Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 22, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

My Review:

Because of the house closing tomorrow, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on all the books I’m supposed to be reading. Instead, I’m looking for books to sweep me away, mostly to places and people I’ve met before. Or at least am well acquainted with through the pages of my favorite books.

And that led me to this one. As I’ve said many times before, I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, particularly when they are done well and/or introduce me to new facets of characters that I think I know and certainly love.

Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sidney Paget in the Strand Magazine

This book about Mycroft Holmes in his “salad days” does a bit of both. For those of us who are fond of the Holmes Brothers, this story about Mycroft’s early days as a government official, when he was young, in love, and his weight was definitely proportional to his height, is treat. And not just for its glimpses at an even younger Sherlock Holmes, still at school and a very indifferent student, trying to hone his gift for memory and observation into something that will keep him away from boredom, and see him intellectually if not always gainfully employed.

Even though this is a story about Mycroft rather than Sherlock Holmes, someone still needs to serve as “Watson’, chronicler, sounding-board, foil and occasionally backup gunman. In this story that role falls to Cyrus Douglas, a black man in his early 40s who is still a powerful street fighter as well as the secret owner of a successful tobacco shop in London.

The story begins when Douglas receives word from his home in Trinidad that someone or something is killing young children in a manner that strongly suggests supernatural origin. The children are dead, the adults are both grief-stricken and scared, and Douglas is tempted to sail home and look into the matter.

So is Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft Holmes fiancee, also a native of Trinidad – although from much different social and economic circles than Douglas.

Young Mycroft, deeply in love (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be writing) decides to follow Georgiana to Trinidad, using his government position as cover and providing Douglas with cover for his own desire to head home.

Mycroft and Douglas, true friends masquerading as master and manservant, run into trouble from the moment they arrive on shipboard, and stay in various states of trouble from embarkation to disembarkation.

Only to arrive in Trinidad, battered, bruised and uncertain of what happened to Georgiana or just which of the two of them exactly what forces are after with such bone-breaking intent.

This journey that leads Mycroft Holmes into the heart of darkness, breaks the young man that he was. And takes him on his first steps into becoming the spider at the heart of the British government’s wide, wide web.

Escape Rating A-: As a portrait of the government functionary as a very young man, Mycroft Holmes is a treat. When the story begins in 1870, Mycroft is all of 23. That puts his birth year in 1847 – which would make Sherlock a young 16. We think of these characters based on the Sidney Paget drawings from The Strand Magazine, but if they must have been young once.

(I have a picture in my head of Mycroft as he’s described in this book, and he looks a lot like Simon Ward as Young Winston Churchill.)

Mycroft begins this story very young indeed, not just in years, but in naivete. (Another sentence I never expected to write.) A reviewer referred to this as being the story of Mycroft in his “salad days” and that feels right. The comment about “salad days” is from Shakespeare, as said by Cleopatra in the play Antony and Cleopatra, “my salad days, when I was green in judgment…” And so Mycroft is. So much of what sets Mycroft off on his quest is his complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of the woman he believes he loves. Even Sherlock points out his lack of clear sight when it comes to Georgiana, and he’s only 16. The more mature Douglas has doubts about the young lady from the very beginning. And they are both right.

This may be the last time that Mycroft is ever wrong about anything. He certainly learns his lesson – perhaps a bit too well.

The case that Mycroft and Douglas investigate is as much a part of its time and place as the Sherlock Holmes stories are of Victorian London. As Mycroft does what he does so well, pulling the threads of monetary exchanges, political double-dealing and government corruption, he and Douglas find themselves in the middle of a plot to enslave a new generation of black men and women in a nefarious enterprise where it seems that all the players are doing their best to pretend that they are not actually slavers.

But they are. And Mycroft and Douglas, with the help of some surprising allies, set out to stop them at all costs. And it’s terrible and harrowing and marvelous and necessary and right. This is a story that introduces a marvelous and fascinating character in Douglas, and provides new insights into the familiar character of Mycroft while telling a cracking good story.

There’s a sequel coming out this fall. In fact, I was led to this book by a promo for the upcoming title, Mycroft and Sherlock. And I can’t wait.

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. GreenThe Dark Side of the Road (Ishmael Jones, #1) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #1
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on May 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A Country House Murder Mystery with a Supernatural Twist

Ishmael Jones is someone who can't afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He's employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself - is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

My Review:

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this all week. But Night Fall left me with an epic book hangover and absolutely no taste for the romance I was planning to review today. And then I remembered that I had the first book in this series, that I’d never read it, and that there was a chance that it was not part of any of the author’s many series that were rather conclusively concluded in Night Fall.

I decided not to resist. Sometimes it really is futile.

Instead of anything that I was expecting, the Ishmael Jones series in general, and The Dark Side of the Road in particular, has the feel of a classic murder mystery, in this very particular case a classic, British country house murder mystery. What makes it different is that the series is set in a Men in Black kind of world, where there really are aliens among us – who sometimes behave just as badly as we do.

And the detective, Ishmael Jones, reminds me an awful, awful, wonderfully awful lot of Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, in that he seems to be immortal, at least as far as he knows, and not exactly from around here. But where Captain Jack is a human from the future, Ishmael Jones is an alien turned into a human – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof – most of the time.

To further the resemblance, both Captain Jack and Ishmael Jones have a few holes in their memories. But Jack only lost two years. Ishmael, at least so far, seems to have lost everything prior to his ship’s crash landing on Earth in 1963. He has hazy dream-fugue quasi-memories, and nothing else.

Oh, and his blood runs golden, not red. Pretty conclusive evidence that whatever he is, he isn’t garden variety human.

