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 3rd 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!

Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, #6) by James S. A. Corey

Title: Nemesis Games
Series: The Expanse, #6
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 24, 2017
Length: 576 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The sixth novel in James S. A. Corey’s New York Times bestselling Expanse series–now a major television series from Syfy!

A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.

The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante‘s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

I’ve spent the past week in the midst of galactic war, and it may take me a while to recover!

I had to psych myself up to read Babylon’s Ashes, the 6th book in the Expanse series. The series is huge in scope, and the books themselves are pretty huge too — large, chunky books dense with ships and space and rail guns and trajectories and science fiction terminology… and I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of each and every one.

It’s difficult at this point to separate the experience of reading the books from that of watching the (outstanding) TV series. The overarching storyline of Babylon’s Ashes matches up with the events of the 6th and final season. For the TV version, it does feel like the storyline comes to a reasonable stopping place — although there are clearly plenty more adventures that could be told, since there are three more books in the series. I finally dove into Babylon’s Ashes after finishing the 6th season, and meshing the two different approaches created a terrific reading experience.

In Babylon’s Ashes, all hell has broken loose. The solar system’s political balance has been violently upset by a ferocious attack on Earth (see Nemesis Games, book #5) that’s wiped out huge swathes of the population and left the planet with an unsustainable future. This is just part of the plan for Marco Inaros, leader of the Free Navy, the Belter military arm whose goal is to establish Belter dominance and defeat Earth and Mars once and for all.

And while the Free Navy, as the symbol of an historically oppressed people’s rise to freedom, has some claim to a righteous cause, it soon becomes clear that its main function is to further advance Marco’s enormous narcissism and personal vendettas. As he denies food, air, and water supplies to his own people — who are desperately in need — for the sake of political power plays, his supporters begin to question his methods, and the Free Navy develops fractures just when it’s starting to seem surer of victory.

Meanwhile, people like the crew of the Rocinante — our heroes!! — are out fighting the good fight, not just for Earth or Mars or the Belt, but for the sake of humanity having a shot at a future.

This book is just as detailed as the earlier ones, and it takes a great deal of concentration to follow the huge cast of characters, the planets, the political factions, and the mechanics of it all. That said, it’s worth it! I loved every moment, despite having to rely on various fandom wikis to figure out who some of the more obscure characters were and just where they might have shown up previously.

The action is thrilling and scary. I have to admit that it was helpful for me to have watched the TV series, because I’m not sure how well I could have envisioned the space battles and types of ships and weapons and stations without it. That said, it’s all described in marvelous detail, and my inner sci-fi geek enjoyed the hell out of it.

Another element that’s different (but great) about the books is how they take into account the laws of physics and the vastness of space. In the TV series, when a space battle happens, it’s all super fast and immediate — but as the book makes clear, just because one ship is burning fast to ambush another, they still have to travel to get there, so it may take weeks before a planned assault happens. Somehow, that sense of time and distance being factored into the action makes it feel more realistic (but I understand that it wouldn’t work very well on TV to have to interrupt the action to allow for lengthy travel times).

This is not a series to just jump into in the middle, in case that’s not obvious, so if you’re interested, start at the beginning with Leviathan Wakes. I mean, it MIGHT be possible to pick up the story at this point after watching it on TV, but I still think it would be confusing, and why would you want to miss out on the satisfaction of reading the whole thing?

For those who’ve been watching the TV series, the reading experience will be different from here on out, because after Babylon’s Ashes, there will be no TV seasons to mirror the books in the series. We’re in uncharted territory, people! And while the TV version makes changes to characters, places, and events, it’s been close enough to give a good representation of each book’s major plotlines and action sequences. As I move forward to #7, I’m faced with the reality that from now on, there will be no screen action to accompany my reading… so I’ll have to envision all the dramatic torpedoes and rail guns and space maneuvering in my head. I hope I’m up to the challenge!

Now that I’ve finished Babylon’s Ashes, the only thing holding me back from continuing straight on to the next book is how BIG the books all are, and the fact that I do have other books to read! That said, I’m not going to let too much time go by either — I’m hoping to finish the remaining books in the series by the end of this year (but don’t hold me to it!)

Next up for me in the Expanse series:

Strange Dogs: A novella that takes place sometime around or after the events of Babylon’s Ashes

Persepolis Rising: Book #7!

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Love An Update On

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Characters I’d Love An Update On (Where are they now that the book is over?). I did a version of this topic ages ago (here), and I’m happy to come up with a fresh list of characters whose lives I’d want to check in on!

