Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda BouchetFire of the Frost: A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance, holiday romance, short stories
Pages: 368
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 22nd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, A Wynter Fyre a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won't stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who's suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

My Review:

This holiday treat dropped into my lap this week and I couldn’t resist starting it immediately! Isn’t that what holiday treats are for? Immediate consumption for the yes! Especially as I’ve received earlier versions of this confection of a collection (Under a Winter Sky, Seasons of Sorcery and Amid the Winter Snow) and they’ve all been wonderful reading treats.

For the most part, this year’s collection of winter fantasy romances was a very sweet treat indeed – with just enough naughty in the mix to give Santa a blush or four.

My absolute favorite story this year was Grace Draven’s The King of Hel, and not just because it’s a standalone story that isn’t set in one of her other worlds. It’s the kind of fantasy romance that didn’t really have to be a fantasy romance. In fact, its real world inspiration was not. Inspired by the real life romance between Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV of France, this is the story of Doranis, the magic-touched king of Helenrisia and his queen’s best friend, the modestly born Castil il Veras. What made this story so beautiful is the way that Castil’s deep, life-long friendship with Doranis’ queen is not broken by the romance. Rather, Castil is heartbroken when her best friend dies in childbirth yet still honors that friendship. But life goes on, and the queen’s death gives Doranis the freedom to marry the woman who is suited to him in all ways but birth, and lets Castil acknowledge her love for a man who was otherwise twice beyond her touch.

This was just a beautiful winter romance between two strong and surprisingly equal partners and I loved every page of it.

On the other hand, my least favorite story in this collection was Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s not that it’s not a good story, because it is, and it’s not that it’s not well done, because it is that as well. It’s that the protagonists of the story are fundamentally, by law and custom, absolutely powerless and their powerlessness gets rubbed like salt into their wounds and the reader’s psyche at every turn. This is just one of those cases where I know it’s good and I know there’s an audience for it and I’m just not it.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet was just plain fun, kind of in the way that the first Thor movie was fun. At points, literally in the way that the first Thor movie was fun, a fact that the heroine references more than once during the course of her whirlwind romance while running from bad guys story plays out. Although Piers of Thalyria, an exile from the world of the author’s Kingmaker Chronicles, has no godlike powers, it turns out that his heroine does and he’s been jerked across time and space in order to protect her while she figures out how to either use them or give them back. The story here is kind of a lighthearted romp – in spite of being chased down by evil entrepreneurs and their henchmen at every turn.

Last but not least, my second favorite story in the collection, Darynda Jones’ A Wynter Fyre. The beginning had a bit of an “aliens made them do it” start – not that any of the characters in this story are actually alien to this world. But there’s a common fanfiction trope for series like Stargate and its spinoffs where the characters are compelled by unbridled libidos to have sex because of “alien sex pollen”. The way this story begins, with vampyres biting Wynter in order to infect her with the equivalent of “vampyre sex pollen” had a very similar feel. Particular when the hero fends off the bad vamps in order to woo her for himself, once he’s helped her take the edge off, so to speak.

After that hot, heavy, creepy and slightly rapey beginning the story itself takes a surprising turn. Wynter has been awakened from 70+ years as a statue because her mother the demon (yes, the being she believes is her mother is an actual demon) needs her to rescue a kidnapped vampyre princess.

But it’s all a setup. Not that the princess hasn’t been kidnapped, but it’s all part of the plot to give Wynter the chance to do her job of protecting the vampyres properly – by killing the greatest threat to their existence – her demon mother. That the setup also manages to change the romance from a sex into love story into a second chance at love story is all part of its charm – something this one had absolutely oodles of.

Escape Rating B+: This collection is always a lovely holiday treat. But like any collection, some stories hit the mark with this reader – or any other – while others aren’t quite as close to the bullseye.

If I were giving individual ratings, A Wynter Fyre would get an A; Of Fate and Fire would receive a B; The King of Hel hits the high spot at A+ while Familiar Winter Magic just didn’t work for me at all. Your reading mileage – even through the snowy landscape of these winter tales – will definitely vary.

No matter which stories in the collection tickle your holiday reading fancy, the collection is definitely worth curling up with some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket for a delicious holiday read!

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. LiuThe Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie M. Liu
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy, horror, short stories
Pages: 256
Published by Tachyon Publications on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel, Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut story collection, dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.
“The Tangleroot Palace is charming and ruthless. Tales that feel new yet grounded in the infinitely ancient, a mythology for the coming age.”—Angela Slatter, author of The Bitterwood Bible
“Marjorie Liu is magic! Her writing is passionate, lyric, gritty, and riveting. She belongs high on everyone’s must-read list.”—Elizabeth Lowell, author of Only Mine
Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously-plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of traveling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.
Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

My Review:

I picked this up not for her multiple award-winning Monstress, which I haven’t read yet, but for Dirk & Steele and Hunter’s Kiss, her marvelous urban fantasy/paranormal series that I read when they came out back in the late 2000s. I loved both of those series, but I’m kind of astonished that they came out way more than a decade ago.

