Review: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew Jones

Review: Upon the Flight of the Queen by Howard Andrew JonesUpon the Flight of the Queen (The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, #2) by Howard Andrew Jones
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Ring-Sworn Trilogy #2
Pages: 432
Published by St. Martin's Press on November 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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"A fast-paced adventure combined with an engrossing mystery, all set in a unique and original fantasy world. I can't wait to find out what happens next!" --Martha Wells, Hugo Award-winning author on For the Killing of Kings

In this sequel to For the Killing of Kings, Howard Andrew Jones returns to the ring-sworn champions of the Altenerai in Upon the Flight of the Queen to continue this thrilling, imaginative and immersive epic fantasy trilogy.

While the savage Naor clans prepare to march on the heart of the Allied Realms, Rylin infiltrates the highest of the enemy ranks to learn their secrets and free hundreds of doomed prisoners. His ailing mentor Varama leads the ever-dwindling Altenerai corps in a series of desperate strikes to cripple the Naor occupiers, hoping for a relief force that may not come in time to save what's left of the city and her charges.

Elenai, Kyrkenall, and the kobalin Ortok ride through the storm-wracked Shifting Lands to rekindle an alliance with the ko'aye, the only possible counter to the terrible Naor dragons. Even if they survive the hazardous trek deep through kobalin territory to find the winged lizards, though, the three are unlikely to get a warm reception, for the queen of the five realms refused to aid the ko'aye when their homelands were attacked, and the creatures have long memories.

While the Altenerai fight impossible odds to save the realms, their queen delves further and deeper into the magic of the mysterious hearthstones in a frantic attempt to unlock secrets that might just destroy them all.

Praised for his skills in drafting modern epic fantasy that engrosses and entertains, Howard Andrew Jones delivers a sequel that expands the amazing world, relationships, and adventure introduced in the first book of this series.

My Review:

It’s ironically fascinating that Upon the Flight of the Queen ends in exactly the same way that the first book in this series, For the Killing of Kings, did. Both stories end with our heroes saving another city from the hands, and hordes, of the marauding Naor. And in both cases that recovery comes within a knife edge of disaster, but neither represent the end of anything larger than the immediate battle. As each entry in the series closes, it is obvious to the reader that the endpoint is merely a pause between battles, and that more bloodshed and heartbreak are yet to come.

For the Killing of Kings felt like it began in medias res – translated as “into the middle of things” -, that the story had already begun at some point in the past and the reader was just dropped into the middle of it. As Elenai and Kyrkenall delve deeper into the secrets and lies that have set them on the run from their former compatriots, that situation becomes the real truth. They are already in the middle of the story – they just didn’t know it at first.

This second book begins in medias of the res that happened in the first book. Which means that you cannot start here. The story in Upon the Flight of the Queen only makes sense if you’ve read For the Killing of Kings. But if you love epic fantasy this is a story well worth diving into.

As this second story opens, Rylin and Varama, the ring-sworn warriors of the Altenerai Corps (and of the series title) have just saved one city of the Allied Realms from an army of savage Naor set on conquest, enslavement and destruction of their enemies – who just so happen to be the heroes of our story.

As this entry in the series progresses, the focus shifts among the Altenerai as this small band of warriors and mages tries to be everywhere at once, to defend as much as they can in as many places as they can from their would-be conquerors, while at the same time attempting to figure out why their order and their country has been betrayed from within – and just how much the Queen has to do with the rot at the heart of the kingdom.

At the end of this volume, the “band” has mostly gotten back together from their separate epic journeys, just in time to defeat the onrushing horde – while losing any hope of stopping the mad queen who has set these terrible events into motion.

The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. Our heroes pause as readers gasp in shock as they wait to see what will happen next.

Escape Rating A: While I had a whole dragonload of mixed feelings about the first book in this series, I have absolutely none about this second entry. I loved Upon the Flight of the Queen, in spite of some issues with the audio narration that I’ll get to in a minute.

I don’t know whether it was because this was just the right time for me to get into a meaty epic fantasy, whether I liked this one more because I had a better grasp of the characters and the world, or whether this second book was just better than the first – this was an awesome story and I loved every minute of it.

Unlike my listen to the first book, this time I felt compelled to see what happened next – what new fire our heroes jumped into after escaping their most recent frying pan. I found myself listening to the story when I had time in the car or on the treadmill and then switching to the ebook when I didn’t – because I couldn’t put this one down.