  1. Simon & Baz (Simon Snow trilogy by Rainbow Rowell): The trilogy just ended with the 3rd book’s release this past July, but these two characters are young adults with their whole lives ahead of them, and I’d love to know what happens next for them!
  2. Jude (Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black): Jude gets a happy ending, but surely being a queen of faerie as a mortal woman can’t be easy? I’d love to see how it’s going in another few years, just to make sure she’s happy.
  3. Lara Jean Covey (To All the Boys trilogy by Jenny Han): She gets a happy ending, but I want to know how she and Peter’s relationship really works during college and beyond.
  4. Rowan (Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman): Such an unexpected turn of events in the final book! I’d love to know how it all worked out for the characters.
  5. Scarlett & Rhett (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell): I know Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley was supposed to be the sequel, but I kind of hated it and pretend like it never happened… so I’d like to know how Scarlett and Rhett’s lives REALLY turned out. Did they go back to Tara? Did they get back together? Was tomorrow really another day?
  6. Elma and Nathaniel York (Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal): This is one where we will find out more, eventually. We left these characters newly arrived on Mars in the book that was released in 2018. Book #4 in the series is supposed to be released in 2022, and it should be picking back up with these two characters’ stories… can’t wait!
  7. Maia Drazhar (The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison): I love The Goblin Emperor so much, and would absolutely spend any amount of time reading about the years of Maia’s reign as Emperor. He’s such a fabulous character, and I want to follow the rest of his life and see how things turned out for him.
  8. Maggie Hoskie (The Sixth World books by Rebecca Roanhorse): I really liked the two books in this series and assumed there would be more… but I didn’t see anything specific online about when or if a next book would be forthcoming. In any case, I’d love to read more about Maggie, and hope we’ll get additional books eventually.
  9. Edward & Bella (Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer): Haha, I know… but I actually included these two on my previous version of this list, and the same questions hold true: How’s eternal life working out? How is it being married to someone you know you’ll be with FOREVER? How’s parenthood treating them?
  10. Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen): Sure, there are tons of retellings and imagined sequels, but none by Jane Austen, so it’s not like they’re official! How did Elizabeth adjust to life at Pemberley? I’d love to know.

What characters would you most like to keep up with? Whose lives are you wondering about?

If you wrote a TTT this week, please share your links!

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Book Review: When Sorrows Come (October Daye, #15) by Seanan McGuire

Title: When Sorrows Come (October Daye, #15)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: September 14, 2021
Print length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Toby’s getting married! Now in hardcover, the fifteenth novel of the Hugo-nominated, New York Times-bestselling October Daye urban fantasy series.

It’s hard to be a hero. There’s always something needing October “Toby” Daye’s attention, and her own desires tend to fall by the wayside in favor of solving the Kingdom’s problems. That includes the desire to marry her long-time suitor and current fiancé, Tybalt, San Francisco’s King of Cats. She doesn’t mean to keep delaying the wedding, it just sort of…happens. And that’s why her closest friends have taken the choice out of her hands, ambushing her with a court wedding at the High Court in Toronto. Once the High King gets involved, there’s not much even Toby can do to delay things…

…except for getting involved in stopping a plot to overthrow the High Throne itself, destabilizing the Westlands entirely, and keeping her from getting married through nothing more than the sheer volume of chaos it would cause. Can Toby save the Westlands and make it to her own wedding on time? Or is she going to have to choose one over the other?

Includes an all-new bonus novella! 

I’m willing to put a stake in the ground and state definitely that all October Daye books deserve at least 4 stars. (Well, maybe not quite books 2 & 3, but the series was still finding its footing at that point, so we’ll just pretend those were growing pains.)

15 books in, I’m at that difficult point in a series where I love the characters so, so much that I just want them all to be perfectly happy all the time. But where’s the excitement in that? So naturally, even though this book is very much about our lead character’s wedding, knowing October Daye, it absolutely can’t go off without a hitch. And lots of blood.

In When Sorrows Come, Toby and Tybalt are finally almost at their wedding day. Toby very much wants to marry Tybalt, but also very much does not want anything to do with wedding planning. Just tell her when to show up, basically. And so, the whole gang is off to Toronto, to the demesne of the High King, to celebrate the couple’s big day.

And of course, they stumble right into a nefarious plot to overthrow the High King, complete with Doppelgangers, assassination attempts, and a household thrown into chaos. What’s Toby to do but wade into the thick of things, figure out the deadly plot, and still make it to her wedding in one piece?

