Review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

dreaming spies by laurie r kingFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Date Released: February 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

My Review:

The title of this book is a pun, based on poet Matthew Arnold’s description of Oxford as the “city of dreaming spires”. It is fitting that this title derive from poetry, as many of the chapter headings are snippets of haiku, and the repeated theft of a book by Matsuo Bashō, one of the early masters of the haiku form of poetry.

There are also plenty of points in the story where it seems that some, or all, of the spies are, in fact dreaming. Or at least daydreaming. One of the unusual aspects of this case is that Russell and Holmes do not seem to be the prime movers of events. They are acted upon more often than they are acting. They believe (perhaps dream) that they are the “Plan A” of much of the mystery that is solved. But at the end, they discover that they have always been “Plan B” or sometimes even “Plan C” for the person who has been in control all along.

game by laurie r king Although this story takes place upon their return from California and the events in Locked Rooms, the actions in the “present day” mostly serve as a frame to a story that happened earlier in their journey. Dreaming Spies tells of the events in Japan that have been hinted at in previous books, and most of the action takes place between The Game and Locked Rooms. Also between The Game and the Holmes insert into The Art of Detection, which seemed to occur simultaneously with Locked Rooms.

As much as I love this series, I will confess that the time-line is getting very confusing. The series is on book 13, but it takes place between books 7 and 8.

This mystery begins with the arrival of a large rock as well as the gentlemen to place it properly in Holmes’ garden in Sussex. While Holmes and Russell have not yet returned when the rock is, let’s say installed, the report from Mrs. Hudson is enough to connect the new addition to events they participated in while on their way to and in Japan.

They began by being bored. Well, at least Holmes was bored. It was a long cruise from India to Japan, and while Russell was quite content to read her books, Holmes, as usual, was not.

To keep Holmes from jumping overboard (not quite but almost) he began a private investigation into some strange occurrences on the ship. His inveterate curiosity was aroused by the presence of an old foe – a blackmailer who he put out of business, but was unable to put away. Holmes has never believed that the man was not fully complicit in the old scheme, but Russell finds him not quite bright enough to has masterminded anything. So the question regards what he might be up to now, and who is the brains of whatever it is.

Someone is working with Lord Darley, and one woman has already left the ship in mysterious circumstances in order to get away from him. Another woman has boarded the ship in equally mysterious circumstances, but her purpose involves Holmes and Russell much more than Darley.

More than they ever figure out, until the very end of the caper. Holmes starts by chasing an old enemy, and ends by discovering that he and Russell have been used by the Crown Prince of Japan.

That they would have helped anyway is never a question. That someone was able to keep them in the dark and still get their help makes her a much better spy than even one of Mycroft’s operatives.

That nothing is as it seems, and that our heroes do not even have a glimpse of how they have been tricked (all in a good cause) makes Dreaming Spies an extremely interesting case. The game is indeed afoot, but for once, it is not Holmes” or even Russell’s, game.

beekeeper's apprentice new mediumEscape Rating B+: I love this series, and have ever since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice more than ten years ago. However, the timeline is getting extremely confusing. This story takes place before Mary’s falling out with Mycroft, which makes her initial suspicion that Haruki Sato is one of his agents somewhat perplexing.

The story of Holmes’ and Russell’s involvement with the blackmailer that turns into a scheme to protect the young Crown Prince of Japan from his own foolishness builds slowly and wraps itself around both the reader and the Holmeses like the folds of a sari, to mix metaphors and Holmes’ adventures.

Holmes and Russell think that they are helping an agent of the Japanese crown to recover some stolen property. It wasn’t stolen from him, he gave it away first. Holmes wants to finally see one of his old enemies get his just deserts, and Haruki Sato wants to get the stolen secret document back for her Emperor.

Haruki is an absolutely fascinating character. She is nothing like she appears to be, and Holmes never penetrate all her layers of deception. She manages to use him, and that is a rare feat.

Through Haruki and the tasks she sets for Holmes and Russell, we get both an introduction to Japan and its culture in the years between the wars, and a less sensational but more realistic description of what it meant to be a ninja in service to the Crown. Along with a heart-breaking view of what that service may cost.

Haruki’s mission is to save face for the Crown Prince, no matter what she has to do or suffer along the way. We understand at the end that Holmes and Russell would have gladly helped her without her deception, but that she couldn’t count on that. We know they would not have said “no”, but she can’t be 100% certain, so she brings them into her plans unwittingly.

