Book Review: Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Be the Serpent
Series: October Daye, #16
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: August 30, 2022
Print length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true.

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.

Includes an all-new bonus novella! 

Some long-term ongoing fantasy series overstay their welcome. And then there’s October Daye, a series that 100% proves that there’s no such thing as too much or too long, so long as the writing and the plot make it worthwhile.

And in the name of Oberon himself, I’m here to declare that the 16th October Daye book blew me away, caught me in its spell, and will haunt me for the coming year (until #17 comes along).

In Be the Serpent, we pick up two months after the events of the previous book, When Sorrows Come. That book brought the long-awaited wedding of Toby and Tybalt — and being a book about October Daye, hero of the realm and a total bad-ass knight, it also brought plenty of bloodshed, mayhem, attempted overthrow of a kingdom, and an assortment of awful bad guys.

But hey, it ended with happiness! Toby and Tybalt are married — and in book #16, Be the Serpent, they’re living together in wedded bliss. I’m a little peeved that we didn’t actually get to see them enjoying their Disneyland honeymoon (I’d pay good money to see Tybalt on the Dumbo ride), but they had fun, and that’s what counts.

Happiness doesn’t last long, however. As the story opens, a hearing in the Kingdom of the Mists is just concluding when the children of Toby’s closest childhood friend begin to scream as if in dire pain. Rushing to their family home, Toby discovers a scene of blood and heartbreak. It’s almost too much to bear, and how can Toby share such terrible news with her dearest friend?

As the plot unfolds, true terror is revealed. And I really can’t say much more about the plot than that, because it’s a doozy and it took my breath away. What I will say is that events occur that upend Faerie as we know it, and that tie together storylines that go all the way back to the first book in the series.

The ending is a total gutpunch as well, and I can’t think of another book in the series that ended without our heroes being (at least temporarily) in a fairly good or at least safe place. The ending here is upsetting and nightmare-inducing, and I think I’m going to spend the next year really mad at Seanan McGuire for leaving me in such an upset state!

The book includes a bonus novella, Such Dangerous Seas, which is also deeply dark and sorrowful. (As opposed to the novella at the end of When Sorrows Come, which was basically a fun romp through Toby and Tybalt’s wedding reception — which now feels like a brief shining moment of joy before the horrors of Faerie came crashing back down). Such Dangerous Seas features the sea witch, the Luidaeg, one of my favorite characters — but it’s a terribly sad story about her earlier years and the awful things that happened to her.

Be the Serpent is shocking, heart-breaking, and scary as hell. It’s also yet another brilliant showcase for our hero Toby and her chosen family, who band together no matter what. Whatever happens to these characters, they love one another unreservedly, and their family ties, commitment, and loyalty are big pieces of what makes this series so special.

Having to wait a year for the next book is going to be terrible for my well-being! And I guess that’s a pretty clear indication of just how great Be the Serpent is. If you’re an October Daye fan, you’re probably already reading it!

And I’ll say, yet again, that if you haven’t read the October Daye series yet, you’re missing out on something special. Start from the beginning (Rosemary and Rue) — you won’t be able to stop!

Book Review: Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13) by Patricia Briggs

Title: Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13)
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace
Publication date: August 23, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, must face her greatest fears in this chilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway.

But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else?

The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine.

The Mercy Thompson series is one of my very favorites, and Mercy herself is one of my all-time favorite characters! As you can imagine, waiting 2 1/2 years for a new release felt like torture. But never fear, our long wait is over — a new Mercy book is here, and it was very much worth the wait.

Mercy is brave, strong, and fiercely devoted to her mate Adam, to their werewolf pack, and to anyone she sees as under her protection… which, as of several books ago, now extends to anyone (human or supernatural) living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington.

The pack has a sometimes smooth, sometimes uneasy pact with the local vampire seethe, and when their most dangerous vampire goes missing, it’s a sign that great evil is potentially at play. The fact that this vampire also has an unhealthy obsession with Mercy just makes it that much more important that he be found before very bad things start to happen to the people Mercy loves.

As in the rest of the series, there’s plenty of action and danger, and of course, Mercy and Adam end up with their lives in peril… repeatedly. The specifics of this book’s plot won’t make a ton of sense to someone who hasn’t read the rest of the series, so let’s just say that high points include a big reveal about a secret identity, some questioning about the trustworthiness of an old ally, and the reappearance of a deadly foe.

I love Mercy, always, and I especially love her in her quieter moments with Adam, when we see the depth of their connection. I also love every opportunity to see the pack spending time together, whether in battle or playing silly video games (and we get both in this book).

There’s also a brief mention of a continuing plot point from the Mercy-verse’s other series (Alpha & Omega), because these two series take place in the same world and there are characters who appear in both. (Just FYI, if you’re wondering why it’s been 2.5 years since the last Mercy book, it’s because there was an A&O book released in between). It’s only a small scene, one that doesn’t impact this book’s plot significantly, but it’s tantalizing enough to make me eager to see that story pick up again too.

A new Mercy book is always a treat, and Soul Taken made me incredibly happy, except for the moments when I was quaking with fear when a beloved character was at risk (which, let’s face it, is on and off throughout the entire book).

The plot was perhaps a little slighter and/or more opaque than some of the others in the series, but it does move certain characters and situations into interesting new positions for whatever comes next… and whatever comes next, I am absolutely here for it!

