Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. BeagleThe Last Unicorn (The Last Unicorn, #1) by Peter S. Beagle
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Last Unicorn #1
Pages: 320
Published by Ace Books on June 26, 2022 (first published January 1, 1968)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief—and completely alone...
The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumours carried a message she could not ignore: "Unicorns are gone from the world."
Aided by a bumbling magician and an indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth. but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king's curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom...

My Review:

The story of The Last Unicorn can be summed up simply. A unicorn, happy alone in her special forest, hears from a passing human that all the unicorns are gone, and she realizes that she’s the last one left. So she goes out to find them.

In other words, the short and bittersweet summation is that The Last Unicorn is a quest story. But saying that is like saying that The Princess Bride is a romance. It’s a completely true statement that manages to leave out all the important bits as well as all the things that make the story so great and wonderful and so much worth reading and/or seeing. The whole is so very much greater than the short summary of its parts.

There is something about The Last Unicorn that does remind me of The Princess Bride that I can’t quite put into words, but is still true. They use language and fantasy in similar ways and both are awesome. If you loved one I think you’ll love the other. But I digress a bit.

Howsomever, The Princess Bride, in all of its wonderfulness, has a happy ending – no matter how much it middles in some very dark places.

The Last Unicorn, so very much on my other hand, ends on the bitter side of that sweet. Good does conquer evil, but in that triumph there are so very many regrets. It’s an ending that is very fitting while leaving both the reader and the characters looking back at what might have been with sadness and more than a bit of longing.

It’s beautiful, it’s haunting, and it’s as perfect a story in its own way as The Princess Bride is in its. Read it and quite possibly weep, but read it all the same.

Escape Rating A+: The Last Unicorn is a fantasy classic. Seriously. It’s on every single list of fantasy canon for the 20th century and probably for all time. To the point where I assumed I must have read it back in the day, because it came out in 1968 and I read a hella lotta fantasy in the 1970s. I KNOW I read the author’s first novel, A Fine and Private Place, back then, but it turns out that I hadn’t read The Last Unicorn until now.

And oh what a wonderful story I’ve been missing all these years!

While the unicorn starts out her quest alone, she doesn’t remain that way. In her travels she picks up two companions, Schmendrick the Magician and Molly Grue. Schmendrick is a wizard looking for his magic, while Molly is searching for the woman she might have been.

They run headlong, or are herded into, or a bit of both, a king who has spent a life searching for something to interest him – but has never found it because the fault, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” He is the rock on which all their quests crash and very nearly burn.

There is just so much in The Last Unicorn. It’s the kind of story that sinks deep into the reader’s soul and doesn’t leave. I’m so glad I finally read it and hope that you will be intrigued enough to do so as well.

It’s also the kind of story that isn’t quite done, no matter how many years pass between visits. There are two followup novellas set in the world of The Last Unicorn, “Two Hearts” and “Sooz”. “Two Hearts” has been previously published but “Sooz” is brand new. The two have been gathered together in a single volume, The Way Home, which will be out in early April, just in time for my birthday. And a better birthday book present I couldn’t possibly imagine.

Review: The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn

Review: The Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie OsbornThe Gingerbread Cat by Stephanie Osborn
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: holiday fiction
Pages: 52
Published by Stephanie Osborn on December 21, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Santa's cat, the Gingerbread Cat, has been around as long as Santa and knows a few things; a magical cat, he's one of Santa's oldest and most important helpers.

So when Ginger tells the elves a story about one Nikolai Kristoffsen and his involvement with the Magi at the first Christmas, there's more in the story than meets the eye.

How did Kristoffsen find the Anointed Child? What is his relationship to Santa? And how did the Gingerbread Cat help?

My Review:

It’s all the cat’s fault. Both in the story and that I’m reading the story. I don’t read a lot of Xmas stories, but, well, it’s all about the cat and told from the cat’s perspective. And I read it on Xmas Day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But about this story, it’s also all the cat’s fault. As things so often are. That’s why they call them CATastrophes. Or, as often occurs in so many households with one or more cats in residence, “CAT-ass-trophies”.

(Sorry, there’s a cat clawing the chair behind my head as I type this. She’s reminding me to talk about the cat IN the story. She’ll get her due later, I’m sure.)

The Gingerbread Cat takes a bit of historical fantasy stirs in more than a smidgeon of magical realism, a hint of romance and a heaping helping of wish fulfillment, and cooks up a sweet story about the man who was supposed to have been the FOURTH magi.

His name was Nikolai Kristoffsen and he had come from the frozen Northlands to Ur of the Chaldees to study magic with the great mages and sages of that famous Biblical city. After many years of study, Nikolai and his teachers read the coming of the Child in the stars, and planned to greet the prophesied one with gifts upon his birth.

They intended to follow the star. They also intended to all travel together. BUT Nikolai’s cat, Ginger, who was still very much a kitten at the time, spooked Nikolai’s animals. Over and over again.

Nikolai was late to the meeting and the rest of the expedition set out without him.

This turned out to be the story of both Nikolai’s journey AND Nikolai’s life. He spent decades hunting for that Child, well into the Child’s adulthood, and had always just missed him. Over and over and over.

It was fate. His, the Child’s, and as it turned out, Ginger the cat’s as well. How that tale of always arriving after the “nick” of time led to Nikolai becoming the Santa we all know and love, with the help of Ginger, of course, well, that’s the rest of the story.

Escape Rating A-: This may not be my holiday, but I still found The Gingerbread Cat to be a lovely little holiday story. And it is all because of Ginger the cat. Not that the rest of the story isn’t entirely cute, because it is. This is such a completely different origin story for the being we know as Santa Claus that it is hard not to fall in love with this tale of the patient but sometimes exasperated man who spends his life in pursuit of both a dream and a calling, only to find it fulfilled in the most surprising way imaginable – at least from his perspective.