Something that always gets my attention is the reminder of how close the author has brought Sherlock Holmes to our own time. We think of Holmes as a creature of the Victorian Age, but he is alive and active in the 1920s at this point in the story. The Crown Prince of Japan, who later becomes Emperor, is Hirohito, who was the Japanese Emperor during World War II. We see him here as a young man, just learning the intricacies of his future role. But Hirohito died in 1989, a period very much within living memory.

The story in Dreaming Spies is a slow-building one. We start with a cruise that should be a time of relaxation, and end at a breakneck pace as Haruki finally finds the item she has been searching for all along, and Holmes finally uncovers the man behind the old blackmailer. It is seldom that Holmes is in a case where he is outplayed, so watching him both lose and win at the same time was a treat.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

15 for 15: My Most Anticipated Books for 2015


I took a look at last year’s list, and was surprised and pleased to discover that I read almost everything I was looking forward to, and even better, liked them! (I have the other two books, but just haven’t gotten a round tuit yet. This is what TBR piles are made of.)

It’s also hard not to miss the trend. The books I’m looking forward to are sequels to things I read last year or new pieces of ongoing series. It is difficult to anticipate something if you don’t know that it exists.

And even though these books aren’t being released until sometime in 2015, I already have arcs for a few of them, and have even read a couple. So far, the stuff I’m looking forward to is every bit as good as I’m hoping it will be.

Speaking of hopes, the dragon book is for Cass (Surprise, surprise!) She adored the first book in the series, liked the second one a lot, and has high hopes for the third one. Because, dragons.

So what books can’t you wait to see in 2015? 


Most anticipated in 2015:
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie
Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13) by Laurie R. King
The End of All Things (Old Man’s War #6) by John Scalzi
Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery #3) by Susan Spann
The Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2) by Erika Johansen
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Madness in Solidar (Imager Portfolio #9) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Obsession in Death (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Pirate’s Alley (Sentinels of New Orleans #4) by Suzanne Johnson
Ryder: American Treasure (Ryder #2) by Nick Pengelley
Shards of Hope (Psy-Changeling #14) by Nalini Singh
The Talon of the Hawk (Twelve Kingdoms #3) by Jeffe Kennedy
The Terrans (First Salik War #1) by Jean Johnson
The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

Review: In the Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

in the company of sherlock holmes edited by laurie r king and leslie s klingerFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Length: 262 pages
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Date Released: November 11, 2014
Purchasing Info: Laurie R. King’s Website, Leslie S. Klinger’s website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were recently voted as the top mystery series of all time, and they have enthralled generations of readers and writers! Now, Laurie R. King, author of the New York Times-bestselling Mary Russell series (in which Holmes plays a co-starring role), and Leslie S. Klinger, editor of the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, have assembled a stellar group of contemporary authors from a variety of genres and asked them to create new stories inspired by that canon. Inside you ll find Holmes in times and places previously unimagined, as well as characters who have themselves been affected by the tales of Sherlock Holmes. The game is afoot again!

My Review:

study in sherlock by king and klingerThis second collection of stories inspired by Sherlock Holmes is the followup to the editors’ 2011 collection, A Study in Sherlock. Just as in that previous effort, this collection contains some stories that are actual Holmes pastiches, taking place during the time period covered by original canon, some are extensions of the Holmes we know into time periods not covered by Conan Doyle, and some are stories inspired by the Great Detective but don’t include him personally.

There are also a couple of stories told using unusual perspectives or narrative conceits. Several of the stories play with the question of whether Holmes was or was not a “real person”.

Like all collections, this is a mixed bag. Some of the stories are worthy successors. Some are memorable. Some are just a bit cute. Your mileage, of course, may vary considerably from mine.

Three stories in particular stick with me for different reasons.

My favorite story in the bunch is Dunkirk by John Lescroat. It is the one that haunts me after the book is closed. Dunkirk is not a Holmes story per se, it is one of those stories that speculates on Holmes’ life after he retired to the Sussex Downs to take up beekeeping. I read it mostly as a tribute to the men who took their small craft and little fishing boats from Dover to Dunkirk in the late Spring of 1940 to rescue the entire British Expeditionary Force that was trapped on the French coast in the wake of the Nazi overthrow of France. We see the crew of one little ship, operating on little food and less sleep, running back and forth day after day to pick up 60 men at a time from certain death. The perspective is that of a 72 year old Holmes, under his Sigerson nom-de-plume, who felt that he must do something to combat evil in this second World War, just as he did in the first. In the end, it is his connection to humanity that he feels, and we feel. The final touch of the heroism medal left for Sigerson and never claimed is pure Holmes.