The Dark Side of the Road exists somewhere at the intersection of urban fantasy, science fiction and horror. Let’s say it’s horror-adjacent, which is about as close as I like to go.

Ishmael Jones works for a secret organization that’s just called “The Organization”. It’s the latest in a long line of secret quasi-governmental agencies that Ishmael has worked for since he crashed on Earth. The more interconnected the world gets, the harder it is to change identities and hide his lack of aging – among other things.

So the Organization protects him, and he does work for them. He’s a bit of a clean-up man. When aliens, or other weird people, or things, break the law, Ishmael is one of the people who cleans up after. In a way, Ishmael is one of the Men in Black.

When his boss invites him to a country house party for Christmas, way, way out in Cornwall during the snowstorm not merely of the century, but possibly of the millenium, Ishmael battles heaven, hell, an intermittent GPS and an overtaxed steering wheel to reach the place – only to discover that by the time he gets there, his boss has gone missing.

Ishmael finds a whole lot of weird family drama, an ex-lover, an ex-colleague, and finally his boss’s body, decapitated and hidden in a snowman. Or as a snowman. Blizzard of the millennium, after all.

The remaining inhabitants are all quick to point the finger, first at a random stranger, and then at each other. But once the bodies start piling up, it becomes obvious to everyone that the killer is in the house with them.

And that the killer is not entirely human. But then again, neither is Ishmael Jones.

Escape Rating B+: This did turn out to be exactly what I was looking for to get out of that book hangover. I needed a book where I would be compelled to keep turning pages – just to see what happened next. And The Dark Side of the Road certainly had that kind of compulsion.

Along with a high creep factor – but one that is totally appropriate to its horror-adjacency.

The setting does a great job of invoking those classic country house murder mysteries. If you’re not thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None before the end of the book, you’re not creeped out nearly enough.

The story is science fiction, and it’s horror, and it’s urban fantasy. And it’s a mystery. That’s a lot of fictional plates to keep spinning. The only real SFnal element is Ishmael’s origin. He’s definitely an alien, but over the 50 plus years he’s been mostly human, this has become his planet and we have become his people. Wherever he came from, he can’t go back. And whatever made him human, it gave him human emotions and reactions, but a whole lot of better-than-human capabilities. He can’t actually do anything we can’t, but he does them all better and faster and more efficiently.

The mystery of who killed his boss, and continues killing his boss’ remaining family, moved from mystery to horror. At first it’s a question of whodunnit. But as the corpses and evidence mount, the question moves from whodunnit to what done it, and then to who is masquerading as the what.

The answer to that question tips the story from mystery into horror. Or at least adjacent enough to creep me out a bit – but not too much.

As things go from bad to worse to desperate, we follow along from Ishmael’s head. The story is told in the first-person singular, so we know what he knows, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. Including the grief, the desperation, the fear, the confusion, and the hope that someone will get out of this alive. Somehow.

I liked being inside his head. Ishmael is an interesting and still somewhat enigmatic character. I’m looking forward to reading more of his adventures – the next time I need another compelling book and/or cure for a book hangover!

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Girl Who Stepped Into The Past by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: time travel romance
Pages: 256
Published by Sophie Barnes on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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She was looking for inspiration…

When historical romance author Jane Edwards goes to England on a research trip, she doesn’t expect to travel two hundred years into the past. She also doesn’t expect to be accused of murdering the Earl of Camden’s sister. Presented with few choices, Jane decides the best course of action is to help Camden find the real killer. But the more time she spends in his company, the more she falls for the dashing earl, and the more she hopes for a life with him by her side.

And found love in the most impossible place.

James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, is convinced Jane had something to do with his sister’s murder. Until he learns she lacked the ability to accomplish the feat. Still, her explanation about stopping by his home in the middle of a rainstorm to seek employment, doesn’t add up. And yet, when he offers her the position she supposedly seeks, he discovers the smart resourceful woman she is. Which makes him wonder if marrying his new maid, might be worth the risk of scandal.

My Review:

It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as the concept of time travel. The premise will sound familiar to anyone who has read any time travel romances. The details change a bit. In this particular version of this old tale, a woman who is looking for a fresh start after the end of a relationship falls in love with a man in a portrait. When the thunder booms and the lightning cracks, she finds herself back at the period of that portrait, face to face with the man of her dreams.

When the trope is as tried and true as this one, whether a particular variation of it stands out from the crowd lies with the execution – because we know how it’s going to end. Somehow there’s going to be an HEA, whether in the past or the present. Or it’s going to be a tragedy, but romance writers generally don’t go there. Readers love their HEAs after all.

Although the beginning of this one reminded me particularly of Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready, in the end it mostly recalled The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm. Both of those stories were a lot of fun, and The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past is as well.

Jane Edwards doesn’t merely find herself in the Regency period that she has studied long and hard as part of her research for her own series of historical romance novels, she finds herself standing over a dead body in the middle of a unsolved murder. A murder that was never solved, so she does not have any future knowledge about who done it.

In an era where circumstantial evidence ruled, her position is rather damning. The Earl of Camden, the man that Jane has fallen for via his portrait, is certain that Jane must have just killed his sister. Jane has her work cut out for her, not only proving her innocence but also explaining her sudden presence in the middle of the English countryside.

Jane turns out to be more than up to the task. But involving herself in the life and household of James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, causes her no end of problems, as one might expect. The two bond over their investigation into his sister’s death, in spite of Jane’s rather unconventional appearance and manners.

