s, so there are things that bother me now that didn’t raise an eyebrow then.

Gideon’s own story is the one that carries the book, and he’s an absolutely captivating character. A charmer and a storyteller almost from the moment that he first draws breath. Also a cocky, egotistical, selfish, self-absorbed son-of-a-bitch. His thoughts about women in general, and his treatment of his wife and his mistress made me gnash my teeth on more than one occasion.

But what fascinated and disturbed me most, often in equal measure, is that Gideon is so clearly a fictionalized version of the author himself. Both were Marines in World War II, and fought the same battles and were injured in the same places and the same way. Both turned their experiences into best-selling books and later successful screenplays. Both were in Israel in 1956 researching books about the formation of Israel. At the ending of Mitla Pass, Gideon envisions his upcoming book and its first scenes extremely close to where Exodus begins and how Exodus opens.

It’s a little eerie. So eerie that I’m left wondering how much of the earlier history of the character mirrors the author’s own. And because of that I’m left pondering some of Gideon’s background. In particular, the book for the most part clips along at a very rapid and intensely readable pace, with one exception. The parts of the story that dive deep into Gideon’s family background, particularly the experiences of Gideon’s father Nathan, stop cold because Nathan is such a completely unlikable and unfortunately completely predictable character. Also incredibly annoying to read about. It makes me wonder if the author was describing his own father, possibly as a way of exorcising a few ghosts. And if that was so, based on the description, it’s hard to blame him.

Teeth-gnashing aside, I had a good time with Mitla Pass, obviously better than the characters stuck in that seemingly pointless battle. The vast historical background, from the shtetls of the 19th century Pale of Jewish settlement in Russia to the early 20th century Jewish community in Baltimore to the beginnings of Zionism to the brief flourishing of the Communist Party in America are fascinating. The cross-section of people, places and events keep the pages turning. It makes a very tasty goulash.

I’m glad I had this opportunity to revisit an author who I remember reading quite fondly, and my reading of his books in a time and place that exists now only in my memories.

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

5 digital copies of MITLA PASS will be distributed to giveaway winners via Trident’s Digital Downloads page. Each giveaway winner will be given a separate download code that expires within 24 hours of use. Winners may download ebook files to the device of their choice; however, please note that these copies are not protected by DRM.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To get a taste for Mitla Pass, read the opening excerpt, below the fold.

TEL AVIV
October 20, 1956
D DAY MINUS NINE

THE PRIME MINISTER’S COTTAGE, a remnant of the former German colony, sat unobtrusively in the midst of the outsized defense complex on the northern end of Tel Aviv. Midnight had come and gone. The stream of callers faded to a trickle, then halted.

For the moment David Ben-Gurion sat alone, his first opportunity all day for solitary contemplation. He was behind a desk that looked down a long conference table which was covered with green felt. Dead cigarette butts spilled over their ashtrays. The fruit baskets held spoiling apple and pear cores, grape seeds, banana skins, and peach pits, their fruit devoured. Half-empty soda bottles had lost their fizz and others, tipped over in disarray, appeared like a platoon of soldiers caught in a cross fire.

The cleanup crew of soldiers, two young men and two young women wearing top-security clearance badges, tiptoed in and attacked the mess.

“Can I get you anything—some tea?” one of the girls asked.

Ben-Gurion shook his head. It was a great head that seemed even greater perched on his short dumpling body. It was bald on top with an angry white mane flaring out in every which direction. The cherub face remained deceptively peaceful.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Morocco,” one of the girls said.

“Romania. I live at Moshav Mikhmoret.”

“South Africa. My family is in Haifa,” the second girl said.

“I am a sabra, Kibbutz Ginnosar.”

“Yigal Allon’s kibbutz,” Ben-Gurion said.

“Yes,” the soldier boy answered proudly.

Ben-Gurion’s head tilted and his eyes blinked. He was a past master at grabbing forty winks, a skill honed at a hundred Zionist conferences. When the crew departed it was nearly two o’clock in the morning.

The Old Man’s eyes fluttered open and became fixed on a single paged document awaiting his signature, the approval of a plan, Operation Kadesh, that would commit his young nation to war. Only eight years earlier he had signed another document, a proud document that declared statehood. Would there even be a ninth birthday, or would it all end in horror like a biblical siege with a final ghastly scene of a national massacre?