That being said, there were issues with the narration – and they were the same issues I noted in my review of the previous book. The reader conflated cavalry with Calvary – a common issue in everyday life but jarring in a professional reader. Early in the story the word “loll” was read as “lull” repeatedly, to the point where I was temporarily confused about what was happening. My personal “favorite” malaprop was the reading of “brazier” – a container for fire, as “brassiere” – the older word for a woman’s undergarment now known as a “bra”. Just the thought of mistaking the one for the other is, quite literally, painful to contemplate. Seriously, OUCH!

But the story is definitely not an ouch, although the characters in it certainly experience plenty of painful circumstances that generate a lot more than a mere “ouch”. This is a story with a very large cast of characters and a lot of conflicting motivations – something that got a bit bogged down in the first book as we had to learn who all these people were and what was pushing them forward – or pulling them back. That the characters we were following were in the midst of discovering that they had been betrayed and were themselves uncertain of anyone’s motives made that a bit more difficult.

By this point, however, we’ve got a handle on who is who – and our heroes know who is with them and who is against them. The tension however, is ramped up by the Naor incursions. The Queen’s inattention to the good of her realm has provided these long-time enemies with an opportunity to strike at their heart believing that no one can oppose them. And they are very nearly right.

At the same time, one of the tighter focuses in the story is on the guerrilla warfare being waged in one city that is ostensibly under Naor occupation. The plight of the tiny band of warriors led by Alten Varama, a group that watches as their numbers whittled down while their commander lays the groundwork for a rescue that may not come is heartbreakingly terrible and terribly heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, in other parts of this wide-ranging narrative, we watch a legendary commander literally rise from the dead – as he in turn watches a young man and woman from the Corps he led rise to meet the challenges of this new and terrible day.

The ending of Upon the Flight of the Queen is rife with those epic “Riders of Rohan” moments that are the hallmark of the best of epic fantasy – as this certainly is.

There was only one thing that marred my enjoyment of this epic tale. It ends, just as For the Killing of Kings ended, in the pause after an epic battle, a point where the characters and the reader have a chance to take a breath but know that there is more yet to come. When the first book ended, the publication date for this second book was already announced, and was actually imminent.

The title and publication date of the final book in the Ring-Sworn Trilogy have yet to be announced. I’m anxiously waiting for that horn call – and I’m certain that I’m far from alone in my impatience to discover which of our heroes will survive to win the day.

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + Excerpt

Review: An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow + ExcerptAn Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Wild River #1
Pages: 379
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In Alaska, it’s always a white Christmas—but the sparks flying between two reunited friends could turn it red-hot…

If there’s one gift Erika Sheraton does not want for Christmas, it’s a vacation. Ordered to take time off, the workaholic surgeon reluctantly trades in her scrubs for a ski suit and heads to Wild River, Alaska. Her friend Cassie owns a tour company that offers adventures to fit every visitor. But nothing compares to the adrenaline rush Erika feels on being reunited with Cassie’s brother, Reed Reynolds.

Gone is the buttoned-up girl Reed remembers. His sister’s best friend has blossomed into a strong, skilled, confident woman. She’s exactly what his search-and-rescue team needs—and everything he didn’t know he craved. The gulf between his life in Wild River and her big-city career is wide. But it’s no match for a desire powerful enough to melt two stubborn hearts…

My Review:

This holiday romance combines a frenemies into lovers romance with a bit of a second chance at love romance, and wraps it all up in a sparkly bow.

A bow that occasionally seems to be pulled in two directions (and tied in a strangled knot) by two strong-willed workaholics, neither of whom are good at stopping to smell the candy canes and hot cocoa. But then, both Ericka and Reed have spent years working all the hours available in order to keep them too busy to let any of their griefs and fears catch up to them even for a second.

Until Ericka is forced to take a two week vacation – and decides to spend it in Wild River where she grew up with her childhood best friend Cassie – and Cassie’s very hot but exceedingly annoying brother Reed. Ericka and Reed have always seen the worst – and brought out the worst – in each other at every turn. But the sudden sexual chemistry between them adds a new and frustrating aspect to their rocky relationship – in more ways than one.

What at first seems to Ericka as an interminable stretch of time to be away from her high-pressure life as a surgeon at one of Anchorage’s big hospitals turns out to be much, much too short as she and Reed manage to get past their stubborn animosity to explore their intense chemistry.

Only to have her two week vacation abruptly cut in half, just as they figure out that under all that heat – was a whole lot more heat along with an emotional connection that neither of them has found with anyone else – not that either of them left much time in their lives for looking.

