Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #3
Pages: 113
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on August 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble
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"Penric's Fox": a Penric & Desdemona novella in the World of the Five Gods. Book 3.

Some eight months after the events of “Penric and the Shaman”, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

My Review:

When I saw the announcement earlier this week that there was a new Penric and Desdemona novella, I immediately ran (figuratively, of course) to Amazon to buy a copy, and dropped everything to read it immediately. This series of novellas, set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, are absolutely marvelous treats, every single one. And Penric’s Fox is no exception.

Penric’s Fox, while being the fifth book in the series in publication order, is actually the third book in the series’ internal chronology, taking place, as the blurb says, about eight months after the events in Penric and the Shaman. And it feels like it takes place a few years before the events of Penric’s Mission.

If the above paragraph is a bit confusing, there’s a surefire way to resolve your confusion. Read the series from its marvelous beginning in Penric’s Demon, our first introduction to Penric, his demon Desdemona, and a terrific introduction or re-introduction as the case might be, to the World of the Five Gods.

Penric, with Desdemona’s cooperation and assistance (and occasional snark from the sidelines) becomes a Learned Divine of the White God, Lord Bastard, the “Master of all disasters out of season”. As the series progresses we see Penric, who is a very young man at the beginning of his tale in Penric’s Demon, grow into the change in his fortunes and the unexpected role that has been thrust upon him.

While each of his adventures is a bit different, in this particular story Penric finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation. And for once, in spite of his somewhat infamous bad luck, he is the investigator and not the suspected perpetrator. Although, again because of his infamous bad luck, he very nearly becomes one of the victims.

Penric and his friend, the shaman Inglis, are called to the scene of a murder, as is their friend Oswyl, one of the local investigators. This case needs all of them. The woman who was definitely murdered by the two arrows in her back, was, like Penric, a Learned Divine of the Lord Bastard. So not only is she dead, but her demon is either dispersed, meaning equally dead, or missing, having jumped into the nearest available host, quite possibly but hopefully not the killer.

The demons in this universe carry the accumulated wisdom of all their previous hosts, somewhat like the Trill symbionts in Star Trek. The demons death would be a great loss, equal in many ways to the murder of the human host, and just as tragic.

Inglis the shaman turns out to be necessary to the puzzle because the evidence eventually begins to suggest that the demon jumped into the body of a vixen fox, which may have driven both the demon and the fox more than a bit mad. And of course the local investigator is there to figure out who shot the arrows, murdered the woman, and why.

It’s a tangle, that only gets more tangled as the three investigate. What was the motive for the murder? Learned Divines have no property, and the woman’s jewelry and purse were still on her person. She might have been murdered in the hopes that her demon would jump to her killer, but not when death is delivered from that great a distance. Or the killer may have been after the demon’s death, and the woman was just collateral damage.

Finding out just who, just why, and just how, will take the combined skills and talents of everyone involved – whatever their powers and whoever their protectors.

Escape Rating A-: This is a quick and absolutely marvelous read. The only thing keeping this one from being an A instead of an A- is that it does require previous knowledge of the series. Also, while it is complete within itself, I just plain want more. So there.

There’s a part of me that wants to simply squee at this point, but that’s not terribly useful to anyone else.

One of the things I love about this series, and this is a bit meta, is that the author has created a religious system that is both well thought out and actually seems to work. Religion is usually glossed over in SF and Fantasy, and mostly seems to either incorporate or bash real-world religions and their adherents. The Five Gods in the World of the Five Gods are not myths, they really do real things in this world. It’s a theology that actually functions. And it’s different in some really neat ways, starting from the personification of the Lord Bastard himself.

But the things that make this series work so very well are the characters of Penric and Desdemona themselves. Penric’s perspective is always interesting, frequently humorous, and occasionally more than a bit ass-backward. He’s often the fool who rushes in where those angels fear to tread, but at the same time, he cares so much and tries so hard. Desdemona, in spite of not having a body of her own, truly is a separate character. She acts as a combination of big sister, mother hen, conscience and confessor, in equal portions. Instead of treating the idea of a female demon in a man’s body as a joke, which could have happened and would have spoiled everything, they are truly partners, and it’s wonderful.