The past three weeks had been nightmarish in the speed and intensity of events: the secret meetings in Paris with the French and later the British and the clandestine agreement to go to war together … the return of Israeli officers who had been training in military academies and army specialty schools around the world … the call-up of reserves … the near-disastrous raid on Kalkilia to make the world believe that Jordan, not Egypt, was the enemy of record … French equipment arriving without spare parts … pressure from Eisenhower and the Americans mounting daily … dire threats from the Russians …

Operation Kadesh. How esoteric, Ben-Gurion thought. The biblical site in the Sinai where the Jews dwelled for a time during their wanderings with Moses.

Operation Kadesh needed a series of miracles to succeed. Every assessment was frightfully the same: Israel must win the war in the first four days. A prolonged conflict in which every Arab nation would join would be disastrous.

No small country goes to war without the support of a major power, yet David Ben-Gurion felt, in the depths of his being, that Israel’s partners, England and France, would falter, leaving her alone, outmanned and outgunned.

Israel must win the war in the first four days!

All sorts of things were going wrong as D day approached. The ordinance reports all but crushed the spirit: no spare steel matting to roll vehicles over the sucking sands of the desert … aged tanks being cannibalized, further reducing their already inferior armored force … rifles from Belgium not up to spec … no filters for the tracked vehicles to keep them from choking in the desert … a shortage of tank tracks, chains, pulleys, winches, flatbeds, four-wheel-drive trucks, repair stations, batteries, belts … an obsolete air force of World War II piston planes to face double the number of the latest MiGs owned by the Egyptians … no aircraft batteries to defend the cities against Egyptian bombers flown by “volunteers” from Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The orders to the brigade commanders were desperately simple. They said, in effect, “You have an objective. You must reach the Suez Canal in three days despite the resistance. You will not ask for reinforcements or further supplies for there are none available.”

Worse was the constant gnawing conviction that the British and French would quit. This would release divisions of fresh Egyptian troops to reinforce the Sinai. If France and England failed to bomb out the Egyptian airfields, Nasser could put his Russian-made bombers to work on Israel’s cities.

We must win the war in four days!

Two of the brigades must traverse over a hundred miles of semi-charted wilderness …

… and the 7th Battalion, the Lion’s Battalion, must be dropped deep into the Sinai behind enemy lines, exposed to a disaster, a sacrificial force. The Old Man had argued for hours with the Defense Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan, to try to dissuade him from parachuting the Lion’s Battalion near Mitla Pass. Dayan was adamant. It was the linchpin of the entire operation, a maneuver to initially confuse the enemy, then stop Egyptian reinforcements. When the brigade linked up with the battalion, the combined force would wheel south to free the blockaded passage to the Red Sea. Yes, there was great risk—but try to engage in a war without risk.

Jacob Herzog, B.G.’s confidant and closest adviser on the campaign, entered the room with Natasha Solomon. Herzog was pale, in a scholarly way; an Irish Jew, the son of the chief Ashkenazi rabbi, with a magnificent religious and legal mind. He put all the late communications and a day’s summary before the Old Man.

Natasha Solomon set a batch of papers on the desk, translations of messages from the French. Even at this hour Natasha was a warming sight. She was one of those women who gained an extra dimension of beauty through weariness, a certain sensuality in the black rings of fatigue forming beneath her eyes, as if from exhaustion at the end of a day of lovemaking. She was softness itself, different from many of the roughhewn sabra and kibbutz women, groomed in a Middle European way that made the silk of her blouse float over her terrain and shout “female!” even at two in the morning. An all but forgotten memory flitted through the Old Man’s mind … a girl, long ago. Such a thing to remember at a time like this.

Ben-Gurion picked up the summary but his eyes were fatigued. He handed the papers to Natasha and waved her into a seat, then took up a pad and pen to jot notes as she read.

The British were being very cautious, very cagey, deepening B.G.’s distrust. Herzog tried to tidy up the day’s events, but new events were already overtaking them.

Both the Soviet Union and America were bogged down in their own problems. An American presidential election was to take place in a few days, and traditionally it was a good time to catch Washington off guard.

Revolts against the Russians were brewing in Poland and Hungary. The students in Budapest had rioted and the unrest was growing. Israeli intelligence estimated a Russian tank force would enter Budapest in a matter of days.