Jane begins to realize that James is the man she has been looking for all of her life. But falling in love has its own risks. Will he believe her strange story? Is he willing to be shunned by society to marry a woman who at best seems to be an American adventuress? And is Jane willing to give up the safety, convenience, freedom and loneliness of the 21st century for life with the man she loves in a world that will otherwise never accept her?

And will solving the murder change history too much to make any of their wishes even remotely possible?

Escape Rating B: This is a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t rise above some of the truly great time travel stories like Outlander and The Jane Austen Project. And there are plenty of nods to Jane Austen herself in this story.

Jane Edwards, our heroine, is a lucky woman. By the time she tells him, James manages to believe her story, as outlandish as it seems. He believes, perhaps, just a bit too easily. I considered it all part of the handwavium of time travel and didn’t let it bother me too much.

Jane does have an awfully easy time figuring out who killed James’ sister. To the point where the reader may be surprised that she was a Regency romance author and not a mystery author! But it is all in good fun, at least fun for anyone not the victim or the perpetrator.

The heart of the story is the romance between Jane and James. While they fall in love rather quickly, the dilemma they face is the one that tears at the heart. She might be able to go back. It will be difficult for a 21st century woman to live with the restrictions imposed on women in the 19th century. If she stays so they can marry, James will be shunned by his peers for the rest of his life, and that shunning may also fall on any children they have. They have to be willing to give up a great deal in order to be together. What we feel for, in the end, is the internal conflict they each have to resolve and their ultimate willingness to be all to each other, and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

And that’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances, time travel or no time travel. By the time they reach that ultimate decision, we are right there with them.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sophie is giving away a signed print copy of The Girl Who Stepped Into The Past + a $10 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner on this tour.

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Review: Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death by Water by Kerry GreenwoodDeath by Water (Phryne Fisher, #15) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #15
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 1, 2010 (first published 2005)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The nice men at P&O are worried. A succession of jewellery thefts from the first class passengers is hardly the best advertisement for their cruises. Especially when it is likely that a passenger is the thief. Phryne Fisher, with her Lulu bob, green eyes, cupid's bow lips and sense of the ends justifying the means, is just the person to mingle seamlessly with the upper classes and take on a case of theft on the high seas - or at least on the S.S. Hinemoa, on a luxury cruise to New Zealand. She is carrying the Great Queen of Sapphires, the Maharani, as bait. There are shipboard romances, champagne cocktails, erotic photographers, jealous swains, mickey finns, jazz musicians, blackmail and attempted murder, all before the thieves find out - as have countless love-smitten men before them - that where the glamorous and intelligent Phryne is concerned, resistance is futile.

My Review:

In between yesterday’s big and marvelous epic fantasy (Spinning Silver) and tomorrow’s big series-opening epic fantasy (The Magic of Recluce) I found myself looking for something less weighty that I knew from the off would be quick to get immersed in. Spinning Silver was wonderful but left me with an epic book hangover.

So naturally I turned to something, or rather someone, who always manages to sweep me back into her world at the drop of a hat, the lighting of a gasper, or the discovery of yet another dead body.

Of course, I’m speaking of Miss Phryne Fisher. The books, while in some ways markedly different than the TV series, always serve up a delicious repaste of Phryne’s signature style, sizzling wit and nose for both finding and solving trouble.

Death by Water was certainly no exception.

This was an interesting story for multiple reasons. This is one of the few cases where the book consists almost entirely of the case. It is also a story where Phryne is operating far away from her usual base of operations, and without most of her cast of regulars. And the cruise ship itinerary as described in the book is fascinating.

She boards the P&O cruise ship SS Hinemoa for a luxury cruise to New Zealand with only the redoubtable Dot at her side. Phryne has chosen to accept this case from the cruise line to discover who is stealing expensive jewels from its first-class passengers so that she can escape a period of more than the usual chaos at her house in St. Kilda.

The thefts have been cunning. The jewel thief or thieves have managed to make some of their heists in the middles of crowded dancefloors with no one being the wiser. It’s giving the cruise line a black eye in the publicity department, not to mention costing them a pretty penny in reparations. And it has to stop.

So Phryne boards the ship with a stunner of a sapphire and a tragic story of a curse to go with it. The games begin almost immediately, as the thieves make attempts on her stateroom and both Phryne’s and Dot’s possessions and eventually persons.

That makes it personal.

But just as Phryne begins to put all the pieces together, murder enters the scene. Are the crimes connected, or are there two crime sprees aboard this one ship? With the help of the ship’s cat Scragger, Phryne is able to reveal all. Or almost all. Or all that needs to be revealed.

Escape Rating B+: I went looking for fun, and I found it. And just like Phryne drinking a restorative brandy, I feel ready to tackle whatever comes next.

This is one of the stories that was not filmed, and I understand why. At the same time, I’m sorry it wasn’t – the sets and the costumes would have been glorious!

The case here turns out to be unusually straightforward. The ship is a closed community, and there aren’t a lot of options for misdirection. Phryne, as usual, solves the problem with intelligence rather than forensics. She studies the people involved, looks at the possible motives and opportunities, and figures out who is acting out of character, even if she can’t always tell why.

But Phryne is alone, except for Dot of course, on this trip. This wasn’t a case where the usual gang would have been all that helpful, and they weren’t missed as they have been in other stories. Cec’s niece Lizbeth, Navigation Officer Green and others do end up filling the places of Phryne’s assistants, and for once it works well. It helps that Phryne’s fellow first-class passengers are a colorful lot – to say the least!