And now, it’s back to waiting for the next new release, hopefully in no more than a year… and meanwhile, I can always go back and re-read my favorite moments from the rest of the series!

PS – As always, a note of love for the awesome cover art by Daniel Dos Santos, whose work is just always so beautiful!

Book Review: Heat Wave (The Extraordinaries, #3) by TJ Klune

Title: Heat Wave (The Extraordinaries, #3)
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Heat Wave is the explosive finale to the thrilling Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune!

Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz are back in action bringing justice, protection, and disaster energy to the people of Nova City.

An unexpected hero returns to Nova City and crash lands into Nick’s home, upturning his life, his family, and his understanding of what it means to be a hero in the explosive finale of the thrilling and hilarious Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune.

This series! This book! These characters! At this point, I love the characters so much that I just want to tuck them all away somewhere safe and shower them with love and ice cream. THEY ARE SO ADORABLE AND AMAZING.

Heat Wave, the 3rd and final book in the Extraordinaries trilogy, opens as a hot summer rolls through Nova City. The main characters are on summer break, hanging out, fighting crime… you know, like kids do! But it doesn’t take very long before something starts to seem just a little bit off. I won’t say what, but at first it was just a nagging little “huh?’ voice in my head, which soon escalate to full-on shouts of WTF?

Never fear, it all makes sense eventually. Our gang – the incredibly lovely and awesome and over the top Nicky, his true love Seth, and their best friends (who are also deeply in love) Gibby and Jazz — continue their Extraordinary activities as, respectively, superheroes Guardian and PyroStorm, with Gibby and Jazz as their tech support and secret lair gurus, aka Lighthouse. Also involved are the various parental units of our four teens, and the parents are equal measures supportive, loving, and totally embarrassing. (Oh, the Dad jokes! These people are just so much).

I really don’t want to say too much about the plot. There’s action, adventure, danger, and telekinetic and fire-power heroics! There are also bad guys who are very, very bad and very, very powerful. Plus, a mayoral election that’s truly a battle for the heart and soul of Nova City, and a police reckoning that’s very much a reflection of today’s real-world society.

I need to stop and mention that Nick and his dad Aaron have THE BEST father-son dynamic I’ve ever witnessed. Aaron is excruciatingly in Nick’s face in the most cringe-y ways, and it’s so clearly coming from a place of unconditional support and love that you want to stand up and shout “YES!” whenever they have a scene together. This book does also include the most cringe-worthy Nick and Aaron scene of the entire series. Suffice it to say that Aaron loves his gay son and wants him to be fully informed, prepared, and safe when it comes to moving things forward with Seth. I kind of wanted to die of embarrassment reading this scene, and at the same, I couldn’t help thinking how absolutely affirming it might be for gay teens who need that kind of open information and communication in their own lives.

Likewise, Seth and Nicky’s physical relationship moves forward, and the author does not shy away from the details… but it’s not at all gratuitous. Again, all I could think was that there are probably teen readers who really need to see a healthy, loving, consensual relationship depicted in such a positive way, and I hope this book finds its way to those who need it.

But anyway… even putting aside how amazing all of the above is, this is just a GOOD STORY. The action zips along, there are some astonishing surprises and big reveals, and a major blam-pow-kabam superhero battle to finish it all off. (Also, there’s the introduction of a new character named Burrito Jerry, and he’s pretty amazing, so there’s that too.)

The book’s epilogue ties up the story and gives us a flash forward into the characters’ lives several years down the road, and while it’s a little disconcerting to see them all as adults, it’s also wonderful. And yes, the conclusion is quite definitely a conclusion… but I’d pay oodles to get to spend more time with Nicky, Seth, Gibby and Jazz! I’m sure they’re all going to go on to lead fabulous, fascinating lives, and I just wish we could see it!

As always, the writing in Heat Wave is smart and funny, and I’ll wrap up this big gushy love letter to The Extraordinaries trilogy by sharing some favorite bits and pieces:

“We’re queer. We walk fast because of our survival instinct.”

He snorted. “Okay, that was funny in a really sad way. I feel bad for the heteros. They wanted us to run from them, and so we did, and now we evolved to be much quicker than they are. They really don’t get anything aside from having all the rights they could ever ask for.”

If he’d known how much worse it was about to get, Nick would’ve probably fled the house, moved to Canada, and spent the rest of his days living in a cabin while making maple syrup, or whatever it was Canadians did aside from being pleasant and supportive, most likely because they enjoyed the benefits of universal healthcare.

Owen had been Nick’s first… well. Almost first everything. First kiss. First sort-of boyfriend. First breakup. First (and so far only) former flame who’d turned into a villain and had tried to kill them.

You never forgot your first.

“I’m supposed to be in a romantic comedy, not a horror movie!” Nick cried as the blade wiggled from side to side as if it was stuck…

But before Nick could be dragged away he leaned forward, knowing he’d never get the chance again to have this many people listening to him. “Queer rights!” he shouted. “Down with the patriarchy! Defund the police! Support fanfic writers!”

“We’re going to hug you, but then we’re going to yell at you. It’s going to be very loud, but you will sit there and take it.”

I’m tearing up just thinking about these characters and their lives and how amazing they are. I can’t believe the story is over!

The 3rd book, and the trilogy as a whole, get five glittery stars!