But it has been a while, so I was happy to see this collection as a way of renewing my acquaintance with an author I very much loved. And I’m glad I did. There’s even a prequel for Dirk & Steele in this collection, at least if you squint a bit.

My favorite stories in this collection were The Briar and the Rose, Call Her Savage and the title story, The Tangleroot Palace.

The Briar and the Rose takes the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, adds in a bit of magical possession and body-swapping, and wraps it in a bodyguard romance. Except that this takes place in a world of myth and legend, where an evil sorceress is maintaining her youth and beauty by possessing pretty young women and discarding their corpses. That sorceress is defeated by the love that develops between her female bodyguard and the true personality of the body being possessed in stolen moments when the sorceress sleeps. And it’s a powerful story about just how strong people can be when they have something, or someone to fight beside and to fight for.

Call Her Savage was fascinating because it hints at so much world and such a rich history that we don’t get to see in this story. There’s alternate history and revolution and wars and flawed heroines and politics and lost causes and fighting the long defeat. It reminds me a bit of Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune, but with an alternate 19th or 20th century instead of alternate early history. This is the one I wish there were more of. A lot more.

The Tangleroot Palace was lush and lovely and kind of perfect. On its surface its about a princess who runs away from home to find magic in order to save herself and hopefully save her kingdom from subservience to a brutal warlord. And underneath that it’s a romance about hiding behind masks to protect one’s true self, about the power of illusion and the power of agency. And of course nothing about the warlord or the kingdom or the subservience turns out to be quite what the princess was expecting. But the magic at the heart of the forest is all too real, even if, or especially because, it too is based on an illusion.

Of the rest of the collection, Sympathy for the Bones, Where the Heart Lives and The Last Dignity of Man were interesting and I’m glad I read them but they weren’t quite up there with my faves. After the Blood played with a supernatural/paranormal take on a post-apocalyptic story but didn’t give enough details to really hang together. Not that some characters weren’t hung or otherwise eliminated, but this one felt like it had been done before, and better, elsewhere.

Still and all, I’d have read this for those three favorite stories, and I’m glad I stuck around for the whole thing. It was just the right amount of lovely and romantic and creepy to while awhile a rainy evening with a cat on my lap.

Escape Rating A-: This is a strong collection, filled with stories that grip the heart, ramp up the adrenaline and occasionally wring the tear ducts. They’re not new stories, but they were all new to me, and I got completely wrapped up in every single one. They have the feel of feminist fairy tales, in that all but one of the stories are led by women, and are from mostly female perspectives. So these are heroine’s journeys – and occasionally villainess’ journeys, rather than told from the point of view that such stories are usually told.

Although the one story that is told from a male perspective, The Last Dignity of Man, while it was not among my favorites was one of the most purely lonely stories I have ever read. It was so sad and so heartbreaking and had so much possibility but the monsters, and there certainly were monsters, were more disgusting than scary, not that they weren’t scary too. Still, the idea of someone emulating a supervillain in the hopes that a superhero would arise to thwart them, just like in the comic books, was a great idea that I’d love to see explored more fully with less puking. Seriously.

The Tangleroot Palace reminded me just why I loved this author so much, and has made me resolve to get stuck into Monstress at the earliest opportunity!

Review: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick Weekes

Review: Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights edited by Patrick WeekesDragon Age: Tevinter Nights by Patrick Weekes, John Epler, Brianne Battye, Courtney Woods, Ryan Cormier, Sylvia Feketekuty
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy, sword and sorcery
Pages: 496
Published by Tor Books on March 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An anthology of original stories based on the dark fantasy, role-playing video game series from Bioware.

Ancient horrors. Marauding invaders. Powerful mages. And a world that refuses to stay fixed.

Welcome to Thedas.

From the stoic Grey Wardens to the otherworldly Mortalitasi necromancers, from the proud Dalish elves to the underhanded Antivan Crow assassins, Dragon Age is filled with monsters, magic, and memorable characters making their way through dangerous world whose only constant is change.

Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights brings you fifteen tales of adventure, featuring faces new and old, including:

"Three Trees to Midnight" by Patrick Weekes
"Down Among the Dead Men" by Sylvia Feketekuty
"The Horror of Hormak" by John Epler
"Callback" by Lukas Kristjanson
"Luck in the Gardens" by Sylvia Feketekuty
"Hunger" by Brianne Battye
"Murder by Death Mages" by Caitlin Sullivan Kelly
"The Streets of Minrathous" by Brianne Battye
"The Wigmaker" by Courtney Woods
"Genitivi Dies in the End" by Lukas Kristjanson
"Herold Had the Plan" by Ryan Cormier
"An Old Crow's Old Tricks" by Arone Le Bray
"Eight Little Talons" by Courtney Woods
"Half Up Front" by John Epler
"Dread Wolf Take You" by Patrick Weekes

My Review:

If this is your jam, if Dragon Age is your jam, then Tevinter Nights is the jammiest jam that ever jammed. But I have to say upfront that if you’re not already into Thedas, this collection is not the place to get there. The place to begin is the awesome, absorbing videogame Dragon Age Origins, which premiered in 2009 and has, so far, spawned two sequels, the under regarded, boringly named but eminently playable Dragon Age II, and the later Dragon Age Inquisition. Those of us who love the series and replay it endlessly are now in year 6 of waiting for Dragon Age 4, which looks like it’s going to be titled The Dread Wolf Rises and not rise in real life until 2022 at the earliest.

I’m not sure whether the Tevinter Nights collection is designed as a teaser, as a hint of things to come, or just to drive us even crazier waiting. Whatever the case, for fans the collection is a terrific way of seeing parts of Thedas we have heard of but not seen much of – at least not yet – catch a few glimpses of beloved characters, and just generally have a good time in a place we’ve come to know and love.

And the stories themselves, well, if you’re familiar with where they’re coming from, the collection is a rollicking good time. Maybe not all of the stories are quite worthy of a Tethras (Hard in Hightown) but a good time is certainly had by all, especially if you’re also into the sword and sorcery school of fantasy, because that’s where this collection mostly falls. With a couple of toe dips into the very dark fantasy edges of horror.

Dragging myself back from the squeeing to talk about the stories themselves, as I said, they are all pretty much playing in the sword and sorcery end of the fantasy pond, so there are lots of assassins, lots of dastardly plots and LOTS of murders. Then again, several of the stories feature the Antivan Crows, and assassination is their business.

The story I found to be the absolute most fun was Down Among the Dead Men by Sylvia Feketekuty. While part of that fun was that it is set in Nevarra, a place we haven’t been, and in the Grand Necropolis, under the purview of Nevarra’s Mortalitasi, the mages who maintain the Crypts and their dead and demonic denizens of whom we’ve heard much but not met many.

On the surface this story reads like a dungeon crawl into a dungeon full of creepy, crawly undead monsters, but it subverts itself in the end. The “I see dead people” is expected, the “I be dead people” is rather a shock for our guardsman hero. That he achieves his lifelong dream of becoming a librarian as a dead person turns the gallows humor into a smile.

The two stories that edge the closest to outright horror are the aptly named The Horror of Hormak by John Epler and The Wigmaker by Courtney Woods. While their portraits of previously unseen parts of Thedas are fascinating, it’s the evils faced by the protagonists that make both of these stories sing their creepy songs. It wouldn’t have taken much for either of these stories to be just plain horror in any setting, but Thedas gives both of them a bit of extra gruesome spice. That The Wigmaker can also be read as a scathing commentary on the real-life fashion industry just adds to the chills it engenders.

The two stories that dealt most directly with characters that fans are familiar with from the series are Callback and Genitivi Dies in the End, both by Lukas Kristjanson. Both of his stories rely on readers’ knowledge of the series, and both take that knowledge and use it to tell stories that pull the reader right back into this beloved world while telling new stories with old friends. Callback is a particularly poignant post-Inquisition story, while the story around Genitivi, while “enhanced” by knowing the character and the world, is actually a well-done version of an often told type of story, one about storytellers and storytelling and the way that so-called history can be embellished – or not – as the tale-teller decides. Or as the tale-teller requires in order to get out of town with a whole skin.

Last, but not least, the one that sent chills up my spine not for its creepy or horrific elements but for the way that it continues the post-Inquisition story by giving us a view of exactly what the Dread Wolf has been up to since the end of Dragon Age Inquisition. The final end of the Trespasser DLC when he announced that he planned to essentially destroy the world in order to save his own people and correct the wrong he committed Ages ago. He’s just as proud, self-deluded and self-serving as ever, and just as hot and just as cold, all at the same time. I can’t help but hope that his original name might be prophetic in some way. And that this time “Pride” will go before a very big fall. He certainly has the hubris for it.

We’ll see. Eventually. In 2022 or 2023. Not nearly soon enough. But if you love epic fantasy of the somewhat grimdark persuasion, enjoy experiencing a story through videogaming, and have not yet had the pleasure of going to Thedas, you have plenty of time to work your way through the entire series before The Dread Wolf Rises.

If you have already fallen in love with Thedas as I have, we have these stories to tease us and tide us over.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this collection. Fans will love this collection. Everyone else will wonder what the fuss is about. But for those of us who already know what the fuss is about, Tevinter Nights is a very fun read.

