The Family Upstairs

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Genre: mystery
I read it as a(n): hardback
Length: 338 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Libby Jones has always known she was adopted. But upon her 25th birthday, she discovers she is apparently the sole remaining inheritor to a very large home in London’s posh Chelsea neighborhood. She also learns that her birth parents hadn’t really died in a car crash; they committed suicide in a cult. As Libby discovers more and more about her family’s dark history, with the help of a friendly investigative journalist, she finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that could alter her entire life.

This was a fun piece of brain candy. It’s the second I’ve read by Lisa Jewell and so far I’ve enjoyed them both. I didn’t think there was a ton of character development but that’s ok. It’s a plot driven story and super in depth characters with a lot of growth throughout the book isn’t necessary for this to be a good read.

I’ve always been fascinated by cults except the cult of personality surrounding a certain orange former president. I know there are plenty of smart people who get sucked into cults so it’s weird to me how otherwise intelligent people can buy into shit like that. The cult in this story was small – just one disgusting but charismatic man and a few couples and small families – but the dynamics and deterioration from normal into crazy was horrifying and interesting all the same. Cults, man. They’re fucking weird.

Anyway, I liked the book, I’d read more by this author, and it was a nice diversion for a long weekend.

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A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 446 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this third instalment of Marillier’s Warrior Bards series once again gives readers several separate but connected plots, woven together as skillfully as any Celtic knot. In one, Prince Aolu and his bodyguard Galen are attacked simultaneously by humans and Crow Folk. Galen is badly injured and Aolu disappears. As a result, Dau leads a team from Swan Island, the elite and secret warrior training site, to aid in the search for Aolu. Liobhan is excluded from the initial team because of her relationship with Dau but also because Galen is her brother; she can’t be unbiased as a Swan Island warrior ought to be in this case. Adding to the intrigue is Brocc, the half-fey brother of Liobhan and Galen, who is exiled from the Otherworld and Eirne’s side, along with their daughter Niamh. Brocc’s crime, according to his Elf Queen wife, was trying to understand and help the Crow Folk, whom Brocc believes are not evil but are lost and damaged in some way. 

This one was interesting because we got to see Liobhan in a leadership role unlike anything else she’s done so far. Initially, she is the warrior primarily in charge of training a new recruit, Elka, to Swan Island. Later, she is put in charge of her own team on a mission. Liobhan being who she is, though, she quickly takes the mission on a whole new path after she and Elka see a vision in which Brocc is attempting to turn the Crow Folk into an army that he can control. Liobhan changes the mission without giving the full details to her elders, risking her position on the Island entirely. 

Dau is also growing as a person. He, too, was placed in charge of the initial team to be sent from the Island to search for Aolu. When they arrive at Winterfells, the prince’s home, Dau finds Galen, who is being tended by his and Liobhan’s healer mother Blackthorn, ready to tear off on his own to search for Aolu. Galen believes – rightly as it turns out – that the prince is in the Otherworld and he is determined to find him, with or without help. 

Brocc, meanwhile, is in shock from being banished by his wife, the Elf Queen Eirne. She exiled their infant daughter with him, so Brocc is struggling to care for her in the middle of nowhere and while still attempting to connect with Shadow, one of the Crow Folk he had helped rescue in the previous novel. Brocc knows there is more to the Crow Folk than mindless violence and evil. His actions highlight the optimism and compassion displayed by the best of humanity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it didn’t grip me as strongly as the previous one, A Dance with Fate, did. I liked the scenes with Brocc a lot more in this one since he mainly wasn’t dealing with Eirne, a character I really dislike. It’s good when characters are varied enough that there is a fairly central figure that you just can’t stand, but I found Eirne to be so irritating that I caught myself skimming the sections set in the Otherworld too quickly if she was in a scene. That wasn’t an issue in this book. 

Marillier left plenty of room for more books in the series, and I hope she does continue it! I think my favorite single book of hers is Daughter of the Forest, but my favorite overall series was Blackthorn and Grim. I love that they are still woven into the Warrior Bards stories as well. I look forward to whatever she decides to give her readers next!