Audiobook Review: An Island Wedding (Mure, #5) by Jenny Colgan

Title: An Island Wedding
Series: Mure
Author: Jenny Colgan
Narrator:  Eilidh Beaton
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: June 21, 2022
Print length: 400 pages
Audio length: 12 hours, 26 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan brings us a delightful summer novel that will sweep you away to the remote Scottish island of Mure, where two very different weddings are about to take place…

On the little Scottish island of Mure–halfway between Scotland and Norway–Flora MacKenzie and her fiancé Joel are planning the smallest of “sweetheart weddings,” a high summer celebration surrounded only by those very dearest to them.

Not everyone on the island is happy about being excluded, though. The temperature rises even further when beautiful Olivia MacDonald–who left Mure ten years ago for bigger and brighter things–returns with a wedding planner in tow. Her fiancé has oodles of family money, and Olivia is determined to throw the biggest, most extravagant, most Instagrammable wedding possible. And she wants to do it at Flora’s hotel, the same weekend as Flora’s carefully planned micro-wedding.

As the summer solstice approaches, can Flora handle everyone else’s Happy Every Afters–and still get her own?

The 5th installment in Jenny Colgan’s wonderful Mure series brings us back to this beautiful, remote Scottish island. It’s like a reunion with old friends, as we see what our beloved characters are up to now, and for at least some, get to witness the happy event they’ve been building toward over the four previous books.

(For the story so far, see my wrap-up post, here.)

In An Island Wedding, Flora Mackenzie is finally set to marry the man of her dreams. But there’s a problem — Flora, born and bred on Mure, wants to celebrate with everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE. The entire island expects to be at their wedding, from Mrs. Kennedy’s dance school students to the old fishermen who drink away their evenings down at the Harbor’s Rest. But Joel, a product of a lonely childhood in the foster care system, wants only those who truly love them to be with them on their big day — just immediate family, an intimate occasion, and donate all the money that would have gone to a big wedding to the local couple who take troubled youth on outdoor adventures.

What’s Flora to do? She loves Joel, and wants to do what makes him happy… but she can’t help but feeling just a wee bit sad and guilty every time an island neighbor comes up to tell her how much they’re looking forward to her wedding.

Meanwhile, Olivia MacDonald, the beautiful island native who’s now an international Instagram star, has decided to hold her own lavish wedding back home on Mure, in a most likely misguided move to impress her fabulously wealthy, fabulously snooty future in-laws with her connection to an authentic Scottish community. Olivia arrives with an upscale wedding planner in tow, and proceeds to transform The Rock (the hotel Flora manages) and the entire island into the fantasy wedding setting of her dreams.

Most of the book is devoted to the wedding plans, as well as to the ongoing tension between Flora and Joel over their divergent visions for how they’ll get married. I was never truly worried about Flora and Joel — they love each other, and they’ve been through enough so far that I was sure it would all work out — but it was sad to see them at what appeared at times to be an impasse.

The most moving and gripping parts of An Island Wedding have to do with the love story between Lorna, the island’s schoolmistress, and Saif, the Syrian refugee doctor who’s found a new home for himself and his two sons on Mure. Saif’s wife’s fate has been a question mark since the start of the series, and when new information is uncovered, it forces Saif to make an impossible choice. I won’t say too much, but it’s heartbreaking. The terrible sadness of the situation is written so beautifully, and my heart just ached for Lorna, Saif, and for the boys too.

The stakes for the Flora and Olivia storylines never feel terribly high or risky — after all, it’s really mostly to do with wedding plans! Still, it’s fun to follow along and laugh at all the mishaps, miscommunications, and over-the-top wedding arrangements, and the ending left me with a few little tears of happiness. After spending so much time with Flora and Joel over the course of this series, I was ready for them to get all the joy they deserve!

My initial understanding had been that this would be the final Mure book… but actually, I don’t see that stated anywhere, and given that there’s a MAJOR story thread left hanging, I’m hopeful for more! So please, if you happen to meet Jenny Colgan someday, tell her we want MORE MURE. I’m not ready to say good-bye to these wonderful characters and the beautiful island just yet!

The Mure series by Jenny Colgan: The story so far (books 1 – 4)

Jenny Colgan is an absolute favorite go-to author. Her books have heart and depth, but even at their saddest, never leave you feeling down for long. Her best, in my opinion, are the stories set in small communities, where an outsider can make a big difference, or where someone returning home realizes all over again where they truly belong.

Which brings me to the Mure series — books set on the fictional island of Mure, located off the mainland of northern Scotland. Mure is a small, close-knit farming community, where everyone knows everyone else, and their parent and grandparents and all the preceding generations…

I originally read the first book in the series, The Cafe by the Sea, back in 2017. This year, I’ve picked the series back up, revisiting book #1 via audio, then continuing onward through the series. With the 5th book due for release in mid-June 2022, I thought I’d share my thoughts and reactions to the story so far:

Title: The Cafe by the Sea
Published: 2017
Length: 416 pages
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up — and she hasn’t looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It’s a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious… and hopelessly in love with her boss.

But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she’s suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers — all strapping, loud, and seemingly incapable of basic housework — and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking — and find herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.

