Marie Brennan: Turning Darkness Into Light

One of my favorite science fiction/fantasy series of the last decade (or ever, for that matter) has been Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent, beginning with A Natural History of Dragons in 2013 and ending, alas, with Within the Sanctuary of Wings in 2017. So I was delighted to spot Turning Darkness Into Light last summer.

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Why it sat in one of my To Be Read stacks this long I have no idea, perhaps so I’d know I had one more book to read set in Lady Trent’s world, which is like our own in many ways, from its pseudo-Victorian social structures to its vaguely familiar (but strangely named) geography, but totally different in others, most especially the existence of a wide variety of dragons (non-sentient wild animals) and the remains of the ancient and mysterious Draconean civilization.

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Turning Darkness Into Light tells the story of Lady Trent’s granddaughter, Audrey Camherst, a philologist studying the clay tablets left behind by the ancient Draconeans. When she is recruited to translate a recently discovered cache of ancient tablets by Lord Gleinleigh, a collector of antiquities and the discoverer of the tablets (and a rather unpleasant fellow), she takes the job against her better judgment: Lord Gleinliegh’s restrictions seem unreasonable and his estate is isolated and unwelcoming. But the lure of previously undeciphered tablets is too much to resist. The project leads Audrey and her allies into misadventure, danger, conspiracy, and revelation.

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If you haven’t read the five books of Lady Trent’s memoirs, Turning Darkness Into Light will probably be wildly confusing, not to mention that it is full of spoilers for the earlier books (which is why I’m not going into more detail here). If you have read the series, this book provides many answers to “so what happened next?”

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Turning Darkness Into Light is an epistolary novel (something I love), told in the form of diary entries, letters, translations of the tablets, occasional newspaper clippings, and even a couple of police reports. Most of the story is told from Audrey’s point of view, but quite a variety of other characters have a chance to chime in, including Lady Trent herself.

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Perhaps I find this series so fascinating because I share a background in anthropology, archeology and folklore with Brennan, or because I love the alternate world premise, or just because I’m blown away by Brennan’s imagination and writing skill, but I highly recommend all six books. One of these years I’ll have time to reread them all (paper copies on my keeper shelf) without the year or two wait between volumes.

More Cozy Series

I started to call this “Two New Cozies,” but actually only one, from Zara Keane, is a new series. The other, by Alice Duncan, I discovered thanks to (I think) Bookbub (I get far too many ebook sales emails every morning!). Just for fun, I’ve added the second book in Nancy Cole Silverman’s series about a Hollywood radio reporter.

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I have enjoyed all of Zara Keane’s Movie Club Mystery stories, and she starts a new Irish-set cozy mystery series with Deadline With Death, throwing in a touch of the paranormal with a bit of time travel. Dee Flanagan performs a daily balancing act, juggling her ill-paying job as a reporter for the Dunleagh Chronicle, her non-paying work on her history blog, and her irrepressible grandmother. When she finds herself caught in the middle of some very odd happenings at Dunleagh Castle, her knowledge of Irish history makes her wonder about the man, dressed in a century-old Royal Irish Constabulary uniform, who falls at her feet, wounded by gunfire. Is he a stray from some sort of historical reenactment? Why didn’t anyone else hear the gunfire, and who shot the clown? Dee tries hard to separate herself from her family’s reputation for eccentricity (all that woo-woo stuff), but with both her grandmother and her mother drawn into the mayhem surrounding the castle, Dee doesn’t know what to think.

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As in her Movie Club Mystery series, Keane fills her tale with the inhabitants and circumstances of life in a small Irish town. Her Time-Slip Mystery series promises to be just as full of humor, eccentric characters, and, of course, mystery. Thoroughly entertaining.

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Lost Among the Angels is the first in Alice Duncan’s Mercy Allcutt cozy mystery series, new to me but published several years ago. I picked it up because it’s set in Los Angeles in 1926, a setting and time period that I always find entertaining. Mercy, the naive but enthusiastic narrator, has moved from her sheltered (and wealthy) life in Boston to live with her sister (married to a movie executive), experience Real Life, get a job, and someday write a novel. She manages to land a position as secretary to a private investigator named Ernie Templeton (her big adventures back in Boston involved taking typing and shorthand classes, a secret from her family).

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Secretary, heck, Mercy wants to be an apprentice P.I., and she throws herself into helping her boss with his cases. And help she does, although sometimes it’s more by accident than intent.