The story in The Memoirs of Silver Blaze by Michael Sims relates the tale of the theft and recovery of the racehorse Silver Blaze, as told in the Conan Doyle story of the same name, from the perspective of the horse. While the method of retelling this particular story seems a bit twee, it actually works pretty well. After all, the horse was the murderer in this one, and it seems only fair that he get the chance to tell the story from his point-of-view. It does feel that we know a little bit more about what happened by getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth. So to speak.

My final favorite is of the “stories inspired by” school of Sherlockiana. In the case of The Adventures of My Ignoble Ancestress by Nancy Holder, it’s hard to tell how much of this is based on the author’s true family history, and how much is pure invention, which makes it that much more fun. The author’s ancestress was part of a Sherlock Holmes case, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet. While her many-times great aunt was eventually discovered to be the thief of that Beryl Coronet, she disappeared after the theft was discovered and was assumed to have run away in disgrace. While investigating the truth of the tale, the author is able to lay to rest not only the ghost Mary Holder, but also some much more recent ghosts of her own.

Escape Rating B: The stories in this collection that I enjoyed, I really enjoyed. Especially Dunkirk. But looking back over my review of A Study in Sherlock (here) shows me that there just aren’t as many in this collection as there were in the previous one.

On that other hand, I particularly want to note that this collection, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, is the inspiration for editor Leslie Klinger’s lawsuit to place all of the pre-1923 Holmes stories into the public domain in the U.S. (The laws in Britain are different, and the entire canon is public domain across the pond.) The Conan Doyle Estate blocked publication of this collection until Klinger had his day in court. And was vindicated. (For the complete history of the case, look at Free Sherlock).

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. KingFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Historical mystery
Series: Harris Stuyvesant, #2
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Date Released: September 10, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on every rue and boulevard.

As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.

Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris.

My Review:

The dance of death capers to a lively jazz tune beneath the city of lights. You can almost hear the beat take on a frenetic turn as some people realize that the good times can’t possibly last.

It is September, 1929. Jazz Age Paris, and the booming U.S. stock market has made it possible for the thriving artistic expatriate community that became the hallmark of the era to exist, is about to go smash.

In The Bones of Paris, it feels as if Harris Stuyvesant’s hunt for the young American woman, Pip Crosby, brings the crash. There’s a sense of impending doom from the very first page.

It could be because we see the date, and we know.

Touchstone by Laurie R KingHarris Stuyvesant is a private investigator, formerly a member of the American Bureau of Investigation. And yes, that would be the precursor to the FBI. In a previous case (the book Touchstone) Harris breaks with his former employers but stays in Europe as a private operator. Pip’s case brings him back to Paris.

This is the Paris of Hemingway’s Lost Generation. Indeed, Harris not only knows Hemingway, but is careful to lose whenever Hemingway picks a boxing match with him, because Hemingway is a nasty loser but an expansive winner. Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein appear as background characters.

But it is the artists with whom the story is most caught up. Pip Crosby was an artist’s model. So Harris spends a lot of time investigating the artists’ community in Paris. Particularly Man Ray, Didi Moreau, and the Grand Guignol theatre of naturalistic horror and its proprietor, Le Comte.

Of course, in the Paris of the 1920s, everyone in the artistic community knew everyone. Harris’ investigation feels like stepping back into time, and drinking the night away with the Queen of Montparnasse while listening to Josephine Baker at Bricktop’s.

Harris has a missing American girl to find. He checks in with the police, only to discover that Pip Crosby is not the only missing girl, or the only missing person. Inspector Doucet has begun to fear a pattern, a serial killer, who has gone undetected for at least 18 months.

The argument between them is that the evidence that Harris turns up is generally not obtained by legal means, and the suspects that he fears may be guilty are not people that the Inspector, however dutiful, is predisposed to consider.

Then there is the biggest problem between these two men; Doucet is engaged to marry the woman that Harris once loved. A woman who may be the next target of the killer.

Escape Rating B+: The evocation of the time and place is marvelous. There are a few of the people involved in this story that I’m still trying to determine whether they were real figures or were made up. Didi Moreau is the one I think is fictional, but could have been real.

But for the purposes of the mystery, there were three suspects. One could not possibly have been the murderer because he was a real person and this event simply didn’t happen in his life. Part of the mystery was that it simply took a long time to narrow down that Pip was dead, or admit Pip was dead, and to figure out that they were dealing with a serial killer and who the possibilities might be.