A Dance with Fate

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 491 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second installation in Marillier’s Warrior Bards series begins with a fighting competition and tragic accident. Liobhan, daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, and Dau, both Swan Island warriors, are participating in a training exercise when Dau slips, hits his head hard, and wakes up blind. Dau’s father, a local chieftain, blames Liobhan and demands that she serve a year as a bonded servant in his household as payment, along with a handsome sum of silver coins. Liobhan readily agrees to that, even though she knows Dau’s blindness was an accident. Dau’s father insists, too, that he be returned to his family home to be cared for. This is a problem since Dau’s family, in particular his older brothers, are sick twists who love to hurt people. Going to his family’s home is the very last thing on earth Dau wants to do. But his chieftain father prevails and Dau is packed off home along with Liobhan, who is already being treated like a slave. During their time there, Dau and Liobhan have to learn to navigate the family dynamics, survive their abuse, and in the process, uncover a deep and dangerous secret involving the Crow Folk.

I have yet to read a book by Juliet Marillier that I don’t like. There are some I like more than others but I unreservedly recommend all of her books to anyone who likes the historical fantasy genre. This one was another hit for me. I liked the way the character development happened, especially with Dau. I thought it was interesting how he learned to adapt to his new circumstances and how his Swan Island training carried him through even the worst times. Seeing very strong characters like him and Liobhan become more vulnerable is always a thought provoking experience for readers. 

This novel was told from the POV of Liobhan, Dau, and Liobhan’s brother Brocc, who lives in the Otherworld, married to the queen of the fae. I generally enjoy when stories alternate perspectives like that, and this was no different. I didn’t like the parts with the Otherworld as much as in the “real” world, I think because I just don’t like the queen, Eirne, at all. I do think Brocc is an interesting figure and love that his voice can be a weapon or a balm. I like, too, Rowan and True. But unless the Otherworld time was primarily with those three, I didn’t care much for those characters or what happens to them, mainly because Eirne is such a dick. I suppose that is a sign of good writing, though, that I feel so strongly about a fictional character! 

I’m off to read the third book in this series, A Song of Flight. I hope Marillier writes a new book soon. I get so happy when I get to read her work!

Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Genre: sci-fi

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 482 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The planet Hyperion is under threat, partly from a brewing interstellar war and mainly from the Shrike, a quasi-mythical creature from the planet’s Time Tombs. The Church of the Shrike allows a certain number of pilgrims each year to make a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs and to make a wish to the Shrike. However, given the war and the fact that the Shrike is now loose and wreaking murderous havoc on Hyperion, only one last group of pilgrims will be permitted. Seven people with wildly different backgrounds have been selected to travel on the final pilgrimage. Along the way, they share their stories of what led them to be selected.

This book is basically The Canterbury Tales in space, so naturally I really liked it. As with the Tales, there were some stories I found to be more interesting than others and one I just didn’t really get. I think my favorites were Sol Weintraub’s and Brawne Lamia’s. Probably my least favorite was the Consul’s. Everyone else’s was fun and interesting to varying degrees. 

Giving the characters their turns to tell a story allowed Simmons to give more depth to each character than maybe he could have if he had simply told a story from 3rd person omniscient. I liked the different narrators and think he did a great job with creating a unique voice for each pilgrim. 

I had a hard time picturing some things in the settings, though. Like farcasters. Are they like doors but you go through and go to a different planet? And the actual planetary settings never quite gelled in my head either. Maybe I was distracted when reading parts of this or something but I wanted more in that regard. “New Earth” doesn’t mean much to me. Is it a place just like Earth or is it just called that because that’s where humans landed after Earth Actual was destroyed? 

Similarly, I wanted a little more depth on the politics of the story. Maybe there is more detail in the second book but I wanted to know more about all the machinations, how the AIs and Ousters fit in (and who WERE the Ousters? Are they other humans who want nothing to do with the Hegemony? Aliens? If they’re humans, why are they apparently so much more advanced than the other humans?), and why there was a spy. I actually feel like it might have been better to leave at least some of these things out entirely and just focus on the pilgrims but then it would make one pilgrim’s story less relevant. 

The things I felt were lacking, like an actual resolution to the plot once the pilgrims get to the Time Tombs, can be overlooked if you figure the journey rather than the destination is the important part. But even with a plot that is supposed to span across a few books, I feel like each book ought to have a solid conclusion that leaves readers largely satisfied if they choose not to continue the series. I do feel somewhat unsatisfied with the ending since they arrived at the Tombs and then…what? We don’t get to find out. I did truly enjoy the book, but it left me hanging and that makes me crazy. 