But once Ericka is back at work – and under the constantly disapproving eye of her emotionally distant father – who also happens to be her boss – Ericka falls back into her old patterns and lets Reed go – no matter how much she misses him, the connection they share and the much more balanced life she discovered in Wild River.

It takes a crisis of epic proportions – and very nearly a re-enactment of that famous Christmas story The Gift of the Magi – to bring Ericka and Reed to their holiday happy ever after – with just a bit of an assist from her dad the Grinch.

Escape Rating B: I picked this book because I lived in Anchorage for three years, leaving me with a fount of Alaska stories that I’m still telling 15 years later and a love for books set in “The Last Frontier” that persists to this day. That love is at least partially fueled by an equally endless need to figure out what matches the Alaska I remember – and what feels as far off the unbeaten path as Cicely was in the TV series Northern Exposure. (There is no Cicely AK, but local collective wisdom decided that Cicely was meant to stand in for Tok.)

So, I have a few quibbles. There is no Alaska General Hospital in Anchorage or anywhere else. The three “general” hospitals in Anchorage are Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital.

Only two rail lines run all winter and one only runs once a month – the other and more likely runs once a week, the Aurora Winter Train, beginning in Anchorage and stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Hurricane Flagstop Area (Chase, Curry, Sherman, Gold Creek, Canyon, Twin Bridges, Chulitna, Hurricane, Denali), Healy, Nenana and Fairbanks. Based on the description of Wild River, it’s likely between Wasilla and Talkeetna – or would be if it existed..

Also, contrary to the blurb, Anchorage is no one’s definition of a big-city, except in Alaskan terms. The current population of Anchorage is 380,000. It’s actually one of the smallest cities I’ve ever lived in. It only seems large compared to places like Wild River because it is the largest relatively “big” place that’s closer than Seattle WA or Vancouver BC which are about 700 miles away – basically a 3.5 hour flight.

Setting all that aside – no matter how much it drove me crazy during the story – An Alaskan Christmas is a lovely holiday romance that has a bit more to it than just the romance.

The romance happens fairly quickly, as is often the case in holiday romances. But it doesn’t feel rushed this time around, as Ericka and Reed had known each other for years – although admittedly they didn’t seem to like each other very much. But they were tied together not just by growing up together, but by an important moment that they shared, and a special bond over their lost parents.

Ericka’s mother died at about the same time when Reed and Cassie’s father disappeared. Ericka’s dad retreated into his work and left 15-year-old Ericka to grieve alone with the help of her friends.

Something else they share is missing fathers. Reed and Cassie’s dad is still missing, and Reed is still searching for him. Ericka’s dad, even though he is her boss – or perhaps especially because he is her boss – is a distant and disapproving figure in her life. She runs herself ragged trying to both please and emulate him – and she fails at every turn. Not because she’s not capable – because she’s actually excellent and any parent would be proud to have her as a daughter – but because the man has become so emotionally disconnected that he’s incapable of approving of anything or anyone but especially his own daughter. It IS his way of coping with the loss of his wife but it’s left Ericka quite literally out in the emotional cold. Ericka’s journey in this holiday tale is to finally figure out what SHE wants out of her own life – before she finds herself trapped in her work just like her father. That part of her story was heartbreaking. Ericka deserved better for herself and a big part of her happy ending is that she finally reached out and grabbed that better with both hands.

And like the Grinch, her dad’s heart did seem to grow three sizes at the end – but he still has a long way to go. Ericka, with Reed’s help, has made it.

Excerpt from AN ALASKAN CHRISTMAS by Jennifer Snow

He tossed the blanket over her quickly and stood. “Okay, so you’re all good?”

She nodded, but her gaze was on his midsection. And her unblinking stare was full of unconcealed attraction. The same way she’d checked out his biceps in the bar.

He glanced down to see that his T-shirt had risen slightly on the right side, exposing his stomach.

Obviously his abs were to her liking.

“Erika.”

“Huh?” Still staring.

“It’s been a while, huh?”

She frowned, finally pulling her gaze back to his. “For what?

“Since you’ve had sex.”

Her mouth gaped.

“I mean, that’s why you’re staring at my stomach like I’m a piece of chocolate.”

“I was not,” she said, but her cheeks flushed. “And I’ll have you know, I have plenty of sex…all the time. Men beating down my door for it…” she mumbled.

That he wouldn’t doubt, except he knew from Cassie that she was a reclusive workaholic and he was willing to bet the only penises she saw were her naked patients.

