Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline WinspearPardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs, #3) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #3
Pages: 342
Published by Picador on June 27th 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London 1930, psychologist investigator Maisie Dobbs must prove Sir Cedric's aviator son Ralph Lawton died when shot down in 1917. In former battlefields of France, she re-unites with Priscilla Evernden, one of whose three brothers lost in the War is somehow connected. The case tests Maisie's spiritual strength and her regard for mentor Maurice Blanche.

My Review:

As part of the lead in to March’s Month of Maisie Readalong I get to dip into the earlier tales of Maisie’s adventures in preparation for reading her newest story, In This Grave Hour, in the middle of Maisie month.

Pardonable Lies was Maisie’s third outing, and even though it is set in 1930, the clouds of World War II are already looming over the horizon. And even though the meat of her case here concerns the Great War now over a decade in the past, it is the oncoming storm that adds the element of danger to her current affairs.

This is also a story about secrets and lies. Not just the kind of military secrets that dog Maisie through this investigation, but also the secrets that we keep in the belief that they protect others, and the lies that we tell ourselves, in the hope that we can prevent more pain.

It is also a story about growing up. Because part of growing up is seeing our elders, our parents and teachers and mentors, as fallible human beings just like ourselves. We reach that point where we see them less as above us and more as our equals. And often, as in Maisie’s case in Pardonable Lies, we come to that point when we discover that our trust in them has been betrayed.

As is frequently the case with Maisie, she is actually working on more than one case during this story. Two of those cases have definite similarities, as they are both missing persons cases leftover from the late war. And Maisie makes the third case tie into one of the other two. There are no coincidences in Maisie’s worldview. When things seem coincidental, as in the two missing persons cases, she views it as the cosmos telling her that she has unresolved issues that will be illuminated in the investigations.

And so it goes. Two families want her to find the final resting place of their lost soldier boys. Actually, flyer boys, as both young men were in the fledgling RAF. A respected barrister made his wife a deathbed promise that he would determine, once and for all, whether their lost son truly died in his plane crash or whether he survived, as his mother always believed.

Maisie’s friend Phyllis Evernden wants Maisie to find out how and where her brother Patrick died. She knows that he’s dead, but now that her own sons are growing up and starting to resemble her lost brothers, she feels the need for closure. She remembers that her parents were notified of his death, but nothing about the circumstances. And now she needs to know.

The cases both lead Maisie back to France. She served as a battlefield nurse, and left too many friends and loved ones behind. She’s worked hard to put it all behind her, but mostly she has just been running as fast as she can to evade the grief and the memories. She knows that returning to the scene of her own devastation is going to bring up things she would rather stayed buried.

Much as both of these cases will resurrect things that other people would prefer she left buried. Especially her now elderly mentor, Maurice Blanche, who returns with Maisie to France with his own hidden agenda.

And someone is trying to kill her. But due to which case? What rock has she turned over that someone will kill to leave unturned?

Escape Rating A: I always look forward to March and Maisie Month. It gives me a terrific excuse to dive into the archives of this series as well as look forward at the latest book. As always, the early book is a treat, as I get to discover where some of the later events took root.

In this particular case, that root is Maisie’s reluctant involvement with the British Secret Service in Journey to Munich. In Pardonable Lies, two of her cases have delved into national secrets that would be better left buried, and the Secret Service as well as her mentor try to divert her attention and make her take the easy way out.

The problem is that the secrets aren’t really buried. They aren’t even dead yet. The spies see the war coming and are all too aware that they will have to mobilize as many of their assets from the last war as are still available (i.e. alive). Maisie’s investigation jeopardizes past, present and future secrets.

The title of this story is very apropos. Maisie normally tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to her clients. In these cases she is caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. Because of official secrets, she cannot tell her friend Phyllis the whole, entire truth about her brother.

In the case of her other client, the barrister, Maisie discovers the truth that he fears, and that he does not want to hear at any cost. And it is a truth that hurts much less than the lie he wants to believe.

And Maisie herself discovers that the many pardonable lies that her mentor has told her over the years of her apprenticeship may not be pardonable after all. The revelations that arise during this case make Maisie re-think both their past and their future association.

Only one case gets Maisie’s usual whole truth; the case of a young prostitute accused of murdering her pimp. The rush to justice on the part of the police, and their willingness to ignore any and all mitigating or contradictory evidence in order to punish this young woman makes readers see both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society. Only Maisie, is willing to believe that this woman might be innocent. And only Maisie is willing to delve into the truth to see that justice is actually done.

But in the process of these investigations, we finally see Maisie lay her own ghosts to their deserved rest. It’s an important part of the development of her character, and it is time for her to move on.

As do we. The latest book in the Maisie Dobbs series is In This Grave Hour. I am very much looking forward to reading and reviewing it next month.