The descriptions, both of shipboard life on a first class cruise and of cruise tourism in New Zealand in the 1920s are marvelous. The reader feels as if they are there on the ship, with all its gossip, pampering, troublemaking and ennui. If it weren’t for the frequent attempts on Phryne’s and Dot’s lives, it would seem like quite a restful trip! And if you enjoy Phryne’s singular voice, it’s a lovely journey.

Review: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi OkoraforThe Night Masquerade (Binti, #3) by Nnedi Okorafor
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Afrofuturism, science fiction
Series: Binti #3
Pages: 208
Published by Tor.com on January 16th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The concluding part of the highly-acclaimed science fiction trilogy that began with Nnedi Okorafor's Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning BINTI.

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.

Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.

Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Don't miss this essential concluding volume in the Binti trilogy.

My Review:

I picked up The Night Masquerade because we saw the absolutely, totally, completely marvelous Black Panther over the weekend, and I was looking for more Afrofuturism. Then I remembered that the final book in the Binti Trilogy was already out, and why hadn’t I read it already?.

So here we are.

Admittedly, one reason why I hadn’t read The Night Masquerade already was because as much as I adored the first book, Binti, the second book, Home left me with a much more mixed reaction. Binti herself spent much of Home feeling fairly muddled, and as I read it I was muddled right along with her.

Although now that I have finished The Night Masquerade I am highly tempted to go back and reread Home. Now that I see where things were headed, the journey feels as though it had a lot more depth.

In Home, it seemed as if Binti, desperate for home, had gone back and discovered that, as the classic title goes, “you can’t go home again.”. In The Night Masquerade, the situation seems even worse. She discovers that while home may be the place that when you have to go there, they have to let you in, once they’ve opened the door there is nothing to stop them from stabbing you in the back as you walk past.

Binti may be physically home, but the people that she thought were hers reject her and everything about her that makes her what they perceive as anathema. Binti is different. Binti has left the Himba. Because the Himba don’t leave that turns Binti from “one of us” into a dangerous outsider.

She has also discovered that she is more than just Himba. Her father was one of the Desert People. While the Himba perceive the Desert People as barbarian savages, the truth is otherwise. As it usually is.

And the use of her talents as “harmonizer” aboard the sentient ship Third Fish (the events of Binti) have both grown her talent and made her a part of the non-human Meduse as well. She has become more, but her people (her own immediate family excepted) perceive her as being less.

The neighboring Khoosh people, on the other hand, see Binti’s Meduse friend Okwu as a enemy, and rain war and destruction on the Himba in frustration that Okwu and Binti are nowhere to be found.

Bintu gives her life in an effort to make peace, only to be struck down at the moment of her greatest achievement.

But just as on her first journey, the one where she should have died the first time, it’s not merely that what does not kill her makes her stronger, but that what kills her does too.

Escape Rating A: While The Night Masquerade is not as fresh as the first book, Binti, quite possibly because Binti herself is not as fresh and new as she was at the start of her journey, it still marks a return to the page-turning fascination of that first book.

In Binti, we saw her first, sometimes tentative steps into the wider universe, not in spite of but because of the tragedy that she survives aboard Third Fish. In Home, Binti is searching for who she is now, trying to harmonize all of the various parts of herself that she has discovered or that she has absorbed. And she flails around a bit. (Don’t we all at 17?)

But in The Night Masquerade Binti is finally on the road to who she is meant to be. Her journey is far from complete, even though it is nearly cut short. In this final book in the trilogy, she ultimately manages to reach past her own doubts and fears and take control of her future, by embracing all the disparate aspects of her identity.

A significant part of the story is Binti’s internal journey, as she sees the limitations of her own people’s worldview and chooses to deliberately move beyond it, in spite of her doubts and fears. And in spite of the cost.

It’s a difficult and dangerous journey, made even more so by the shortsightedness of entirely too many people on all sides. But watching Binti come into her own is absolutely fantastic. If you like coming-of-age stories, especially when combined with a heroine’s journey, I think (and hope) you will love Binti’s story as much as I did.

Reviewer’s Note: NoveList has just released beautiful posters featuring Afrofuturism and Afrofantasy in honor of the fantastic movie Black Panther. The posters are gorgeous, but of course not remotely comprehensive of either genre. However, Nnedi Okorafor is the only author featured on both posters. Look for the posters AND the books at your local library.

Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline WinspearMessenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs, #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, World War I
Series: Maisie Dobbs #4
Pages: 322
Published by Henry Holt on August 22nd 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London, 1931. On the night before the opening of his new and much-anticipated exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Nicholas Bassington-Hope falls to his death. The police declare the fall an accident, but the dead man's twin sister, Georgina, isn't convinced. When the authorities refuse to conduct further investigations and close the case, Georgina - a journalist and infamous figure in her own right - takes matters into her own hands, seeking out a fellow graduate from Girton College: Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator.

The case soon takes Maisie to the desolate beaches of Dungeness in Kent, as well as the sinister underbelly of the city's art world. And while navigating her way into the heart of the aristocratic yet bohemian Bassington-Hopes, Maisie is deeply troubled by the tragedy of another, quite different family in need.

In Messenger of Truth, Maisie Dobbs again uncovers the dark legacy of the Great War in a society struggling to recollect itself in difficult times. But to solve the mystery of the artist's death, she will have to remain steady as the forces behind his death come out of the shadows to silence her.

Following on the bestselling Pardonable Lies, Jacqueline Winspear delivers another vivid, thrilling, and utterly unique episode in the life of Maisie Dobbs.

My Review:

I was disappointed to learn that there was no “Month of Maisie” this year. The last couple of years the publisher has toured both the upcoming book in the series (this year it’s To Die But Once) as well as the entire series to date. It’s been my prompt disguised as an opportunity to read one of the earlier books and then treat myself to the new one.