This was actually the first book by Simmons that I’ve read but I have a couple of his others. I’m looking forward to those as well. I thought I had read Hyperion years ago but even with my forgetfulness, I don’t think I ever did actually read it. I’m glad I did, not just because it’s basically a sci-fi requirement but because it really was a fun story. I’m trying to go back through a lot of the sci-fi from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I missed and this was one of them. 
Now I’m trying to decide whether I should read the rest of the books in the trilogy or whether I should let it go and actually read more from my ridiculous TBR pile. Being who I am, I’ll probably buy the books and let them sit in my TBR for years before getting around to them, like I did with Hyperion in the first place. LOL.

Bigass Catch-Up Round

I have been extremely lazy about blogging and book reviews lately. I am not sure why, but I am going to try to be better. My goal has always been to do a review for every book I read even if not one person reads my blog, so I’ve clearly failed at that recently. But I am also way too lazy to do a full review for… let me count… 19 different books. So I’mma rush through! Yay, slipshod blogging!

Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre

Genre: fantasy

Length: 9:41:00

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fantasy set on a ruined Earth, Snake is a healer who, through the ignorance of others, loses one of her most effective and rare instruments of healing. This is the story of her quest to find another. The narrator was a little meh for me but despite that, this ended up on my “top books of 2022” list. 

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

Genre: sci-fi

Length: 112 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Restless wanderer meets outdated but sentient robot and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Lots of themes to unpack, including LGBT/ace relationships, hate crimes, and what it means to be human.

Children of Men by PD James

Genre: sci-fi

Length: 241 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The youngest person on the planet is now in their 20s because no one can have babies anymore. Aside from the idea that not having so many freaking babies would be a good idea right now, this was one of the most boring books I ever actually completed. 
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Star Trek Coda: Moments Asunder, The Ashes of Tomorrow, and Oblivion’s Gate

Moments Asunder (MA) by Dayton Ward; The Ashes of Tomorrow (AoT) by James Swallow; Oblivion’s Gate (OG) by David Mack

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperbacks

Source: my own collection 

Length: 368 (MA), 368 (AoT), and 448 (OG)

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

**There are spoilers below. You have been warned.**

Before beginning my own review, I think it would be helpful to share this exceptional, self-described “high speed crash course” summary of all the relevant Lit-verse post-series relaunch novels that lead up to the events depicted in the Coda trilogy. 

Have you finished reading that now? I hope so, because there is no way I can summarise all of the relaunch novels, and certainly not as nicely as Alvaro Zinoas-Amaro did up there. 

Given that there was not any new TV or film material to build on, it made sense that the post-series books would attain a life of their own. What followed was a vastly complex, intertwined mingling of stories, series, and characters that developed further the massive fanwank litverse of Star Trek. But then Star Trek: Picard began and it became clear that the relaunch books no longer bore any resemblance to the official canon of Trek. This Coda trilogy was designed to wrap up all the various relaunch storylines that sprang into existence in the 20 or so years since the end of all the Trek series. 

Fucking finally.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Star Trek in just about any form I can get it. That held true – and still holds true – for the rich litverse as well. But OMG, you guys, I’m so sick of the massive, overarching, crossover, mingled serial plots. I actually started feeling a little resentful that I had to read nearly every Trek novel after a certain point just to keep up with the story, even if it wasn’t a series that I really wanted to read about. 

With the conclusion of the relaunch books, I devoutly hope that it signals a return to the single story format. One book equals one story. I miss the old numbered paperbacks. I could read those when I wanted, in whatever order I wanted, could skip books from my less-beloved series if I wanted, and never missed out on any part of the actual necessary plot. There have been a couple episodic novels fairly recently, and they were awesome. Dear Star Trek authors – please, PLEASE return to episodic novels, even if the various TV series don’t. 

That said, I am very much looking forward to new Trek books, ESPECIALLY Discovery and Strange New Worlds. I’m digging Disco right now and am pumped for SNW. Anson Mount’s Capt. Pike is fucking awesome. 

So. The books. First thing to note, for anyone who hasn’t yet read these, nothing is sacred and not one single character is safe. 

Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward started the trilogy off, setting the stage for a cataclysmic disaster involving the very existence of time itself. The Devideans – remember the weird glowy dudes from the “Time’s Arrow” episodes in 1800s San Francisco? They’re back – have figured out how to feed not only on specific periods of time where there were a lot of people suffering. They figured out how to destroy entire universes and timelines to feed on an infinite number of people. 