But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes — and work out exactly where her future lies…

The Cafe by the Sea introduces us to Flora McKenzie, a hard-working but not particularly happy young woman slaving away in a London office, with a hopeless mad crush on her gorgeous boss and too much sadness associated with her home back in Mure to even consider returning there… until a business deal her firm is engaged to handle forces her back to Mure anyway, in company with her unattainable boss Joel. There, Flora must confront the family she fled years earlier in the wake of shared sorrow that she just couldn’t bear.

The more time she spends on Mure, the more she starts to realize how much she lost by leaving, and that perhaps the only way for her family to heal is to be together.

I love the depiction of life on this Scottish island, the big, loud family Flora reconnects with, and the million small details the author uses to show the personalities and quirks of this tight-knit community. It’s all lovely, and although I had some doubts about the central romance, I still got completely caught up in the sunshine and joy of this sweet story. (Plus! So much good food. And there are even recipes — in this book and each one in the series).

Title: The Endless Beach
Published: 2018
Length: 416 pages
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When Flora MacKenzie traded her glum career in London for the remote Scottish island of Mure, she never dreamed that Joel—her difficult, adorable boss—would follow. Yet now, not only has Flora been reunited with her family and opened a charming café by the sea, but she and Joel are taking their first faltering steps into romance.

With Joel away on business in New York, Flora is preparing for the next stage in her life. And that would be…? Love? She’s feeling it. Security? In Joel’s arms, sure. Marriage? Not open to discussion.

In the meanwhile, Flora is finding pleasure in a magnificent sight: whales breaking waves off the beaches of Mure. But it also signals something less joyful. According to local superstition, it’s an omen—and a warning that Flora’s future could be as fleeting as the sea-spray… 

Here in book #2, the storytelling and perspectives open up beyond just Flora’s story, and that’s a very, very good thing. Not that Flora’s piece of the tale isn’t interesting or enjoyable! But now, in The Endless Beach, we get to spend more time with the people who’d only existed as background or secondary characters in The Cafe by the Sea, and this helps the overall story feel more encompassing and lived in.

Beyond seeing Flora and Joel’s story progress, as they deal with his emotional fallout from childhood trauma and try to find a way forward together, we also have Flora’s brother Fintan’s romance with the billionaire who’s bought key property on the island and wants to make it his forever home; Saif, the Syrian refugee doctor who’s granted asylum by the UK in exchange for his placement at the clinic in Mure, who yearns for news of his missing boys and wife, yet is also drawn to the island’s kind schoolteacher Lorna; and one of the most adorable characters ever, Flora’s 4-year-old niece Agot (who might, in other author’s hands, come across as annoying, but here is just utterly delightful).

The Endless Beach has an interwoven plot that includes plenty of joy, but also true moments of tragedy and sorrow. We go deeper into the characters’ lives, and Saif’s family’s struggles are particularly sad and emotional.

I won’t say why, but the ending absolutely knocked me sideways with an emotional blow that I did not see coming. While many of the storylines are left with hopeful loose ends by the close of The Endless Beach, there’s one main storyline that can only end with tragedy, and it really upset me (which just shows how invested I’ve become in these characters).

I should add a note there that the audiobooks are a treat to listen to — so highly recommended!

Title: Christmas on the Island
Published: 2018
Length: 352 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Christmas on the remote Scottish island of Mure is bleak, stark — and incredibly beautiful.

It’s a time for hunkering down, getting cosy in front of whisky barrel wood fires, and enjoying a dram with the people you love — unless, of course, you’re accidentally pregnant to your ex-boss, and don’t know how to tell him. In what should be the season of peace and goodwill on earth, will Joel think Flora is a bearer of glad tidings?

Meanwhile Saif, the doctor and refugee from war-torn Syria is trying to enjoy his first western Christmas with his sons — but without his missing wife. Can the little family possibly find comfort and joy?

Travel to the beautiful northern edge of the world and join the welcoming community of Mure for an unforgettable Christmas

The 3rd book in the series picks up just a few months after book #2, with Christmas on its way, but not everyone particularly up for the celebration.

As the synopsis reveals, Flora is pregnant and isn’t sure how the news will go over. Joel isn’t just any man about to hear about an unexpected baby — he’s a damaged soul who grew up in foster care and has a very hard time with emotions and with the concept of family. He loves Flora, but the idea of parenthood is terrifying, and Flora knows there’s a good chance he’ll bolt rather than face the reality of their new lives.

Flora’s brother Fintan married the man of his dreams in the 2nd book, but now faces a huge, devastating loss. To make matters worse, his husband’s long-estranged (and pretty awful) American brother shows up on Mure to make sure the family gets their hands on Colton’s money.

And as Saif settles more into island life with his two boys, the ongoing question of whether his wife survived the terrors of war haunts him deeply. His loyalties are torn, and while the boys seem to finally be adapting to their new home, he wonders if they might not be better off moving to Glasgow and starting over yet again.

The conflicts and crises in Christmas on the Island continue to be deeply emotional, and there are tragedies in store for at least some of the characters. Fortunately, Jenny Colgan’s light touch with her characters means that there are joyful moments as well, and she sprinkles in humor and silliness just often enough to keep the overall tone from becoming completely morose.

I don’t typically read Christmas-themed books, but when it comes to this series, I simply couldn’t not continue. Christmas on the Island is a lovely, engaging read, and at this point, I’m so invested in these characters’ lives that there was zero chance I wouldn’t pick this one up. Given the Christmas title, it’s clear from the start that the holiday spirit will prevail. Not everyone gets a completely happy ending, but they do all get peace and some measure of hope.

