Friday, 14 December 2018

12 Days at Bleakley Manor / Michelle Griep

3 out of 5 stars
When CLARA CHAPMAN receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancĂ©, BENJAMIN LANE.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.


A sweet Christmas story, easily read in one evening. It’s a combination of historical fantasy, Gothic romance, and mystery story, set in a big ole English edifice, Bleakly Manor. Me thinks it owes a bit to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, as a number of people are anonymously invited to the Manor for the 12 Days of Christmas with promises of rewards should they stay the full 12 days. Their host is not in evidence and the rules quickly change: only one guest will get the reward, the person who makes it to the 12th day. Things quickly begin to happen, eliminating guests by choice & by happenstance.

The Gothic romance aspect involves the two main characters, Clara Chapman and her former fiancĂ© Benjamin Lane. Clara considers herself abandoned at the altar and left penniless. Ben has to be rescued from prison, where he has been merely surviving, wondering why Clara hasn’t come looking for him. The mystery includes deducing who has done this to them and why. Clara is your classic Gothic heroine, orphaned, poor, and separated from her love by a grave problem.

There are interesting details involving the Victorian celebration of Christmas and a seasonally appropriate message about caring for others and the nature of love.

If you’re looking for a cozy Christmas mystery, you could do much worse that 12 Days at Bleakly Manor.

The Last Command / Timothy Zahn

2.5 out of 5 stars
The embattled Republic reels from the attacks of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who has marshaled the remnants of the Imperial forces and driven the Rebels back with an abominable technology recovered from the Emperor's secret fortress: clone soldiers. As Thrawn mounts his final siege, Han and Chewbacca struggle to form a coalition of smugglers for a last-ditch attack against the empire, while Leia holds the Alliance together and prepares for the birth of her Jedi twins. Overwhelmed by the ships and clones at Thrawn's command, the Republic has one last hope--sending a small force, led by Luke Skywalker, into the very stronghold that houses Thrawn's terrible cloning machines. There a final danger awaits, as the Dark Jedi C'baoth directs the battle against the Rebels and builds his strength to finish what he had already started: the destruction of Luke Skywalker.


Well, I am glad to have finished this trilogy. Kudos to Rich Kelly for the wonderful cover art depicting Grand Admiral Thrawn. I wish he’d been on the first book cover of the series, giving me a better image of the master-planning Imperial villain. Is it wrong of me to like Thrawn better than any of the good guys? But I do—he’s smart, he’s cultured, he’s emotionally controlled. And he is by far the most complex character in the trilogy.

As I’ve said in reviews of the previous two books, the writing is about the right level for the 10-13 year old crowd. By all rights, there should have been a romance between Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker, but that opportunity isn’t taken up—another reason that I feel these books are written with much younger people in mind. Those two should be making Jedi babies!

You know, one of these days I’m going to have to watch the Star Wars movies—maybe next time there’s a Star Wars marathon being shown in town.

Book number 308 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown / Seanan McGuire

4 out of 5 stars
For Rose Marshall, death has long since become the only life she really knows. She's been sweet sixteen for more than sixty years, hitchhiking her way along the highways and byways of America, sometimes seen as an avenging angel, sometimes seen as a killer in her own right, but always Rose, the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

The man who killed her is still out there, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won't let him die, and he's looking for the one who got away. When Bobby Cross comes back into the picture, there's going to be hell to pay--possibly literally.

Rose has worked for decades to make a place for herself in the twilight. Can she defend it, when Bobby Cross comes to take her down? Can she find a way to navigate the worlds of the living and the dead, and make it home before her hitchhiker's luck runs out?


A big step up from Sparrow Hill Road, the first book which was basically a series of short stories. Not that that’s a bad thing, just not what I had been expecting. This is a true novel, with one intense story line. I was “supposed” to read other books before picking this one up, but I couldn’t resist its siren song. And I read it in two evenings, desperately wanting to know if ghostly Rose Marshall could get where she wanted to be.

This was the confrontation Rose had been dreading, pitting her will against that of her murderer, Bobby Cross. She does it with style, smarts and bravery plus a generous dollop of help from her friends. Even her frenemies get involved. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, wondering how each twist and turn would pan out.

I was interested to see McGuire reference the Price family again (a connection with her InCryptid series) as a potential haven for Rose. Mary, the crossroads ghost, featured in Tricks for Free, #7 of InCryptid, so we now have no doubt that these two series take place in the same universe. McGuire also introduces a bean sidhe as one of Rose’s friends, perhaps a connection to McGuire’s October Daye series. Wouldn’t it be fun to see all three story lines intersect at some point in the future?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Small Gods / Terry Pratchett

4 out of 5 stars
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was: 'Hey, you!' This is the Discworld, after all, and religion is a controversial business. Everyone has their own opinion, and indeed their own gods, of every shape and size, and all elbowing for space at the top. In such a competitive environment, shape and size can be pretty crucial to make one's presence felt. So it's certainly not helpful to be reduced to appearing in the form of a tortoise, a manifestation far below god-like status in anyone's book.

In such instances, you need an acolyte, and fast: for the Great God Om, Brutha the novice is the Chosen One – or at least the only One available. He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He also wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please...