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Lost Among the Angels gets off to a bit of a slow start, with Mercy trying to figure out Los Angeles, perhaps a bit too silly and naive, but she grew on me, the cases piled up, and Ernie turned out to be a peach of an employer (and perhaps something more in the following volumes?), alternately amused and aggravated by Mercy’s impulsive behavior, and Mercy’s East Coast elite upbringing actually stands her in good stead from time to time. A fun book, and I’ve downloaded the next one, Angels Flight.

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And here’s the second book in a series I’ve been enjoying, also spotted on a sale. In Nancy Cole Silverman’s Beyond a Doubt, Los Angeles radio reporter Carol Childs investigates a body dropped from a helicopter, meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator named Holly Wood, and sees someone who just might be the ghost of Clark Gable. Her investigations lead to a string of missing girls, some prominently reported and some barely noticed, and then to the possibility of a human trafficking ring. With her prime suspect seemingly untouchable, and her station management shying away from hard news, Carol may be on her own, but she’s determined to get the story—and find the missing girls. This is another series from the Henery Press cozy stable.

Gerry Bartlett’s Texas Reckless

Texas Reckless,the latest romantic suspense tale from Gerry Bartlett, begins when a stranger climbs the fence into Sierra MacKenzie’s ranch property outside Muellerville, Texas. That’s not the beginning of her troubles, though—she’s already dealing with mysterious cattle deaths and accidents, and a development company that wants her land for its highway access. Maybe this fellow who wrecked his rented car at the end of her driveway is not to be trusted.

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But Rhett Hall (we met him in Bartlett’s previous book, Texas Trouble) has nothing to do with those problems. He simply hit a deer, wrecked his car, and can’t get a signal with his cell phone. But he manages to charm the lady who greets him with a loaded rifle into letting him in, not suspecting just how long he’ll want to stay.

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Soon Sierra and Rhett team up to investigate the escalating troubles at the ranch, as well as the long-ago barrel racing accident that changed Sierra’s life. She’s determined to run the ranch, and her horse therapy classes for troubled children, without help from her wealthy family back in Houston, and Rhett is soon just as determined to help her.

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But her resistance to the development project threatens the economic well-being of the residents and local businessmen of Muellerville, many of whom have invested in the development project. Are one or more of them trying to convince Sierra to sell—or drive her off her ranch by any means necessary?

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Suspense—and romance—build as Sierra and Rhett fight to live long enough to find the answers, and a future together.

The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test

I picked up The Kiss Quotient after reading an article about its author, Helen Hoang, a woman who was diagnosed with autism (at the high functioning end of the spectrum) at the age of 34. Given at last some insight into the problems she had dealt with through the years, Hoang decided to write about an autistic heroine.

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Stella Lane comes from a wealthy family, but she’s made her own fortune through her work as an econometrician, a mathematical and statistical occupation ideally suited to her personality. Her social life isn’t so successful. In fact, it’s pretty much non-existent. She’s nearing thirty, and she’s had three sexual experiences, all of them disasters. Her mother wants grandchildren, and Stella herself thinks there might be more to life than binge watching Korean drama shows. So she does what anyone with tunnel vision and determination might do—she hires a male escort to teach her “how to do sex.”

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Michael Phan is half Vietnamese and half Swedish, handsome and athletic. On Friday nights he works as, let’s be honest here, a prostitute. He has his reasons, thinks he does, anyway, and he’s at heart a nice guy (although he worries about that—his father wasn’t). He tries his best to avoid ever having a second “date” with a client, so he’s very reluctant to accept an exclusive job with Stella. At least until he gets to know her.

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There’s a lot of graphic sex in this novel. Not my favorite reading, frankly, but Stella wants to learn about sex, so that’s sort of the point. But seeing the world through Stella’s eyes, and seeing Stella through the eyes of a writer who really knows what makes Stella tick, is fascinating, and that’s what makes The Kiss Quotient such a good book.

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The Bride Test, Hoang’s second novel, is not about learning “how to do sex”; there’s bit of that, but much less graphic sex than in The Kiss Quotient. Rather, The Bride Test is about learning how to recognize love when it knocks you off your feet. In a reversal of roles, in this book the hero is on the autism spectrum, while the heroine, a village girl from Vietnam, has no idea what that means.