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Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer RyanThe Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Crown Publishing Group on February 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!"
As England enters World War II's dark early days, spirited music professor Primrose Trent, recently arrived to the village of Chilbury, emboldens the women of the town to defy the Vicar's stuffy edict to shutter the church's choir in the absence of men and instead 'carry on singing'. Resurrecting themselves as "The Chilbury Ladies' Choir", the women of this small village soon use their joint song to lift up themselves, and the community, as the war tears through their lives.
Told through letters and journals, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir moves seamlessly from budding romances to village intrigues to heartbreaking matters of life and death. As we come to know the struggles of the charismatic members of this unforgettable outfit -- a timid widow worried over her son at the front; the town beauty drawn to a rakish artist; her younger sister nursing an impossible crush and dabbling in politics she doesn't understand; a young Jewish refugee hiding secrets about her family, and a conniving midwife plotting to outrun her seedy past -- we come to see how the strength each finds in the choir's collective voice reverberates in her individual life.
In turns funny, charming and heart-wrenching, this lovingly executed ensemble novel will charm and inspire, illuminating the true spirit of the women on the home front, in a village of indomitable spirit, at the dawn of a most terrible conflict.

My Review:

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is the lovely and immersive story of a small coastal village in England during the early years of World War II. The story is told entirely through the letters and diaries of the members of the choir as they navigate the changes that have arrived in their little town in the wake of war.

The first change is the one that gives the choir both its name and its purpose. Chilbury is a small town. All the young men and even middle-aged men are gone. Only the very old and the very young are left. The local vicar, on that side of very old, comes to the traditional conclusion that without any men, without any tenors, baritones and basses, the church choir will have to disband for the duration.

The new music teacher disagrees. There is no reason why the women can’t make a choir of their own, with music altered to fit their soaring soprano and alto voices. And so it begins.

The ladies of the choir, at first hesitant to do something so completely nontraditional, discover that their voices have not been stilled. If anything, their voices have been amplified and expanded by the war, as they are left to take up all the tasks that are still required by village life, jobs that used to be filled by men.

As tradition falls by the wayside, so do many of the social restrictions that governed daily life, and more important for women before the war, the rigors of strict respectability. Things that were simply “not done” are now done all the time, whether that’s work at the nearby government installations or take up with a dodgy artist who claims to be too infirm to enlist.

Their world has been turned on its head, yet they soldier (and sing) on, even as they receive black-bordered telegraphs from the front and as bombs fall on their tiny town.

We view the early years of the war and the remaining denizens of the village through their eyes. Young Kitty Winthrop’s diary, and her older sister Venetia’s letters to a friend in London speak of the mundane and the tragic. We see their still simmering sibling rivalry, we experience almost-fourteen-year-old Kitty’s stops and starts at growing up. We experience the tragedy of Venetia’s love affair through her letters, and observe her through Kitty’s eyes as she changes from a self-absorbed vamp-wannabe to a grown woman who finally matures.

Through the letters of the local midwife and the diary of the local nurse, we see a great swindle unfold. And we see crime finally turned into triumph.

We see all the woman grow and change and expand into their new roles, into this frightening new world. And in the midst of so many tragedies, we see them rise along with their voices.

Escape Rating A: I think that a lot of readers are doing to compare The Chilbury Ladies Choir to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and from the looks of things there certainly are similarities. Enough so that I feel the need to get a copy of Guernsey, which I haven’t read. Yet.

One big difference is that Guernsey takes place after the war, so the characters are reflecting on what happened rather than experiencing it fresh. Chilbury is contemporaneous, we read the letters and diaries as they are being written. We find ourselves in the middle of these characters lives, watching them change and grow. We learn about Kitty and Venetia’s family life by what they write, not by an omniscient narrator telling us that their father the local squire is a bully and a brute who abuses them and their mother. They write about what they feel as it happens, and we watch them try to avoid and justify and self-efface and cower in an attempt to survive. We feel their confusion and triumph as he finally gets put in his place.

We see half the women in the village experience some variation of his bullying and brutality, and cheer when someone finds a way to stand up to him and make it stick.

This is kind of a gentle story, in spite of the war. Some of the women experience tragedy, but because of the epistolary nature of the story, the blood and guts are not described, not even when the village is bombed. But the emotional tsunami in the aftermath is experienced again and again.

In a way, not a lot happens. And yet so much does. The story, much like the choir, works together so well that it is a joy to experience these women’s lives with them, even though we don’t know how it ends. And we don’t need to. The war eventually ended, but these women’s lives, and the lives they touched, went on. While it would be marvelous to see each one’s happy-ever-after (or at least get some resolution if they don’t get one) it doesn’t feel necessary for the story to conclude.