I always look forward to this tour, so I decided to do my own “Month of Maisie” this year. Hence today’s review of Messenger of Truth. Eventually I’ll catch up to myself, as I started reading with Leaving Everything Most Loved (book 10 in the series) and have been reading both forward and backward ever since. (I’m planning to review the new book during its “book birthday” week at the end of the month)

Messenger of Truth is set in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression. As is usually the case for Maisie, she is somewhat at a crossroads. After the events in Pardonable Lies, she has broken with her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche. She did not find his lies all that pardonable.

She has also moved out of her free lodgings at the London house of her “sponsor”, Lady Rowan Compton and into a purchased flat of her own.

Last but not least, she is discovering that she enjoys her freedom, and needs her work, much too much to give it up for marriage to Andrew Dene, the surgeon who has been courting her for the past couple of stories. Andrew is a perfectly nice and respectable man, but also a traditional one. And Maisie has determined that the traditional life of a wife and mother is not what she wants, or at least not what she wants right now. Or possibly just not what she wants with Andrew Dene.

So a case drops into Maisie’s life, one that will focus her energies not just on her work, but on what she wants to do and where she wants to go from here. It is also a case that will help her turn towards the future and finally step out of the shadows of World War I, even though, in the end, the war is what the case is all about.

Georgina Bassington-Hope hires Maisie to discover the truth about how her twin brother Nicholas died. Or was killed. The police have ruled the death of the promising artist a tragic accident, but something in Georgina believes it was murder. When the police are fed up with listening to her, they refer her to Maisie.

Because Maisie will find out the truth. No matter who it might hurt. Even if the person most destroyed turns out to be her client. Or herself.

And no matter how much danger she puts them both into along the way.

Escape Rating B+: This series as a whole are excellent historical mysteries. If you like the genre and haven’t read them yet, start with the first book, Maisie Dobbs. And if you are a fan of either the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd or the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, you’ll probably also love Maisie. All three series take place in the same WWI and between the wars period, and all feature heroines who would have a lot in common – and would probably enjoy a cuppa together to compare notes but would probably not become besties. They are all fascinating in similar ways, and they all cover some of the same turf, but are not much like each other.

I digress.

One of Maisie’s singular characteristics is her dogged determination to discover the truth, no matter what the cost. While most of her methods are fairly standard detective work in the sense of searching for clues and following the leads, she is also a practicing psychologist.

Another difference is that Maisie in “sensitive” in a way that might be described as psychic, although Maisie herself would never call it that. But she deliberately sets out to sense the vibrations and aura of a place, and will also deliberately put herself into a meditative trance in order to pick up those vibrations. The less one believes in this, the more off putting one finds it.

Messenger of Truth is a story where she does that rather a lot at the beginning, if only because there aren’t many physical clues to work with. Maisie, as she often does, looks deeply into motive to finally figure out “who done it”.

One of the hallmarks of Maisie’s cases is that there is always much more going on than just the case, and the way that Maisie usually discovers something about herself and her own issues as she resolves the case.

There’s a big, well, not exactly a red herring but certainly a bright pink one in this case. Nicholas and several of his painter friends kept studios on the beach at Romney Marsh, and either witnessed, were involved in, or a bit of both, one of the oldest “occupations’ on the English coast – smuggling.

That particular operation creates ties, and clues, in several directions – the past, the future, and the Customs and Excise. The call back to Dr. Syn and a Disney movie I saw as a child, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, was a trip down memory lane. The look into the future, at the direction Hitler was taking and the desperation of Jews to get their possessions out of the reach of the Nazis was prophetic. The Customs and Excise actually created a bit of comic relief, but also highlighted just how many things the dead artist was stirring up that no one wanted stirred.

In the end, it all circles back to the Great War. As so many things did at that time, and in Maisie’s life.

Maisie herself is always a fascinating character. Her life has made her the ultimate outsider, not part of any of the social classes, but able to operate in all of them. At the same time, this is a case where Maisie herself is working through multiple crossroads, deciding whether she wants a traditional life after all, or to continue down the independent road she has chosen. And just how much of her war it is time to put behind her – even as the next war looms on the horizon.

In the end, it’s not the case, but Maisie that we come to see, and it is her life that we want to read about. The case just provides focus for both her and the reader.

I can’t wait to pick up To Die But Once to see Maisie dealing with her second war, this time from the homefront.

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle BirknerModern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audioboook
Genres: essays, grief, nonfiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Wave on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by the website that the New York Times hailed as "redefining mourning," this book is a fresh and irreverent examination into navigating grief and resilience in the age of social media, offering comfort and community for coping with the mess of loss through candid original essays from a variety of voices, accompanied by gorgeous two-color illustrations and wry infographics.

At a time when we mourn public figures and national tragedies with hashtags, where intimate posts about loss go viral and we receive automated birthday reminders for dead friends, it’s clear we are navigating new terrain without a road map.

Let’s face it: most of us have always had a difficult time talking about death and sharing our grief. We’re awkward and uncertain; we avoid, ignore, or even deny feelings of sadness; we offer platitudes; we send sympathy bouquets whittled out of fruit.

Enter Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, who can help us do better. Each having lost parents as young adults, they co-founded Modern Loss, responding to a need to change the dialogue around the messy experience of grief. Now, in this wise and often funny book, they offer the insights of the Modern Loss community to help us cry, laugh, grieve, identify, and—above all—empathize.