“And anyway, even if that was the case, you’d be the last guy I’d want to break my dry spell.”

Okay, now he was intrigued. Especially since he’d made no motion to fix his shirt and her eyes were glued on his abs again, betraying her words. He crossed his arms, making sure to flex his biceps for her viewing pleasure, as well. She wasn’t going to get him, but all of a sudden, he wanted her to want him. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”

“Because I don’t think you’d be any good.”

What?

“Hot guys are rarely good in bed. They don’t think they need to be. They are selfish and rarely leave a woman satisfied.”

She’d obviously been with the wrong dudes. “In your expert opinion?”

She nodded. “As a doctor and woman. Yes.”

Damn, he’d like to kiss that smug expression right off her face, but the voice in his head told him to leave her drunk ass alone. “Okay, then. Good night.”

“What? Not even going to try to prove me wrong?”

In two strides, he’d reached her. Pulling back the blanket, he lifted her and, seating himself on the couch, he set her down on his lap. A leg on either side, she straddled him. “You sure you want to eat your words?”

Instead of answering, she gripped his face and kissed him. Hard. His surprise faded fast as his mouth suddenly craved hers. The taste of tequila mingled with her cherry lip gloss and he forgot he was the one teaching her a lesson. Her legs gripped his and she pressed her chest against him, the feel of her breasts beneath the soft cashmere making his heart pound against them.

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Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

Charlotte Bishop is out of options in New York City. Fired, broke, and blacklisted by her former boss, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Hope Lake, PA to lick her wounds. Although she’s expecting to find a miserable place with nothing to do, she is pleasantly surprised to discover it is bustling and thriving.

She’s only supposed to be in Hope Lake temporarily until she can earn enough money to move back to New York. She’s not supposed to reconnect with her childhood friends or her beloved grandmother. She’s not supposed to find her dream job running the local florist shop. And she’s definitely not supposed to fall for not one but two of Hope Lake’s golden boys: one the beloved high school English teacher, the other the charming town doctor.

With a heart torn between two men and two cities, what’s a girl to do?

A perfect blend of humor and heart, Meet Me on Love Lane is the second in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci that is sure to charm fans of Josie Silver and Sally Thorne.

My Review:

There are two literary versions of home. One is the Robert Frost version, the one that says that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s also the Thomas Wolfe version that says that , “You can’t go home again.”

There’s also the romantic version, the one that says that “home is where the heart is.”.

In a way, Meet Me on Love Lane is a story about crossroads. The story is firmly parked at the corner of contemporary romance and women’s fiction, as it’s partly about Charlotte Bishop’s choice between a romance with the new “Dr. Hotness” in town, and something sweeter but more elusive with someone from her past.

It’s also at the intersection of two of those versions of home. Charlotte has returned to Hope Lake because she needs a place to regroup and recharge, and that takes her back to her childhood home in Hope Lake with her father and grandmother. A home that her mother wrenched her away from when she was 10.

She’s returned to Hope Lake because she has no place else to go, and because she hopes that her family will take her back in – no matter that it has been 20 years since she was last there.

It turns out that the story is about Charlotte discovering that her home is where her heart is, and that, in spite of all the years gone by and all the memories that she’s deliberately suppressed, her heart and her home are in Hope Lake – along with all the love – of all kinds – that she left behind.

All she has to do is squelch the bitter voice of her mother that still rings in her head even years after the woman’s death – and let herself remember all the good things her mother wanted her to forget.

Because her heart has found its home – no matter what her head – and the voices from her past – have to say about the matter.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of the title, Meet Me on Love Lane feels like it’s more about Charlotte and all of her relationships – with her dad, her grandmother, her best girlfriend, her other childhood friends and everyone in her former/future hometown than it is about her romantic escapades.

Particularly poignant is Charlotte’s relationship with her grandmother Gigi – who is an absolute hoot. We all wish we had a grandmother like Gigi – while at the same time feeling for Charlotte and everything she’s missed.

She’s also not really in the “torn between two lovers” situation that the blurb implies. Every woman in town – of every age – seems to drool at least a bit over “Dr. Hotness”, but there’s never any spark there. Charlotte may want there to be, but there’s never even a hint of a need to make a decision on that front.

However, Charlotte is much more torn over the choice between returning to New York City and staying in Hope Lake. Some of that is because of her mother’s disparaging voice in her head, and some of that is just because these are very different kinds of places and they represent very different lives. There’s not a right or a wrong answer to that question, but the adjustments to her life will be profound no matter what she chooses – and it is a choice worth serious consideration.

