Heroic Hearts

Heroic HeartsHeroic Hearts
by Anne Bishop, Charlaine Harris, Chloe Neill, Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes, Kevin Hearne, Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593099186
Publication Date: May 3, 2022
Pages: 350
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

In this short story collection of courage, adventure, and magic, heroes—ordinary people who do the right thing—bravely step forward.

In Jim Butcher’s “Little Things,” the pixie Toot-Toot discovers an invader unbeknownst to the wizard Harry Dresden . . . and in order to defeat it, he’ll have to team up with the dread cat Mister.

In Patricia Briggs’s “Dating Terrors,” the werewolf Asil finds an online date might just turn into something more—if she can escape the dark magic binding her.

In Charlaine Harris’s “The Return of the Mage,” the Britlingen mercenaries will discover more than they’ve bargained for when they answer the call of a distress beacon on a strange and remote world.

And in Kelley Armstrong’s “Comfort Zone,” the necromancer Chloe Saunders and the werewolf Derek Souza are just trying to get through college. But they can’t refuse a ghost pleading for help.

ALSO INCLUDES STORIES BY Annie Bellet * Anne Bishop * Jennifer Brozek * Kevin Hearne * Nancy Holder * Kerrie L. Hughes * Chloe Neill * R.R. Virdi

This sounds like a romance, but as the cover makes clear it’s an urban fantasy anthology, and the title refers to acts of heroism by characters that would normally be considered bit players or underdogs.

And it’s an excellent collection; with the exception of one (The Vampires Karamazov, which felt like a story fragment, or at least, a story with an incomplete ending), I enjoyed all of them; not something I can often say about anthologies.  Of course this collection’s deck is stacked, if you know what I mean, with authors like Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Anne Bishop, Kevin Hearne, and Chloe Neil, each of them offering short stories that complement or extend their most popular series.

I’m not sure I can come up with a favourite.  As much as I enjoyed all my favourite authors’ entries, when I think back across all of them the two that immediately come to mind as stories that ‘stick’ are Jennifer Brozek’s The Necessity of Pragmatic Magic – perhaps because I might overly identify with Felicia, who only wants to be left alone, and Kerry L. Hughes’ Troll Life which somehow charmed me in ways I can’t quite pinpoint; maybe the sentient trains?

Patricia Briggs’ story features Asil, Dating Terrors, and while it’s always fun to read about Asil – he makes me laugh – and the story is good, I have to admit I think he plays to best advantage when he’s surrounded by Charles, Anna, Bran and the rest of the pack.  For those interested, this short story is not the same one as Asil and the not-date found in the Laurel K. Hamilton anthology Fantastic Hope; it’s related, I suspect, and I’m certain Dating Terrors takes place after Asil and the Not-Date.  It also appears to have long-reaching implications for Asil and his fans; I’m wondering if they’ll play out in the next Alpha and Omega book?

The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner

The Witch's Vacuum CleanerThe Witch's Vacuum Cleaner
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857534835
Publication Date: August 25, 2016
Pages: 388
Genre: Children's Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Do you believe in magic?

Can you imagine a war between wizards, a rebellious ant called 4179003, or a time-travelling television?

Can you imagine that poor old Mr Swimble could see a mysterious vacuum cleaner in the morning, and make cheese sandwiches and yellow elephants magically appear by the afternoon?

Welcome to the wonderful world of Sir Terry Pratchett, and fourteen fantastically funny tales from the master storyteller. Bursting from these pages are food fights, pirates, bouncing rabbits and magical pigeons.

And a witch riding a vacuum cleaner, of course.

Long before Terry Pratchett became Terry Pratchett! he was a journalist for the Buck’s Free Press, writing short stories for their Children’s Circle.  This is a collection of some of those short stories, enhanced with illustrations by Mark Beech.  It also includes commentary after each story by a Suzanne Bridson, though I’d not include that as an enhancement.

I found the stories charming in a Roald Dahl way, except I suspect Pratchett of imagination, whereas I sort of suspect Dahl of LSD abuse.  They were funny, witty and there are hidden references to LOTR, C.S. Lewis’ work, and hilarious homages to the Wild West, including Maverick.  As I read, I kept thinking my nieces would find these fun, if I could get them to just try a story or two (they’re reaching that age when the tastes of all adults tank and can’t be trusted), and I must bring the collection to the attention of my sister-in-law who insists that teaching small children is fun.

The commentary was meh and in my opinion, skippable.  Bridson is, I’m assuming, aiming it at the stories’ audiences, and it’s obviously meant to steer them towards the full novels.  The comparisons she points out are the obvious ones, and she ignores almost all of the careful nuances and subtle wordplay that I appreciated most.