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Khai Diep (Michael’s cousin and Quan’s brother from the previous book) is a highly successful CPA, although he lives modestly and has little interest in money. He is convinced that he has no feelings, that his heart is stone, and that involving himself in any relationship would only be cruel to the other person. His mother knows better, and she goes to Vietnam to find him a wife.

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The potential bride she finds is Esme Tran, who lives with her daughter, her mother and her grandmother in a shack, and who cleans the bathrooms in a hotel to support them. When Khai’s mother offers her a summer in California to see if she’s a match for Khai, Esme decides (with encouragement from her mother) to take the chance. (And if she’s very lucky, she might even track down her American father, knowing only that his name was Phil, he went to Cal Berkley, and he must have been the source of Esme’s green eyes.)

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Two people from wildly different cultures, backgrounds and educational levels—what could possibly go wrong? And what could possibly go right? Will Khai (with help from some very funny conversations with Michael and Quan) ever figure out what love is? Will Esme, diving into the local night school for immigrants, exceed her own expectations? Will the ending produce a few happy tears? Hey, folks, this is a romance. You know the answers, but getting there is definitely worth reading the book.

Happy New Year 2020

Here we are at the beginning of 2020, a number I surely gave no thought to whatsoever a few decades back. But then I never expected to end up in Texas when I was growing up in Wisconsin and Florida, and I’ve been here since 1976.

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In 2019, alas, I read less, wrote no fiction, gained a few pounds, and my house is still cluttered. On the other hand, I spent a lot of fun time with a group of friends known as the Lunch Bunch (and we also like to shop), I made it to three writing retreat weekends with friends Gerry Bartlett, Jo Anne Banker, and Nina Bangs (we talked plot and writing, judged contest entries, and read, but there were also restaurants and shopping on the agenda) and took a wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Wine and Chile Fiesta (talk about restaurants and shops!).

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Back home, I replaced my faithful but disintegrating (at 252,400 miles) 2004 Corolla with a 2020 Corolla XLE, with all sorts of bells, whistles, and modern technology that I’m still getting used to (how did I ever drive without a back up camera and blind spot monitors?) I still find it amazing to start my car by pushing a button.

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Buying a car made the cost of replacing my almost-ten-year-old computer seem negligible, so I finally took that plunge. Well, I had to—the old one simply died. (Back up your files, friends, back up your files. I knew that computer was failing, and my flash drive was up to date.) True to my buying habits, I replaced my old HP (my second—the first one lasted about seven years) with a new HP, but this time I bought an all-in-one computer with wireless mouse and keyboard, and a new wireless printer/scanner. The lack of cables is a wonderful thing. I bought a couple of books (surprise!) on Windows 10 and Office 365, but I’ve rarely needed to look at them. Both programs have some odd quirks, coming as I did from Windows 7 and Office 2007, but we’ve been using the newer software at work for about a year and a half. (Yes, I’m still working at the Scorekeeper, but only three days a week.)

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Reading in 2019: Fewer books and, according to Goodreads, fewer pages. My original Goodreads Challenge target was 60 books, but a few weeks ago I felt stressed and lowered it to 52. One book a week! There was a time, long ago, when I read a book a day, but I wasn’t doing much else back then. As it happened, I did hit 60 books (finishing the last one on New Year’s Eve) and 14,387 pages. Also according to Goodreads, the most popular book I read was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (and it was terrific). (Feel free to join me on Goodreads—I’m the Kay Hudson in Seabrook, TX.)

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I have, at last count, 710 books in my Amazon cloud. In 2019 I actually read 48 of them, along with 12 paper books (six of those in series I have been reading on paper for years). That brings my ever-increasing ebook reading up to 80 percent. That does not explain the stack of unread paper books on the coffee table or the shelf over my bed (but I did recently buy a new bedroom lamp that makes reading on paper in bed a lot more comfortable). And I wouldn’t even guess at the number of books, read or not, around my house. (A few trips to Half Price Books are probably in order.)

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In 2019 I read ten romances by seven authors (including two each by Gerry Bartlett, Cheryl Bolen, and AE Jones), 26 mysteries (more than one each by Waverly Curtis, Robert Goldsborough, David Handler, Diane Kelly, and Kate Parker), only two science fiction novels (both old, neither living up to their reputations), six mainstream (or otherwise out of the box) novels, and sixteen nonfiction books (ranging from books on words and writing, through true crime and memoirs by Leah Remini and Kate Mulgrew, to 19th century female balloonists and the history of air conditioning).