The sweetness in the story comes from Charlotte’s rediscovery of Henry, the man who once upon a time was a 10 year old boy and her absolute best friend in the whole world. The boy who it hurt so much to leave behind that she made herself forget him. Completely.

The way that Charlotte works her way back to Henry, and reconnects with her own past, is her journey in this story. It lets her relearn just how much she loved this place and these people, and just how much of herself she cut off and left behind in order to survive life with her mother.

Exactly what was wrong with her mother is never completely resolved. No one actually knows. That there is no closure for Charlotte to explain so much that needs explaining leaves Charlotte bewildered but coping (and recommending therapy all around) and leaves the reader with a lack of resolution in that part of the story. While admittedly that’s real life – we don’t always get the explanations we need or want or are due – but in fiction most readers, myself included, expect a bit more satisfaction in our happy ever afters.

But Charlotte – and Henry – certainly earn theirs. With everyone in town cheering them on.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Meet Me on Love Lane to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop,  hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

First of all, the above may be the cutest hop graphic ever. But then, I love cats. I can’t imagine ours in the snow – although it certainly would make our Lucifer easy to find – if we had snow.

Winter mostly deals the Atlanta area a glancing blow – but it is coming. Even if local temperatures during this blog hop will reach up into the 60s a few times. But we do get enough winter that the trees lose their leaves – which fascinates the cats no end. Falling leaves make GREAT kitty television.

I do not miss the winters in two of our previous homes – Chicago and Anchorage. Both are equally miserable this time of year. They are also both terrific cities to live in, but their winters – recently arrived in Chicago and long arrived in Anchorage – are nothing to sneeze at unless you have the inevitable cold or flu. Then you’re sneezing a lot.

But it’s chilly enough here that we’ve brought out the cushy blanket for our bed – which has motivated all three cats to not only sleep with us, but to sleep ON the bed instead of UNDER the bed during the day. And we’re happy to make them happy!

Still, ’tis the season for wintry weather, holiday shopping and curling up with a good book and a cuddly fur-person or two. To help with your winter snuggles, I’m giving away your choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository. And all of the participants in this hop will be happy to help you further with your holiday presents and post-holiday recovery!

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For more fantastic prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey

Review: The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes LackeyThe Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters, #14) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy
Series: Elemental Masters #14
Pages: 320
Published by DAW Books on December 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The fourteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England.

While Sherlock is still officially dead, John and Mary Watson and Nan Killian and Sarah Lyon-White are taking up some of his case-load--and some for Lord Alderscroft, the Wizard of London.

Lord Alderscroft asks them to go to Dartmoor to track down a rumor of evil magic brewing there. Not more than four hours later, a poor cottager, also from Dartmoor, arrives seeking their help. His wife, in a fit of rage over the children spilling and spoiling their only food for dinner that night, sent them out on the moors to forage for something to eat. This is not the first time she has done this, and the children are moor-wise and unlikely to get into difficulties. But this time they did not come back, and in fact, their tracks abruptly stopped "as if them Pharisees took'd 'em." The man begs them to come help.

They would have said no, but there's the assignment for Alderscroft. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

But the deadly bogs are not the only mires on Dartmoor.

My Review:

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the middle of listening to The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl followed by Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage. I was on a Sherlock Holmes kick and looking for stories that were at least Holmes-adjacent, as both Mesmerizing Girl and Spellbound Child turned out to be.

In other words, unlike Mycroft and Sherlock, which is definitely Holmesian all the way even if it is still focused more on the older brother than the younger, both the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club and the Elemental Masters are series that I got into for Holmes but stayed in for everybody else.

Which is a good thing, because Spellbound Child, like last month’s Mesmerizing Girl, is all about the everybody else and only tangentially about Holmes. At least in Spellbound Child Sherlock isn’t in need of rescue along with some of that everybody else.

This story is part of the author’s Elemental Masters series. In this series, the world is an alternate version of our own history, it’s just a version in which magic works but is mostly hidden and strictly controlled by its practitioners – especially those who are masters of their particular elements.

The series began with The Fire Rose back in 1995 – a story that I read at the time but have no recollection of beyond the concept. I kept up with the first few books in the series, but then dropped it for a long time, until A Scandal in Battersea caught my attention two years ago, not for its fantasy but for its screamingly obvious Sherlockian elements. And have continued with the series ever since, even stepping back one book to A Study in Sable, where the entire current cast of characters was introduced.