My edition is the slipcased one shown and it’s beautiful.  Inside I found it included a full colour illustration from Mark Beech, on postcard sized stock, slipped between the pages, a pleasant bonus.

This Charming Man (Stranger Times, #2)

This Charming ManThis Charming Man
by C.K. McDonnell
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781787633384
Series: Stranger Times #2
Publication Date: February 15, 2022
Pages: 499
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Bantam Press

Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it's particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .

Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose - step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It's not like they don't have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn't like people touching his stuff - it's the principle of the thing.

Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as 'a lot of baggage' and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.

Still a lot of fun, but not as enthralling as the first book, The Stranger Times.  Part of that, I suspect, is that it’s hard to maintain momentum over 500 pages.  The story never dragged, but it just lacked the snap the first one had.

Which makes it sounds back-handed, and I don’t mean it to; the book may have been 500 pages, but I devoured it over two days.  The writing was excellent, the plot was really good – relevant, creepy in both a supernatural and natural way – and the characters continue to charm (or not) with their eccentricities.  Because the story is told from multiple perspectives (3rd person always), the reader is able to connect a few dots before the Stranger gang can as they investigate why vampires are suddenly springing up all over Manchester when everyone agrees they’re the one thing that doesn’t exist, but not so much as to be frustrating – and when it all comes together, it’s all rather more appalling that I was expecting.

The author leaves plenty of scope for the third book; the editor of the paper is left hanging with a haunting message from beyond the veil, and nobody knows, or wants to know, what Stella is, except for Stella herself.  And the newspaper still has no bathroom.

Lots to look forward to in the next book, unfortunately, I’ll be looking forward until sometime in 2023.

Bee Sting Cake (Greenwing and Dart, #2)

Bee Sting CakeBee Sting Cake
by Victoria Goddard
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781988908014
Series: Greenwing & Dart #2
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
Pages: 305
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Underhill Books

Magic is out of fashion. Gambling is merely illegal. Neither law nor common sense has ever stopped anyone in Ragnor Bella from making-or breaking-their fortunes at the table, at the racetrack, and especially at the Dartington Harvest Fair.

With Mad Jack Greenwing's only son Jemis finally back from university, this year's betting is bidding fair to be the stuff of legend. Jemis assumes the speculative glances are for his inherited notoriety (and, perhaps, his adventurous first weekend back in town), and is determined to do nothing more than a little light wagering at the Fair. Perhaps one footrace. The odds on his placing are remarkably high-but the real bets are whether he makes it to the starting line at all.

Lost heirs. Botanizing dukes. Riddling dragons. High Gothic melodrama. And all that's just to get his name in the race.

Thanks again go to Tannat for bringing this series to my attention.  It’s not without flaws, but it’s a delightfully fun read in spite of them.

The two biggest flaws, up front, are incredibly poor copyediting, leaving some sentences in need of decipherment, and a few purely nonsensical, and a brand new paperback copy that was so poorly perfect bound that I had at least 3 pages fall out as I read.  They’re print on demand, but I have quite a few other POD books and none of them fell apart on first read or subsequent re-reads.

I know there are smaller flaws in the story itself, but I can’t really bring them to mind; I read for enjoyment, and enjoyment is what I got out of this book.  Sinking into it after a particularly bad day of rehab was exactly the antidote I needed to distract me from the pain in my leg and my eggplant coloured – and shaped – foot.  So, you know, bonus points for that.

I particularly like the way the author strung the resolutions to the differing plot lines throughout the book, and of the story lines, the one concerning the bees was my favourite.  The introduction of Jemis’ university roommate, Hal, was welcome and I liked the chemistry between Jemis, Hal and Mr. Dart (Perry).  I loved that there was a significantly reduced volume of sneezing, but would have appreciated even more a likewise reduction in the wallowing – Jemis needs to get over it.  All of it.

I’ve ordered the third book, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series, although I feel like it’s inevitable that there will be a book about Jemis facing Lark, which I plan on skipping.  Hopefully it will be better constructed that this one.

The Stranger Times (Stranger Times #1)

The Stranger TimesThe Stranger Times
by C.K. McDonnell
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780552177344
Series: Stranger Times #1
Publication Date: January 6, 2022
Pages: 425
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books

There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them . . .

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that's their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door - and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who's got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they'd previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.

Ok, I wasn’t sure I’d like this, but it was a lot of fun.