Wesley is central to alerting Picard about the Devideans. His powers as a Traveler are the main reason the rest of Starfleet learns about the threat to their existence. Of course, it wouldn’t be normal if everyone believed Wesley or Picard immediately, so they have some work to do. Ezri Dax and her crew, along with all of Deep Space Nine, witness firsthand the Devideans and the creatures they’ve created, the phased serpent-like Nagas, and how a mere touch from a Naga can instantly age anything to death, from ships and metal to sentient beings. Naturally, Picard et al. are going to want to fight that.

Moving into The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, readers get the rising action and honestly, I blew through this book in about 3 days. It was fast paced and exciting. Picard and Wesley head to Starfleet HQ to convince Admiral Akaar and President Kellessar zh’Tarash but are floored when everyone wants to take a wait-and-see approach. Like, they are literally running out of time period, let alone time to do anything, so wait-and-see is a really stupid idea. Naturally, Picard takes matters into his own hands, aided along the way by the likes of Benjamin Sisko, Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres, Odo, Quark, Miles O’Brien, and many others we’ve seen over the years. 

Their plan? They figure out that the Devideans are using the Bajoran wormhole as a staging ground for their temporal incursions into this timeline. So naturally, the plan is to close the wormhole. Permanently. At both ends. Beyond that, they actually need to totally destroy it. You can imagine what that means to the Bajorans who view the wormhole as their Celestial Temple and the home of their gods. 

Throughout AoT and Oblivion’s Gate, Rear Admiral William Riker goes completely off his nut. At first, readers assume it’s just because he’s righteously pissed that Picard not only went rogue but that he talked a shitload of other people into going along with his plan. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Riker is suffering some kind of bad effects of the weird temporal shifts caused by the Devideans, resulting in what is termed Temporal Multiple Personality Disorder. Worf is also affected, but he is cured through a mind meld with none other than Ambassador Spock. 

In the final book of the trilogy, Oblivion’s Gate, the mission becomes desperate. Multiple timelines are at play and the mission now is to shut down a splinter timeline that never should have happened. Doing so will prevent the Devideans not only from feasting on the neural energy of billions of sentient beings, but also from annihilating time itself. To accomplish their mission, Picard and friends have to find the core of the Devideans’ temporal base, sync it with the timeline that shouldn’t exist, and obliterate the core. Oh, also, Kira Nerys has to take the Orb of Time into the Bajoran wormhole, which is always a good time. And K’Ehleyr is there, too! When they go to the Mirror Universe for help. Because that happens, too. K’Ehleyr is fucking awesome. One of my favourite lines in the trilogy was about her: “This is what it means to be Klingon. To savor the cries of my enemies and feel their blood on my faceMy Klingon ancestors would be proud. … She let go of her life, aglow with pride. Prepare a feast, heroes of Sto-Vo-Kor – a family of warriors is coming (Mack 379-380). 

Overall, I think Ward, Swallow, and Mack did a great job wrapping up the relaunch books with this trilogy. Of the three, my least favourite was the first, Moments Asunder. I love Star Trek and normally I don’t mind Dayton Ward’s writing, but the first probably 75% of MA was just a total slog for me to get through. It was just so boring. I almost didn’t bother to pick up the rest of the trilogy. It only picked up the pace in the last quarter or so, and mainly because he killed off Ezri Dax. I’m glad I DID finish reading the trilogy, though, because as I mentioned earlier, Swallow’s contribution was action-packed and fun, and Mack’s was similarly fast-paced and also really touching. 

In the end, I think the only thing I would have done differently would have been to find a way not to have to collapse the splinter timeline. It is Star Trek, after all. Amazing, 11th-hour rescues full of technobabble and marvels of engineering should always happen in Star Trek. 

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter when, how, or whether it’s expected. It hurts every time.

Mona at Sea

mona at seaMona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James (Website)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Setting: Tucson, AZ

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Aida Reluzco

Source: public library

Length: 08:02:00

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mona Mireles is a 23-year-old recent grad. She has her degree in finance from U of A in hand and a posh job lined up in NYC. Then the recession hit and Mona, like millions of other people, found herself jobless and living back at home with her parents. Cue the angst and entitlement.

I don’t like to be hard on authors, especially debut authors. It is scary to put a large piece of yourself out there for all and sundry to read. It takes a lot of bravery. But this book… there was not one character I cared about, most of them I outright disliked, and it kind of highlights many of the reasons why so many people don’t care much for Millennials. 