But what made this story shine for me – and brought a tear to my eyes at the end – was the way that Nikolai’s entire found family was granted the gift of long life so that they could help him in his appointed task. There are entirely too many Santa stories where Santa loses an endless series of Mrs. Clauses and that’s just so sad.

Ginger gets not one but two gifts. As someone who has been owned by a series of cats, the gift of speech is absolutely a gift for Ginger’s benefit. (I know cats judge us, I’m just not all that willing to hear said judgment every day.) The other gift is a long life to match that of his person, a gift that feels like it’s a bit more for Nikolai than just for Ginger. And that’s what’s putting dust in this review right now.

It’s just the kind of holiday miracle that every pet person would give ALL their presents, forever, to receive.

George standing in for Ginger

Review: Look Closer by David Ellis

Review: Look Closer by David EllisLook Closer by David Ellis
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on July 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the bestselling and award-winning author comes a wickedly clever and fast-paced novel of greed, revenge, obsession--and quite possibly the perfect murder.
Simon and Vicky couldn't seem more normal: a wealthy Chicago couple, he a respected law professor, she an advocate for domestic violence victims. A stable, if unexciting marriage. But one thing's for sure ... absolutely nothing is what it seems. The pair are far from normal, and one of them just may be a killer.
When the body of a beautiful socialite is found hanging in a mansion in a nearby suburb, Simon and Vicky's secrets begin to unravel. A secret whirlwind affair. A twenty-million-dollar trust fund about to come due. A decades-long grudge and obsession with revenge. These are just a few of the lies that make up the complex web...and they will have devastating consequences. And while both Vicky and Simon are liars, just who exactly is conning who?
Part Gone Girl, part Strangers on a Train, Look Closer is a wild rollercoaster of a read that will have you questioning everything you think you know.

My Review:

It begins with a dead socialite hanging from the stair railing in her wealthy suburban Chicago home. And it begins from the perspective of the man who killed her, walking away from the scene of the crime, on Halloween night, in a Grim Reaper costume with no one the wiser.

From there, this twisty, turny, rollercoaster of a thriller is off to the races.

Because nothing and no one in this story is what they seem. Or even close to it. At all.

Except for the suburban police detective investigating her first murder in a tony suburb that has never seen murder before. A place where everyone expects police investigations to be wrapped up in 60 minutes like they do it on TV.

Detective Sergeant Jane Burke is investigating the case of a lifetime, the kind that will make her name and her career. And the more evidence she turns up, the more the whole thing looks like a slam-dunk. She has means, motive, opportunity and a suspect wrapped up in a nice neat bow.

Even better, a dead suspect, a con artist who got caught up in his own con and killed himself in his expensive condo when it all fell apart.

The case has been gift-wrapped so neatly that Jane can’t convince her superiors – or the village at large- that it’s all a frame and that there’s a puppet master hiding in the shadows pulling all the strings including her own.

After all, he’s done it before. And she can’t stand the fact that he might manage to do it again.

Escape Rating A+: Look Closer is a thriller about the ultimate long game, a game that is played on the reader every single bit as much as it is on the victims and on the detective stuck with the investigation.

Initially, we’re fooled along with everyone else. Socialite Lauren Betancourt is dead, and from the shifting narratives and time frames that make up the story, initially it seems very clear that her lover, Simon Dobias, killed her because she broke off their affair.

We know that nothing is quite as it seems – except for Lauren’s corpse – but what we discover over the course of the story is just how we, and every single person in the story – has been taken for one hell of a ride.

Saying anything else about the story itself is going to hit spoiler territory, and this is a story that deserves to be read without spoiling. Although I have to confess that about halfway through I tried thumbing to the end and the deception has so many corkscrews in it that reading to the end didn’t tell me much at all about how they finally got there – both the mystery and the narrative about the mystery.

The way that it’s written starts at the murder and then goes both backward and forward in time, frequently changing points of view as it goes. (Although I read this instead of listening to it let just say that there’s a reason that the audio had a full cast.)

So at first we know what happened – at least on the surface. As we go forward in time we see the detective investigating what happened and coming up with something she KNOWS is a frame but can’t prove is a frame with her boss and her whole town breathing down her neck for resolution.

As we see her doubts we start seeing the bits and pieces of what really happened, only to discover that what we thought was true was yet another frame embedded in one smokescreen on top of another. And even when we think we know, we don’t actually know much at all.

The way that this story worked – and does it ever! – reminded me more than a bit of Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Not only in the story itself but in the way that the reader ends up grudgingly admiring all the players involved in this elaborate game even though we KNOW they are not exactly on the side of the angels.

So if you enjoy thrillers that go through some extreme corkscrew turns before they slide headfirst into their wildly surprising conclusions, Look Closer is one hell of a pulse-pounding read.

Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona AndrewsSweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Chronicles, #6) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, paranormal romance, science fiction, science fiction romance, urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #6
Pages: 454
Published by NYLA on December 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the New York Times #1 bestselling author, Ilona Andrews, comes a fun and action-packed new adventure in the Innkeeper Chronicles! We invite you to relax, enjoy yourself, and above all, remember the one rule all visitors must obey: the humans must never know.

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean's werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant's dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

My Review: 

Dina Demille is not exactly a typical innkeeper, and Gertrude Hunt is far from an ordinary inn of any stripe whatsoever. And that’s not just because Dina’s lover, partner and fellow innkeeper, Sean Evans, is an alpha strain werewolf.

The inn that Dina and Sean keep is both a portal and a crossroads, a place where worlds literally collide – and sometimes come for tea. Or sanctuary. No matter what species they are or what world they might have come from.

Inns like Gertrude Hunt are special in that their existence and their services keep Earth safe from all the many, many powers in the big, bad galaxy that would otherwise roll right over us – possibly even with the equivalent of hyperspace bypass à la The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The network of inns, and the Innkeeper Assembly exist to provide neutral ground for contentious groups that need a place to negotiate. And by their existence they cement Earth’s position in that wider galaxy as a protected planet not to be messed with, or conquered, or eradicated for interstellar highway construction.