I’m always drawn to stories about a ‘ragtag band of misfits’ (I love The Awkward Squad series and am anxious for a third one to be published in translation), and the premise of a newspaper dedicated to the weird and wonderful happenings in the world was a definite draw.  But I know nothing about C.K. McDonnell, and though I thoroughly enjoy the dry British sense of humour, I was hesitant about what a male comedian might do with it.  Let’s face it: the British can do great ha-ha humor, but they also excel in humor with a nasty, violent edge to it.

I needn’t have worried.  There’s an edginess to the writing that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchies early movies (Snatch) but it’s balanced with laugh-out-loud moments more reminiscent of Yes, Prime Minister.  There were excerpts I couldn’t help but read out loud to MT, leaving him a bit miffed; he has no tolerance for the supernatural in his reading, otherwise he’d be reading this next.

The story bounces between the staff at the newspaper and the doings of the shady American in town, the former completely in the dark about what’s going on, and the latter driving them.  It all dovetails into a climax that’s awfully close to a Scooby Doo episode, but it was all good fun.

The writing was good, but McDonnell excels at the dialog, which is acerbic, crackling and fast-paced.  There’s a second book out, This Charming Man and I eyed it when I bought this one, but decided to be cautious.  I had a feeling I’d regret that, and now I’m off to find out how soon I can get my hands on it.

Crowbones (World of the Others, #3)

by Anne Bishop
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780593337332
Series: The World of the Others #3
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
Pages: 368
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

Note: While this is book 3 in the series called The World of the Others, it’s a direct sequel to book 1, Lake Silence.  Book 2, Wild Country, is set in a different location in the same world.

4 stars is the lowest I’ve rated any of the books in Bishop’s Others or World of the Others series.  Crowbones was good – really good – but not as nearly as compelling as most of the titles.

In part, this might have been because I’d read the jacket flap, which has never been an issue before.  But this time it left me with the impression that this story was going to have a locked-room mystery vibe to it, and it didn’t, at all.  That’s not a bad thing, and there are murders to be solved, but it jarred with my expectations for the first third of the book.  I’d have been better off reading it blind, so to speak.

This book also felt more human-centric in focus than any of the previous books.  I can’t actually say it was, I’m just not left with the usual feeling I get from these books: that I’ve visited another reality where humans are only bit players with big ambitions.  The others didn’t seem to exude their usual air of menace and, hardly ever had to fight the urge not to eat the annoying humans.  I don’t know a thing about Anne Bishop – I’m not the type to research my authors, or visit fan sites, but I get an impression that the MC, Vicki, has a touch of the autobiographical about her.  I have less than nothing to base that on; she just reads as though she comes from a very personal place.  Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective, I guess.  I liked that she had no problem laughing at herself, and that she recognised where her anxiety stemmed from, but she also made me roll my eyes more than a few times.

Neither of those things are complaints, really, although I’d have liked to see more large-scale smackdowns. Given that I’ve re-read every one of the other books in both series and every time found something more to like, it may be that once I re-read this one I’ll pick up different nuances I missed this time.  Whether I do or not, I really enjoyed Crowbones and my brief holiday in the world of the Others.  Call me crazy, but this is a world I’d happily live in.

Liz Hedgecock Magical Bookshop Books 1 and 2

Elentarri first brought these novellas to my attention and they sounded like fun.

Every Trick in the BookEvery Trick in the Book
by Liz Hedgecock
Rating: ★★★
Series: Magical Bookshop Novellas #1
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Pages: 200
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Turning over a new leaf doesn’t always go according to plan...

When Jemma James takes a job at Burns Books, the second-worst secondhand bookshop in London, she finds her ambition to turn it around thwarted at every step. Raphael, the owner, is more interested in his newspaper than sales. Folio the bookshop cat has it in for Jemma, and the shop itself appears to have a mind of its own. Or is it more than that?

Gradually Jemma starts to make a difference ... and then the anonymous letters start arriving. Who is behind them, and why?

As the threats escalate, and the shop becomes increasingly turbulent, Jemma and Raphael must work together to find the culprit. And what else will Jemma find in her investigations?

Every Trick In The Book is the first in the Magical Bookshop humorous mystery series, set in modern London.

The first book in the series, I was a little stumped, at first, as to what the actual plot of the story was going to be, as a lot of it was setup: Jemma losing her job, stumbling across Burns’ Books (perversely fabulous name), and finding a job at the quirky and odd bookshop.  I immediately liked Raphael, loved Folio (the cat) and found Jemma irritating, as I think she was meant to be.  The plot of the story doesn’t come until a bit past the halfway mark, and felt a bit rushed, but I enjoyed getting there, and I enjoyed watching Raphael squash Jemma’s constant attempts at being a corporate drone.  The ending left off with a cool discovery that’s not properly described to the reader, so I was grateful to have the second one already queue’d up.