Title: Christmas at the Island Hotel
Published: 2020
Length: 352 pages
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Another heartfelt and delightful Christmas tale from the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop on the Corner and Christmas on the Island.

New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan returns to the setting of Christmas on the Island and Endless Beach for a heartwarming new novel celebrating the season, and Scotland.

On the tiny, beautiful, and remote island of Mure, halfway between Scotland and Norway, a new hotel opening is a big event. New mother Flora MacKenzie and her brother Fintan are working themselves half to death to get it ready in time for Christmas. 

The new hotel’s impressive kitchens throw together two unlikely new friends: Isla Gregor is the hardworking young girl who has been a waitress in the island’s cafe, dreaming of a bigger, better life now that she’s at a proper fancy hotel. Konstantin Pederson is working his way up in the hotel’s kitchens too…but he is also, secretly, the only son of the Duke of Utsire. Konstantin has been sent to learn what it is to work hard for a living, before receiving his inheritance. Although he’s initially resentful, the place grows on him; he has never met anyone quite like Isla and her fellow Murians before. 

As the island’s residents and special VIP guests gather for the hotel’s grand opening gala, Christmas is in the air. But so are more than a few small-town secrets…

Well… by the 4th book of this series, it’s clear that the reason to read it is to spend more time with beloved characters in this cozy, lovely setting.

Not all that much actually happens in Christmas at the Island Hotel. A year has past since the sad events that ended book #3. Flora now has a baby and is supposedly on maternity leave, but she’s actually itching for work and a project. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Joel, initially so reluctant to become a father, is totally besotted by their infant son, and it’s quite adorable.

Other stories progress, and new characters are introduced. As the synopsis indicates, a spoiled Norwegian aristocrat is being punished by this father by being sent off to Mure to learn what it means to actually work and not rely on servants. Konstantin is a petulant brat as the story opens, but of course, his experiences on Mure transform him, especially once he falls for a shy island girl and starts to see the beauty of this strange place he’s landed.

Additionally, the brash French chef who takes on the hotel’s restaurant is arrogant, demanding, and absolutely does not fit in on the island, and yet he ends up being just what they need. Meanwhile, the slow burn love story of Saif and Lorna continues to simmer, with some new developments adding tension and confusion to their already shaky relationship.

I enjoyed the book, but it did feel a little diluted — too much time spent on the new characters and the kitchen shenanigans, not enough on the characters we already know and love. Still, it’s always wonderful to spend time on Mure!

An audiobook note: After loving the narrator of the first three audiobooks (Sarah Barron), it was a little disconcerting to switch to a new narrator for book #4 (Eilidh Beaton). I did get used to her after a while, and ended up liking her narration too — but at the start, it was quite a jolt!

Wrapping it all up…

Jenny Colgan’s books are always a delight. What I love about this series is how completely immersed we become in the life of the island. While Flora is the center of the series, over the course of these books we become involved with her big family as well as her various neighbors, friends, and sometime-rivals.

The island is filled with quirky people whose seemingly simple lives offer entertainment as well as complications. While the 4th book feels more light-weight than the others, with fewer deep emotional moments, it’s still lovely.

Book #5, An Island Wedding, will be released next month (publication date June 21, 2022. And while I have an ARC already, I think I may hold off until the release date so I can listen to the audiobook!

I highly recommend this wonderful, feel-good series. There are laughs and tears… and even recipes!

Book Review: Leviathan Falls (The Expanse, #9) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Falls
Series: The Expanse, #9
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again.

In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before.

As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win.

But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat.

And so, my friends, we come to the end. Excuse me while I wipe away my tears…

The Expanse series has been a thrilling ride since the very beginning, and the key to its glory is not just the politics and space adventures and battles (which are all excellent), but the people. Simply put, the characters in this series are incredibly human and real, and I love them all so much… which is why I’m feeling a bit emotional over reaching the conclusion to their journeys.

I won’t go into plot details for this book, because there’s little point when this is the 9th book in a huge, sprawling, intricately detailed series. What I will say is that the tension continues to ratchet up, almost unbearably. Even at 80%, I couldn’t imagine how the authors would manage to provide an ending that addresses the central conflict in a way that works.

Well, they did. And it works. And it’s devastating in many ways, but also right and satisfying and deeply moving.

As with the rest of the series, in Leviathan Falls I once again had to concentrate hard and still accept that some of the science and terminology and concepts would go completely over my head. That’s fine — the fact that I don’t really grasp the technological details doesn’t in any way keep me from becoming totally immersed in the story. I also struggle at times to visualize where the various systems and ships and planets and moons are in relation to one another, especially when all the different players are in transit and engaging and disengaging… but again, it only matters up to a point. There’s a lot of action and a lot going on, and I got enough to understand the basics of who’s where and what they’re doing.

The fates of certain characters absolutely broke my heart, but there’s a rightness and satisfaction in how it all ends.

It’s not easy to tie up such a huge story as The Expanse. After nine books (all 500+ pages) and eight novellas, there’s a lot of plot to resolve, but the authors pull it off magnificently.

I’m sorry to see it all come to an end, but wow, it’s been an incredible journey.