The captain frowned. “It’s a funny thing,” he said, “but why is it that the heathens and barbarians seem to have the best places to go when they die?”
“A bit of a poser, that,” agreed the mate. “I s’pose it makes up for ‘em….enjoying theselves all the time they’re alive, too?” He looked puzzled. Now that he was dead, the whole thing sounded suspicious.

Dare I admit that this is my very first encounter with the writing of Terry Pratchett? I’ve seen the praise of his work from my friends and acquaintances and have been meaning to get to him sooner or later, so I’m glad that my reading project got me started.

Wow, Pratchett is an excellent writer, able to keep many balls in the air while still being humourous. This is very definitely a critique of organized religion of the modern sort, dressed up in the clothing of the Greco-Roman period. He makes good use of the early Christian idea that heathen gods ceased to exist as their worshippers drifted away. Also the notion that those best qualified to lead are the least likely to seek leadership positions. Plus, he plays with the tortoise/turtle mythology that is common to so many cultures. Very skillful.

Book number 303 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

The Towers of the Sunset / L.E. Modesitt

4 out of 5 stars
ells the story of Creslin, son of a powerful military matriarch, who chooses exile rather than an arranged marriage. He sets out on a search for his true identity as a man, developing his magical talents through constant conflict with the enigmatic white wizards of Candar.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, with the male/female role reversal. The young man, Creslin, who is kept in seclusion to be pure for marriage, the reluctance to teach him fighting skills because he will have women to defend him, his major life role to be a consort to a powerful woman somewhere. And because he has insisted on learning to fight and to ski, we get a runaway groom instead of a runaway bride! I’ve read this particular pattern with a female lead character quite often and it was refreshing to see a male character get the same treatment.

Later in the book, there is some interesting exploration of the nature of man-woman relationships, the differences between the priorities of the sexes when it comes to love, perhaps? Not as spot-on for me as the beginning of the story, but still a long way from the fiction where only the man’s opinion matters.

Somewhat confusing sometimes was the alignment of the colour black with Order Magic and white with Chaos Magic. Kind of reversing the usual good/evil colour associations. Not that either form of magic is painted entirely good or evil—Creslin learns that he can certainly cause bad things to happen with his Order magic. It’s like the old saying about knives. It isn’t the knife that is good or bad, it’s the intention of the person wielding it.

Book number 302 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Sweep of the Blade / Ilona Andrews

4 out of 5 stars
Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn't in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her.

Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had swore off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined.

Try as she might, she can't just walk away from Arland. It doesn't help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire.

To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn't get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible.


Otubar reached over and plucked Helen from the bed. “Come with me, child. It’s time we tested you with other weapons.”
“If you do well, I will give you cake,” Ilemina said.
Helen’s eyes lit up. “What kind of cake?”
“Delicious kind,” Otubar told her.


And that’s what this little novella-swollen-to-novel was—delicious cake with frothy icing! No nutritional value whatsoever. It was a fun little paranormal romance, getting Maud & Arland together with lots of blood and severed limbs along the way.

From the beginning of the Innkeeper series, I have been on Team Arland. Sean Evans was fine as a love interest for Dina, but I loved Arland immediately and I will read anything featuring him. There is no doubt in my mind that Maud is a better match for him than Dina was, so I was thrilled to travel with Maud and little Helen to his home planet and sort things out.

Reading an ongoing, serialized work such as this one is less satisfying than being able to read a fully edited, printed version, but still entertaining. I had something to look forward to every Friday (besides the end of my work week). I will definitely be buying the print version (and not just to enjoy the R-rated bits that the authors weren’t posting to the interwebs) to add to my Ilona Andrews collection, to be enjoyed repeatedly.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

A Time of Omens /

3 out of 5 stars

The kingdom of Deverry is left behind and strange lands to the west, beyond the elven territories are explored. The story delves back into elven history to the fall of the cities and the Great Burning.

This is the sixth book of the Deverry series that I’ve read and I realize that I have never written a review of any of them. I come away from this novel feeling conflicted—I do like the Celtic details in the stories, but this isn’t our reality, so I can’t really call it historical fantasy. I enjoy the magic and the concept of Dweomer plus I like Kerr’s version of Elves. However, I weary of all of the blood & guts warfare. It seems like all the men of this society do is trot off to beat each other senseless, and I don’t ever get as much time with the magic and such as I would like to.

It was kind of interesting in this installment when Kerr re-introduced characters from past volumes. Perrin, for example, who now has a grandson that he can send along with Rhodry on a mission of mercy. We also get to see Rhodry & Jill reunited as old friends, rather than as lovers and enjoy the bitter-sweetness of that moment.

The only author that I can think to compare this series to would be the Deryni books of Katherine Kurtz, also a fantasy version of a Celtic culture with added magic. I adored those books when I was in my twenties and I imagine I would have loved Kerr’s works equally had I encountered them during that time period. I don’t know how I missed them back then.

Bottom line? I wish I liked these books more than I do. I like them well enough to continue reading the series (which is good because I found a bunch of them at the used book store & stocked up) but I think I am past my best-before date for this kind of fantasy.

Book number 301 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.