The story is action-packed, but also leaves time for Toby to reflect on how her relationship with Tybalt has grown over time, her relationships with the other members of her found family, and what might come next in the tangled world of Faerie.

All the favorite characters are here, Toby has some lovely reunions with long-lost connections, and there are some teary-eyed sentimental beats that left me feeling swept away. Plus, as I mentioned, buckets of blood.

When Sorrows Come includes the humor and wit that feature in all Seanan McGuire books. I adore the writing! Some choice selections from minor moments:

One entire wall was ovens and stoves and open holes leading to oceans of flame that probably had some reasonable name like “pizza ovens” or “big fucking baking place,” but looked to me a lot more like gateways into the human concept of Hell.

… and …

Maybe the knowe understood that we really weren’t civilized people and was just trying to save us the embarrassment of me forgetting which fork was supposed to go in my salad versus which fork was supposed to go in the person I was trying to kill.

… and …

If everyone got to stab someone on my wedding day except for me, I was going to be even more annoyed than I already was.

… and …

Being fae doesn’t make you immune to being a massive nerd. It just gives you more time to really plumb the depths of your potential nerdery.

You get the idea.

I gave this book 4.5 stars instead of 5, mainly because the sedition plotline really is a way to prolong the lead-up to the wedding, and the more it stretched on, the more annoyed I got at the delay. Just let Toby and Tybalt get married already!

Needless to say, the book ends with the wedding, and includes a bonus novella at the end, “And With Reveling”, set at the wedding reception, that adds a nice little finish filled with humor and love.

It’s often a fear that in an ongoing series, once the wedding happens, the story is basically done. But clearly, Toby and Tybalt getting married doesn’t equate to a Happily-Ever-After, The End, Nothing More to Say. There are many challenges and adventures ahead of them, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

After their Land of Disney honeymoon.

In case it isn’t perfectly clear, this is my favorite urban fantasy series, and I recommend it to one and all. Start at the beginning with Rosemary and Rue (which I just re-read via audio this week), and keep going. It gets better and better, and you’ll love the characters as much as I do.

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Buy now at Amazon – Book Depository – Bookshop.org

Top Ten Tuesday: My fictional BFFs

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Fictional Crushes — which I just wasn’t all that into as a topic. So instead, I’m going to focus on characters I’d want to hang out with and maybe even become best friends with — ten fictional character who I admire, would want to spend time with, or who might make me laugh non-stop.

  1. Claire Fraser (Outlander series): Claire is just a strong, smart woman who never backs down from a challenge. She’s my hero!
  2. October Daye (October Daye series by Seanan McGuire): This mostly-fae changeling always ends up covered in blood, which might not always be great… but she’s a brave knight of the realm who’s also a fierce friend and protects everyone she loves. Plus, she’s really funny.
  3. Mercy Thompson (series by Patricia Briggs): Apparently, I’m just listing the main characters of my favorite series… but they’re my favorites for a reason! I love Mercy’s devotion to her pack and her mate, her inability to back down when the people she loves are threatened, and her awesome skills as a mechanic. She’s just amazing.
  4. Linus Baker (The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune): I love Linus (and really, all the characters in this book) so much. He’s kind and sweet and determined to make a difference.
  5. Nicky Bell (The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune): Sticking with an author who creates lovable characters… Nicky is funny and brave and soooooo huggable. Of course, he would just see me as an annoying old person, but I’d love to tag along on a day in Nicky’s life just to see him in action. He cracks me up.
  6. Lord John Grey (Outlander series): Lord John is brave and devoted, and he’s also really funny. He’s someone I’d like to just hang out and talk with for a while.
  7. Baz Grimm-Pitch (Simon Snow series): I just love Baz so much, and think he would be so interesting to spend a day with.
  8. Rocky (Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir): Sure, there’s the whole communication issue, but I loved meeting Rocky and think they’d make an awesome best friend.
  9. Eloise Bridgerton (Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn): Book Eloise is pretty cool, but I really love Eloise from the Bridgerton series on Netflix. She’s spiky and spunky and outspoken, and seems like she’d be so much fun to run around with on the edges of upper crust society.
  10. Pounce (Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill): Another non-human BFF, but who could resist? Pounce is a tiger-style nannybot who has to decide between love for the child he raises and loyalty to the robot uprising. Pounce is fierce and loyal and full of love, and I’d love to curl up for a snuggle with him (knowing that if bad guys sneak up, he’ll have my back).

So, that’s my somewhat silly list of fictional characters I’d want as my friends. And if I had more time and more room, I’m sure I could come up with at least another ten!

What characters are on your TTT list this week? Please share your links!

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