It is not necessary to have read the Chalion books, from which the World of the Five Gods derives, to enjoy Penric. If you’ve ever wanted to dip your toes into epic fantasy, or see if the wonderful worlds of Lois McMaster Bujold are your cup of tea, Penric is a great place to start.

Review: Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Death Before Wicket by Kerry GreenwoodDeath Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher Mystery #10) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #10
Pages: 232
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 4th 2017 (first published 1999)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Phryne Fisher is on holiday. She means to take the train to Sydney (where the harbour bridge is being built), go to a few cricket matches, dine with the Chancellor of the university and perhaps go to the Arts Ball with that celebrated young modernist, Chas Nutall. She has the costume of a lifetime and she s not afraid to use it. When she arrives there, however, her maid Dot finds that her extremely respectable married sister Joan has vanished, leaving her small children to the neglectful care of a resentful husband. She rescues the children, but what has become of Joan, who would never leave her babies? Surely she hasn t run away with a lover, as gossip suggests? Phryne must trawl the nightclubs and bloodtubs of Darlinghurst to find out. And while Phryne is visiting the university, two very pretty young men, Joss and Clarence, ask her to find out who has broken into the Dean s safe and stolen a number of things, including the Dean s wife s garnets and an irreplaceable illuminated book called the Hours of Juana the Mad. An innocent student has been blamed. So there is no rest for the wicked, and Phryne girds up her loins, loads her pearl handled .32 Beretta, and sallies forth to find mayhem, murder, black magic, and perhaps a really good cocktail at the Hotel Australia."

My Review:

I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series, in publication order, as time permits. Meaning whenever I either need a comfort read or discover that I’ve otherwise bitten off more book than I have time to chew, as happened this week.

Most of the books in the Phryne Fisher book series were used as inspiration for episodes of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Death Before Wicket is one of those that were not filmed. (The others, for those keeping score, seem to be Flying Too High, Urn Burial, The Castlemaine Murders, Death by Water, Murder on a A Midsummer Night and Murder and Mendelssohn.)

I’m fairly certain that the reason that Death Before Wicket wasn’t tackled is that while the crime is set in a university, where the academic politics have gotten exceedingly but recognizably vicious, the entire background revolves around cricket, specifically Test matches in Australia in the 1920s. Cricket as a sport seems to be impenetrable to those not brought up loving the thing, which would include most Americans and anyone outside the Commonwealth countries. And I’m not sure about even the Canadians on this score. No pun intended.

So while the mystery that Phryne has to solve is as much fun as ever, the background, including her reason (or excuse) for traveling from her Melbourne residence to Sydney, may leave some readers more than a bit puzzled. Including this one. I skimmed over the cricket games. As many times as I’ve seen cricket in the background of plenty of mysteries and dramas set in England, I have no clue how the game works, or why.

But as lost as I was amongst the cricket fans, the academic parts of this mystery were as convoluted as ever. The politics at the University of Sydney were as vicious as anything Kissinger intended with his famous quote, “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” At this University, that viciousness leads to theft, disgrace, kidnapping, embezzlement and eventually, murder.

Someone broke into the Bursar’s safe and made off with a whole bunch of items, none of which seem to be worth all that much. The books were stolen – not the library’s books, but the college’s account books, and the poor bursar is so befuddled that he can’t recreate them. And of course there’s an audit coming. A rather pretty Book of Hours is missing, as are the professors’ exam books for the upcoming finals. At a college, that’s probably the prize worth stealing. Except that there are two other items missing. One is rather small potatoes, a set of garnet jewelry belonging to the Dean’s wife. Garnets are semi-precious, fairly common, and generally not worth a whole lot in the grand scheme of thievery.

But the prize among the missing items is a bit of papyrus from ancient Egypt, that just might contain the secret to where Cheops is really buried, since the poor pharaoh is not in his magnificent pyramid. Or it might contain the text of a potent Egyptian curse, the possibilities of which have the local occult community positively salivating. Translating the text might be the key to which professor gets his research funded. Or it might be all of the above.