Grand_Guignol_posterThe weaving of real elements into the story made things more chilling. Two features of Paris at the time that are integral parts of the story are the Paris Catacombs and their chilling history, which of course still exist, and the Grand Guignol theatre of horror and comedy.

I had not read Touchstone before reading The Bones of Paris. It isn’t necessary to enjoy this book, but now that I know it exists, I want it.

The Bones of Paris is very much a character driven mystery. The character of Harris Stuyvesant, the character of Jazz Age Paris, the character of the murderer, and the characters of the world that is about to change forever.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill PronziniFormat read: print book borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Historic Mystery
Series: Carpenter and Quincannon #1
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Forge Books
Date Released: January 8, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

In The Bughouse Affair, this first of a new series of lighthearted historical mysteries set in 1890s San Francisco, former Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her detective partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon, undertake what initially appear to be two unrelated investigations.

Sabina’s case involves the hunt for a ruthless lady “dip” who uses fiendish means to relieve her victims of their valuables at Chutes Amusement Park and other crowded places. Quincannon, meanwhile, is after a slippery housebreaker who targets the homes of wealthy residents, following a trail that leads him from the infamous Barbary Coast to an oyster pirate’s lair to a Tenderloin parlor house known as the Fiddle Dee Dee.

The two cases eventually connect in surprising fashion, but not before two murders and assorted other felonies complicate matters even further. And not before the two sleuths are hindered, assisted, and exasperated by the bughouse Sherlock Holmes.

My Review:

At the beginning, it felt like I was missing something. Like any detective, I started to hunt for that elusive clue. But I didn’t hunt hard enough until after I’d finished the book.

I do enjoy the occasional mystery, and historic mysteries in particular. Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini are both certified masters of their craft, but I had never gotten around to sampling either of their long-running series.

The Bughouse Affair, the first volume in their joint Carpenter and Quincannon series, seemed like the perfect opportunity to rectify my lack of experience with their work.

However, about that missing clue…this may be the first book in the series, but it’s not the first book with one of its protagonists. Pronzini has written three earlier John Quincannon books. And there’s an even earlier short story collection.

Bughouse (meaning crazy) indeed.

About this particular bughouse affair, we have a mystery within a mystery. Sabina Carpenter and John Quincannon are partners in a detective agency. This wouldn’t be so unusual, but the setting is gaslamp San Francisco of the 1890s.

Sabina Carpenter is Quincannon’s co-owner and business partner, not his life-partner. And she is a trained detective. Her history is as detailed as his. Carpenter was a female Pinkerton, a Pink Rose just like the very real historic figure Kate Warne.

Carpenter and Quincannon are hired to solve two seemingly separate cases. One is the case of a house-breaker who is methodically working his way down a list of the Great Western Insurance Company’s clients.

The other is a pickpocket, or dip, who is scaring away business at an amusement park.

And in the midddle of both of their cases is an English visitor to San Francisco who claims to be Sherlock Holmes. Is the crazy man interfering, or can he really solve either, or both cases? Or is he just getting in the way?

Escape Rating B: The portrayal of turn of the century life in San Francisco was absolutely riveting. Carpenter and Quincannon make a fascinating pair. They are equals, but Quincannon does have some problems with that. Not so much because Carpenter is a woman, but because he has difficulty believing that anyone is his equal. John Quincannon does not work well with others.

He also hopes that someday he and Sabina can be more than business partners. If that day is ever going to come, it is a very long way off.

The authors did a terrific job with dialog. The partners, and the police, used the 19th century words and phrases for all the ne’er-do-wells and criminals. Pickpockets were “dips”, safecrackers were “yeggs”. It added to the tone of the book and made the characters more “real”.

However, adding Sherlock Holmes into the mix took away from the building of the partnership between Carpenter and Quincannon. This was the period after Reichenbach when Holmes was in San Francisco, but while he is on-stage, reacting to his outsized personality overwhelms everyone else.

Art of Detection by Laurie R KingLaurie R. King handled Holmes’ visit to San Francisco as a lost manuscipt within her Kate Martinelli story The Art of Detection. By keeping the manuscript separate, she almost managed not to let Holmes overwhelm her Martinelli story. But it was a near thing even for her.