Brought to BookBrought to Book
by Liz Hedgecock
Rating: ★★★
Series: Magical Bookshop Novellas #2
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Pages: 160
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Not all new brooms sweep clean…

Business is booming at Burns Books — so much so that Jemma and Raphael hire a new assistant. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

Luke’s helpful, he’s knowledgeable, and the customers like him. So why is the shop up to its old tricks, and a few new ones? And what's the matter with Folio?

Jemma and Carl take it upon themselves to investigate, and end up finding out a lot more than they bargained for. Will working at the bookshop ever be the same again?

Brought To Book is the second in the Magical Bookshop humorous mystery series, set in modern London

The plot of this one kicks off a lot sooner, although magical or not, the bookstore’s turnaround felt completely unrealistic.  Still, I wasn’t reading the story for the realism, which is fortunate, because while the first book could have been arguably magical realism, this novella is firmly in fantasy territory, with the introduction of new characters and magical world-building with a loose structure and rules, both of which are tested, which leaves Jemma stumped, Folio diminished, and Raphael in an angry panic.  I thought the climax cleverly done and overall the story was fun.

There’s a few more books in the series, and I’ve got them on the list for future reads when I want to dip into something fun, frothy, and frivolous.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

The Left-Handed Booksellers of LondonThe Left-Handed Booksellers of London
by Garth Nix
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781760631246
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Pages: 374
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Eighteen-year-old art student Susan Arkshaw arrives in London in search of her father. But before she can question crime boss Frank Thringley he's turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is one of the youngest members of a secret society of booksellers with magical powers who police the mythic Old World wherever it impinges on the New World - in addition to running several bookshops, of course! Merlin also has a quest of his own: to find the Old World entity who arranged the murder of his mother.

Their investigations attract attention from enemies of the Old and New Worlds. Soon they become involved in an even more urgent task to recover the grail that is the source of the left-handed booksellers' power, before it is used to destroy the booksellers and rouse the hordes of the mythic past. As the search for the grail becomes strangely intertwined with both their quests, they start to wonder… Is Susan's long-lost father a bookseller, or something altogether more mysterious?

I think I’m being unduly harsh on this book.  I bought it on the strength of the title and the blurb, but when it arrived I discovered Nix is an Australian author.  I have a very sketchy relationship with Australian fiction; sketchy as in ‘I rarely like it’.  But still, it sounded so good…

… and I almost DNF’d it on the second page of the prologue.  The writing was too too.  Too flowery, or verbose, or trying too hard.  Maybe all of the above.  Still, it seemed a little harsh and judgy and I paid for the damn book.  The start of chapter 1 was not encouraging either.  I have an aversion to numbered lists and the one on page 8 (the only one, thankfully) screamed of pretentious, or overly precocious, writing.

Still, aware of my bias, I persevered, and by the end of chapter 1, the writing had evened way out, and the story had found its footing.  I found myself drawn in by the characters, cheeky though Merlin is (I don’t think we’re meant to believe he’s the Merlin, just of, perhaps, his lineage).  I still think the author tried to hard to be relevant and current, while writing a book placed in an alternate early 1980’s, but that also fades away as the story progresses.  By about 1/3 of the way in, I was left with what the story should have been all along – a rather entertaining fantasy adventure written for the late teen readers – or at least the characters are all late teens.  The book won an Aussie book award for “older children”, which to me is NOT late teens, but early teens.  I’d easily give this to my 12 year old niece to read, though some of the innuendo might fly past her unnoticed.  Or not.

I was disappointed by the lack of time spent in actual bookstores.  Considering 2 or the 3 main characters are book-sellers and 8 out of 10 of the rest are as well, there was only 1 scene that took place inside bookshops.  The rest is a series of attacks, kidnapping attempts, and general mayhem that starts and ends in London, taking in the Lake District in the process.  It was fun, but entirely lacking in bookstores.

I suppose the ending was predictable, but not so much as to dim the journey getting there.  I have no idea of this book was meant to be a standalone, or the start of a new series, but it’s obviously left open to be one, even though no dangling threads remain.  If a second book is published, I’d likely read it.  I found the characters endearing, and maybe in the next book, they might spend time in the actual bookshops.