After finishing Leviathan Falls, what remains for me to read are:

  • The Vital Abyss: A novella that takes place between books 5 & 6. (Note: Between when I started writing this post and when I finished, I also managed to read this novella. Fascinating.)
  • The Sins of Our Fathers: This novella takes place after the events of Leviathan Falls, and I’m really excited to read it, probably coming up next in my reading queue. After a quick peek, I realized that it’s about a character whose fate I’d expected to see addressed by the conclusion of the main series, but wasn’t. Can’t wait to start!
  • Memory’s Legion: This newly released hardcover is a collection of all the previously novellas (The Sins of Our Fathers is new to this edition, as well as being available as a stand-alone e-book). I’ve already read the rest of the novellas, but I’m thinking I might read through them all again, either in print or via audiobook.

The Expanse series is truly a science fiction masterpiece, and Leviathan Falls is a fittingly excellent conclusion to the series.

All that’s left for me to say is what I’ve been saying all along: If you’re a science fiction fan and haven’t read these books, you absolutely must give them a try!

Book Review: Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Tiamat’s Wrath
Series: The Expanse, #8
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 26, 2019
Length: 537 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father’s godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn’t guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte’s authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia’s eternal rule — and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose – seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough… 

I’m not sure how much point there is in my writing reviews of the books in this series at this point. Tiamat’s Wrath is #8, and it’s amazing… but I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, and honestly, if you haven’t read any of the books, none of this is going to make any sense.

But trust me, this is a fabulous series, and #8 — the 2nd to last novel!! — is as excellent as I’d expected.

In this book, the underground begins to fight back against the overwhelming might of the Laconian Empire. Against the backdrop of intrigue and rebellion and intergalactic battles, we once again become immersed in the lives of the featured characters — including our beloved core crew, but also a couple of new lead characters who are surprising and who take the story in unanticipated directions.

The plot shifts between the various systems connected by the ring gates and the capitol buildings of Laconia. As the battles range, the dangers mount — but the most dangerous force is the ancient alien civilization that the Laconian High Consul has been intentionally poking. (Don’t poke the bear!!) The humans have wars to wage, but it’s this other force that ultimately may bring humanity to its demise.

Stakes are high, and the action is dramatic, but once again it’s the more intimate stories of the characters that touch me and intrigue me and, in some cases, leave me gasping and wiping my eyes.

It’s a rare talent in the world of sci-fi fiction that can strike at such an emotional level while still keeping the plot and action tearing along at an incredibly fast pace. The Expanse series continues to keep this balanced approach going, even this deep into the storyline, which is probably why I love it so much.

That, and I just adore the characters.

Once I started, I simply couldn’t stop, and tore through this hefty book as quickly as I possibly could (while still taking time for work and sleep). I do intend to enforce a break for myself at this point… must read other books before racing ahead to the end of the series!

When I do continue…

Next up for me will be the novella Auberon, a 78-page novella that takes place either during or after the events of Tiamat’s Wrath. (It’s listed as #8.5 on Goodreads, but I haven’t wanted to look too deeply into the plot details before I read it.)

And after Auberon… it’ll be on to the final book in the series! I’m really not ready for it to end.

Book Review: Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Persepolis Rising
Series: The Expanse, #7
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: December 5, 2017
Length: 608 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… 

Seven books in, this series continues to take my breath away!

The sixth book, Babylon’s Ashes, leaves off at a satisfying stopping point (which may be why the TV show ends the story there). A vast war has come to an end, and there’s new hope for peaceful and productive coexistence, with new governing and coordination structures in place to bring the various factions together. And all of our heroes are well and happy! It’s certainly tempting to stop right there…

But I just had to see what the authors had in store for us next. And whew, it’s a lot!

Persepolis Rising opens almost 30 years after the events of Babylon’s Ashes — and boy, is it disconcerting. Our beloved crew on board the Rocinante is still going strong, but rather than being the young(ish), brash group we’ve come to know, they’re all middle-aged (and then some). And yet, the gang is still together, and it’s wonderful! Sure, they’re older, but they’re still amazing, and their lives are going well.

And we just know that can’t last, right?

Over 30 years earlier, as human colonists explored the vast new systems opened to them, a group of Martian military leaders absconded with a bunch of warships through the ring gate to the Laconia system, then closed off all contact with the rest of the human population. Since then, wars and skirmishes and struggles continued without them, and most people didn’t think about them very often, especially once the last war (which they contributed to) came to an end.

The Laconians have not been idle all these years. Instead, under the leadership of their high consul, they’ve been developing highly advanced warships and weaponry using ancient alien tech — and as Persepolis Rising opens, the Laconian Empire is ready for intergalactic domination.

As the Laconian ships reenter shared space, their domination is undeniable and unpreventable, and their victory over any resistance is absolutely ensured from the get-go. This new dictatorship presents itself as nice and reasonable, declaring that all people everywhere are now Laconians, and anyone who resists isn’t fighting for freedom, but is merely a criminal disobeying the empire’s laws.

The action accelerates at a breathtaking pace, but as is typical of these books, the scenes of space warfare and high-speed action are balanced by more personal moments with the central characters. It’s a skillful presentation that centers the high stakes drama on the people at its heart, and it works incredibly well.

I know I’ve raved about all the books in this series, so my 5 enthusiastic stars for Persepolis Rising surely isn’t a surprise. The series is phenomenal. I had a little hesitation about starting such a long book this week, but once I started, I could barely come up for air.