Herzog reckoned these events could give Israel a slight advantage. Russia and America might be slow to react to the Israeli attack on Egypt. If Israel could stall diplomatically for three days, her forces might reach the Canal and Israel’s part of the war would be over.

But America was certain to be outraged that her two closest allies, England and France, would initiate military action without advising them. As for the Soviets, they had to put on a barking show for their Egyptian clients.

“Is there anything at all we haven’t covered, Yakov? Anything … anything …”

Herzog pointed to the document setting Operation Kadesh into motion.

“Your signature,” he said.

Ben-Gurion would not quit, gleaning for the stray, minute detail that might have been overlooked. It all boiled down to the same thing. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, was on a heady binge. He had seized the Suez Canal and evicted the British and French. He had closed the Strait of Tiran, at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, to Israeli shipping. He had turned the Gaza Strip into one enormous terrorist base which violated the Israeli border hourly. He had massed a huge army in the Sinai armed with a larder filled with Russian weapons. The bottom line was that Israel had no choice other than military action—with or without the British and French.

He scribbled his name on the paper. His nation was at war!

Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Review: Song of the Lion by Anne HillermanSong of the Lion by Anne Hillerman
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn and Chee #21, Leaphorn Chee and Manuelito #3
Pages: 304
Published by Harper on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A deadly bombing takes Navajo Tribal cops Bernadette Manuelito, Jim Chee, and their mentor, the legendary Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, back into the past to find a vengeful killer in this riveting Southwestern mystery from the bestselling author of Spider Woman’s Daughter and Rock with Wings
When a car bomb kills a young man in the Shiprock High School parking lot, Officer Bernadette Manuelito discovers that the intended victim was a mediator for a multi-million-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon.
But what seems like an act of ecoterrorism turns out to be something far more nefarious and complex. Piecing together the clues, Bernadette and her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee, uncover a scheme to disrupt the negotiations and inflame tensions between the Hopi and Dine tribes.
Retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn has seen just about everything in his long career. As the tribal police’s investigation unfolds, he begins to suspect that the bombing may be linked to a cold case he handled years ago. As he, Bernadette, and Chee carefully pull away the layers behind the crime, they make a disturbing discovery: a meticulous and very patient killer with a long-simmering plan of revenge.
Writing with a clarity and grace that is all her own, Anne Hillerman depicts the beauty and mystery of Navajo Country and the rituals, myths, and customs of its people in a mystery that builds on and complements the beloved, bestselling mysteries of her acclaimed father, Tony Hillerman.

My Review:

This case starts out with a very literal (and also very large) bang. Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito has a rare night off. Unfortunately it isn’t a night off that she can share with her husband Jim Chee, also an officer with the Tribal Police. Left to her own devices, Bernie does what a couple of thousand other people are doing that night, going to a basketball game.

Although basketball is a VERY big deal on the rez (Bernie herself played back in high school) this game draws an even bigger crowd than usual. The current high school team are playing against a team made up of veterans from some of Championship teams of the relatively recent past. Everybody wants to see the hometown heroes, and discover whether or not age and experience really can beat youth and skill.

Bernie never gets to see the end of the game, because a bomb goes off in the parking lot. Suddenly Bernie finds herself back on the clock, trying to keep the crowd away from the very big mess (cars explode! car lots full of cars explode LOTS!)

Bernie finds herself in the middle of all the chaos, trying to keep the crowd contained and the crime scene relatively uncontaminated, while searching for any possible victims or suspects (or both) and praying that more officers arrive to help manage the 3,000+ attendees along with all the cars showing up to pick up kids at the end of the game. And she needs the FBI, much as she hates even thinking that, because they are the ones with explosives expertise.

It’s a mess that only gets messier, and more confusing, over the days ahead.

Because there are no coincidences in Bernie’s world, as she was taught by the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, the bombing ties into a much larger case. It seems like the intended victim was a hometown hero on that Championship team, but now he’s a big-shot lawyer from the big city. And he’s come back to the Rez not just for a basketball game, but to serve as mediator for all of the many, varied, contradictory and non-cooperative factions who are debating (loudly, heatedly and occasionally violently) about whether there should be any development at all at the base of the Grand Canyon.