Review: Pets in Space 4 by S.E. Smith and others

Review: Pets in Space 4 by S.E. Smith and othersPets in Space® 4 by Alexis Glynn Latner, Anna Hackett, Cassandra Chandler, Donna McDonald, E.D. Walker, J.C. Hay, Kyndra Hatch, Laurie A. Green, Pauline Baird Jones, Regine Abel, S.E. Smith, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #4
Pages: 1480
Published by Cats, Dogs and Other Worldly Creatures on October 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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For a limited time only! Pets in Space® 4 is proud to present 13 amazing, original new stories! Join the adventures as today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors take you on a journey to another world. Pets in Space® proudly supports Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that provides service animals to veterans and first responders in need. Join New York Times, USA TODAY and Award-winning Bestselling authors S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie Green, Donna McDonald, Regine Abel, Alexis Glynn Latner, JC Hay, E.D. Walker, Kyndra Hatch, and Cassandra Chandler for another exciting Pets in Space® anthology. Get the stories before they are gone!

Proud supporters of Hero-Dogs.org, Pets in Space® authors have donated over $7,100 in the past two years to help place specially trained dogs with veterans and first responders. Open your hearts and grab your limited release copy of Pets in Space® 4 today!

My Review:

Some of the pets featured in this series may be small, but every book in the collection – and every story in it – is huge. Sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively.

This is a BIG book. At over 1400 pages, it’s a really, really, really big book. Like 30+ HOURS of book. There’s plenty here to sink your reading teeth – or your own pet’s actual teeth, into. Not that all of the pets featured in this series necessarily HAVE teeth, you understand.

And then there’s the supposedly cursed rock, but it isn’t one of the pets. Only the quarry of one.

Like all of the previous books in this series, Pets in Space 4 is a limited run, so if you love science fiction romance as much as I do, it’s worth getting while it’s available, for extended reading pleasure. This isn’t a book you can tackle in one sitting – except possibly on a trans-Pacific flight – if you read very, very fast. There’s a lot of book here to love.

Also, calling the entries in this book “stories” doesn’t really do them justice. The works in this collection are nearly all novella or novellette length. In other words, they are all long enough and meaty enough to have each been released on their own. Reading Pets in Space 4, or any of the Pets in Space collections, is like reading a whole bunch of generally excellent short novels all in one swell foop.

I’ll admit that I haven’t read the whole thing – at least not yet. I’ve been following this series since its inception, and it’s a collection for savoring and dipping into when the mood strikes or when one needs a reading pick-me-up.

So I attacked this the way I usually do. First I dive into the stories that are set in worlds that I’m already familiar with. Which led me to Dark Guard by Anna Hackett, set in her Galactic Gladiators series, Spydog by Laurie A. Green in her Inherited Stars series, Winter’s Prince in Alexis Glynn Latner’s Starways series, and that one with the cursed rock, Star Cruise: Idol’s Curse in Veronica Scott’s Sectors SF series.

They are all excellent, and also completely different. And feature different pets as well. Dark Guard is an exile story. There’s a temporary wormhole, long since closed, and a couple of tribes of slavers that have a lot to answer for. The day is saved in this one by a cyborg cat, named Cat, with that feline tendency to be disobedient and protective at the same time.

Winter’s Prince is all about an amusement park planet, a quest gone wrong, a search for true love and a genetically engineered unicorn. It’s also an excellent followup to my favorite story from the Pets in Space 4 Sampler, The Magic Mountains.

The cybernetically enhanced Spydog Maura, in the story that is of course named for her, knows what’s best for her human and isn’t the least bit shy about making sure it happens – whatever he might think!

And last, but not least from my perspective, the marvelous Star Cruise: Idol’s Curse – my favorite story so far. The story is lovely, the dog Charrli is adorably bouncy, but the rock is ugly. And cursed. Also blessed. Sometimes at the same time. It’s complicated. The rock is complicated. The setting on the intergalactic cruise ship is marvelous, and the romance between the cruise’s events director and the Third Officer is just a perfect little cocktail of a story – complete with paper umbrella.

I’m far from done with this book. I’ve got a couple more entries from familiar series to get into. Then I’ll look for the rest of the cat stories – because my own cats would accept no less. Then I’ll finish with the series entries that I’m less familiar with just to see what new worlds I want to dive into next!

All in all, Pets in Space 4 is an excellent reading time and a more than worthy companion to its predecessors in the series.

Escape Rating A for this out-of-this-world collection!

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil Clarke

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil ClarkeThe Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction by Neil Clarke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction, short stories, space opera
Pages: 600
Published by Night Shade on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The lone survivor of a lunar crash, waiting for rescue in a solar powered suit, must keep walking for thirty days to remain in the sunlight keeping her alive . . . life as an ice miner turns ugly as the workers’ resentment turns from sabotage to murder . . . an astronaut investigating a strange crash landing encounters an increasing number of doppelgangers of herself . . . a nuclear bomb with a human personality announces to a moon colony that it will soon explode . . . hundreds of years in the future, art forgers working on the lunar surface travel back in time to swap out priceless art, rescuing it from what will become a destroyed Earth . . .  