By the end, I was on the edge of my seat, as well as wiping away a few tears and practically panicking over certain unresolved plot threads… so is it any wonder it took me no longer than 10 minutes to realize I absolutely had to keep going?

So yes, I’ve already started book #8, Tiamat’s Wrath, and at this point, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m going to want to keep going straight through to the final book from there.

The books of the Expanse series are not easy. They’re huge, densely packed with detail and plot developments. You can’t read these books without your attention fully engaged — believe me, it just won’t work! That said, it’s well worth the effort and the time to enjoy and absorb each new addition to the ongoing saga. I’m loving these books, and while I’m dying to see how it all turns out, I know I’ll also be sad to reach the end of the journey.

Book Review: Spelunking Through Hell (InCryptid, #11) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Spelunking Through Hell
Series: Incryptid, #11
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: March 1, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Now in trade paperback, the eleventh book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Love, noun:

1. An intense feeling of deep affection; may be romantic, filial or platonic.

Passion, noun:

1. A strong or barely controllable emotion.

2. Enthusiasm, interest, desire.

3. See also “obsession.”

It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice, has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since, despite the increasing probability that he’s no longer alive for her to find. Now that the crossroads have been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

Preferably alive, of course, but she’s tired, and at this point, she’s not that picky. It’s a pan-dimensional crash course in chaos, as Alice tries to find the rabbit hole she’s been missing for all these decades—the one that will take her to the man she loves.

Who are her allies? Who are her enemies? And if she manages to find him, will he even remember her at this point?

It’s a lot for one cryptozoologist to handle. 

It’s almost spring, and that means it’s time for another installment in the ongoing adventures of the Price-Healy family… yes, another InCryptid book is here! (Annoying some fans by switching to trade paperback size rather than sticking with mass market… so now my paperback editions won’t match??? But that’s beside the point when it comes to a review, so onward we go.)

The InCryptid series follows the adventures of the sprawling Price and Healy clan, a large extended family dedicated to studying and preserving the lives of cryptids — non-human beings who (usually) live peacefully among the humans, but who are hunted by the merciless and powerful Covenant simply for existing. Yes, there are also cryptids who do unpleasant things like eating humans, and in those cases, the Prices are a force to be feared… hence their very murdery reputation.

Up to now in the series, the books have focused on members of the current young adult family members — siblings Verity, Alexander, and Antimony (Annie), as well as their cousin Sarah. There are plenty of references to other relatives, and their parents and other cousins and family-by-extension pop in and play different roles as well. One of the more mythological members of the family, whom we’ve seen in action really just once so far, is grandmother Alice.

Now look at the book cover image again. That’s Alice! Does she look like a grandma to you?

Alice was a young woman in the 1950s, which is when she lost her beloved husband Thomas to a bad bargain with the crossroads. Granted, he made the bargain to save Alice’s life, so he deserves a little slack for having made it. From the time of Thomas’s disappearance, Alice has been obsessed with finding him — so much so that she’s spent over fifty years as an interdimensional traveler, tracking down every clue and random hint that could possibly lead her to her husband.

Of course, to do so, she’s had to leave her family behind, so her two children resent the hell out of her and her grandchildren know her more from the family legends than from actual relationships… but she can’t give up. Along the way, she has used whatever means necessary to preserve her youth and health so that she could keep going, which is why she looks and feels more or less like a 19-year-old.

All that is backstory. Here, in Spelunking Through Hell, Alice is the main character, and we join her on her desperate journey to find Thomas. It’s been 50 years, and her hope is starting to wear thin. At this point, she’d even accept proof of his death — she’s just about ready to stop. But then a new clue from an unexpected source gives her one more angle to try, and so she sets out one last time to travel to a dying dimension that’s supposedly inaccessible… but Alice is nothing but persistent.

And so what if she doesn’t have an exit strategy? So long as she finds Thomas — even if he is about 80 years old by now — they can figure out what comes next together.

Spelunking Through Hell is yet another fun romp with the Price clan, although we really don’t see many members of the family other than Alice. This makes the tale fresh, but also feels somewhat less engaging, since Alice has never been a main character before and there isn’t a ton to build on in terms of what we know about her or what it’s like to see the world through her eyes.

Like the rest of the Prices, Alice is always fully armed, ready for a fight, and full of quips. She’s funny, fierce, and reckless, and also has no problem pushing herself past injury and excruciating pain, so long as it’s in service of her obsession with finding Thomas.

The plot occasionally feels a little draggy — it does take quite a while to get to the target world — and while I enjoyed the book, I have to say that my lack of familiarity with Alice as an individual made this book slightly less wonderful as a reading experience as compared to earlier books in the series.

Side note on InCryptids: This is a huge expanded world, and it’s supported by many, many short stories available through the author’s website and via Patreon. That’s nice… but also frustrating. Apparently, if I’d been keeping up with all the Price short stories, I would be very invested in Alice and Thomas and would know pretty much everything about their courtship, romance, and early years together. But I haven’t! And that feels problematic for me. Yes, I can make an effort to go get caught up (and I probably will, once I figure out the order the stories should be read in) — but I do think the books alone should tell a complete story, and in this case, I felt like I was always missing key pieces of information.

That said, I did enjoy the book overall, and Seanan McGuire’s writing keeps it fun even while the blood is flowing:

And I, an asshole, had done enough woolgathering for one… day? Evening? Afternoon? There were no windows, and massive blood loss always throws off my sense of time.