It is up to Phryne to sort through all those tempting and treacherous possibilities, before someone loses their career or their life. And it’s a near-run thing, but Phryne, as always, is up for the job.

Escape Rating B-: There are lots of reviewers who will say that this is one of Phryne’s adventures that can be given a miss, unless one is either a real fan or a terrible completist. As I’m certainly the latter, and possibly the former, I picked this one up in its proper order. I’m not sorry in the least, but I found the academic setting of the mystery to be perhaps unintentionally hilarious. Academia in the 21st century is not quite as it was in the 1920s, but some of underlying insanity isn’t all that different either. Enough similar that I found enough bits reminiscent to carry me through. If you are looking to start Phryne’s series, do not, on any account, start here. Start with Cocaine Blues. There’s a reason that the TV series also opened with that one, as it introduces everyone and everything.

But speaking of Cocaine Blues, I did miss Phryne’s regular cast of irregulars. This story is set in Sydney, not Melbourne. While it was fun to watch Phryne navigate a new place and gather a new, albeit temporary, set of friends, allies and lovers, I missed her usual gang, particularly in this mystery, Bert and Cec. As did Phryne.

On the other hand, Dot, left to soldier on as Phryne’s only trusted aide in this adventure, did have her chances to operate solo a bit and to shine.

Part of the solution to the mystery involved a certain amount of involvement in the local occult community, particularly its less savory denizens. In order to get to the bottom of the morass, Phryne herself has to deal with and perpetrate a certain amount of mumbo-jumbo, some of which went a bit over the top. Belief is, as Phryne herself says, a powerful thing. That she manipulates others’ belief in the supernatural in order to find the solution is not surprising, but that she herself nearly trips over into it felt a bit unnatural for her character.

One final note. While the Phryne Fisher series is set in the 1920s, the first book was published in 1989 and the series is still ongoing. While the settings feel true to their time and place, Phryne’s attitudes feel singular for her own time, and perhaps owe more to the time in which they were written rather than their setting. This has been true across all the books so far, and also in Death Before Wicket. One part of obscuring the mystery involves a professor who is being blackmailed because of his homosexuality. Phryne does not care who anyone has sex with, and neither do at least some of the faculty. But if it ever becomes public, the scandal will at best ruin the man, and possibly land him in prison. As much as I prefer Phryne’s attitude of acceptance, and her tolerance in this and many other things, I wonder how true her attitude would have been, even to a woman in her singular position. Which doesn’t change the fact that I love Phryne and will happily read any and all of her adventures.

I’m looking forward to going Away with the Fairies, the next time I need a reading break!

Review: Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

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

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

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

Guest Review by Amy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

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

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

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

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

Review: The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg CoxThe Librarians and The Lost Lamp (The Librarians #1) by Greg Cox
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: media tie-in, urban fantasy
Series: The Librarians #1
Pages: 286
Published by Tor Books on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The Librarians is one of the biggest new hits on cable. Spinning off from a popular series of TV-movies, the TNT series begins its second season this Fall. The Librarians and the Lost Lamp is the first in a series of thrilling all-new adventures that will delight fans of the TV series and movies.
For thousands of years, the Librarians have secretly protected the world The Librarians from dangerous magical relics and knowledge, including everything from Pandora’s Box to King Arthur’s sword.
Ten years ago, Flynn Carson was the only living Librarian. When the ancient criminal organization known as the Forty steals the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, Flynn is called in to investigate. Fearing that the Forty is after Aladdin's fabled Lamp, Flynn must race to find it before the Lamp's powerful and malevolent djinn is unleashed upon the world.
Today, a new team of inexperienced Librarians, along with Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, is investigating an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas when the quest for the Lamp begins anew . . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, if you love it, that’s good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth novella in the “Penric and Desdemona” series.