But there is a great big galaxy out there which people on Earth are kept from being aware of. A galaxy that Dina, Sean and Gertrude Hunt are very much a part of. A galaxy that hosts at least one entity that is gobbling up inns and innkeepers, and seems to have a special hate on for Dina, her family, and her inn.

A vendetta that seems to have extended to anyone who has helped them, meaning that one of Sean’s friends and mentors out in that wider galaxy has been kidnapped and dragged to an utterly inhospitable planet as bait to lure them into a trap.

A trap that they know they’ll need to walk into with eyes wide open, once they manage to jump through all the hoops that will give them what they need to get there.

Not that those hoops don’t constitute an entirely different kind of trap. In order to go after their friend, first Dina, Sean and Gertrude Hunt will need to host an intergalactic edition of The Bachelor, so that Kosandrion, the Sovereign of the Seven Star Dominion, can find a spouse to become the other parent of the Heir (yes, you can hear the caps) to the Dominion. The game is rigged, the contestants all hate each other and everyone knows that Kosandrion is the quarry of multiple assassins.

All Dina and Sean have to do is keep the Sovereign and all of the various factions, contestants, security contingents and observers alive until the end of the ‘show’ even though each and every group has deadly plans to eliminate one or more of their rivals, the Sovereign and/or every single being on hand to watch the proceedings.

This is a job that absolutely nobody wanted, but Dina and her crew are the ones who have to complete it. Flawlessly. ALL their lives hang in the balance – or on the point of more than one very sharp knife.

Escape Rating A: The Innkeeper Chronicles, the series that began with Clean Sweep and is now six books and hopefully counting, sits on that border between science fiction and fantasy. On the one hand, the inns are magical and give their keepers a whole array of magical powers. And on the other, part of their magic is to host beings from other worlds who may very well arrive at the inn via spaceship – whether they are supposed to or not.

Spaceships, after all, can be hard to hide, and the first rule of the inns is that the humans must not know about the wider galaxy.

In addition to sitting on that science vs. magic divide, this particular entry in the series is caught between two plotlines that only relate to each other at the messy points. As in, Dina and Sean have to get through this mess to get what they really need out of the whole thing. But this isn’t part of their own whole thing – which is even messier in it’s own way.

So the framing story is their need to save their friend, which is part of the overarching plot of the series that Dina’s parents, also innkeepers, disappeared without a trace and that in the process of searching for them someone has started hunting her, Sean, anyone who helps them in general and other inns and innkeepers in particular. And all of that is fascinating but none of it is exactly lighthearted. It’s the complete opposite of fun and lighthearted.

Howsomever, the other – and the larger part of this entry in the series IS frequently lighthearted, even though it is not all fun and games. At all.

Instead, this intergalactic episode of The Bachelor embodies the whole “SF is the romance of political agency” concept in a way that is even more entertaining than the TV series could ever possibly be – as well as potentially more deadly.

Because the contest to become the spouse of the Sovereign isn’t only what it appears to be and that’s what gives the whole thing it’s sometimes gallows humor as well as the kind of wheels within wheels political machinations that I always love.

That it also manages to include an actual romance as part of its many plots and counterplots is just icing on a bittersweet cake that gives fans of the series the answers to questions they’ve been asking since the series began.

I had an absolute blast with Sweep of the Heart. For those who have been following the series, it’s a delight. The Bachelor plot has pretty much all the plots, counterplots and wry humor that any reader could ask for, while still pushing the overall story forward AND giving out a few more hints on what all that awfulness is truly about.

I think that a lot of readers will enjoy the intergalactic Bachelor game even if they are new to the series, but that overarching plot forms the beginning AND the end and may keep those readers from getting to what they would consider the juicy middle. On the other hand, series readers are going to eat the whole thing up with a spoon. Or at least this reader did.

Also be advised that, as much as I loved this book, it is not the novella that some of the blurbs make it out to be. It’s more like FOUR times that length. Not that its nearly 500 pages don’t go absorbingly fast, but it’s not a quick lunchtime read – more like an all afternoon binge. Although an absolutely glorious one.

It’s clear from the way that Sweep of the Heart ends that Dina and Sean’s adventures, trials and tribulations are far from over. It’s probably going to be a year or more likely two before we get to find out what happens next. And that’s going to be a damn long wait.

Review: A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

Review: A World of Curiosities by Louise PennyA World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #18) by Louise Penny
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on November 29, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns in the eighteenth book in #1 New York Times bestseller Louise Penny's beloved series.
It’s spring and Three Pines is reemerging after the harsh winter. But not everything buried should come alive again. Not everything lying dormant should reemerge.
But something has.
As the villagers prepare for a special celebration, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves increasingly worried. A young man and woman have reappeared in the Sûreté du Québec investigators’ lives after many years. The two were young children when their troubled mother was murdered, leaving them damaged, shattered. Now they’ve arrived in the village of Three Pines.
But to what end?
Gamache and Beauvoir’s memories of that tragic case, the one that first brought them together, come rushing back. Did their mother’s murder hurt them beyond repair? Have those terrible wounds, buried for decades, festered and are now about to erupt?
As Chief Inspector Gamache works to uncover answers, his alarm grows when a letter written by a long dead stone mason is discovered. In it the man describes his terror when bricking up an attic room somewhere in the village. Every word of the 160-year-old letter is filled with dread. When the room is found, the villagers decide to open it up.
As the bricks are removed, Gamache, Beauvoir and the villagers discover a world of curiosities. But the head of homicide soon realizes there’s more in that room than meets the eye. There are puzzles within puzzles, and hidden messages warning of mayhem and revenge.
In unsealing that room, an old enemy is released into their world. Into their lives. And into the very heart of Armand Gamache’s home.

My Review:

Armand Gamache’s chickens come home to roost – and lay rotten eggs all over Gamache’s past cases, his present peace, and even Three Pines itself in this 18th book in the series.