I hope that Carpenter and Quincannon have future outings in gaslamp San Francisco where they do not have to contend with interfering English consulting detectives. Their partnership will develop much better if they solve cases on their own.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

Formats available: Hardcover, ebook
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #12
Length: 288 Pages
Publisher: Bantam
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher, Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Book Depository

Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, comprise one of today’s most acclaimed mystery series. Now, in their newest and most thrilling adventure, the couple is separated by a shocking circumstance in a perilous part of the world, each racing against time to prevent an explosive catastrophe that could clothe them both in shrouds.

In a strange room in Morocco, Mary Russell is trying to solve a pressing mystery: Who am I? She has awakened with shadows in her mind, blood on her hands, and soldiers pounding on the door. Out in the hivelike streets, she discovers herself strangely adept in the skills of the underworld, escaping through alleys and rooftops, picking pockets and locks. She is clothed like a man, and armed only with her wits and a scrap of paper containing a mysterious Arabic phrase. Overhead, warplanes pass ominously north.

Meanwhile, Holmes is pulled by two old friends and a distant relation into the growing war between France, Spain, and the Rif Revolt led by Emir Abd el-Krim—who may be a Robin Hood or a power mad tribesman. The shadows of war are drawing over the ancient city of Fez, and Holmes badly wants the wisdom and courage of his wife, whom he’s learned, to his horror, has gone missing. As Holmes searches for her, and Russell searches for herself, each tries to crack deadly parallel puzzles before it’s too late for them, for Africa, and for the peace of Europe.

With the dazzling mix of period detail and contemporary pace that is her hallmark, Laurie R. King continues the stunningly suspenseful series that Lee Child called “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”

So many shadows. The story begins in the shadows of Russell’s memory…she has been struck on the head and has forgotten who she is. All she knows is that she has enemies after her. If only her life were that simple. But it never is.

If it were, she would not be Mary Russell, and she would not be the partner and wife of the world’s first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. And, most importantly, her life would not interest us.

The shadows of the title are in this case a metaphor. There are many shadows. Russell’s memory clears up. Eventually.

But the year is 1925, and the place is Morocco. North Africa during the shadow war between the great powers, in that uneasy temporary cessation of hostilities between World Wars One and Two.

Russell came to Morocco at the behest of Inspector Lestrade to investigate a film company, but mostly because she is waging her own private little war with Brother Mycroft. This would not be conducive to good family relations under normal circumstances, but Mycroft Holmes has occasionally been, at times, the British government. At least the secret parts of it.

In Morocco, Russell and Holmes meet old friends from their travels in Palestine. The only problem is that they are not sure whether Ali and Mahmoud Hazr are there to plan an assassination, or to stop one.

And which would best serve the interests of the people of Morocco, the people of England, and the interest of Mycroft Holmes?

Russell, for one, is very, very tired of worrying about the puppet-master in the shadows, manipulating her life, and the lives of those around her, thinking he knows what’s best for everyone. What if he’s wrong?

Escape Rating A-: What sticks in the mind at the end of this tale are two facets. One was the way that the story slid into historical events. This could have happened and would have left this little trace in history. This is just cool.

Then there’s the question that comes up so often, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  But when the decision is between this many over here and that many over there, the side with the bigger and better guns generally wins. “Might makes right” in other words.

But might isn’t always right. The way that the Hazr brothers questioned the British treatment of the Moroccan people is intended as reminiscent of T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) with good reason. What may have looked reasonable from London was undoubtedly balderdash from a closer perspective. Think of the U.S. Revolution for an example that may be more familiar.

Starting the story with Russell in a mental fog made for somewhat of a slow start. She normally has a very clear and direct narrative voice; even when she doesn’t know where she’s going, she knows what she’s doing while she’s getting there. The story took a while to gather itself together as Russell reassembled herself. Once she remembered who and what she was, and the plan pulled together, the story took off!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 9-2-12

This Sunday’s version of the Sunday post takes place at Dragon*Con, so today’s motto is: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup”.   I’ve probably picked up some signed copies of too many books in the Hucksters’ Room by now. And added way too many t-shirts to my t-shirt collection. (I’ve got to weed some of the ones I really can’t wear…one of these centuries)

And as happy as I am to be at Dragon*Con, there a part of me that’s sad not to be at WorldCon this weekend in Chicago. We would have managed, somehow, if it hadn’t required a TARDIS. <sniff>

This is Labor Day weekend here in the States. The last three-day holiday weekend that a lot of people get until Thanksgiving.  That’s what makes it the end of summer.

Before we forge ahead to Fall, or even to the upcoming week, there’s one big giveaway from last week that you still have plenty of time to get in on.