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + GiveawayThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Interdependency #1
Pages: 334
Published by Audible Studios, Tor Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new
universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

My Review:

My first thought upon finishing The Collapsing Empire was “Oh…My…GOD

The second was that rolling your eyes while driving is a really bad idea, especially if you do it OFTEN. Actually I had that though much earlier in the book, when I was doing a LOT of eye rolling. The ending is far from an eye roll situation, but the advice still stands.

So i’m back to the Oh My God reaction, which I’m still hearing in Wil Wheaton’s voice as the reader of The Collapsing Empire. Which I listened to, pretty much everywhere, sometimes rolling my eyes, often smiling or even outright laughing, from the surprising beginning to the even more astonishing end.

Which isn’t really an end, because it’s obvious that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, which I hope we get Real Soon Now, but don’t actually expect for a year or more.

So what was it?

The title both does and doesn’t give it away The Empire, in this case the human empire that calls itself the Interdependency, is about to collapse. Not due to warfare or anything so prosaic, but because, well, science. The interstellar network that keeps the far-flung reaches of the Interdependency interdependent is on the verge of an unstoppable collapse.. So what we have at the moment is the story of the maneuvering and machinations as what passes for the powers that be, or that hope to be the powers that become, jockey for position (and survival) in the suddenly onrushing future.

And humans being humans, while some panic there are a whole lot of people who remain so invested in the status quo that they are unwilling to act because any actions upset their positions now, and they hope, very much against hope, that the predictions are wrong. Not because they really believe in their heart of hearts that they ARE wrong, but because they want them to be wrong so very badly.

Any resemblance between the Interdependency and 21st century America is probably intended – but agreeing or disagreeing with that statement doesn’t change the sheer rushing “WOW” of the story.

That story of the empire that’s about to collapse is primarily told through the eyes of four very, very different people (not that the side characters aren’t themselves quite fascinating). But as things wind up, and as the empire begins to wind down, we get our view of the impending fall mostly from these four, or people who surround them.

The first is Ghreni Nohamapeton, the most frequent source of my eye-rolling. Ghreni is a slippery manipulative little bastard, but he is about to be hoist on his own petard. Or possibly not. He thinks he knows what’s coming, and of course, he doesn’t. Or does he?

Kiva Lagos may possibly be the most profane character it has ever been my pleasure to encounter, in literature or out of it. And her constant, continuous cursing sounds a bit much in an audiobook, but perfectly fits her character. Kiva is also manipulative as hell, and mercenary into the bargain. But somewhere between the hells, damns and f-bombs, there’s a heart. Or at least the desire to one-up Ghreni that provides some of the same functionality.

Marce Claremont is about to be the bearer of very bad tidings – if he can survive being the chew toy between Ghreni and Kiva long enough to deliver his message. And even though he knows that the delivery of it means that he really, really can’t go home again. Ever.

And finally we have Cardenia Wu, the recent and very reluctant Emperox of the Interdependency. A woman who is about to experience the very extreme end of that old saying, “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.” As a great man once said, “Some gifts come at just too high a price.” And that’s true whether you have to dance with the devil to get them, or just roll dice with fate.

Escape Rating A: I listened to this, and also have the ebook. I expected to switch between, but in the end just couldn’t tear myself away from Wil Wheaton’s marvelous reading. He does a terrific job with all of the voices, and adds even more fun to a book that was already fantastic.

But I need that ebook to look up all the names. It seems as if none of them are spelled quite the way they sound. And the ship’s names are an exercise in absurdity from beginning to end. (This aspect may be an homage to the late Iain Banks’ Culture series). But the first ship we meet is the “Tell Me Another One” which is this reader’s general response to Scalzi’s work. I want him to tell me another one, as soon as possible. But also, and as usual, everyone’s leg is getting pulled more than a bit, and not from the same direction.

Lots of things in this story made me smile, quite often ruefully. The scenario is painful, and as this book closes we know that the situation in general is only going to get worse, and possibly not get better. But for the individuals, life is going on. And the characters exhibit all of the sarcasm that this author is known for.