Soffer and Birkner, along with forty guest contributors including Lucy Kalanithi, singer Amanda Palmer, and CNN’s Brian Stelter, reveal their own stories on a wide range of topics including triggers, sex, secrets, and inheritance. Accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and witty "how to" cartoons, each contribution provides a unique perspective on loss as well as a remarkable life-affirming message.

Brutally honest and inspiring, Modern Loss invites us to talk intimately and humorously about grief, helping us confront the humanity (and mortality) we all share. Beginners welcome.

My Review:

I picked this book for a very specific reason. My mother died on December 25, 2017 and this is a book about dealing with grief and loss. Since I’m not quite sure how well I’m dealing with everything, it felt like a good time to see how other people do. Or don’t, as the case may be.

The authors met each other, founded their website, and wrote this book after both of them lost one or both of their parents at a relatively young age. Not necessarily the parents’ age, although that too. But their own. They both were “orphaned” in their 20s, at a time when most people’s parents are not just still living, but still thriving and still working.

Their personal stories resonated with me, but not so much in the present tense. My dad passed away at 63, when I was 34.We were both too young for that particular trauma, and in some ways I never got over it. I still dream that he’s alive and we’re talking about something or doing something together. It’s always a shock to wake up and remember that he’s gone, and that he died long before I met my husband. I think they’d have liked each other. I’m certain that they would have had some epic chess games.

And every time I have one of those dreams I wake up with a migraine. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. I think we still have unfinished business, business that will never be finished. I keep trying to dream it better, and can’t.

The book is a collection of stories and essays by people who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Not just parents, but also spouses, children, parental figures, and anyone else whose loss brought them profound grief. Or anger. Or all the stages of grief at once.

For someone grieving a loss, or who has ever grieved a loss, reading the book is cathartic. I was looking for answers because my reaction to my mother’s death has been so very different from my reaction to my dad’s, and I was looking for a kind of validation. I wanted to see if my reaction was, if not normal, at least somewhere within the normal range.

And now I know I’m not alone. My mom was 89 when she died. We did not always get along, but we did keep in touch. Her passing was not unexpected, and there was time to, if not finish all the business, at least resolve in my own head and heart that all the business was finished that was ever going to get finished. We were who we were, and there were topics that were just never going to get discussed and arguments that were never going to be resolved.

It is what it is. Or as my mom so often said, “what will be will be”. And so it is.

Reality Rating B: I found this book helpful, but difficult to review. In the end, what I’ve written above is personal, and in a way is similar to some of the personal narratives told in the book.

The individual essays are a very mixed bag. Some spoke to me, whether their situation resembled my own or not. Others did not. This is definitely a case where one’s mileage varies. And I’ll also say that I can’t imagine reading this book unless one had experienced this type of loss and was looking for something, whether that be validation, shared experience or just catharsis. Or even just to feel all the feels.

Everyone’s experience of loss is different, and as my own issues show, every loss, even experienced by the same person, is different. We change, and so do our relationships.

If you or someone you know is grieving and is the type of person who looks for answers in books, reading this one may prove cathartic, or at least affirming. There is no one true answer. Just a true answer for each of us alone.

I still have dreams about my dad, but not, at least so far, my mom. And that is what it is, too.

TLC
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Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. Owens

Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. OwensCelta Cats by Robin D. Owens
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Series: Celta's Heartmates
Pages: 144
Published by Amazon Digital Services on December 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Smart Cats know what they want. And on the world of Celta, they are very smart. They can be Familiar Animal companions, bonded with a person.
These stories are seen from the cat’s very own eyes, and are six never before published Cat Stories, including the first Top Cat of Celta, Peaches; as well as a trio of stories about that favorite Fam, Zanth.
Peaches Arrives on Celta, Plenty of problems for Peaches to fix: challenges to his status; people lying about Peaches’ human companion and Peaches himself; Grandma’s acting mean...and there’s that very real concern that the Ship just might not land safely, fear he must overcome…
Zanth Gets His Boy, Zanth’s meeting with a noble boy running from evil people changes both their lives in ways he couldn’t imagine
Pinky Becomes A Fam, Pinky is a smart enough cat to know that there is a difference from being a regular cat and a Familiar Companion Cat, and bonding better with his boy. He’s determined to make the leap from cat to Fam, but didn’t realize exactly what that meant…
Zanth Claims Treasure, Yes, the southern estate smells great, even better smelling is the glass orb full of magic that he finds, and will fight to keep…
Baccat Chooses His Person, Life on the streets in the winter isn’t what Baccat deserves, and he’s determined to find a good person to take care of him. After all, he has so much to offer…but does he really deserve what he gets?
Zanth Saves The Day, A FamCat on a beach just can’t sleep with all that odd hatching and squeaking going on. Zanth finds new friends and defends them against bullies…

My Review:

I’m still looking for comfort reading. When I heard the FamCats of Celta meowing my name, I decided to answer.

This is likely to be what a blogging friend refers to as a “short and sweet” review. This is not a big book, the stories do not have big messages, but they are a whole lot of fun, particularly if you like the Celta’s Heartmates series. The stories in Celta Cats illustrate bits of backstory or side story of events that are referred to in the main series, but are told from the point of view of the FamCats, the Familiar Companion animals of Celta who happen to be cats.

It seems that any animal can become a Fam, if they have enough Flair (psi power) and enough intelligence. Fams are intelligent at what we would think of as a human level, but do not think human thoughts. They understand human speech and thought, but as the stories illustrate, they do not change their essential nature. The FamCats, in particular, are always very cat. Particularly in the “dogs have owners, cats have staff” sense. FamCats expect rewards for their service, and are not remotely shy about demanding those rewards. It’s part of what makes them so much fun.