On July 20, 1969, mankind made what had only years earlier seemed like an impossible leap forward: Apollo 11 became the first manned mission to land on the moon, and Neil Armstrong the first person to step foot on the lunar surface. While there have only been a handful of new missions since, the fascination with our planet’s satellite continues, and generations of writers and artists have imagined the endless possibilities of lunar life.

The Eagle Has Landed collects the best stories written in the fifty years since mankind first stepped foot on the lunar surface, serving as a shining reminder that the moon is a visible and constant example of all the infinite possibility of the wider universe.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Bagatelle by John Varley The Eve of the Last Apollo by Carter Scholz The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis Waging Good by Robert Reed How We Lost the Moon by Paul McAuley People Came From Earth by Stephen Baxter Ashes and Tombstones by Brian Stableford Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam Troy Castro Stories for Men by John Kessel The Clear Blue Seas of Luna by Gregory Benford You Will Go to the Moon by William Preston SeniorSource by Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt Fly Me to the Moon by Marianne J. Dyson Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball The Fifth Dragon by Ian McDonald Let Baser Things Devise by Berrien C. Henderson The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das Every Hour of Light and Dark by Nancy Kress In Event of Moon Disaster by Rich Larson

My Review:

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 comes The Eagle Has Landed, a collection of stories, set on the Moon, that were written sometime AFTER that historic voyage.

One of the interesting things, at least from the editor’s perspective, is how relatively few lunar-set stories there actually were, particularly in the immediate post-Apollo years. His speculation is that changing the first lunar landing from fiction to history moved lunar-set stories too close to a potential and seemingly reachable very-near-future pushed the concept out of science fiction.

And while we know from the perspective of hindsight that Apollo 11’s achievement marked the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning that we hoped for, no one knew it at the time. Possibly were afraid of that possibility, but didn’t know for certain. And hoped their fears were wrong.

Another possibility thrown out was that Heinlein’s classic, and at the time relatively recent The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), had, at least temporarily, taken all the air out of the fictional lunar room and no one wanted to jump in after the master. Even though Heinlein’s attitudes about women seem antediluvian 50 years later, I reread the thing not long ago and a surprising amount of it still holds up. And the ending still makes me tear up.

But the thing that struck me about this collection, particularly in contrast with some of Heinlein’s pre-Apollo lunar stories, not just Moon but also Gentlemen, Be Seated and even in a peculiar way The Man Who Sold the Moon, is just how dark the post-Apollo stories are in comparison to the pre-Apollo stories.

There was a lot of hope in those earlier stories. Not remotely scientifically based as we know now, but a buoyancy of spirit. We were going to get “out there” and it was going to be at least as good, if not better, than the present. Even if it took a revolution to get there.

Escape Rating B: The first several stories in this collection are seriously bleak. Either the moon is a wasteland, the Earth is, or both. Those dark futures probably mirror the state of the world at the time. Having lived through the 1970s, they seemed more hopeful in a lot of ways, but there were plenty of clouds were looming on the horizon – and some of those clouds were filled with acid rain.

And as far as the space program was concerned, all the air had been let out of its tires after the lunar landing. The uphill drive to reach the moon had been exhilarating, but the downhill slide was pretty grim.

A couple of the stories really got to me in their bleakness, A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis and Waging Good by Robert Reed.

One of the other notable things about this collection is that, until Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fascinating story, SeniorSource (2008), all of the stories were written by men. And that reflects the genre at the time. Female science fiction writers were thin on the ground until this century, as were writers of color – who are also singularly absent in the collection until that point.

I loved SeniorSource because it reminded me so much of the author’s Retrieval Artist series, which is also set on the moon (and which I now have a yen to reread). SeniorSource is a combination of SF with mystery, as is the Retrieval Artist series as a whole. But what I enjoyed about it in comparison with the earlier stories is that it’s a life goes on story. It’s set in a future that seems both plausible but not catastrophic. Life goes on, humans do human, and there is a future that is not bleak, but different.

From there the collection does look up. It’s an excellent sampling of post-Apollo lunar fiction, and a view of just how much the genre has changed over time. That being said, if you’re already blue, there’s a bit too much to depress you further in this book. But definitely an interesting read, and well worth savoring – possibly in bits to lighten the darkness a bit.