Some of it has the ring of gallows humor to it, and that’s also right. No one is likely to come out of this unscathed by the end, and that’s obvious to the reader from the beginning, even if not to the characters.

This is also a story of merchant empires and political skullduggery. And yes, there is plenty of commentary on that aspect to chew on for a long time, quite possibly until the next book in the series. Like so much of Scalzi’s work, The Collapsing Empire makes the reader laugh, and it makes the reader think, quite often at the same time.

Ghreni and Kiva both represent different ways in which the current systems of the Interdependency have been taken to their extreme limit. But Marce and Cardenia are the characters that we sympathize with. They are both operating against impossible odds, and we like them and want them to succeed. Whether they will or not is left to the subsequent books in this series.

And I really, really, really can’t wait to see what happens next.

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

Because this is part of my annual Blogo-Birthday celebration, I want to share the love. And the books. John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, and I hope he’ll become one of yours too. To that end, I’m giving away one copy of any of Scalzi’s works, (up to $20) to one lucky commenter on this post. This giveaway includes The Collapsing Empire, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Scalzi, Old Man’s War is probably the best place to begin.

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Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Mission (Penric and Desdemona #3) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #3
Pages: 145
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on November 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In his thirtieth year, Penric fell in love with light…

Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems: Penric is betrayed and thrown into a dungeon, and worse follows for the general and his kin. Penric’s narrow escapes and adventures — including his interest in a young widow — are told with Bujold’s remarkable energy, wit and humor. Once again, Bujold has created unforgettable characters and a wondrous, often dangerous world of intrigue and sorcery. Third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series.

My Review:

This third novella in Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series, itself a spinoff of her World of the Five Gods series (A.K.A. Chalion) is just as much fun as the first two books, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman. If you are looking for a a deft fantasy that comes in a smaller than a doorstop package, Penric is a fascinating hero and this series is terrific.

Penric is actually Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season. And Penric’s mission in this story, and quite often his life in general, seems to consist of one unexpected disaster after another. It makes for a very wild and entertaining ride.

Penric thinks that he’s on a mission to discover if one of Cedonia’s greatest generals is willing to move to Adria and take up work for the Duke there. He wouldn’t be turning his coat in any way, Cedonia and Adria are not currently enemies, he would just be switching employers.

But Adelis has more enemies than even he believed, and Penric is being used. Even more so than usual. His arrival in Cedonia is all part of someone else’s plan to frame Adelis for treason and get both of them out of the picture. What happens to Penric is just collateral damage. But no one knows what Penric really is, that particular lack of attention on the part of those who are now both of their enemies is going to result in a nasty shock for someone – hopefully a lot of someones.

First Penric has to get Adelis, his sister Nikys, and himself out of the hole that has inconveniently dug for them, by making things very, very inconvenient for someone else. And by doing something that has never been done before – curing the blindness that was cruelly thrust upon Adelis to get him out of the way and make him pay for the plots that he wasn’t even a part of.

Yet. But he certainly is now.

All Penric has to do is get them all out of the country even though Adelis doesn’t trust him at all. And Nikys has come to trust him entirely too much. And vice-versa.

Escape Rating A: I loved the Chalion series, and this “extension” by Penric has been an absolutely treat from beginning to hopefully not end. The fourth book, Mira’s Last Dance, has just come out, and I truly hope this series continues.

You really do need to read all of Penric to get the full flavor of Penric’s life with his demon Desdemona. While each book is short, they layer on one another, getting deeper and deeper into Penric’s life and the way the world works with each outing. However, you don’t need to read the Chalion series to love Penric. But it’s awesome epic fantasy, so why wouldn’t you?

The story revolves around Penric and his demon Desdemona. If you like Penric’s character, the series is awesome because Penric is a lot of fun. Although his official title is “Learned Penric”, he sometimes answers to “Learned Fool” and it’s a pretty accurate description. Penric is always the fool that rushes in where angels or other beings rightfully fear to tread. So far, he always gets himself out again, if only by the skin of his, or even Desdemona’s, teeth. And generally by spreading a lot of chaos in his wake, and onto the local populations of vermin of all types – occasionally including humans.