A debate that feels like it is nearly as old as the Canyon itself. And equally immovable.

In the wake of the bombing, Jim Chee gets stuck body-guarding the mediator on his trip to Tuba City. Chee hates being a bodyguard, but not nearly as much as Aza Palmer hates having one.

Aza keeps giving Jim the slip. Eventually that is bound to catch up with him. With all of them. With catastrophic results. For multiple definitions of “catastrophe”.

Escape Rating A: I have to admit upfront that I love this series. I listened to the earlier books, written by the author’s father Tony Hillerman, back when I had a long commute. (If you have a long drive ahead of you, audiobooks are marvelous, and mysteries are particularly good. It’s nearly impossible to thumb to the end to find out “whodunnit”.)

When Tony Hillerman died in 2008, I assumed this series was over. So when his daughter Anne revived it in 2013 with the absolutely awesome Spider Woman’s Daughter, it felt like a miracle. Not just for the opportunity to catch up with “old friends” as the protagonists in long-running series often turn out to be, but also because Anne found a way to make the series her own, by shifting much of the perspective from the two male cops, Leaphorn and Chee, to Bernie Manuelito, giving readers a new perspective on the cases and a different perspective on Navajo life in the 21st century. Unlike both of the men, Bernie is often caught between two worlds and two sets of obligations. While she loves her job, and is every bit as good a cop as her husband or any other male officer, unlike them she still keeps up much of her more traditional role as her mother’s oldest daughter, and as her wayward younger sister’s protector. She often finds herself between the rock of her job and the hard place of her family in a way that neither Leaphorn nor Chee ever experienced.

(While the entire series is great, 21 books in may seem daunting to a new reader. And as much as I loved them at the time, I don’t think it is necessary to read the whole thing to get the background, especially since so much has changed. Starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will bring any new reader up to speed with where the characters are now.)

The case in this story is fascinating, although not really about the bombing. One of the things about mysteries in general is that people are always people, both good and bad. In the end, the motives always turn out to be the familiar ones. And as so often happens, the past catches up with the present.

But in this series the surroundings and the background keep the reader enthralled every bit as much as whatever the mystery is. The background of this particular case is particularly intractable. There are multiple competing interests. Every single group involved is extremely passionate about their argument, whether they want to develop the Canyon, preserve it as it is, or something either in between or more extreme.

Even the groups that seem to be on the same side can’t agree with each other. And on top of that there’s a group that just wants to cause trouble and get media coverage, no matter what they have to do to get it. Everyone has a stake, and it seems like everyone wants to shove their stake into someone else’s heart. The FBI is up to their eyeballs in potential suspects for the bombing.

Watching the mediator attempt to herd all of the cats is both interesting and enlightening. In spite of the rumors that surround the event, his role is to referee, not to promote an agenda of his own. He’s very, very good at his job. And it turns out, very, very bad at family. Which is what the case comes back to in the end.

People are always people. But sometimes lions are more than they seem.

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg CoxThe Librarians and The Lost Lamp (The Librarians #1) by Greg Cox
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #1
Pages: 286
Published by Tor Books on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Librarians is one of the biggest new hits on cable. Spinning off from a popular series of TV-movies, the TNT series begins its second season this Fall. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp is the first in a series of thrilling all-new adventures that will delight fans of the TV series and movies.
For thousands of years, the Librarians have secretly protected the world The Librarians from dangerous magical relics and knowledge, including everything from Pandora’s Box to King Arthur’s sword.
Ten years ago, Flynn Carson was the only living Librarian. When the ancient criminal organization known as the Forty steals the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, Flynn is called in to investigate. Fearing that the Forty is after Aladdin's fabled Lamp, Flynn must race to find it before the Lamp's powerful and malevolent djinn is unleashed upon the world.
Today, a new team of inexperienced Librarians, along with Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, is investigating an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas when the quest for the Lamp begins anew . . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

My Review:

Because this is the start of National Library Week, I was looking for at least one book this week with some kind of library theme. When the much more serious book I originally planned on turned out to be a little too serious, I went for the much more fun option.

The Librarians, the TV series, is always fun. And after having watched it, I’ll admit that it gives saying, “I’m the Librarian” just a bit more of kick whenever I introduce myself in certain work situations.