Although this collection features FamCats, in the main series we meet many other animals who have become Fams, including foxes, dogs, birds, and even housefluffs, which seem like a less predatory version of the dustbunnies in Jayne Castle’s Harmony series.

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens new cover

Several of the stories in this collection feature Xanth, the FamCat who owns and protects Rand T’Ash, the hero of the first book in the series, Heart Mate. From Xanth’s perspective, he is the dominant partner. Rand’s perspective may be otherwise. But one of the most interesting stories in the collection is the first meeting between Xanth and Rand, told from Xanth’s perspective. At that point, Rand was a scared and very young man, who had just watched evil men burn out his family home, killing his parents and siblings., while Xanth was a full-grown and battle-toughened street cat. Those same men are hunting Rand, and it is Xanth’s knowledge of Druida City’s back alleys that keeps them both alive until Rand matures enough to come into his full power and exact his revenge.

Escape Rating A-: For adult readers, Celta Cats is a book for fans. The joy in the stories is filling in missing pieces of Celtan history, and especially viewing that history through the eyes of the Fams, who are so often the best part, or at least the funniest part, of many of the stories.

As a short story collection, Celta Cats is being marketed as a children’s book. I have my doubts about that. It’s true that there is no “adult” content per se. These stories are not romances, while the regular books of the Celta’s Heartmates series most definitely are. But what makes these stories special is their connection to Celta. The Xanth stories are particularly fun because they connect to Xanth (and Rand) as we already know them. Whether young readers will find them interesting without knowing anything about the background of Celta is something I’m just not sure about.

But for those of us who love the series, and can’t wait until next year for our next visit to Celta, these stories are utterly charming.

Reviewer’s Note: I read Celta Cats in the wake of Ursula K. LeGuin’s death. If you like the Celta Cats, you will love her Catwings series, which begins with, of course, Catwings. The Catwings stories, are, not surprisingly considering the title, about a family of winged cats. The wings seem to be a mutation, as the stories are set in the contemporary world and everyone, both cats and humans, are aware that the Catwings family needs to be protected from people who will want to study them. The stories are marvelous, the illustrations are lovely, and just like Celta Cats, the stories will be enjoyed by adults who love any intersection between cats and either science fiction or fantasy.

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders (Phryne Fisher, #13) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #13
Pages: 240
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The fabulous Phryne Fisher, her sister Beth and her faithful maid, Dot, decide that Luna Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of fun and excitement with Phryne's two daughters, Ruth and Jane. But in the dusty dark Ghost Train, amidst the squeals of horror and delight, a mummified bullet-studded corpse falls to the ground in front of them. Phryne Fisher's pleasure trip has definitely become business. Digging into this longstanding mystery takes her to the country town of Castlemaine where it's soon obvious that someone is trying to muzzle her investigations. With unknown threatening assailants on her path, Phryne seems headed for more trouble than usual....

My Review:

This was the first time that one of Phryne Fisher’s mysteries gave me a bit of a book hangover. Normally, this series is more like a palate cleanser for me, in that when I find myself in need of a quick, comfortable read, I pick up the next book in the series, read it in one night and the next morning I’m ready for whatever is next on my actual schedule.

The true historical elements wrapped into this story, combined with the cultural background on Chinese immigration and Chinese society in Australia in the 1920s and before were fascinating. Also, unlike most of the books in the series that I have read so far, this particular story was not filmed, nor were any of the elements from this story part of any of the filmed episodes.

So it was both utterly familiar and completely new at the same time.

There are really two stories in this book, running mostly in parallel and eventually meeting up at the end. Phryne uncovers (unmasks, perhaps unboots) a mummy at an amusement park. In spite of the age of the mummy, who while certainly not an Egyptian pharaoh seems to be at least half a century old, someone still seems to be dead – or perhaps deadly – interested in preventing Phryne from discovering who he used to be.

Meanwhile, Phryne’s lover Lin Chung is in the process of assuming control of the Lin family. His venerable Grandmother is still alive, but now that Lin Chung is an adult, control of the family businesses is his. If he can manage to gain that control without offending the old dragon too much, and without making her lose too much face in the process. It’s a delicate balance.

A balance that is made even more delicate when Lin Chung manages to settle a century-old feud between the Lin family and the equally distinguished Hu family. Among the many outstanding issues to be settled between them is the theft of gold from the Lin family and the murder of their four couriers back in 1857, at the height of the Australian gold rush and the depths of anti-Chinese prejudice in Australia.

But when all the accounts are settled between the two families, with nothing left owing on either side, the theft and the deaths are still outstanding, because the Hu family was not responsible. So who was? What happened to the bodies? And what happened to the gold?

Meanwhile, Phryne’s younger sister Beth has been rusticated to Australia by their bully of a father, because she will not marry either of the two men he has picked out for her. And with excellent reasons, even if it does take her half the story to finally reveal all.

It is rather convenient that the mysterious mummy, the missing couriers and Beth’s erstwhile suitor all resolve into one single problem. And it’s also a whole lot of fun to watch it all finally unravel.

Right along with the rope that the villains tie Phryne up with.

Escape Rating A-:This was the right book at the right time. I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series in order, but not one right after another. As much as I love the series, what makes reading one seem fresh would get a bit stale if I tried reading a bunch of them back-to-back, no matter how tempted I might be.

The Castlemaine Murders was one that tempted me a great deal. It had a lot of elements that made it just a bit different from previous books in the series, while, unlike Death Before Wicket, the story was not based on something in which I have neither the interest nor the understanding.