Penric is terrific at not taking himself too seriously most of the time, and then just taking himself seriously enough. And while magic often gets him out of the scrapes he gets himself into, it’s never killing magic. Penric is constrained by his faith and his care for Desdemona not to use his magic to kill. His theology is well-articulated and absolutely fascinating, and it does work. If he kills using his magic, Desdemona will be stripped from him and sent back to the chaos from which she sprang. She would die, he would be excommunicated, and let’s just say it would be bad juju all the way around. Listening to Penric explain all of this to the general Adelis gives the reader a whole lot of insight into how it all works – and when it doesn’t.

He actually likes Desdemona. Most of the time, he doesn’t mind sharing his head with her. Occasionally she’s like an older sister he can’t get rid of, but he appreciates her and her 200 years of experience and power. Theirs is a symbiosis that works well. And even though they share Penric’s body, both characters are clearly delineated and different.

The story, as all of Penric’s stories so far, are about Penric solving a problem that he never expected to be dropped into. In this case, he’s not only solving his problem, but also Adelis and Nikys’ problems as well. And falling in love. Where that’s going to take him next should be another great story. And it’s a good thing that the next story is already out, because this one doesn’t so much end as stop, leaving the reader breathless for what comes next.

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott James

Review: In Shining Armor by Elliott JamesIn Shining Armor (Pax Arcana, #4) by Elliott James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Pax Arcana #4
Pages: 464
Published by Orbit on April 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This fairy godmother's got claws.
When someone kidnaps the last surviving descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, it's bad news. When the baby is the key to the tenuous alliance between a large werewolf pack and the knights, it's even worse news. They're at each other's throats before they've even begun to look for baby Constance.
But whoever kidnapped Constance didn't count on one thing: she's also the goddaughter of John Charming. Modern-day descendant of a long line of famous dragon slayers, witch finders, and wrong righters. John may not have any experience being a parent, but someone is about to find out that he can be one mean mother...
IN SHINING ARMOR is the fourth novel in a series which gives a new twist to the Prince Charming tale. The first three novels are Charming, Daring, & Fearless.

My Review:

Actually, John Charming is a knight in rather tarnished and bloodstained armor. It also seems to be covered in slime and shit all-too-frequently. But he’s still a knight, even if he is also a werewolf. And based on his adventures in his first three books, Charming, Daring and Fearless, that contradiction he embodies seems to be getting both more and less contradictory at the same time.

But the moral of this particular fairy tale (because the fae are always in the background in this series, somewhere, even if it’s fairly deep background) revolves around that tried and true old saw, “ Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. Because everything that goes wrong in this story begins with John (and everyone else) making a very big assumption that turns out to be far from true.

Even professional paranoids, like the Knights Templar in general and John Charming in particular, occasionally can’t manage to be paranoid enough. And in this case it very nearly bites all of them, along with the werewolves, in their collective (and extremely well-muscled) asses.

At the end of Fearless, a very, very tenuous peace has finally broken out between the Knights Templar and the werewolves. It’s so tenuous because until very, very recently, the Knights’ first response to a werewolf was to kill it on sight as an automatic violation of the Pax Arcana that prevents us normals from finding out that there really is a whole lot of magic out there.

But most werewolves (and vampires, and even naga and gorgons) are just like everyone else, they want to live in peace, hold down a job, raise their kids and participate in the American dream. Or whatever the dream is wherever they happen to live. They have even less desire to reveal the magic in the world than the Knights do, because they know they’ll probably be first on the firing line when the mundanes bring out the contemporary equivalent of torches and pitchforks.

And the Knights have just realized (a very few of them, all at the top) that they are really only geas-bound to enforce the Pax, and that as long as any magical creatures don’t violate the Pax, there is no obligation whatsoever to hunt them down and kill them. And, of course, a lot of them don’t want to give up the status quo.

Human beings are still human, extra power, extra knowledge, extra whatever, or not. And some humans are still arseholes.