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat RamboIf This Goes On by Cat Rambo, E. Lily Yu, Aimee Ogden, Rachel Chimits, Cyd Athens, Scott Edelman, Jack Lothian, Gregory Jeffers, Conor Powers-Smith, Priya Sridhar, Andy Duncan, Lynette Mejía, Hal Y. Zhang, Nick Mamatas, Steven Barnes, Kitty-Lydia Dye, Tiffany E. Wilson, Nisi Shawl, Kathy Schilbach, Zandra Renwick, Chris Kluwe, Sarah Pinsker, Calie Voorhis, Marie Vibbert, James Wood, Jamie Lackey, Paul Crenshaw, Langley Hyde, Judy Helfrich, Beth Dawkins, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Parvus Press LLC on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
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A bold new anthology born of rage and sorrow and hope. 30 writers look at what today's politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Some of today's most visionary writers of science fiction project us forward to the world of the future; a world shaped by nationalism, isolationism, and a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This anthology sits at the intersection of politics, speculative fiction, and American identity. The choices we make today, the policies of our governments and the values that we, as people, embrace are going to shape our world for decades to come. Or break it. Edited by Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the stories of If This Goes On invite you to worlds very like this one-- but just a little different.

Table of contents:Green Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily YuTwelve Histories Scrawled in the Sky by Aimee OgdenDead Wings by Rachel ChimitsWelcome to Gray by Cyd AthensThe Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable by Scott EdelmanGood Pupils by Jack LothianAll the Good Dogs Have Been Eaten by Gregory JeffersThe Sinking Tide by Conor Powers-SmithMustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya SridharMr. Percy’s Shortcut by Andy DuncanA Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Lynette MejíaBut for Grace by Hal Y. ZhangHurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness by Nick MamatasThe Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit by Steven BarnesThree Data Units by Kitty-Lydia DyeOne Shot by Tiffany E. WilsonKing Harvest (Will Surely Come) by Nisi ShawlCounting the Days by Kathy SchilbachMaking Happy by Zandra RenwickThe Machine by Chris KluweThat Our Flag Was Still There by Sarah PinskerThe Editor’s Eyes by Calie VoorhisFree WiFi by Marie VibbertDiscobolos by James WoodFine by Jamie LackeyBulletproof Tattoos by Paul CrenshawCall and Answer by Langley HydeA Pocketful of Dolphins by Judy HelfrichTasting Bleach and Decay in the City of Dust by Beth DawkinsThe Choices You Make by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

My Review:

I picked this up around the same time I received Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized to review for Library Journal. Just from the descriptions, it seemed that these two books either springboarded off the same event, were in dialog with each other, or both. (This is also a giant hint that if this book interests you that one will too!)

They’re not exactly in dialog with each other, but they certainly arose out of the same event – the 2016 election. Both are wrapped around the question about what the state of the US – and by extension the world – will be in the future if the hateful politics and policies that were given voice and force by the election of 45 continue into the future relatively unchecked.

That premise is explicit in If This Goes On, and implicit in Radicalized, but it is definitely there in both books.

They are very different collections, however. Radicalized consists of four novellas by a single author, where If This Goes On is a collection in the broader sense, of relatively short stories by 30+ authors around the single theme.

A theme that the collection is screaming about – loudly and with metaphorical expletives. As far as the authors and editor are concerned (and this reader) the policies of those elected in that mess are undoing much of the good that the US has done and are making both the country and the world into a worse place than it was.

None of the writers want the situation to continue – and have done science fiction’s usual excellent job of extending the present out into the possible, even plausible, end point of the contemporary mess in order to show just how awful things can be.

In the hopes that we will band together and do something about it before it is too late.

Escape Rating B+: My feels are all over the place on this one.

First, because it bothered the hell out of me and presumably will other people, the title of the collection sounds familiar because it is. If This Goes On— is the title of a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, a novella which would itself feel at home in this collection.

Whether the title of the collection is in homage or not, there is still plenty of resonance between the two.

This is not a collection to be read late at night, particularly with only the light of one’s screen to push back the darkness. Because there’s plenty of darkness in these stories. While some of them border on horror in the traditional sense, most of the stories give the reader the sense that they are looking at something horrible. And I was appropriately – and shudderingly – horrified.

There is some humor in some of the stories, but it is primarily humor of the “gallows” persuasion. These futures are all bleak in one way or another. While the stories themselves are excellent, the overall tone is fairly dark.

Each story is followed by an editor’s note that tends to hit that dark tone over the head with a baseball bat. The stories generally speak for themselves so that repeated emphasis felt a bit like being bludgeoned with the point of the collection – over and over again. I was already metaphorically bleeding so this was a case where the beatings didn’t need to continue until morale improved because it wasn’t going to happen. But there’s something about the reference to that t-shirt saying that seems appropriate just the same – possibly because hearing the news these days does feel a bit like that proverbial beating.

As much as I agreed with the authors’ and the editor’s perspectives, I’ll admit to getting tired of having it beaten into my head over and over again. YMMV.

These stories stand on their own. Sometimes swaying in the wind from the apocalypse, but they do stand. And the collection is well worth reading. If you read nothing else from this collection, look for Mustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya Sridhar – it’s lovely.