But being an ordinary librarian isn’t near as much of a thrill as being one of THE Librarians, and that’s probably a good thing.

Our more adventurous, and fictional, counterparts are having a much more dangerous time than we are. Not that most of us don’t secretly envy them in one way or another. The seemingly unlimited resources, if nothing else.

The Librarians in this series work for a presumably mythical Library whose mission is to keep the rest of us from finding out that magic really exists, and that all too many of the legends and fables that we believe are purely fiction are in fact based in fact – and fairly dangerous fact at that.

In this particular case, the legend that is being turned on its head is the legend of Aladdin’s lamp, and the genie contained therein, as well as the legend of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian Nights, along with a very specific story among those 1,001 nights, that of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In the world of the Librarians, nothing is ever quite as it seems. And no great magic ever comes without an equally great price. It’s the paying of that price that the Library attempts to prevent, usually by locking up the magical artifact involved.

The story in The Librarians and the Lost Lamp switches between two different occasions when the Library (and those Forty Thieves) went after the lamp and the djinn imprisoned within, with rather tumultuous results.

In 2006, when Flynn Carsen was the solo librarian, and before the catastrophic events of 2014 that caused the Library to recruit three additional Librarians and their Guardian, a researcher in Baghdad discovered the earliest known copy of the 1,001 Nights. Both the Library and the Forty Thieves criminal organization hoped that the manuscript contained clues to the location of Aladdin’s lost lamp and its djinn. The Library wanted the lamp locked up for everyone’s safety, and the Forty wanted the djinn to grant their wish for power and wealth. The djinn, of course, had a somewhat different agenda.

No one came out of that particular encounter with exactly what they wanted. So in 2016, when the lamp resurfaces, both the Library and the Forty chase after it again, with even messier results than the last time.

In 2006, the lamp was in the middle of an empty desert. In 2016, it turns up in Las Vegas. The chaos that ensues is absolutely epic, and a complete blast of fun and adventure from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B: For anyone who loves the series, The Librarians and the Lost Lamp reads like a terrific episode. And for fans, that’s a great thing. I’m not certain how it would read to anyone not familiar. So consider this one a book for those in the know.

That being said, not all media tie-in books do justice by their source material, either because they mess with the canonical timeline or by just not sounding or feeling like part of their original. Or by not being true to the characters. That’s not the case here. The characters are all very true to their TV counterparts, and this feels like a slightly-longer-than-an-hour episode of the series, complete with the series’ hallmarks of adventure, teamwork and madcap humor.

Again, if you love it, that’s good.

The series itself is out of the urban fantasy tradition, mixed with a whole lot of myths and legends. The place where it plays off of urban fantasy is in that concept that magic is real, and that for some reason most of us don’t see it, no matter how much we want to. In this version of the world, it’s the Library, and the many Librarians who have served it (and usually died) who have kept magic from leaking out everywhere.

The way that the Librarians, in this particular case Cassandra, resolve the dilemma of the djinn who plans to break out of his lamp and burn the world (no pressure!) fits well with the way the Librarians generally work, and with Cassie’s personality and methods in particular. However, it will also feel familiar to anyone who remembers the I of Newton episode of the 1985 revival of The Twilight Zone, or the Joe Haldeman story the episode was based on. Clearly, methods of dealing with the Devil on your doorstep apply equally well to angry djinn.

I had a lot of fun reading this, enough so that I’m looking forward to the author’s next contribution to the series, in The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase. And to going back a rewatching the show!

p.s. I read most of this on a flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta. Wait, what was that? Is that a gremlin on the wing?

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + Giveaway

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + GiveawayMira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #4
Pages: 87
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on February 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
Goodreads

In this sequel to the novella “Penric’s Mission”, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards, as the courtesan Mira of Adria, one of the ten dead women whose imprints make up the personality of the chaos demon Desdemona, comes to the fore with her own special expertise.

Fourth novella in the “Penric and Desdemona” series.

My Review:

Mira’s last dance is very nearly Penric’s undoing, and not in any of the ways that the reader, Penric, or his current companions might have originally thought.

Penric, as introduced in Penric’s Demon, is a Learned Divine of the Bastard’s Order. Lord Bastard is the “master of all disasters out of season” and one of the five gods who are worshiped in this world. While the Father, the Son, the Mother, the Daughter and the Bastard may be deities, do not mistake them for either theoretical or hands off types. They are real in this world, they can manifest to their worshipers (and sometimes to their doubters) and they perform real acts in and on the world.