The literal embodiment of this tenuous peace is little baby Constance. She’s the last descendant of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar. And she’s going to be a werewolf when she grows up. Just like John Charming, little Constance has a tiny foot in both worlds. And both the Knights and the werewolves have been pledged to protect her. She’s the hidden little darling of both camps.

Until someone nefarious and unknown decides to disrupt that detente for reasons that, while obviously nefarious, remain nebulous and hidden for most of the story. The (very bad) idea was to kidnap little Constance and make the werewolves look guilty and responsible. Detente instantly explodes, werewolves hide far away from the Knights and whatever the evildoer wants hidden.

But evil never seems to reckon on John Charming. And he intends to wreck a reckoning on them. Just as soon as he figures out who they are, what they want, and what’s the best way to kill them very, very dead.

If they don’t kill him first.

Escape Rating B+: I liked this, but saying I enjoyed it doesn’t feel quite right. There are a lot of points in the story where things are very, very dark, to that point where it feels like things are getting darker just before they turn completely black. Which doesn’t quite happen, but gets really, really close. And occasionally feels like it’s dragging its feet just a bit.

For anyone wondering about the baby being in danger through the book, it doesn’t work that way. Constance is the catalyst but not the point, and John rescues her fairly early on. It’s never really about the baby. It’s always about breaking up the tentative peace between the Knights and the werewolves, even if John can’t put his finger on why for nearly the entire book.

And the reader can’t either. The hidden motives remain hidden until the very end. The plot in this plot turns out to be incredibly convoluted, and unlike a mystery, in spite of the first person singular perspective the reader is not privy to everything that John Charming knows or does. In fact, he makes a habit of reaching his resolution and only then revealing all of the secret things he did to make it all work out in his favor. After they work. Sort of.

If he wasn’t one of the good guys, he’d be downright annoying. A fact which his partner reminds him of on frequent occasions. One of the great things about this book, and the series, is John’s relationship with his partner and lover, Sig. Who is a valkyrie, and therefore even more badass than John is, with powers (and problems) of her own. They balance each other out, support each other, protect each other, and sometimes drive each other crazy. It’s terrific to see an urban fantasy where the protagonist both manages to have a fairly successful and monogamous relationship, and where the woman is every bit the equal of the man. That mix still feels rare, and is always welcome.

But as straightforward as John’s and Sig’s relationship is, the plot (and counterplot, and counter-counterplot) in this one seems almost overly twisted. In the end, the reader is just along for the wild ride, without much ability to see the twists and turns or even process all the changes. There’s a LOT going on in this story. But once John and Sig and the Knights get to the final battle, it’s a race to see if the reader can turn the pages fast enough.

As someone who has read the entire series, I have to say that I really missed the gang that John and Sig created (or that grew around them) in the first three books. And I missed those people, and the feeling of family and friends that they developed. But even though In Shining Armor pulls them completely out of their trusted sphere, it is still very grounded in the world that has been created, to the point where I don’t think In Shining Armor is the best place for someone to start this series. The operation of the Knights Templar is very complicated, and seems to get more so all the time. So start with Charming.

But speaking of that group of familiar faces, I’m really looking forward to the next book, Legend Has It, so John and Sig can get back to their extremely motley band of monster hunters and do what they do best all together – try to out-snark each other while racing to eliminate the most (and worst) monsters they can find.

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline WinspearPardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs, #3) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #3
Pages: 342
Published by Picador on June 27th 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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London 1930, psychologist investigator Maisie Dobbs must prove Sir Cedric's aviator son Ralph Lawton died when shot down in 1917. In former battlefields of France, she re-unites with Priscilla Evernden, one of whose three brothers lost in the War is somehow connected. The case tests Maisie's spiritual strength and her regard for mentor Maurice Blanche.

My Review:

As part of the lead in to March’s Month of Maisie Readalong I get to dip into the earlier tales of Maisie’s adventures in preparation for reading her newest story, In This Grave Hour, in the middle of Maisie month.