A World of Curiosities is a story about reckonings, about settling up accounts and finding out that one has been found wanting. Even Armand Gamache. And that all of his mistakes, omissions and oversights have followed him home and put his family and friends in danger.

The roots of this story go deep, back to events that have been previously touched on but not described in detail, back to Armand’s own early cases as well as to the horrific case where he found Jean-Guy Beauvoir languishing in the basement of an outlying Sûreté office. Because Jean-Guy, being himself, was considered insubordinate. Because he wouldn’t play along.

A case that initially seems to be at the heart of it all. And is. But isn’t. But is after all. Again, one of Gamache’s oversight chickens that has come home to roost and shit all over Three Pines.

At first it all seems like an interesting bit of curiosity. A hidden room is found over the bookstore. It’s been bricked over – actually stoned over – for well over a century, lost to time and hidden from sight until a very old but newly discovered letter makes its way from an archive, to a dead woman, to the descendant of the man who bricked that room over all those years ago.

It’s not a straightforward path, rather a convoluted set of fits and starts that seems to have been in motion for years of its own. As was the intent of its patient and painstaking creator. A man who has been plotting his revenge against Armand Gamache for decades, and now has the perfect pawns in place to make Gamache pay.

Or so he believes.

Escape Rating A+: I know I’m not conveying this one well at all. Obviously, I loved it. I was also a bit disturbed by it, because all of the past crimes that lead up to this present danger were very disturbing.

The story opens at a combined commemoration and graduation ceremony at the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal. The massacre was a real event, a 1989 mass killing of female engineering students by a man who was outraged by women moving into what were formerly male-only preserves.

In addition to bringing this horrific crime back into the light, it also serves as a way of introducing two of the important characters of this entry in the series, two young women, Harriet Landers and Fiona Arsenault, who both graduate as engineers during the ceremony.

It’s Fiona who links back to the earlier case, and it’s that earlier case that is so very disturbing. Because it began as a missing persons case, which turned into a murder case, which led to the discovery that Fiona and Sam Arsenault, ages 13 and 10 respectively, were being pimped out by their now-dead mother. And the damage that was done to them, that echoed through their lives and their personalities from those foundational experiences to the present day.

One of the questions that echoes down through this entire book is the question about not whether they were permanently damaged by their early experiences but just how much they were damaged and whether they can ever be something that might be considered saved or rehabilitated. That Gamache believes that Sam is the true sociopath while Jean-Guy believes it is Fiona doesn’t alter the question about whether either of them can contain their true natures well enough not to spend their lives harming themselves, each other and everyone around them.

Part of what makes the story such a riveting tangle, however, is the way that the focus is solidly on the Arsenaults and the questions about will they, won’t they, did they, don’t they that the true evil hiding in plain sight isn’t even glimpsed until very late in the game.

A World of Curiosities, like so many of the books in this marvelous series, was just about a one-sitting read for me. I started it at dinner and finished just before bed. Which was after midnight and the only reason it was before bed was that something about the story shook me up enough that I didn’t want to take it to bed with me. It was also one of the rare cases with this series where I did thumb to the end about midway through, not because I needed to find out whodunnit – I was happy to follow that trail with Gamache – but because I needed the reassurance that all my friends, the characters who have come to inhabit the series and the village of Three Pines, were going to come out of this alive if not unscathed.

I also realized that the characters are what I love this story for, rather than the process of the investigation and the sheer brilliance of the detectives. Not that Gamache and his colleagues are not generally brilliant, but that’s not the point for me. Every book in this series is such a deep character study, of Gamache, his family and friends, the villagers, and of course the perpetrators and even the red herring characters. Not that forensics and all the trappings of modern policing don’t play a part in the ultimate solution, but Gamache solves crimes by knowing and understanding the people involved and that’s what makes the series so compelling.

While the mystery in A World of Curiosities is a page-turning twisting, turning, swirling – and occasionally stomach-churning whodunnit, the real charm of the series is in its characters, and the best way to get every single drop of that charm is to start at the very beginning with Still Life.

Now I have a year at least to wait for the hoped-for 19th book in the series. In the meantime, there’s a brand new TV series titled Three Pines, based on the novels, that begins tonight on Amazon Prime. I know what I’ll be watching this weekend!

 

Review: The Three Dahlias by Katy Watson

Review: The Three Dahlias by Katy WatsonThe Three Dahlias (Dahlia Lively #1) by Katy Watson
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dahlia Lively #1
Pages: 304
Published by Hachette Books, Mobius on July 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Three rival actresses team up to solve a murder at the stately home of the author who made them famous - only to discover the solution lies in the stories themselves. A contemporary mystery with a Golden Age feel, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and Jessica Fellowes.
In attendance: the VIP fans, staying at Aldermere; the fan club president turned convention organizer; the team behind the newest movie adaptation of Davenport's books; the Davenport family themselves - and the three actresses famous for portraying Lettice's 1930s detective, Dahlia Lively.
National treasure Rosalind King, from the original movies. TV Dahlia for thirteen seasons, Caro Hooper. And ex-child star Posy Starling, fresh out of the fame wilderness (and rehab) to take on the Dahlia mantle for the new movie.
Each actress has her own interpretation of the character - but this English summer weekend they will have to put aside their differences, as the crimes at Aldermere turns anything but cosy.
When fictional death turns into real bodies, can the three Dahlias find the answers to the murders among the fans, the film crew, the family - or even in Lettice's books themselves?

My Review:

The Three Dahlias is intended to take readers back to the genteel but thrilling mysteries of Dame Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Marjory Allingham but with a contemporary twist. What better way to combine the golden age of mystery with the present than by a convention of mystery fans, set on the grounds where one of their favorite mystery series was written, with not one but three of the actors playing their favorite character serving as guests of honor?

It may sound like a scheme guaranteed to give the fans the experience of a lifetime. But anyone who was a true student of those mysteries would tell you that the convention is also the perfect setting for murder. If only to provide the once and future Dahlias with the opportunity to solve either their last – or their first – case.