The God of Lost Words (Hell’s Library, #2)

The God of Lost WordsThe God of Lost Words
by A.J. Hackwith
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781984806413
Series: Hell's Library #3
Publication Date: November 2, 2021
Pages: 353
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

Claire, rakish Hero, angel Rami, and muse-turned-librarian Brevity have accomplished the impossible by discovering the true nature of unwritten books. But now that the secret is out, in its quest for power Hell will be coming for every wing of the Library.

To protect the Unwritten Wing and stave off the insidious reach of Malphas, one of Hell’s most bloodthirsty generals, Claire and her friends will have to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to keep their vulnerable corner of the afterlife. Succeeding would mean rewriting the nature of the Library, but losing would mean obliteration. Their only chance at survival lies in outwitting Hell and writing a new chapter for the Library. Luckily, Claire and her friends know how the right story, told well, can start a revolution.

Pfft.  When I read the first book of this trilogy, I had high hopes, even though I had a problem connecting with the main character.  There was so much to love in the first book.  The second book was blah; I still didn’t connect with the main character, and worse still the rest of the characters went flat for me as well, and I’d intended to stop after 2.  And then I found out it was planned as a trilogy, so there was only one more book and the completist in me reared her stubborn head.

I should have smacked her and told her to shut it.  Everything went wobbly for me in this one and by the midway point, I found myself irritated by little things that in a book I was enjoying I’d have glossed over.  Nothing about the story development surprised me or delighted me.  2/3s of the way in, the author’s efforts at inclusivity, while admirable, often left me stumbling over the text and the pronouns.

Also admirable was the author’s obvious passion for stories and her desire to share with the reader the necessity of stories to the human experience, but she got way too mushy about it for my tastes – and I had to laugh, because in the Acknowledgments she admits that she wrote this book during the lockdowns, leading her to be mushier than usual and apologising not at all the us cynics.

Towards the end, she skirts with breaking the fourth wall, which I generally don’t mind, but it seemed like she was espousing a brand of atheism almost directly to the reader, which I do mind.  I like her alternate philosophy as a construct for a story, but draw the line there.

I still stand by the beauty of the story’s premise; I just couldn’t connect fully with the characters and despite my willingness, failed to be drawn in by this particular story.  But the completist in my is happy to know how it ends, and rests easy.

A Swift and Savage Tide (Captain Kit Brightling, #2)

A Swift and Savage TideA Swift and Savage Tide
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806703
Series: Captain Kit Brightling #2
Publication Date: November 30, 2021
Pages: 342
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Berkley

Captain Kit Brightling is Aligned to the magic of the sea, which makes her an invaluable asset to the Saxon Isles and its monarch, Queen Charlotte. The Isles and its allies will need every advantage they can get: Gerard Rousseau, the former Gallic emperor and scourge of the Continent, has escaped his island prison to renew his quest for control of the Continent.

Gerard has no qualms about using dangerous magic to support his ambitions, so Kit and the crew of her ship, the Diana, are the natural choice to find him—and help stop him. But then Kit’s path unexpectedly crosses with that of the dashing and handsome Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, who’s working undercover on the Continent in his own efforts to stop Gerard. And he’s not the only person Kit is surprised to see. An old enemy has arisen, and the power he’ll wield on Gerard’s behalf is beautiful and terrible. Sparks will fly and sails will flutter as Kit and crew are cast into the seas of adventure to fight for queen and country.

I read the first in this series purely on the strength of how much I enjoy Neill’s other series; the premise of this one didn’t appeal to me on the surface, but so many of my UF series have either finished, or just take a long tome between books.  I’m glad I did – I really enjoyed the first one, and when I saw this one was out, I snatched it up.

A Swift and Savage Tide takes up where A Bright and Breaking Sea left off.  The easiest way to describe the premise is to call it an alternate reality where magic exists but is banned from use; Napoleon by any other name is still Napoleon, and the Great Briton by any other name is still the UK.  In this reality, women are equals to men on the sea, and captain Kit Brightling is a well respected and daring captain of the Diana.  Or course there’s a romantic interest, and of course he’s a Viscount, but he’s a reluctant one (of course) and more interested in serving his queen in his capacity of Colonel in the army, but his intelligence work puts him on the Diana and he and Kit have to work together to hunt down a threat they thought was dead before he destroys the Queen’s navy and invades.

There’s nothing deep here, except perhaps the sea they sail on.  It’s just a rollicking good time, with likeable characters, a decent plot, and the kind of well-written atmosphere one can escape into and lose some time in.  As with all Neill’s series, I enjoy the camaraderie the characters share, and healthy relationships abound, with a delightful lack of nemesis’.  I was sorry when it ended, and I hope it won’t be too long before the third one comes out.