The above should give heart to any readers who have not read the whole series. I do think starting with A Study in Sable would be beneficial to becoming acquainted with the current cast and situation. And all Holmes pastiche series seem to start with a play on the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, as this one does.

However, Holmes is not an elemental master – at least not unless someone declares logic to be a form of elemental magic. He is, rather, a skeptic. In spite of his friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson, being an elemental master himself, as is Watson’s wife Mary. It is an interesting take on their long-term friendship and collaboration, as Holmes has his sphere in which he is an acknowledged expert, but Watson also has his. And there are times when logic must defer to magic, no matter how much Holmes may scoff. He does not believe, but he has seen. And there have been multiple occasions where magic is the only answer left after he has eliminated the impossible.

This story takes place during Holmes’ hiatus after Reichenbach Falls, so his presence is very much on the QT, as that saying goes. He’s part of the story but neither the integral or central part, and that’s as it should be.

Because this is a case that is intimately steeped in magic. And in a peculiar way, it hearkens back to the original premise of this series, that of retelling fairy tales in a new and magical world.

The child who is missing, and spellbound, turns out to be a surprisingly rational and logical version of Gretel. Making her also missing, also spellbound, but ot nearly as mature or rational or logical little brother Hansel. (This is a series where the females often get top billing and solve the case – and so it proves here.)

It is up to non-magical but highly practical Gretel, really Helen Byerly, to figure out just how the extremely wicked witch was ensorcelling ALL the children, and escape to find help. Help in the form of Dr. John Watson, his wife Mary, Spirit Master Sarah Lyon-White and psychic Nan Killian, along with their foster daughter Suki and their highly intelligent birds Grey and Neville, sent to the “wilds” of Dartmoor by the Wizard of London to determine why so many children have gone missing in recent years – and why so little is being done about it.

While this case doesn’t wind up at Baskerville Hall – as I fully admit I was more than half expecting – it has every bit as as many twists, turns and surprises as Holmes’ and Watson’s more famous visit to the moor.

Escape Rating B+: If you look carefully at the background image in the book cover, you’ll recognize the silhouette of the famous detective, complete with pipe and just the suggestion of a deerstalker cap. It does lead one to believe that there will be more of Holmes than actually occurs in this case. On the other hand, there’s plenty of Watson, or rather, Watsons in this one, as the Wizard of London has tasked the Watsons with a case that he finds more important than the locals seem to.

After all, it’s obvious to him fairly early on that someone is kidnapping children with magical talent. While all that the locals notice is that the missing children are “not their kind” meaning either poor or members of the Travelers, and are therefore beneath society’s notice.

Everyone involved, the Watsons, Nan and Sarah, as well as Holmes (and the reader) are fairly incensed by that attitude and determined to do what they can to get to the bottom of it.

I found the case to be an intriguing one, as the perspective switches from the imprisoned children to the search for them and back again. In spite of the magic involved, the search is actually fairly straightforward, even if some of the means and methods are otherworldly. What tugs at the heart in this story is the plight of those children, trapped by chains of both metal and fear to serve as magical “batteries” for a hedge wizard who would be a bully with or without magic.

The character who really shines in this story is the non-magical but eminently practical and oh-so-brave Helen Byerly. She’s trapped with the others, chained by magic she doesn’t understand, and yet she still finds a way to improve conditions for everyone she takes under her care – and reasons her way to an escape that has a chance of freeing them all. The story may focus on the Watsons and the other masters and magic users, but Helen is the real hero of the tale.

And I always love seeing a smart girl participate in her own rescue!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-1-19

Sunday Post

This is one of those weeks where I’m really sure about the beginning, but not so certain about the end. There will be something, because there’s always something. I’m just less than certain that the something will be the something I’m thinking of at the moment. We just got home from the Thanksgiving weekend and I’m still all about the “Happy Happy Joy Joy” reaction of being home. We missed the cats so much we went to a cat cafe! Which was lovely and we wanted to adopt ALL THE KITTEHS – even the ones that just wanted to be left alone. After all, our Lucifer needs someone to be left alone with!

But speaking of cats, isn’t the graphic for this week’s Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop the cutest thing EVAR?

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Black Friday Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!!!!!)
The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Gratitude Giveaway Hop is Kelly G.
The winner of the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop is Lori B.