All they have to do is stop trying to one-up each other long enough to figure out whodunnit.

Escape Rating B: Although there’s a mystery, this isn’t really about the mystery. It’s about the people, and very much like Knives Out, about the relationships between the people and where the hidden stress points are.

That no one is going to miss the victims makes it that much easier for the reader to sink into the story and just enjoy the fun – even if it does take the first third of the book to really get going.

Because first we have those three Dahlias, and they are much more interesting than the murder. The three women represent different stages of life and different points in a career. If this were a fantasy they’d be the classic female triptych of maiden, mother, crone. Or perhaps the Fates. Certainly the fate of both the victims and the perpetrator.

It all starts with someone who seems to be out to get all of them – only for that person to end up getting got. And not by any of them. But along the way, what makes the story fun is the way that these women, literally set up to be rivals at every turn, band together in an unusual bond of sisterhood.

After all, they are all Dahlia, and it’s up to Dahlia to investigate murder when she sees it.

What made this fun as a reader was that I kept wanting to figure out, not so much whodunnit, as ‘who is Dahlia?’ (The idea of the convention seems more than plausible. After all, there is an annual Agatha Christie convention in Torquay.) The thing is that Dahlia Lively reminds me a lot of Phryne Fisher, but that series didn’t even start being published until 1989. There’s not enough history.

There have been more than enough Miss Marples, but that’s a role that an actor takes on much later in her career. Tommy and Tuppence hasn’t been filmed nearly often enough. But it’s fun to imagine.

The Three Dahlias turned out to be light and frothy fun. It’s a lovely little mystery, very atmospheric as a murder at a fan convention (my favorite in this vein is STILL Bimbos of the Death Sun), and as an homage to the Golden Age of Mystery and as a classic country-house murder all rolled into one.

If you’re looking for a light distraction filled with just the right amount of found sisterhood and murderous intentions, The Three Dahlias is quite the treat.

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch

Review: Pets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra HatchPets in Space 7 by S.E. Smith, R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #7
Pages: 1369
on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space® is back for a new year of adventures!

Pets in Space is back and better than ever! Featuring 13 original, never-before-released stories from some of today's bestselling science fiction romance authors, starring your favorite sci-fi pets. These furry, feathered, and slightly alien friends are always ready for a new adventure with their two-legged human and alien companions. From dogs to cats to sea creatures and unicorns, these romantic tales show that pets are more than just animals – they’re family.

This limited-edition anthology includes stories by some of the biggest names in science fiction romance. New York Times Bestseller S.E. Smith and USA Today Bestsellers R.J. Blain, Grace Goodwin, Skye MacKinnon, Carol Van Natta, Honey Phillips, Carysa Locke, S.J. Pajonas, JC Hay, and Kyndra Hatch, plus Leslie Chase, Winnie Winkle, and Candace Colt.

The Pets in Space 7 authors continue their vital support of HeroDogs, the non-profit charity that improves quality of life for veterans of the U.S. military and first-responders with disabilities.

★ Don't miss out — grab this limited-edition anthology before it's too late! ★

Exclusively in Pets in Space 7:
◆“Wynter and the Stone Dragon” by S.E. Smith: Love blossoms between a human king and an alien princess when a portal between their worlds opens.
◆“Life-Debt” by R.J. Blain: Hybrid human Viva and her pet fox have two rules: no names and no attachments. Why does the handsome man she rescued makes her want to break both?
◆“Marked Mate” by Grace Goodwin: An elite hunter pursues a dangerous criminal on an unsuspecting Earth, only to be distracted by a mysterious woman and her furry pet.
◆“Alien Abduction for Unicorns” by Skye MacKinnon: Unicorns are real, and alien Bruin is sexy as the stars. Can Scottish tour guide Tara forgive them for kidnapping her in the name of science?
◆“An Entanglement of Griffins” by Carol Van Natta: A space pirate and a pet sanctuary owner suspected of grand larceny get help from genetically-engineered griffins to recover the goods and find love.
◆“Cyborg Rider” by Honey Phillips: Can a bioengineered mole named Eglantine find a way to rescue the scientist and the cyborg who are depending on her?
◆“Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke: A telekinetic healer on a mission and a telepathic killer who is afraid to feel must trust an intelligent cat to help them save a group of children from death.
◆“Myra’s Big Mistake” by S. J. Pajonas: She’s burdened by a lifetime of disappointment. He’s been her secret admirer for years. Will a roll of the dice lead to a cosmic courtship?
◆“Desert Flame” by JC Hay: Dr. Cerridwen Lewis is prickly, foul mouthed, and quick to anger; in other words, she’s everything Captain Kal and his pet scythewing ever wanted.
◆“Death Angel” by Kyndra Hatch: How do you choose between your people and your mate? Especially when you're a Korthan cyborg captain and your human mate unknowingly holds the key to lasting peace or unending war?
◆“Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase: Megan isn’t looking for love, especially not from an alien mercenary just passing through. But love, and her winged cat Nebula, have other plans.
◆“Liquid Courage” by Winnie Winkle: Powerful sea witch Morgan is determined to save her beloved ocean creatures from thieving aliens. Tony offers to help, but he's got secrets.
◆“Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by by Candace Colt: Eccentric witch Rhea only dreamed of the stars. So how did she and her snarky cat end up in a junk-picker spaceship with sexy alien captain C'tloc?

My Review:

Pets in Space is always an utterly marvelous treat. Every year an absolutely stellar group of science fiction romance writers get together to create this annual collection of space ships and adventure, featuring romance between humans and/or aliens, ably assisted by companion creatures, whether animals or AI, whether furry or feathered or something out of this world.

The proceeds from the sale of each Pets in Space collection go to charity, specifically to Hero Dogs, an organization which provides trained service dogs to heroes, specifically to wounded military veterans and first responders.

So the book supports a terrific cause, and the stories within are always out of this world. This is the seventh collection, and it contains a lucky THIRTEEN science fiction romance novellas in a whopping 1369 page book.