If you love small-town romance, take a look at Susan Wigg’s Return to Willow Lake. I reviewed it on Thursday (I’m afraid I waxed really eloquent), and Susan is offering a giveaway of one print copy of the book. So if you like her work, here’s a great chance for a free book. (US only this time, sorry.)

Coming up this week, I’ve got one review/interview combo this Thursday, too. Kerry Adrienne will be here on September 6 to talk about the first two books in her All Mine series under the Decadent Press 1Night Stand series, Druid, Mine and Senator, Mine. (Not US Senators, Senators in Ancient Rome, much yummier) Mixing the 1Night Stand concept with time travel, yes time travel, turns out to be pretty cool. Both books were a LOT of fun.

Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of other books to talk about this week. I’m in the middle of Laurie R. King’s new Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell book, Garment of Shadows. (No, I can’t resist Sherlock Holmes, apparently ever).

And looking ahead to next week, I’ll be hosting visits from Lia Davis, to talk about her paranormal entry in the 1Night Stand series, Ravished Before Sunrise.

I’ll also have a special treat, because it’s science fiction romance. I have an interview with Heather Long to get the scoop on her new superhero/time-travel/science fiction romance story, Yesterday’s Heroes. Even better, it’s the first book in a series, so there are more for me to look forward to.

So what are you reading to welcome Fall?

On My Wishlist #4

This is the first On My Wishlist that’s going to be officially linked to the new site at Cosy Books.

What’s the On My Wishlist meme? A way for bloggers to share the books they really, really want to read, whether it’s stuff that isn’t out yet, or just books they haven’t been able to get around to.

Which books are on my personal wishlist right this minute?

Redshirts by John Scalzi. I want this book, I really, really want this book. Now would be just fine! I put this on my list of most anticipated books for 2012, I want it so bad. What is it? John Scalzi, the author of Old Man’s War, which is fantastic science fiction, writing about a space ship crewed entirely by “Redshirts”. Yes, those redshirts. Exactly what you’re thinking. The ones who always died in the first five minutes (seconds) of any classic Star Trek episode. Except this crew knows what they are, and they all want to live. At PLA I asked the folks at the Tor booth to send me an Advance Reading Copy, and I am so hoping it will be in my mail soon. I’ve also entered a giveaway on Goodreads. I really want this book bad and June 5 seems so far away.

My ongoing thing for Sherlock Holmes also needs a fix. The next Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell book by Laurie R. King, Garment of Shadows, comes out on September 4. I’ve requested it on Edelweiss, and I’m stalking it on NetGalley, hoping it will appear miraculously there. (I have a better chance on NetGalley) I’ve read ALL the Holmes/Russell books. I reviewed The Pirate King and Beekeeping for Beginners. September is much too far away. I listed Beekeeping for Beginners as one of the best ebook romances of 2011 at Library Journal. I’m so up for Garment of Shadows.

So tell me, what’s on your wishlist?


11 for 2011: Best reads of the year

2011 is coming to a close. It’s time to pause and reflect on the year that is ending.

There’s a lovely quote from Garrison Keillor, “A book is a present that you can open again and again.” There’s a corollary in this house about “not if the cat is sitting on it” but the principle still applies. The good stories from this year will still be good next year. Some of them may even have sequels!

These were my favorites of the year. At least when I narrow the list down to 11 and only 11. And even then I fudged a bit. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (reviewed 12/1/11). This book had everything it could possibly need. There’s a quest. There’s a love story. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s an homage to videogaming. There are pop-culture references to every cult classic of science fiction and fantasy literature imaginable. There’s an evil empire to be conquered. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Omnitopia: Dawn by Diane Duane (reviewed 4/22/11). On the surface, Omnitopia and Ready Player One have a lot in common. Thankfully, there is more than meets the eye. Omnitopia takes place in the here and now, or very close to it. The world has not yet gone down the dystopian road that Wade and his friends are looking back at in Ready Player One. On the other hand, any resemblance the reader might see between Worlds of Warcraft mixed with Facebook and Omnitopia, or between Omnitopia Corp and Apple, may not entirely be the reader’s imagination. Howsomever, Omnitopia Dawn also has some very neat things to say about artificial intelligence in science fiction. If you liked Ready Player One, just read Omnitopia: Dawn. Now!