Mona is a whiny little bitch for all of this book. She seems to think she deserves to get her dream job right out of college, with zero actual working experience in her field. She whines that she HAD a job lined up but it evaporated when the recession hit. So instead of her fancy job as a hedge fund whatever, she winds up with a minimum wage job at a call center trying to talk people into giving a donation to some charity or other, which she thinks she is too good for. Guess what, peaches? Same thing happened to millions of people, most of whom probably had a lot more usable experience than you. I hate to be insensitive, or sound like a Republican, but you’re not special and the world owes you fuck-all. 

To deal with her angst, Mona likes to do self-harm. She cuts her thighs, where it is easy to hide. But since art is her True Calling, not finance that she just spent 4 years in college working towards (and honestly, how did she go from art to finance? There was very little discussion on that, so it felt like a Plot Twist for the Sake of a Plot Twist), she doesn’t just cut. She is carving a Mona Lisa face into her leg. So, ok. I have no experience with cutting and to my knowledge, none of my friends ever did either. But I have read other books dealing with self-harm by authors who are open about their own self-harm experience. This read more like it was written by someone with a weird vicarious interest in cutting rather than by someone who actually knows what she’s talking about. If I’m wrong, then I am sorry; I do not mean to belittle her trauma. But I just don’t buy it as written. She made it sound cute. If the author has a history of self-harm and this is how she refers to it in her own head, ok. But if not, then it seems really patronizing to those people who do have issues with self-harm and it feels like it minimizes their pain and experience.

All of the characters were shallow and uninteresting in general. I didn’t really find any of them that believable. Maybe I just didn’t care about the plot and that translated into not caring about the characters. I don’t know. Either way, this one wasn’t my cup of tea.

Read Harder 2022!

Here it is! The new Read Harder 2022 reading challenge! I confess that I fully blew off the 2021 RH challenge. I’ll post that in a few days, but I barely made a dent in that list. But here is the new list and, as always, I really like trying to figure out what books I will read for each task. I try to make it more feminist and find a book written by a woman for each task as well. Maybe I’ll do what I can to complete it with as many SFF books as possible this time. That would be fun! So would using books I already own to complete the challenge. Wouldn’t that be something? Seeing what I plan to read versus what I actually end up reading is always interesting to me. 

Hidden below the cut since my list is fucking long. One day, I will be found buried under my giant pile of books.

book pile

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I Wish You All the Best

i wish you all the bestI Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver (Website | IG)

Genre: YA/ contemporary fiction

Setting: Raleigh area, NC

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my daughter’s collection 

Length: 329 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Deaver’s novel centers 17-year-old Benjamin, a nonbinary kid living in the suburbs of Raleigh. When they finally work up the nerve to tell their parents they’re nonbinary, their parents flip the fuck out and kick them out of the house. In that instant. Without shoes or a jacket on, even though it’s winter and snowing out. Ben manages to call Hannah, their estranged older sister, who comes and gets Ben and takes them to her house. She and her husband, Thomas, a local school teacher, take Ben under their wing, get them enrolled in Thomas’s school for the last semester of high school, and get them into some therapy for the traumas caused by their parents. During all this, Ben makes new friends, including Nathan. At first, Ben thinks Nathan is a little too much but as the months pass, their feelings for him change into something else. 

This book is a great look at several social issues and the impact they can have on families. Mostly the impact is brought about by intolerant, asshole parents. And crappy society. And mostly well-meaning but clueless people. Ben’s world is shattered by the way their parents treated them. They don’t feel they can be who they truly are, which is a sad state of affairs for anyone. We all want to be loved and accepted for who we truly are, not for how others want us to be. I do not have any experience similar to Ben’s but it seems like it was handled extremely well. It was visceral. I don’t know anything about the author beyond the fact that Deaver is also nonbinary, but I hope their writing doesn’t come from first-hand experience. I wish people would just be kind to each other. 

I also really liked how Deaver handled Ben’s mental health. They suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, and panic attacks. At times, these manifest in an inability for Ben to say anything other than “Yeah” or “Okay,” and sometimes nothing at all. It can be really frustrating to witness that, but also understandable. I myself have been frozen in social situations before. It blows. 