That’s a lot of book, and a lot of treats to savor until the next one arrives!

For me, the annual collection is a reading delight that will last through lots of reading time, especially over the winter with a cat in my lap and a cup of tea or hot cocoa at my side. It’s much too big for one sitting or even one weekend. I always want to take my time and enjoy every page.

This is a book that requires a plan of attack!

I confess that I always read the cat stories first. Partly because it’s always fun to imagine what cats would have to say if they could talk. And because my own feline overlords wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m supposed to reassure them that they’re the best cats in the universe and they aren’t shy about telling me so!

But seriously, I generally do read the cat stories first – as I did this time around. I save the stories about other animals, and in worlds I’m not familiar with, for times when I can dive into the towering TBR pile – or add to it – to get stories in the same worlds featured in the collection that are new to me.

So I’ll be treating myself to more of Pets in Space 7 over the months ahead.

Howsomever, I can’t leave you without making a few review-type comments about those three cat stories, “Healer Heart” by Carysa Locke, “Written in the Stars” by Leslie Chase and “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt.

“Healer Heart” was interesting because it contained some elements of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, particularly her genetically engineered and ruthlessly trained assassins, the Arrows. In the universe of the Telepathic Space Pirates there is also a group of genetically engineered assassins. And like the Arrows, some of those born and bred killers want more from life than just death. Which is where telepathic healer Nayla and the hunter cat Rasalas come in. While she personally wants to help one particular assassin, her assignment is to help assassin-trained children before the training is too deeply ingrained to be countered. She helps the kids with dogs, but it’s the cat pushing her to make things right with the man who broke her heart trying to protect her from himself.

There’s just so much to love in this one. Nayla is beating her head against the wall using her own gifts and training to help people who are determined to blame her for every break from tradition; the man she loves is terrified he’ll kill her if his training overcomes his reason; and the kids she is able to help are heartbreaking but hopeful. This universe is an absolute mess but this healer seems to have a cure for at least a bit of what’s ailing it.

“Written in the Stars” revolves around a woman stranded on a failing space station with her vast collection of books, her flying cat, and her determination to save up enough money to get back to something a little bit more like civilization. Megan is plucky beyond belief, and lucky beyond reason, as she finds both someone to love and a purpose for living in helping to rescue the space station from itself. Her winged cat Nebula is both very cat and very reminiscent of some famous literary felines, as Nebula is an intergalactic traveling version of the winged cats in Nebula-Award winning Ursula LeGuin’s lovely Catwings series.

Last but not least, “Rhea’s Conundrum: A Witch in Space” by Candace Colt. This one was my favorite because Rhea is a witch of a certain age who learns that love has not passed her by, and that she is not yet ready (if, admittedly, she ever will be) to settle down and help raise her grandchildren. Her conundrum is a devastating one, as the necklace that powered her journey to C’tloc’s spaceship can either take her back to her home or power his spaceship so that he can get back home, but not both. If she leaves, he’ll die. If she stays, by the time she manages to get back to Earth her family will probably be long dead. She can only live one life, and she has to make a bittersweet choice between loves – with the help of her very snarky cat. This one was a heartbreaker.

Escape Rating A: This collection is always a Grade A read, no matter when I pick it up or where I choose to dip into it at any given time. The stories are always a delightful range of styles and worlds and pets, and this year is no exception.

That it supports a wonderful cause while giving hours if not days of reading delight is just icing on a very lovely reading cake – with a puppuccino on the side.

But Pets in Space 7 is, as always, a limited edition. So if any – or hopefully ALL – of the stories appeal to you, be sure to get your copy before they fly off to the stars for another year. Because every collection, every year, is a feathery, whiskery, winged delight!

Review: Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne

Review: Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca ThorneCan't Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy fantasy, fantasy
Series: Tomes and Tea #1
Pages: 451
Published by Rebecca Thorne on September 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

All Reyna and Kianthe want is to open a bookshop that serves tea. Worn wooden floors, plants on every table, firelight drifting between the rafters… all complemented by love and good company. Thing is, Reyna works as one of the Queen’s private guards, and Kianthe is the most powerful mage in existence. Leaving their lives isn’t so easy.
But after an assassin takes Reyna hostage, she decides she’s thoroughly done risking her life for a self-centered queen. Meanwhile, Kianthe has been waiting for a chance to flee responsibility–all the better that her girlfriend is on board. Together, they settle in Tawney, a town that boasts more dragons than people, and open the shop of their dreams.
What follows is a cozy tale of mishaps, mysteries, and a murderous queen throwing the realm’s biggest temper tantrum. In a story brimming with hurt/comfort and quiet fireside conversations, these two women will discover just what they mean to each other… and the world.

My Review:

I picked this up because once I knew it existed, I couldn’t resist buying it and reading it instantly. Why? Because everything about this book practically screams that it’s following in the cozy fantasy footsteps of Travis Baldree’s completely marvelous Legends & Lattes – and I adored that book. It is absolutely the perfect comfort read for our very uncomfortable times.

But at the moment there’s no sequel on the horizon – and I very much wanted more of the same. At least more in the same vein. Which is when Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea poured its way into my reading consciousness.

When we first meet Reyna and Kianthe, they’ve been together for two years. Except not together being together. They both have important jobs with big responsibilities, so running away together to open their combined dream tea shop and bookstore is never more than just that – a dream.

But, as the saying goes, a good job won’t love you back. That’s particularly true in Reyna’s case. She’s one of Queen Tilaine’s elite guards – which sounds like a really awesome and important job. The problem is that Queen Tilaine is a tyrant to her people, a bully to her staff, and a sadistic psychopath to pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. A psychopath with the power to indulge all of the worst traits of her psychopathy – so she does.

That someone comes to court to assassinate her isn’t exactly a surprise as it happens on the regular. That Reyna stops the would-be assassin is also par for this court’s course. That Reyna gets wounded in the process of stopping said assassin is all in a day’s work. That the Queen she has served all her life tells the assassin and the entire court just how little Reyna’s life is worth to her is also, unfortunately, all too “normal”.