I’d rather be married to a man fifty years older than I am than see him go through what I’ve willingly done to myself for his sake, what he never would have asked or expected me to do. It’s always easier to set yourself on fire than to allow someone else to burn for you.

I wanted to avoid being caught at any cost, since one solid snap of those claws could have me down a limb, or possibly down an entire torso. I like my torso. It’s where I keep my lungs.

The Haspers not currently engaged began to run in my direction, forming a nicely unified pack. I like a unified pack. I like the way is splashes when you lob a grenade into the middle of it, and I like it even better when none of its component parts knows what a grenade is, so they react like you’ve just thrown a rock or something. To be nonspecific.

Spelunking Through Hell includes the bonus novella And Sweep Up the Wood, which tells the story of a key turning point in the early years of Alice and Thomas’s relationship. It’s very good and very emotional (plus, you know, plenty of guns and explosives — after all, Alice in involved), and it’s a great way to wrap up this installment of the series.

The InCryptid series itself is going strong, and overall, I love it! I do wish this one had drawn me in a bit more, but I can’t really complain. The Price-Healy clan is amazing (and there are religious mice, who make every scene they’re in 1000% better), and I can’t wait for more of the story. The big question is — who will #12 be about?

As I’ve said in pretty much every review of this series, definitely start at the beginning with with Discount Armageddon. This series is full of great characters and terrific world-building. It’s easy to get hooked!

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Book Review: An Impossible Impostor (Veronica Speedwell, #7) by Deanna Raybourn

Title: An Impossible Impostor
Series: Veronica Speedwell, #7
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: February 15, 2022
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While investigating a man claiming to be the long-lost heir to a noble family, Veronica Speedwell gets the surprise of her life in this new adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

London, 1889. Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian beau Stoker are summoned by Sir Hugo Montgomerie, head of Special Branch. He has a personal request on behalf of his goddaughter, Euphemia Hathaway. After years of traveling the world, her eldest brother, Jonathan, heir to Hathaway Hall, was believed to have been killed in the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa a few years before.

But now a man matching Jonathan’s description and carrying his possessions has arrived at Hathaway Hall with no memory of his identity or where he has been. Could this man truly be Jonathan, back from the dead? Or is he a devious impostor, determined to gain ownership over the family’s most valuable possessions–a legendary parure of priceless Rajasthani jewels? It’s a delicate situation, and Veronica is Sir Hugo’s only hope.

Veronica and Stoker agree to go to Hathaway Hall to covertly investigate the mysterious amnesiac. Veronica is soon shocked to find herself face-to-face with a ghost from her past. To help Sir Hugo discover the truth, she must open doors to her own history that she long believed to be shut for good.

A new installment in the deliciously smart Veronica Speedwell series is always cause for delight, and book #7 is no exception.

Veronica and Stoker are a well-established couple at this point, but they’ve lost none of their spark or chemistry. Their passion continues to simmer, and they’re fulfilled by their work together on the natural history collection of Lord Rosemorran. But when Sir Hugo Montgomerie of Scotland Yard asks a favor, he’s awfully hard to ignore, and their peaceful moments are interrupted by a call to adventure.

Our fearless duo sets off to the Hathaway estate to discover whether the long-presumed dead eldest son has miraculously returned — which would have enormous ramifications for his surviving siblings, especially the brother who has legally inherited in his stead.

Veronica and Stoker discover a situation much more complicated than expected, further muddled by Veronica’s own distant past which included an acquaintance with the missing Hathaway son. While uncovering the truth, Veronica and Stoker once again end up in mortal peril, fighting for their lives, solving multiple mysteries, and using their wits to find solutions.

It’s all very charming, and the adventure itself is fun even while taking a while to build up stakes. Once our favorite couple are themselves in danger, of course it all escalates and becomes much more dramatic — but even then, the banter and sexy glances and innuendo continue.

I had a few qualms about a certain plot complication which the romantic in me found upsetting, but never fear, it’s more or less resolved by book’s end. The mystery is tied up nicely, although Veronica and Stoker are left in a status that’s less settled than in previous books… so can I have #8 now please???? (Sadly, no — I expect it’ll be another year’s wait for the next one).

As in all the books in this series, the humor is silly and fun, and Veronica is a treat — a fierce, intelligent woman of science who’s not afraid to follow her own path, including becoming romantically and physically involved with a man who’s very much her partner and equal.

And really, when else would we get to read a book that includes such delightful words and phrases as “fritillary”, “amatory arts”, “passamenterie”, “osculatory”, and “inanition”? Not to mention a quick little aside in which a character educates us on the origins of the bandanna?

An Impossible Impostor is just a super fun adventure. Each book in the series goes by too quickly, and I always tell myself to slow down and savor them… but I never do. An Impossible Impostor could potentially work as a stand-alone mystery. The key players and background are explained well enough to be able to follow along. But, I don’t really recommend this approach — you’d be missing out on all the delicious history of Veronica and Stoker’s relationship, as well as their individual backstories, and truly, those are too good to miss!

If you want to get to know Veronica Speedwell, I’d say start with book #1, A Curious Beginning. I’m pretty sure you’ll be hooked! And isn’t it nice to know that there are already another six books to enjoy after that one?

This series has become one of my favorites. Check it out!