Penric started on the road to becoming the man he is now by the agency of one of those unexpected disasters. One day on the road, ten years ago, he encountered a dying old woman far from any other assistance. When the old woman died, Penric was the only one around. And he found himself the host to Learned Ruchia’s chaos demon, making him suddenly both a Divine of the Lord Bastard, and a practicing sorcerer who needed a lot of practice.

His life has never been the same, but it certainly has been an adventure. Penric’s current circumstances are no different.

Mira’s Last Dance (the book) takes up immediately where Penric’s Mission, thoroughly off the rails, left off. Penric, along with the exiled General Adelis and Adelis’ widowed sister Nikys, are on their way from Cedonia to the neighboring country of Orban. They rightfully fear that agents of Cedonia are hot on their trail.

Penric’s original mission to whisk Adelis away from Cedonia to Adria has gone completely bust. Penric, his patron and Adelis were all in the midst of someone else’s machinations, and not to their benefit.

And poor Penric has fallen in love with Nikys. Nikys is caught in the middle between finally doing something that she wants to do, and continuing to do her duty by following and caring for, Adelis. Penric thinks he’s still trying to convince at least Nikys if not Adelis to change course for Adria. Mostly he’s trying to convince himself.

In the middle of all this mess the very motley trio is forced to go to ground in the small town of Sosie. Even more unfortunately, the only place that Penric can convince to take them in is a whorehouse with a very bad case of lice.

That’s where Mira comes in. And Desdemona. Desdemona is Penric’s chaos demon. Up until Penric, all of Desdemona’s 12 hosts have been female, although the lioness and mare don’t contribute much to Penric and Desdemona’s internal, and often heated, discussions. But one of those 10 women was Mira, a famous courtesan over a century ago. And when Penric needs to disguise all of them to get them out of town, it’s Mira the courtesan who comes to his rescue.

Leading him right into the arms of the general of the local military garrison, who can’t take no for an answer. And Nikys can’t decide whether she can live with what Penric has done to captivate the general – whatever that might be.

Penric may be in love with Nikys, and Nikys may be in love with Penric, but she just isn’t sure can live with him and all 12 of the voices in his head – or the things they drive him to do.

Escape Rating A-: My one complaint about this series is that each of the stories is just too short. I’m always left wanting more, and knowing it will be months before I get any.

As much as I enjoy Penric as a character, and I do very much, part of the fascination with this series is the number of very interesting issues that it manages to scoop up as it goes. This series is one of the very few in fantasy that deals with its internal theology without being preachy or judgmental. And while being very entertaining and still exploring complex questions of morality. Again, without being preachy in the slightest.

This particular entry in the series also delves a bit into both gender identity and people’s perceptions of it. Penric is, without a doubt, a cisgender (as we would term it today), heterosexual male. But the 10 discernible voices in his head, his demon, are or were all female. When he needs to play the part of the female courtesan, he lets them not just help him, but take over and direct his actions. Not because he can’t bear to play the woman, but because he just doesn’t know how.

We never do discover exactly how he kept that general entertained, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is everyone else’s reactions to Penric’s actions. And while Adelis feels the expected shudders at Penric’s expertise in pretending to be a woman, it’s Nikys reactions that matter to the story. And those reactions are quite interestingly nuanced.

Because the novellas in this series are short, it is easy to read them from the beginning. It’s also necessary, as the stories layer on top of one another, making the world, and Penric’s perspective of it, more complex as it goes.

Also, unlike the first two books in this series, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman, the story in Mira’s Last Dance as well as Penric’s Mission which immediately preceded it, are not complete in themselves. Mira’s Last Dance comes to a reasonable break, but it doesn’t really feel like an ending. The action has paused, but there is so obviously more to come. I hope it comes soon.

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

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday week, I am giving away a copy of the complete (so far) Penric and Desdemona series to one lucky commenter. This series is ebook only, so the prize will come from either Amazon, or B&N. I have followers all over, so if you have a way to accept an ebook gift from one of those etailers, you are welcome to enter. And thank you for celebrating my Blogo-Birthday with me!

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