But it’s the straw that breaks Reyna’s willingness to sacrifice herself for a Queen who will not only never appreciate her service, but will, in fact, actually send her into harm’s way even at times when it’s not necessary just because she can. Because she needs to remind everyone of her power over their lives at every single turn.

So Reyna runs away. From the Queen, from the Palace, from her duties as a guard. That’s treason in the Queendom, and Reyna knows it. She just hopes she can outrun it – at least for a little while.

Which is where Kianthe comes in. Kianthe, the most powerful mage in the entire world, loves Reyna every bit as much as Reyna loves her. While Kianthe has duties to that world that she can’t completely leave behind, she CAN leave behind all the bureaucracy that goes with it. They can live their dream, that dream of a bookshop for Kianthe that brews and sells specialty teas crafted by Reyna.

So they do. They run away to the tiny border town of Tawney, ‘appropriate’ a dilapidated house from a gang of dead bandits, and open their store. They expect trouble to find them eventually, and they’re ready for it.

The dragon invasion that comes first they weren’t expecting at all.

Escape Rating B+: The author calls out her debt to Legends & Lattes in her ‘Acknowledgements’ at the end of the book, so it seems right in line to compare the book in hand to the work that directly inspired it.

While there’s a romance at the heart of both stories, the romances themselves are very different. Reyna and Kianthe are an established couple when the story begins, so instead of seeing their tentative steps toward romance, what we have here is more of a hurt/comfort story – as one or the other of them is either wounded or emotionally wrecked at many points in the book. The relationship that they are navigating, sometimes well and sometimes very badly – as people do – is the metamorphosis from a long-distance relationship to a live-in one that also includes owning a business together. So those story beats are different but lovely in their own way.

The biggest difference between Treason and Legends is that Treason mixes a LOT more epic fantasy elements with its cozy story of opening a business in a small magical town. The ‘marriage’ between the coziness and the epic doesn’t always go as smoothly as the relationship between Reyna and Kianthe does.

At the same time, the overall arc of the series looks like it’s going to be powered by those dragons. They are both a huge – literally – menace to the town and the source of an equally deep mystery that Kianthe and Reyna will have to solve over subsequent books in the series.

The one – very large – fly in the otherwise honey sweetness of this book is Queen Tilaine herself. On the one hand, the border straddling nature of Tawney adds a lot to the setting of the story. It’s disputed territory between the Queendom and its neighbor Shepara. But it’s also far enough from both capitals that the inhabitants have made their own brand of peace with their neighbors, leaving the antipathy between the rulers AND the religions of the home countries far behind and well out of everyday life. Which is all absolutely fascinating and it should be fun to watch how that works out as the series continues.

But very much on the other hand, Queen Tilaine herself is a gigantic problem. She’s the real villain of this piece, and she suffers from serious villain fail. She’s so far over so many tops that she’s just BWAHAHA evil with no redeeming characteristics and nothing to let the reader see that she’s the hero of her own story – as villains generally see themselves. It’s not just that she’s evil, but the way that she’s evil means that her country is barely functioning and she has enemies on all sides looking to overthrow her. In other words, there are huge reasons why assassination attempts happen on the regular, and they’re all at least somewhat righteous.

Tilaine is a bigger looming threat over Reyna and Kianthe than the dragons – and that’s saying something. The dragons are actually more sympathetic and they make more sense!

As much as I enjoyed the story, Tilaine’s particular brand of BWAHAHA and the way it was dealt with didn’t work for me nearly as well as the dragons – or as well as every other part of the story. Your reading mileage may vary.

Overall, I have to say that while Treason doesn’t quite get the same amount of lightning into the bottle that Legends did, it is very much a worthy successor to it – especially as a second book in the Tomes & Tea series is already in the works. So it tided me over quite nicely for a few hours, and now I want more of both!

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van PeltRemarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: literary fiction, magical realism, relationship fiction
Pages: 360
Published by Ecco on May 3, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A novel tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.
After Tova Sullivan's husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she's been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.
Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn't dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors--until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.
Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova's son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it's too late.

My Review:

Remarkably Bright Creatures is a story about higher numbered chances than merely second and the long tentacle of coincidence that helps them happen.

Initially, they don’t seem to have much in common. A man whose prime isn’t very prime, who seems to have thrown away all his chances. An aging woman who has lost both her husband and her son, living lonely but determinedly in the house her parents built. And a giant Pacific octopus eking out his final days in the tiny Sowell Bay Aquarium on Puget Sound.

But Marcellus the octopus, whose placard outside his tank lists him as a “remarkably bright creature”, is as clever as he is bright. He’s also an intelligent observer of human behavior and a bit of an escape artist. There isn’t much else to do, all alone in his tank.

So he occasionally squeezes himself out to graze on the sea cucumbers – or even hazard a trip to the staff break room when the smell of leftover Chinese takeaway is too tempting to resist.

Which is how Tova Sullivan finds him, outside of his tank, caught in a tangle of wires and electrical cords and about to suffer what Marcellus calls “The Consequences” of being out of a tank for more than 20 minutes. Which he can calculate.

Marcellus is, after all, a remarkably bright creature.

Tova rescues him from the tangle. Not only that, but she doesn’t report Marcellus nighttime excursions to the aquarium’s director. It’s their little secret and the beginning of their unlikely friendship.

A friendship that ultimately results in both of them achieving the dreams they never admitted that they held. Not even to themselves.

Giant Pacific Octopus at the National Aquarium in Washington DC

Escape Rating A-: This book turned out to be WAY more charming than I expected. It was recommended by someone in my reading group so I was expecting a decent to good read, but this turned out to be just lovely.

This is kind of a quiet story, where things happen slowly and truths emerge over time. To the point where it borders on literary fiction a bit. But instead of being dark and gloomy where nothing happens and everyone argues a lot – which is how I tend to see litfic – the situations all start out a bit gloomy but everyone gets better. Even Marcellus.