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I haven’t bought any books today, but it’s still early afternoon, and the Amazon Prime first reads email is waiting for me. I don’t think I’ll run out of reading material any time soon.

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Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.

Love and Humor

I will read just about anything Diane Kelly writes (her grocery lists are probably funny), and Busted, a romance about a small town motorcycle cop named Marnie Muckleroy and a visiting Silicon Valley computer nerd called Trey, is no exception.

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Marnie has her hands full with questions ranging from serious (who ordered those mysterious packages delivered to an empty house?) to funny (does she really have twin cops in her small department, or are Andre and Dante actually one guy pranking her?) to personal (who is the mystery man riding the yellow Ninja motorcycle?). And why does she feel the way she does about a man who’s only visiting for a few weeks?

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Beneath Kelly’s trademark humor lie some serious threads. Marnie has PTSD from an incident when she was a big city cop in Dallas. Trey has some secrets in his past that he’d rather not share with Marnie.

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Nevertheless, Busted is a rollicking romance filled with motorcycles, computer jokes, and great characters. Marnie insists she’s a street cop, not a detective, but she gives it her all, and if the reader guesses a few answers before Marnie does, that’s part of the fun. And this book is seriously fun.

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Fort Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K9 partner, Sergeant Brigit, are back in Diane Kelly’s Paw of the Jungle. As usual, Kelly mixes humor into Megan’s investigative endeavors, and there’s plenty to investigate this time. Dastardly doings at the zoo multiply as rare and valuable animals vanish. Megan and Brigit team up with Detective Bustamente on the zoo caper, a real puzzler. How could anyone steal a rhinoceros?

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Meanwhile back at the mall there’s a rash of stolen rings, and at the firehouse there’s a new female EMT who seems awfully interested in Megan’s boyfriend, Seth. Megan has her hands full, and Brigit has a lot of fun, and a steady supply of liver treats. I love this series.

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For Witch or For Poorer is the fifth installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series, featuring the last member of the team, Giz (short for Gizmo, as he’s a witch who prefers using technology to magic) and Maeve, the East Coast werewolf who joined the West Coast pack in the previous book (For Better or For Wolf). Tensions between the werewolf packs have eased, but there’s a new threat, from an ancient and secretive coven called the Lunadorium. Giz may not like using magic, and he does have his reasons, but Maeve needs a witch to help her learn to control her emerging powers, and the pack needs his help, too.

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All the characters from the previous books are back, including Giz’ eccentric cat, Monster, who has his own part to play in the proceedings. Throw in a baby shower, a visit to a street of magic brokers, and a sweet love story, along with Jones’ trademark humor and lovable characters, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past is a reissue of Recklessly Yours, the third in Lark Brennan’s Durand Chronicles series, and finishing it kept me up until 2 o’clock one morning (and I had to go fetch the charging cable and plug my Kindle in for the last half hour). The series might best be described as paranormal romantic suspense, although the characters are all human and the paranormal elements are all psychic. This entry involves a decidedly non-Indian artifact found on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana and two Durand Protectors (who haven’t spoken in seven years) sent to investigate and retrieve it.

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Chantal Durand has been working as an archaeologist in Australia (where she was briefly jailed for shooting an ex-lover in the butt), but she’s called back to her Protector duties when a mysterious artifact turns up in Montana. Her psychic abilities are just what’s needed to find a clue to the origin and meaning of the strange piece of tile. As if landing in the frozen north without the proper wardrobe wasn’t trouble enough, she finds herself working with Tanner Hays, the last partner she wants. The last time they worked together, Tanner’s best friend was killed, and he still blames Chantal for that disaster. The search for the more powerful artifact connected to the tile leads to suspense and more than a few plot twists as Chantal and Tanner make their way through dangerous blizzards and even more dangerous opponents equally determined to find the missing treasure.

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If you’re in the Houston area in January, you can meet Lark Brennan and two other local authors signing their books at the wonderful independent bookshop Murder By the Book, at 1 PM on January 11, 2020 (wow, 2020 already!). Lark will be signing Shadows of the Past. Leslie Marshman will be signing her debut novel, Goode Over Evil (here’s my review). And multi-published author Christie Craig will be signing her latest release, Don’t Breathe a Word.

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See you there!

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