As the saying goes, in reference to the collection as a whole, “Read ‘em and weep.”

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

Review: For the Sake of the Game edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. KlingerFor the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, historical mystery, mystery, short stories
Series: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon #4
Pages: 272
Published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018
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For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers—regardless of genre—to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A WILDERNESS OF GLASS BY GRACE DRAVEN

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

 A CURSE FOR SPRING BY AMANDA BOUCHET

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

 THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER BY JEFFE KENNEDY

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

My Review:

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

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

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

Escape Rating for Winter’s Web: B+

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

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

Escape Rating for A Wilderness of Glass: B

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

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

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

Escape Rating for A Curse for Spring: C

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

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

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

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

Escape Rating for The Dragons of Summer: A

Review: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Review: Robots vs Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah WolfeRobots vs. Fairies by Dominik Parisien, Navah Wolfe, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ken Liu, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Annalee Newitz, Tim Pratt, John Scalzi, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Madeline Ashby, Lila Bowen, Jeffrey Ford, Sarah Gailey, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jim C. Hines, Kat Howard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction, short stories, urban fantasy
Pages: 373
Published by Saga Press on January 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A unique anthology of all-new stories that challenges authors to throw down the gauntlet in an epic genre battle and demands an answer to the age-old question: Who is more awesome—robots or fairies?

Rampaging robots! Tricksy fairies! Facing off for the first time in an epic genre death match!

People love pitting two awesome things against each other. Robots vs. Fairies is an anthology that pitches genre against genre, science fiction against fantasy, through an epic battle of two icons.

On one side, robots continue to be the classic sci-fi phenomenon in literature and media, from Asimov to WALL-E, from Philip K. Dick to Terminator. On the other, fairies are the beloved icons and unquestionable rulers of fantastic fiction, from Tinkerbell to Tam Lin, from True Blood to Once Upon a Time. Both have proven to be infinitely fun, flexible, and challenging. But when you pit them against each other, which side will triumph as the greatest genre symbol of all time?

There can only be one…or can there?

My Review:

Are you Team Robot or Team Fairy? After reading this collection, I’m definitely Team Fairy, but your mileage will definitely vary. And it may depend a bit on where you start from.

The introduction to the collection sets up the premise. Either robots or fairies are going to end up as our eventual overlords. So half of the stories in this collection are fairy stories, and half are robot stories. All of the introductions and afterwords to all of the stories play on the theme that half the writers will be vindicated and the other half were misguided.

Personally, I think that they are all misguided and cats will be our ultimate overlords – not that they aren’t already. But that’s an entirely different collection that I hope someone writes someday.

About this collection, half the stories, the fairy stories, fall into urban fantasy, more or less, and the other half, the robotic arm, so to speak, are science fiction.

Overall, it was the fairy stories that moved me the most. My taste for fairies in contemporary fiction was set long ago, by the magically wonderful War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, and quite a few of the fairy stories in this collection fit into that vein, with fairies hidden in plain sight of our contemporary world.

The thing about robots is that they are only interesting, at least to this reader, if they reflect us in some way – where fairies already are OTHER. The one robot story in this collection I really enjoyed felt like space opera – which I definitely do love. The robot in this particular story was a prop and not the centerpiece.

That being said, the stories that I really liked in this collection were the fairy stories.

Build Me A Wonderland by Seanan McGuire surprised me in a good way. I’ve bounced off her work, both as McGuire and as Grant, multiple times, but this story was just lovely. It was also one of the few upbeat stories in the collection. The fairies are hiding in plain sight by being the miracle workers in a contemporary magic factory. In other words, they work for an amusement park. And the elves want in!

Murmured Under the Moon by Tim Pratt combined two things I love – fairies and libraries – into something super-awesome. This story is one that I would have loved to see expanded into a novel because this world is so interesting. It’s all about the magic in books, and both the power and the joy of being a “master” librarian.

Bread and Milk and Salt by Sarah Gailey is a great story for Halloween, as is Just Another Love Song by Kat Howard. Both stories deal in the dark side of magic, with a heaping helping of revenge served at the appropriate temperature and evil getting the desserts it has so richly deserved. Read with the lights on.

The one robot story that I really enjoyed was Sound and Fury by Mary Robinette Kowal. I liked this one because it didn’t feel like a robot story at all. There’s a robot in it, and the robot does play a big part in the story, but the robot is not remotely self aware. It’s a tool. It’s technically a tool for one of the characters who is also a tool, but it becomes a tool in the hands of the spaceship crew and it’s really about them. In other words, this story felt like space opera.

And one robot story got me in the feels. That was Ironheart by Jonathan Maberry. But again, this doesn’t feel like a robot story. It feels like a very, very human story. A heartbreaking one.