Now for some things I didn’t care for as much. Hannah. She’s Ben’s much older sister and she took off when she was 18. I don’t blame her for that since her and Ben’s parents seem awful. I don’t even blame her for not thinking it through when she left her number for Ben to call, not realizing that a 10 year old child wouldn’t be able to call her without their parents finding out. I DO blame her for not reaching out later, when she was older and hopefully wiser. I think just bailing out of Ben’s life like that was a shitty thing to do, especially knowing what kind of parents they had. I think it is even worse that she seems to have actually forgotten him entirely for a span of several years. I’m glad she stepped up and is able to help Ben when they need it the most, but I don’t know that it makes up much for her absence in the years preceding. 

The secondary characters were kind of, well. Boring. Hannah was overbearing, Thomas was mostly a blank slate, and the school friends, even Nathan, were all sort of interchangeable to an extent. 

Also, things seemed to work out remarkably well in the end. I know this is fiction and it is nice when the characters who deserve it get good things. But it also seemed simplistic and not realistic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m GLAD it worked out as it did and I think Ben deserves everything good that happened. I just also think real life rarely works that way and it didn’t set well with me for some reason. Maybe we will get to see more of Ben and company in later books that could explore more deeply. A lot of this book felt like setting up and introducing characters. 

This is maybe a silly thing to nitpick, but I think the book should have had some resources included for people, especially teens, who are struggling with their gender identity, how to find safe places or mental health help, suicide crisis hotlines, and so forth. So, I will include one. One of my work friends started a nonprofit organization for helping LGBTQIA+ kids (they focus on kids ages 11-22). It is called Scaffolding Youth and is a fairly new but growing organization. It seems awesome, helpful, hopeful, and can connect kids with strong advocates. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, even though it’s a YA and I hardly ever read YA anymore. I have too many adult books to read to go back to high school, but I read this one because my daughter asked me if I would read it. I’m trying to read more books that she reads as well so we can talk about them. But I’m glad I read this and I think it’s really important that we have books that are representative. Diversity is vital. I definitely recommend this book, and also that everyone go and find other representative and diverse books when you’re done with this one.

Also, the correct answer is waffles.

The Deadliest Sin

the deadliest sinThe Deadliest Sin by Jeri Westerson (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: medieval mystery

Setting: 14th century London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 321 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In this 15th (and final) novel in the Crispin Guest medieval noir series, Crispin and his apprentice Jack Tucker are hired to help the prioress of a convent discover who is behind a series of grisly murders of her nuns. They each appear to be related to the Seven Deadly Sins, begging the question of what the victims really had to hide. At the same time, Henry Bolingbroke, the exiled son of John of Gaunt, has returned to England with an army at his back. Crispin once again finds himself in a position where he has to decide whether to support the crowned king or to commit treason again, possibly paying for it with his life this time. 

For the past 15ish years, readers have followed along on adventures with Crispin Guest, former knight and lord of the realm, disenfranchised for treason when he threw in his lot with the supporters of John of Gaunt over King Richard II. He’s gone from being angry and bitter to content and even happy and loving his role as the indulgent head of a very rowdy house full of Jack’s children. He has learned that he is quite able to make a decent life for himself through his tracking skills, and has earned the appreciation of many Londoners by helping them. Certainly, he has done more good for the citizens than the sheriffs ever did, which makes him smug. So it has been fun to watch his progression over the years. 

Same with Jack. He went from being a 10 year old mongrel street urchin who seemed to be on a glide path to the gallows for thievery to a competent apprentice tracker, loving husband, and fun loving father. His character arc was almost as big as Crispin’s and it has been a joy to see how he’s grown over the years. 

Yes, these characters feel real to me. 

The mystery in this novel was a fun and twisty one, full of murder and theft and nuns! With! Secrets! It would have been a great read on its own, but I was so focused on all the stuff with Henry Bolingbroke and Richard II that the mystery sort of fell to the wayside with me on this one. Not because it wasn’t good or anything. I just wanted to know how it would all end! After the mystery was solved, I found myself covering up any part of the page I hadn’t read yet so that I wouldn’t accidentally read too far ahead and spoil myself. I think that is a mark of a terrific story. 

I could tell you how it ended. I could tell you what I thought about it. But then maybe you wouldn’t go out and read these books for yourself, and that would truly be a loss for you. I realllllly think you should read them all. You won’t be sorry you did and then, when you get to this book, you will be on tenterhooks to see what new awful thing Westerson might do to poor Crispin! And then you can mourn the last book in the series. And then you can go out and be excited to read the other books Westerson already has, and look forward to the new Tudor series she’s got in the works!