Instead, the mystery in The Castlemaine Murders is all about history. And while the particular mystery that Phryne had to solve was fictional, the events of the Australian Gold Rush in general, including the terrible treatment of the Chinese laborers brought in to work the fields, was all too true. Much of the history that Phryne and Lin Chung investigate really happened, if not quite in the same way as in the story.

A significant chunk of this story revolves around Lin Chung rather than Phryne – they operate separately for much of the narrative. It’s a fascinating introduction to a culture and society that I am not familiar with, while at the same time the prejudices that the Chinese laborers faced in Australia were unfortunately not all that different from what they faced in the California Gold Rush.

This is also to some extent Lin Chung’s coming of age story, as he begins to operate as head of the family and out from under his very formidable grandmother’s thumb. He’s an interesting character in his own right (and in Phryne’s life) and his parts of the story were absorbing.

One of the ways that this story diverges from the TV series, in addition to the significant part that Lin Chung plays in the narrative, is the part of the story relating to Phryne’s sister Beth (who is dead in the series) and their father who is rather feckless in the TV series but a bully and a tyrant here.

For those reading this book expecting it to be just like the TV show will probably be a bit disappointed, or even censorious about Phryne’s continued relationship with the married Lin Chung. But for those following the book series on its own merits, this one is a treat.

Up next is Queen of the Flowers, the next time I need a comfort reading break!

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Prisoner of Limnos (Penric & Desdemona #6) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #6
Pages: 139
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on October 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In this sequel novella to “Mira’s Last Dance”, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court, and confined in a precarious island sanctuary.

Their own romance still unresolved, Nikys, Penric, and of course Desdemona must infiltrate the hostile country once more, finding along the way that family relationships can be as unexpectedly challenging as any rescue scheme.

My Review:

There’s a famous cartoon by Sidney Harris of two mathematicians standing at a blackboard. On the blackboard, there’s a complicated formula on the left and more complicated formula on the right. In the middle, there’s the text, “THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS”. The caption is one mathematician telling the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

The plan that Penric hatches with Nikys to rescue her mother from political imprisonment is a lot like that cartoon, to the point where the need for the miracle in the middle is called out more than once.

Considering that the place where her mother is being held is a sanctuary devoted to worship of the Daughter, and that Penric is a Learned Divine and a Sorcerer in the service of the fifth god, Lord Bastard, a miracle is entirely possible – if not necessarily a good idea to actually count on.

The Prisoner of Limnos picks up immediately after Mira’s Last Dance leaves off. It is necessary to read the Penric and Desdemona series in at least the publication order, but as this is a series of novellas, and they are all excellent, if you like fantasy, particularly of the slightly epic and continually quirky variety, the series is a marvelous and relatively quick read.

But as this one picks up right after the last book, the issues left unresolved at the end of Mira’s Last Dance are still very much unresolved. That issue being Penric’s courtship of Nikys. It’s not that they don’t love each other, because they do, or at least are getting there. The problem is Penric’s demon, Desdemona, and all of the 14 personalities that reside within her, and therefore him.

Nikys is more than happy to be with Penric, but completely unsure about the horde of females who all live in his head. He’s not crazy. Being the rider for a demon is a condition of becoming a sorcerer. (How Penric and Desdemona ‘met’ is in the first book, Penric’s Demon)

But when Nikys discovers that her mother has been imprisoned as a way to bring her brother back to their former home, a country that wrongly accused him of treason and blinded him in punishment, she turns to Penric. Both because she trusts him implicitly, and because she knows he’s the only one who might be capable of pulling this jailbreak off.

After all, he got her and her brother out of the country once, in not dissimilar circumstances. He should be able to do it again.

With a little bit of help from their friends. And a whole lot of help from the gods.

Escape Rating A-: This is a rescue where everything goes right, everything goes wrong, and a seagull goes ‘poof’.

Penric is always flying by the seat of his pants, even when he’s not wearing pants. His god, the Lord Bastard, is the ‘master of all disasters out of season’. In other words, Penric serves an agent of chaos. When you semi-control, and it’s only ever semi, the chaos, you can often visit it upon your enemies instead of yourself. Not that Penric doesn’t pay for the use of his magic in other ways.

This is a story about politics and romance, wrapped around a sometimes daring and often hilarious rescue. Penric never does anything by halves.

The strength of the series is the relationship between Penric and Desdemona. They are bound together in something closer than kinship, and it’s a lifebond. At least for him. When he dies, Desdemona and everything she has learned from him and all her previous riders will be passed to the next sorcerer, or to the nearest person handy who automatically becomes a sorcerer.

Penric is a fascinating character all by himself. He’s someone who has broken completely away from everything he originally intended to be, and has made himself an interesting and useful life as he is. At the same time, he is very independent of mind and always has a slightly quirky outlook on what he sees.

That the author has managed to make Desdemona a separate character, even though she part of Penric, makes this all work. Desdemona is the ultimate big sister, with a snarky outlook built over centuries of living and multiple riders. At the same time, all of her riders have been female, and she is finding the whole ‘love and courtship’ thing every bit as idiotic from the male perspective as she ever did from the female. And she laughs.

While the rescue is screamingly fun, the heart of the story is Nikys’ resolution of her dilemma about Penric and all his “sisters”. She has to decide if loving the man is worth putting up with all of his baggage, even more than occurs in most marriages. And the way its done is both completely sensible and absolutely lovely.

My only complaint about The Prisoner of Limnos is the same one I have about every novella in this series. It’s a novella, meaning it’s too damn short. I love returning to this world, and I always want MORE!