Pardonable Lies was Maisie’s third outing, and even though it is set in 1930, the clouds of World War II are already looming over the horizon. And even though the meat of her case here concerns the Great War now over a decade in the past, it is the oncoming storm that adds the element of danger to her current affairs.

This is also a story about secrets and lies. Not just the kind of military secrets that dog Maisie through this investigation, but also the secrets that we keep in the belief that they protect others, and the lies that we tell ourselves, in the hope that we can prevent more pain.

It is also a story about growing up. Because part of growing up is seeing our elders, our parents and teachers and mentors, as fallible human beings just like ourselves. We reach that point where we see them less as above us and more as our equals. And often, as in Maisie’s case in Pardonable Lies, we come to that point when we discover that our trust in them has been betrayed.

As is frequently the case with Maisie, she is actually working on more than one case during this story. Two of those cases have definite similarities, as they are both missing persons cases leftover from the late war. And Maisie makes the third case tie into one of the other two. There are no coincidences in Maisie’s worldview. When things seem coincidental, as in the two missing persons cases, she views it as the cosmos telling her that she has unresolved issues that will be illuminated in the investigations.

And so it goes. Two families want her to find the final resting place of their lost soldier boys. Actually, flyer boys, as both young men were in the fledgling RAF. A respected barrister made his wife a deathbed promise that he would determine, once and for all, whether their lost son truly died in his plane crash or whether he survived, as his mother always believed.

Maisie’s friend Phyllis Evernden wants Maisie to find out how and where her brother Patrick died. She knows that he’s dead, but now that her own sons are growing up and starting to resemble her lost brothers, she feels the need for closure. She remembers that her parents were notified of his death, but nothing about the circumstances. And now she needs to know.

The cases both lead Maisie back to France. She served as a battlefield nurse, and left too many friends and loved ones behind. She’s worked hard to put it all behind her, but mostly she has just been running as fast as she can to evade the grief and the memories. She knows that returning to the scene of her own devastation is going to bring up things she would rather stayed buried.

Much as both of these cases will resurrect things that other people would prefer she left buried. Especially her now elderly mentor, Maurice Blanche, who returns with Maisie to France with his own hidden agenda.

And someone is trying to kill her. But due to which case? What rock has she turned over that someone will kill to leave unturned?

Escape Rating A: I always look forward to March and Maisie Month. It gives me a terrific excuse to dive into the archives of this series as well as look forward at the latest book. As always, the early book is a treat, as I get to discover where some of the later events took root.

In this particular case, that root is Maisie’s reluctant involvement with the British Secret Service in Journey to Munich. In Pardonable Lies, two of her cases have delved into national secrets that would be better left buried, and the Secret Service as well as her mentor try to divert her attention and make her take the easy way out.

The problem is that the secrets aren’t really buried. They aren’t even dead yet. The spies see the war coming and are all too aware that they will have to mobilize as many of their assets from the last war as are still available (i.e. alive). Maisie’s investigation jeopardizes past, present and future secrets.

The title of this story is very apropos. Maisie normally tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to her clients. In these cases she is caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. Because of official secrets, she cannot tell her friend Phyllis the whole, entire truth about her brother.

In the case of her other client, the barrister, Maisie discovers the truth that he fears, and that he does not want to hear at any cost. And it is a truth that hurts much less than the lie he wants to believe.

And Maisie herself discovers that the many pardonable lies that her mentor has told her over the years of her apprenticeship may not be pardonable after all. The revelations that arise during this case make Maisie re-think both their past and their future association.

Only one case gets Maisie’s usual whole truth; the case of a young prostitute accused of murdering her pimp. The rush to justice on the part of the police, and their willingness to ignore any and all mitigating or contradictory evidence in order to punish this young woman makes readers see both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society. Only Maisie, is willing to believe that this woman might be innocent. And only Maisie is willing to delve into the truth to see that justice is actually done.

But in the process of these investigations, we finally see Maisie lay her own ghosts to their deserved rest. It’s an important part of the development of her character, and it is time for her to move on.

As do we. The latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series is In This Grave Hour. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing it next month.

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