At first you kind of wonder how Cameron’s story is going to link up to Tova’s and Marcellus’. And that coming together takes a while and goes off on a couple of tangents as it meanders along. But once it does, it all fits together beautifully.

What holds the story together – besides Marcellus’ tentacles – is Tova. Her son disappeared without a trace when he was just 18. Her husband has passed away. She’s alone – and yet she’s not. She has friends, she has a job, she makes sure she has purpose. And yet she also has concerns about what will happen to her when she can’t live on her own anymore.

Being Tova, she doesn’t wallow. Instead, she takes steps to determine her own future for her own self. In her situation I’d want to be her when I grew up. She’s a character to both admire and empathize with. To the point where we want her to get a better ending than it looks like she’s headed for when the story begins.

Cameron is not initially all that likable. He’s not bad, and he’s taken some seriously rough knocks, but he’s not good at taking responsibility for himself. And at 30 it’s past time he did. He arrives in Sowell Bay searching for his sperm donor in the hopes of a big financial score. He’s doomed to be disappointed – and it’s the making of him.

Marcellus – who is much more present as a character than one might think – is an absolute gem. At the same time, his intellectual presence in the story, his perspective on the events that he helps to bring about, is both fascinating and a bit equivocal. Anyone who wants to believe that all of the thoughts and actions ascribed to Marcellus are in the minds of Tova and Cameron – in the same way that we all believe we know what our pets are thinking when we most likely don’t – the story still works – and works well.

But it’s so much better if you let yourself believe that Marcellus is helping Tova and Cameron all along – and that they are helping him as well.

I enjoyed Remarkably Bright Creatures a whole lot more than I ever expected to. And in that way that when you are conscious of something you suddenly start seeing it everywhere – like getting a new car and being aware of all the cars of the same make and model sharing the road with you – I liked this so much that I started seeing books with octopi characters everywhere. In addition to Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus from a few years ago there’s The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler coming out in October, and Sea Change by Gina Chung next year.

I’m going to hunt me down some more octopi to read about while I look forward to seeing what this author comes up with next!

Review: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus

Review: Buffalo Soldier by Maurice BroaddusBuffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: alternate history, steampunk
Pages: 144
Published by Tordotcom on April 25, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.
Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.
Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

My Review:

As yesterday’s book was a fictionalized story of a world that was, then today’s is a leap into world that might have been.

A leap somewhat like being dropped into a roller coaster just as its about to crest that first big hill and then a wild, screaming ride all the way to the end of the ride. Only to discover that, while the ride may be over, the story is just beginning.

Although the historical turning points that created the steampunk-fueled world of Buffalo Soldier are different, in some ways the feel of the story is similar to Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century that begins with Boneshaker. As well as, come to think of it, A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark as all three take the world down different legs of the trousers of time, and yet some forces of history seem immutable in the face of huge changes of circumstances.

The United States, well, isn’t. Not that the manifest destiny ambitions of “Albion”, the English colony that encompasses at least the East Coast and Midwest, aren’t entirely too similar. But Albion hasn’t succeeded by this point in this world’s late 19th or early 20th century.

So this story opens in independent Tejas, caught between Albion on one side and the Five Civilized Tribes on the other, as Jamaican fugitive Desmond Coke finds himself and the boy he’s guarding caught in the crosshairs between the Pinkertons, the agents of Albion, and the agents of his own truly pissed-off government as he attempts to cross the contested border.

Everyone is out to get him. Actually, only his own government really wants him all that badly. But everyone wants the boy he calls Lij. Because Lij is entirely too many things to entirely too many people.

A symbol. An experiment. An abomination. A resource. Even all of the above.

But Desmond just sees him as a little boy who deserves the chance to BE a little boy and determine his own path when he grows up. If Desmond can keep them both alive and on the run long enough to have that chance.

Unless he can find them a sanctuary. Or he dies trying.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those stories where the reader is dropped into the midst of a world that has already been fully created. We just don’t know exactly what that world is, so it comes into focus through the characters, particularly the point-of-view character Desmond Coke.

We’re not in his head, but the action follows his perspective, so we’re not omniscient. We see what he sees and know what he knows. And he knows a lot about the world in which he lives as once upon a time he was an espionage agent for his home country of Jamaica.

At least until he scooped up Lij and ran away into the predicament in which we find him as the story opens.

While the hints of how his world differs from ours and how it got that way are absolutely fascinating – at least to this reader – what kept me turning the pages was the quick, sharp peeks into his out of the frying pan into the fire journey. He’s desperate, he didn’t plan things out nearly as well as he should have, and no plan survives contact with the enemy.

Or, in this case, no plan survives contact with situations where there are enemies on every side with their weapons pointing at each other while Desmond is caught in the crossfire. Sometimes literally.

The story is a thrill-a-minute ride as every time Desmond tries to take them a little further away, he just ends up in a bigger mess, his steps dogged at every turn by agents from pretty much every power involved in North America. Some are hunting him down, some are using him as bait to hunt each other down, and some are using him as a distraction while they go after their real goals.

And in the middle, there’s a little boy who deserves the chance to grow up and become his own man instead of just the sum of all the things he was created to be. The truth of which is revealed over the course of the story and manages to catch at both the heart and the throat at the same time.

So, come to this one for the wild ride. Shake your head in rueful recognition at the ways that the powers-that-be are exactly the same as they are even in an entirely new world. Stay for the story, and the stories about stories, at its heart.

Whatever brings you on this steampunk journey, I believe you’ll find it well worth the trip.

Initially, I picked this up because I needed a couple of really short books this week and this looked like fun. Which it was! So I’m really glad I read it because it made for a terrific reading pick-me-up. It also made me look and see what else the author has available and now Sweep of Stars has moved considerably up the virtually towering TBR pile. There are so many books, and so little time, but now that I’ve read something of his work I can’t wait to dive into his latest!