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway
B Review: Mission: Her Freedom by Anna Hackett
A- Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: the Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Thanksgiving 2019
Black Friday Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (368)

Coming This Week:

The Case of the Spellbound Child by Mercedes Lackey (review)
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci (blog tour review)
An Alaskan Christmas by Jennifer Snow (blog tour review)
The Orchid Throne by Jeffe Kennedy (review)

Stacking the Shelves (368)

Stacking the Shelves

This is going to be one of my weird STS posts, where I have books without covers. Well, presumably books without covers yet, at any rate. This is in service of the Thanksgiving holiday, as we’ll be away this week so I’m putting things together early – or at least as early as possible. Or too, early in the case of most of these books.

For Review:
Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz
The Four Symbols (Black Sun #1) by Eric Giacometti & Jacques Ravenne
Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
The Ranger of Marzanna (Goddess War #1) by Jon Skovron
The Sin in the Steel (Fall of the Gods #1) by Ryan Van Loan

Black Friday Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop, hosted by yours truly, Reading Reality, and the Caffeinated Reviewer!

Today is Black Friday, so named because in times past, the day after Thanksgiving marked the day that retail stores finances tipped from red ink (receipts not matching expenses) to black ink. It’s also the unofficial start of the Holiday season – and the equally unofficial start of the Xmas shopping season – hence that red ink to black switch. Even though stores don’t exactly use paper ledgers and ink to do their accounting, the principle is still true. Today is the day when retail starts to turn a profit.

That this year Thanksgiving is relatively late in the calendar has more than a few of them hoping that there’s enough time to get enough people in their stores – whether physically or virtually – to make the magic happen again this year. (Next year it’s a tinge earlier. C’est la vie)

This is not a day when a lot of blogging happens. People are either out shopping or still recovering from yesterday’s turkey coma. Still, I’m going to do my little bit to help you with your holiday shopping, even if it’s just a present for yourself.

The rafflecopter below is your chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository to treat yourself – or someone else.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fun prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Black Friday Giveaway Hop Participants

1. Reading Reality (INT)
2. Caffeinated Reviewer (INT)
3. Angel’s Guilty Pleasures (INT)
4. Read Your Writes Book Reviews (US)
5. Samantha The Book Disciple
6. Nicci @ Sunny Buzzy Books (INT)
7. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books
8. Gretl@ Goldilox and the Three Weres (US)
9. Ilovebooksandstuffblog
10. Beauty Info Zone (US/Can)
11. The Mommy Island
12. Dashing Bling Read
13. The Attic Girl
14. Maureen @ Maureen’s Books
15. For What It’s Worth
16. Suzie Olsen (US)
17. Tabatha @Broken Soul Reviews
18. Carol’s Notebook (Int)
19. Readeropolis (US)

Learn more about Black Friday Giveaway Hop here.
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Thanksgiving 2019

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Alternatively, Happy Turkey Coma Day. Or even Happy Parade Day.

Possibly even Happy semi-official start of the Xmas Season.

Last year, Galen posted a reading list along with a picture of tiny, bitey Miss Hecate, who was thankful for her timely rescue the month before. So I’ll leave you this year with a picture of the full-grown Miss Hecate, still grateful for that timely rescue, just as we are grateful for her playful advent into our lives. And as you can see from her picture below, she’s expecting someone to be grateful that she brought him a mousie.

 

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The new novel by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, starring brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.

It is 1873, and as the economies of Europe threaten to crumble, Mycroft Holmes finds himself in service to the Crown once again. A distant relative of Queen Victoria has been slain by the Fire Four Eleven killer, a serial murderer who leaves no mark upon his victims, only a mysterious calling card. Meanwhile, Sherlock has already taken it upon himself to solve the case, as his interest in the criminal mind grows into an obsession.

Mycroft begrudgingly allows Sherlock to investigate, as Ai Lin—the woman he is still in love with—needs his aid. Her fiancé has been kidnapped, and the only man who might know his fate is a ruthless arms dealer with a reputation for killing those who cross him. Mycroft persuades his friend Cyrus Douglas to help find the young man, but Douglas himself is put in harm’s way.

As Sherlock travels the country on the hunt for the Fire Four Eleven murderer, both he and Mycroft will discover that the greed of others is at the root of the evil they are trying to unearth…

My Review:

In this third book in the Mycroft Holmes and Sherlock series – after the marvelous Mycroft Holmes and Mycroft and Sherlock – we have the portrait of the bureaucrat as a young and still surprisingly slender and exceedingly insufferable young man alongside the portrait of the detective as an even more insufferable young man. We also see their sibling rivalry at full flower – and it’s not a pretty sight.