The Iron Knight (reviewed 10/26/11) was the book that Julie Kagawa did not intend to write. She was done with Meghan, her story was over. Meghan is the Iron Queen, but what she has achieved is not a traditional happily-ever-after. Victory came at a price. Real victories always do. Meghan’s acceptance of her responsibility means that she must rule alone. Ash is a Winter Prince, and Meghan’s Iron Realm is fatal to his kind. The Iron Knight is Ash’s journey to become human, or at least to obtain a soul, so that he can join his love in her Iron Realm. It is an amazing journey of mythic proportions.

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (reviewed 10/18/11) is a story that absolutely shouldn’t work. The fact that it not only works, but works incredibly well, still leaves me gasping in delight. Dearly, Departed is the first, best, and so far only YA post-apocalypse steampunk zombie romance I’ve ever read. I never thought a zombie romance could possible work, period. This one not only works, it’s fun. There’s a sequel coming, Dearly, Beloved. I just wish I knew when.

Debris by Jo Anderton (reviewed 09/29/11) is the first book of The Veiled World Trilogy. It’s also Anderton’s first novel, a fact that absolutely amazed me when I read the book. Debris is science fiction with a fantasy “feel” to it, a book where things that are scientifically based seem magical to most of the population. But the story is about one woman’s fall from grace, and her discovery that her new place in society is where she was meant to be all along.

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (reviewed 09/19/11). If you love mysteries, and you are not familiar with Louise Penny’s work, get thee to a bookstore, or download her first Chief Inspector Gamache mystery, Still Life, to your ereader this instant. Louise Penny has been nominated for (and frequently won) just about every mystery award for the books in this series since she started in 2005. Find out why.

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches. (This is not a digression, I will reach the point). I have read all Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books, some more than once. I almost listed Pirate King (reviewed 9/9/11), this year’s Holmes/Russell book instead of Trick. But Pirate King was froth, and Penny never is. A regular contributor to Letters of Mary, the mailing list for fans of the Holmes/Russell books, recommended the Louise Penny books. I am forever grateful.

The Elantra Series by Michelle Sagara (review forthcoming). I confess I’m 2/3rds of the way through Cast in Ruin right now. I’ve tried describing this series, and the best I can come up with is an urban fantasy series set in a high fantasy world. I absolutely love it. It’s the characters that make this series. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is clearly drawn and their personality is delineated in a way that makes them interesting. There are people you wouldn’t want to meet, but they definitely are distinctive. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny in spots, even when it’s very much gallows humor. I’m driving my husband crazy because I keep laughing at the dialog, and I can’t explain what’s so funny. I would love to have drinks with Kaylin. I’d even buy. But the Elantra series is not humor. Like most urban fantasy, it’s very snarky. But the stories themselves have a crime, or now, a very big problem that needs solving, and Kaylin is at the center of it. Whether she wants to be or not.

If you are keeping score somewhere, or just want the reading order, it’s Cast in Moonlight (part of Harvest Moon), Cast in Shadow, Cast in Courtlight, Cast in Secret, Cast in Fury, Cast in Silence, Cast in Chaos, and Cast in Ruin.

The Ancient Blades Trilogy by David Chandler consists of Den of Thieves (reviewed 7/27/11), A Thief in the Night (reviewed 10/7/11) and Honor Among Thieves (reviewed 12/21/11). This was good, old-fashioned sword and sorcery. Which means the so-called hero is the thief and not the knight-errant. And every character you meet has a hidden agenda and that no one, absolutely no one, is any better than they ought to be. But the ending, oh the ending will absolutely leave you stunned.

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (reviewed 7/29/11) is 2011’s entry in one of my absolute all time favorite series, The Dresden Files. And I saw Jim Butcher in person at one of the Atlanta Barnes & Noble stores. Ghost Story represents a very big change in the Dresden Files universe, where Harry Dresden starts growing into those extremely large boots he’s been stomping around in all these years. If you love urban fantasy, read Dresden.

Turn It Up by Inez Kelley (reviewed 8/10/11 and listed here) is one of the best takes on the “friends into lovers” trope that I have ever read. Period. Also, I’m an absolute sucker for smart people and witty dialogue, and this book is a gem. “Dr. Hot and the Honeypot” pretty much talk each other into a relationship, and into bed, while they give out sassy advice over the airwaves on their very suggestive and extremely successful sexual advice radio show.

