Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?
BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.
Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.
Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?
REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.
I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.
However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.
Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.
My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.
Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.
This week I’ve read:- World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.
Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation? This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow 10/10
Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver
Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.
Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies? I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome. 7/10
AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker
A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.
But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet… This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors. 9/10
Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.
Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war. This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure. 9/10
The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.
Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead. This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended. 10/10
Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.
Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong? Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change. 9/10
Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.
Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves? This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow. 10/10
I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and decided to treat myself with this third slice in Dina’s adventures with Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn…
Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.
Dina has proved herself to be resourceful and powerful – particularly when in her magical inn, as evidenced by the last eventful adventure in Sweep in Peace – see my review here. So the trick is to produce a scenario where she is under threat right in the heart of her stronghold – what about when a smelly, ramshackle alien lurches onto the property pleading for sanctuary? What if this desperate creature is being pursued by a horde of fanatical aliens who believe their path to everlasting life and glory is to run down the first species, the Hiru, until they are extinct? And they will stop at nothing to get to them…
We also get to learn more about Dina’s background as another family member surfaces, bringing with her a familiar guest. I always enjoy it when characters we’ve known from previous adventures reappear – especially when we see another side to them, as is the case with a certain vampire who featured in the last book. Yet another favourite character who also heavily features in this book is the Alpha werewolf, Sean. Dina has been attracted to her neighbour for some time, but innkeeping has been rather hectic recently, so she hasn’t had much opportunity to give those feelings a chance. However, when desperately battling for her very existence, she and Sean find those feelings become intensified. This romance between the two of them is well handled, to the extent that even cynical old me felt an ‘ahh’ moment when they sorted out their feelings for one another.
Once again, I found it very difficult to put this one down before the end. I love this series – it goes on delivering one storming read after another. As for those smelly, downtrodden aliens – there was a wonderful moment of true poignancy near the end that was magical. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever enjoyed an urban fantasy or space opera adventure, given this is a glorious mash-up of the two. Now, I’m just waiting for the next book in the series…
This sequel to the intriguing The Secrets of Life and Death follows the same format – a dual narrative in the viewpoint of Edward Kelley, former assistant to the famous Dr John Dee; and the contemporary strand in the voice of Jackdaw Hammond. Does this book build on the promise of the first one?
Venice, 16th century. Having undertaken a mission of the upmost discretion, occultist and scholar Edward Kelley finds the answers he seeks are more perilous than can be believed, and his ultimate salvation means confronting the darkest deeds of his past.
England, 21st century. Running from her past and hiding from her future, Jackdaw Hammond inherits an old house in the middle of nowhere. But her fresh start is threatened by a wild magic similar to her own. The legacy of Edward Kelley remains, and with their fates inexorably intertwined the battle for Jackdaw’s soul has just begun.
While you don’t have to have read the first book – see my review here – it certainly helped that I was already bonded to Jack and wanted her to succeed. This strand packs a punch – the overgrown cottage and rampant garden immediately caught my attention, as well as the fate of the previous owner… Alexander’s pacing and characterisation is more sure-footed in this book as we, once more, untangle a murder mystery and learn another aspect of supernatural creatures existing alongside the rest of us. While Jackdaw finds herself steadily changing as a consequence of actions that happened at the end of the first book.
I really enjoyed the progression of the characters throughout the book – Alexander is very good at following through the consequences of her protagonists’ adventures, which gives an interesting edge to this fantasy. The story took several completely unexpected twists, which had me hooked. The antagonists were also written with more immediacy – there was a constant sense of threat that steadily grew throughout the book, giving the climax a real punch.
Meanwhile, Edward Kelley is also following coping with the fallout resulting in his own actions as his studies lead him to Venice. His observations of Venetian life at the height of the city state’s power are enjoyable as he finds himself sucked into yet another scheme by a powerful family who need his skills.
As for the ending – well I certainly didn’t see that coming! It was a strong unexpected conclusion to a really enjoyable, outstanding read.