Absolutely fascinating, but not pretty at all. Mycroft is enough years older than Sherlock that he expects to be respected and obeyed by his younger brother while Sherlock is both intelligent enough to know his own mind and already detached enough from his own emotions and any thought of social consequences to respect little and obey no one unless it serves his still developing ends.

And in their relationship in this story as well as the previous we see the seeds of what is known of that relationship in the canonical Holmes stories – two men, tied by blood but not affinity, of extreme intelligence but with few emotions, acknowledging their relationship and sometimes using it while having virtually no sympathy for each other.

We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. At the point in their lives when this story takes place, Mycroft is in his mid-20s and Sherlock is nearing 20 – and attempting to escape the confines of academia at Oxford.

As was true in Mycroft and Sherlock, there are two cases in this story. As it is Mycroft’s series rather than Sherlock’s, Mycroft’s case is both more important and takes up more of the story, while Sherlock’s, although important, doesn’t have quite the same consequences.

As fits the lives they are growing into, Mycroft’s case has international ramifications, while Sherlock’s is entirely local to England and fits more into his canon of detective stories. Sherlock is after a diabolically clever serial killer, a case that it not out of his later line but is currently stretching both Mycroft’s patience and Sherlock’s growing abilities.

Mycroft, on the other hand, is after an international arms dealer who is trying to start a war between China and Japan. The stakes are much higher for Mycroft, and not just because his beloved Britain will inevitably get dragged into any conflict on one side or the other if only to protect their power in India and the subcontinent.

But the part of the plot that twists Mycroft into knots is the danger to the woman he loves but cannot have. Her fiance is either a catspaw or conspirator in the plot. Mycroft thinks he’s caught on the horns or a dilemma between love and duty – only to find that the place he’s truly caught is between conflicting hells.

Escape Rating A-: Unlike the previous two books in the series, this is one that I listened to all the way through. I believe that the narrator, Damian Lynch, is intended to represent the older, calmer, and more dispassionate voice of Cyrus Douglas in his narration, and he does an excellent job representing Douglas as narrator and chronicler as well as voicing the considerably younger and more excitable Holmes’ Brothers.

Not that Douglas doesn’t have his own important part to play in this case – among his other duties he acts as Mycroft’s conscience. A conscience that Mycroft definitely needs but listens to less and less. Which is part of him becoming the man we know from his first appearance in the canon, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter – at least in personality if not in physical aspect.

Sherlock’s case, while being as convoluted as any in the Conan Doyle stories, is a relatively straightforward case of investigation. The fascination in observing Sherlock in this story is in watching as he is in the process of developing the methods we are familiar with. He is young, he is still learning, and he is almost certainly making it up as he goes along. He’s already traveled a good way towards becoming the persona we’re familiar with, but he’s still in the process of creating the methodology that made him famous. He also still makes a lot more mistakes.

But the heart of this story, in more ways than one, is the case that Mycroft is pursuing. We see him on his way to becoming the spider at the heart of Britain’s web of intelligence and operation. His entree into this case is through the young Chinese woman Ai Lin, a woman that he loves but knows that he cannot marry – and vice versa. They would be cast out of both of their cultures in ways that neither is willing to risk.

So he is resolved to do his best for her, to find her fiance who has become embroiled in the arms trade and is being offered as a sacrifice so that his employer can continue to deal with both sides of the current Sino-Japanese conflict. Mycroft begins the case somewhat blinded by his affections, and gulled into believing in his own intellectual superiority – only to discover that he’s been mistaken about the later while deciding that he needs to ignore the former – if he can.

His conclusions in the end put him squarely in the midst of this week’s theme, whether or not the ends justify the means, and who gets to decide the answer to that question. Mycroft makes a decision that is arguably the best for the country that he loves and serves, knowing that the cost of that decision will be borne by others who had no part in making it. He believes he is doing the right thing, but there is no one to whom he is accountable.

And the cost is excruciatingly high, and will be paid in ways that Mycroft only becomes aware of as the story closes. Yet we know that he would not change his decisions.

In the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, this is the central core of Mary’s estrangement from Mycroft. That he believes he sees all, knows all, and makes the best decisions for all, but there are no checks and balances on his decisions and he never has to answer for his actions to anyone. Mycroft has maneuvered himself into a hidden position of absolute power, and everyone knows the saying about about absolute power and the inevitability of it corrupting absolutely.

At the end of Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage, Mycroft is left to deal with the painful consequences of his actions – consequences that I expect to ripple through future books in this series. Books that I eagerly await.