My last book is a two-fer. Break Out (reviewed 8/4/11) and Deadly Pursuit (reviewed 12/6/11) by Nina Croft are the first two books in her Blood Hunter series, and I sincerely hope there are more. This is paranormal science fiction romance. Like Dearly, Departed, this concept should not work. But it absolutely does. And it gets better the longer it goes on. If you have an urban fantasy world in the 20th century, what would happen if that alternate history continued into space? Where do the vamps and the werewolves go? They go into space with everyone else, of course. And you end up with Ms. Croft’s Blood Hunter universe, which I loved. But you have to read both books. The first book just isn’t long enough for the world building. The second one rocks.

I stopped at 11 (well 11-ish) because this is the 2011 list. I could have gone on. And on. And on. My best ebook romances list was published on Library Journal earlier in the month. LJ has a ton of other “best” lists for your reading pleasure. Or for the detriment of your TBR pile.

Selecting the best romance ebooks of 2011

Last week I volunteered to select the best romance ebooks of 2011 for Library Journal. The article that resulted from the endeavor was posted at LJ this morning under the title: Librarian’s Best Books of 2011: Ebook Romance, with my picture and everything. Yes, I’m rather chuffed about the whole thing, as the Brits would say.

How did this come about? I review ebook romances for Library Journal. I am a librarian, and I asked to be a reviewer when they started their ebook romance review program this summer. LJ has, like every book review source, been posting their “best of 2011” lists this month. They’ve also been posting “Librarian’s best” guest posts. Since they have only been reviewing ebooks since August, they didn’t have a full year of ebook romance reviewing to work with. When I volunteered to write one for them, they were happy.

But about the books, and the selecting of them. They had to be ebooks, they had to be romances, and I could only pick five. And they had to be 2011 books. I stretched a couple of those definitions just a tad. There was no requirement that they be books reviewed in LJ. Actually, that was the point. LJ wanted me to go through my archives and find stuff I knew about that they didn’t, because I cover more of the ebook “waterfront” with Ebook Review Central, and I’ve been reviewing ebooks longer.

I chose the books in order by time, earliest to latest, plus the one I snuck in and hoped it would stick, which it did. It’s not generally thought of as a romance, but well, some of us think it is.

1. Goddess with a Blade by Lauren Dane, published by Carina Press. Reviewed on June 20, 2011. Urban Fantasy. Escape Rating A.

Goddess was one of the first books I reviewed for NetGalley. And I remembered it in detail six months later.  Every time my editor at LJ asked me if there would ever be a starred review of an ebook (before Serenity Woods’ White-Hot Christmas finally got one) Goddess with a Blade was always my example. Absolutely terrific kick-ass heroine, and great urban fantasy world-building. I hope there are more.

2. Turn it Up by Inez Kelley, also published by Carina Press. Reviewed on August 10, 2011. Contemporary Romance. Escape Rating A.

I reviewed a similar book for LJ, but Turn it Up was just so much better that I cited Turn it Up in my review as the one people should read instead! This was a marvelous “friends-into-lovers” story. And very, very funny.

3. Queenie’s Brigade by Heather Massey, published by Red Sage Publishing. Reviewed on October 10, 2011. Science Fiction Romance. Escape Rating A.

Queenie’s Brigade is terrific science fiction romance. When I wrote my review, I got sucked into reading it a second time, and I’d just finished it! The last rebel spaceship escapes to the last prison planet to try to turn convicts into soldiers. Sort of like the Dirty Dozen in space. Except nowhere near that easy. If you like science fiction romance, get this book.

4. Divide & Conquer (Cut & Run book 4) by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban, published by Dreamspinner Press. M/M Romance, Mystery/Suspense. Featured on Ebook Review Central, Dreamspinner October Books, November 28, 2011. Ratings from 4/5 to 5/5 at 8 reviewers.

I crowdsourced this selection to Ebook Review Central. The reviews weren’t just positive, they were glowing. And not just for this book, but for the whole series. It made me put the first book in the series, Cut & Run, on my TBR list. There are paperbacks available for this series, so I was stretching the ebook-only definition just a bit, but no one minded.

5. Beekeeping for Beginners by Laurie R. King, published by Bantam. Mystery. Discussed in the post The Beekeeper and his Apprentice on July 6, 2011.

This was the one that was the sneak. Technically, this isn’t a romance. But the Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell concept definitely is. And anyone who can read what he did for her and say he hadn’t already started to love her, even if he didn’t know it himself, doesn’t have a romantic bone in their body.

I loved creating this list for LJ, but because they had to be all ebooks, there were lots of things that I read and loved this year that were ineligible. Why?  Because they were really “p as in print” books. Or they were older books I finally got around to this year (hello, Elantra!) So later this month I’ll do a personal “best of 2011” list.