A Fall Counts Anywhere by Catherynne M. Valente is the perfect ending for this collection. It takes the premise literally, with a robot and a fae commentating on a sports match up between the two sides in an epic free-for-all melee-style brawl. Their commentating is a laugh a minute – until it suddenly isn’t. They say that Mother Nature bats last – but who bats for Mother Nature?

Escape Rating B-: Like all short story collections, this one was a bit uneven. Overall I found the fairy stories more interesting and absorbing than the robot stories, with those two very notable exceptions. I’m sure that those on Team Robot think the exact opposite.

Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James

Review: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. JamesThe Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 152
Published by Knopf Publishing Group on October 25th 2016
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Four previously uncollected stories from one of the great mystery writers of our time--swift, cunning murder mysteries (two of which feature the young Adam Dalgliesh) that together, to borrow the author's own word, add up to a delightful "entertainment." The newly appointed Sgt. Dalgliesh is drawn into a case that is "pure Agatha Christie." . . . A "pedantic, respectable, censorious" clerk's secret taste for pornography is only the first reason he finds for not coming forward as a witness to a murder . . . A best-selling crime novelist describes the crime she herself was involved in fifty years earlier . . . Dalgliesh's godfather implores him to reinvestigate a notorious murder that might ease the godfather's mind about an inheritance, but which will reveal a truth that even the supremely upstanding Adam Dalgliesh will keep to himself. Each of these stories is as playful as it is ingeniously plotted, the author's sly humor as evident as her hallmark narrative elegance and shrewd understanding of some of the most complex--not to say the most damning--aspects of human nature. A treat for P. D. James's legions of fans and anyone who enjoys the pleasures of a masterfully wrought whodunit.

My Review:

I was in the mood for something mystery-ish, and in need of a short book, when I ran across Kristine Kathryn Rusch’ review of The Mistletoe Murder. Not only was her review very positive, but she reminded me of all the reasons that I loved the late, lamented P.D. James’ work. I got hooked on Dalgliesh after seeing it on PBS, many, many moons ago, and read the whole series. So discovering that this collection included a couple of new-to-me Dalgliesh stories sealed my fate.

This is a collection of four stories, two set in the early years of Adam Dalgliesh’ career, but the other two set longer ago and farther afield. But all of the stories take place during the Christmas season, no matter what the year.

The title story, The Mistletoe Murder, is chilling. Part of that chill is in the evolution of the amateur detective’s perspective, as she finds herself both wanting to solve the murder and deciding to act as judge and jury in rather peculiar circumstances. That the mystery is ripped from the pages of the author’s own past just adds to its appeal. What makes this story stand out is its ending. The final revelation makes both the amateur detective and the reader re-think everything that has happened.

The second story, A Very Commonplace Murder is also a fairly commonplace mystery. For this reader, it was the one disappointment in the collection. The outcome was both sad and predictable. Although the story, like its narrator, attempted to be clever about the outcome, it felt a bit hackneyed. And sad.

cover her face by pd jamesThe final two stories were the Dalgliesh stories. The last story first, because it comes first in the character’s history, even before the first published book in the series, Cover Her Face. In The Twelve Clues of Christmas the future Scotland Yard Commander is a mere Sergeant at the Met, and while early in his career, is already considered an up and coming officer with a brain in his head and a bright future ahead of him. This is a case he gets dragged into on his way to his aunt’s for Christmas, unfortunately for the perpetrators. They thought they’d be pulling a fast one on a local copper. The nice thing about this story is that not only does the young Dalgliesh figure out the deception, but so does the local inspector who has been pulled away from his Christmas dinner to wrap up the case.

And finally the remaining story in the collection, The Boxdale Inheritance. At this point, Dalgliesh is in the middle of what has already become a stellar career. Based on his rank at the Met, this story takes place around the time of Shroud for a Nightingale. But the case he is confronted with has nothing to do with anything that has crossed his desk at work. Instead, the case is brought to him by his godfather, an Anglican clergyman with a sticky sense of right and wrong. Canon Hubert Boxdale is the recipient of a large bequest from a woman he calls Great Aunt Allie. As much as the elderly Canon needs the money, he refuses to accept it if it is tainted, and it very well might be. Over 60 years ago Great Aunt Allie was acquitted of murdering her husband, even though everyone in the courtroom believed that she committed the crime that gave her all that delicious money. So Adam agrees to look into whether or not justice was done all those years ago. The truth, after all, is still out there. But the way that he works around to it shows off all of his skills at detection.

Escape Rating A-: This is a terrific collection for fans of the author and her most famous character. It reminded me just how much I miss Dalgliesh, particularly the early books. They are both missed and it was a treat to visit them again, however briefly. And The Mistletoe Murder is simply an excellent story, both as a mystery and as a character study.

If you find yourself in a mystery mood, this is a great introduction to the author and her work, or serves as a delightful visit with an old and dear friend.