One final note: there is another author named Jennifer Ryan. The other Jennifer Ryan writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense. And was the source of one of my most sarcastic, and most liked, reviews on Goodreads, The Right Bride. The two Jennifer Ryans are definitely not the same.

If you love stories about the homefront during World War II, or women’s fiction, or just want to read a lovely story, I can’t recommend The Chilbury Ladies Choir highly enough.

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Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + Giveaway

Review; Law and Disorder by Heather Graham + GiveawayLaw and Disorder by Heather Graham
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Finnegan Connection #1
Pages: 256
Published by Harlequin Intrigue on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Trust the enemy?
Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man—and he's holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor's eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk?
Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can't let Kody die. He won't. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose.
The Finnegan Connection

My Review:

A while back, I read some of Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series and really liked them. But it’s a big series and I’m going to need a large round tuit to get caught up. So when Law and Disorder came up as the first book in a new series, it seemed like a great chance to get in on the ground floor.

But I’m not sure that I did.

Law and Disorder is a quick and enjoyable read, but it doesn’t feel like the first book in a series. There are lots of references to the main characters in her other recent started series, New York Confidential. To the point where the Finnegan Connection feels like a side-series to New York Confidential. That connection being Finnegan’s Pub in New York City, which seems to be the centerpiece for the other series.

Nick and Kody, the hero and heroine in Law and Disorder are both friends of those Finnegans, and they actually bumped into each other, very briefly, one night at Finnegan’s. A chance encounter that helps to set up what would otherwise be a case of insta-love in Law and Disorder, mixed with just a bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

That earlier encounter takes the romance out of squicky territory, considering the way that the couple meets in this story. She thinks that he’s an upstanding (so to speak) member of the criminal gang that has just taken her and her entire staff hostage while they search for a mythical treasure. When she finally remembers where she’s seen him before, she also remembers that he’s no criminal, but rather an FBI agent who must be undercover in this mess.

She’s still kidnapped, and her captors still want that mythical treasure. Even weirder, they expect her to find it. And she just might.

Kody Cameron is an expert on her family’s strange heritage – the former home of mobster Jimmy Crystal and its extremely checkered history. A former resident of the Crystal Palace left tantalizing clues to a never recovered bank heist of gold and gems, and the kidnappers think that if they put enough pressure on Kody she’ll be inspired to discover a trove that may have been swallowed by the Florida Everglades.

And so might they.

Escape Rating C+: Law and Disorder is a relatively short book, somewhere in that uncomfortable length between novel and novella. And it probably should have been just a bit longer.

It’s a quick, fun read, but that skimpy length forced the author to short a bit on both character development and on background. And this is a story whose plot relies on a lot of that missing background.

It is possible that some of the missing character development is in Flawless, the first book in the New York Confidential series that introduces the Finnegans and Nick’s FBI handler on this case, Craig Frasier.

It’s also possible that we’re meant to just go with the instant connection between FBI agent Nick Connolly and Kody Cameron. After all, he does rescue her. But I am left wondering.

The big piece of background that feels missing is the history of Kody’s Crystal Palace and the mob bosses of Florida. Kody’s expertise on the topic is the reason that Kody gets swept up into this mess. The particular treasure trove in question has been missing for decades, and lots of things and people have been swallowed up by the Everglades. The way that Kody sifts through the tiny clues and puts the pieces together is a process that usually takes days and lots more research. The treasure hunt alone could have made a fascinating story as well as all the dirt on what happened long ago and how Kody figures it all out now. I would love to have read that book.

It might also have explained how and why the ringleader of this band of thugs became so obsessed with the old stash. It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

All in all, this was a fun, quick read. And it whetted my reading appetite for the New York Confidential series, which is only two books in. Finnegan’s sounds like a great place!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Heather and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky participant in this tour!

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Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked City by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on January 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz Age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.
When she discovers her husband cheating, Ella Hawthorne impulsively moves out of their SoHo loft and into a small apartment in an old Greenwich Village building. Her surprisingly attractive new neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement at night. Tenants have reported strange noises after midnight—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano—even though the space has been empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the place hid a speakeasy.
In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin becomes entangled with Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.
Headstrong and independent, Gin is no weak-kneed fool. So how can she be falling in love with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent when she’s got Princeton boy Billy Marshall, the dashing son of society doyenne Theresa Marshall, begging to make an honest woman of her? While anything goes in the Roaring Twenties, Gin’s adventures will shake proper Manhattan society to its foundations, exposing secrets that shock even this free-spirited redhead—secrets that will echo from Park Avenue to the hollers of her Southern hometown.
As Ella discovers more about the basement speakeasy, she becomes inspired by the spirit of her exuberant predecessor, and decides to live with abandon in the wicked city too. . . .

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked City because I absolutely adored A Certain Age and wanted to read more by this author.

The Wicked City is a very different book from A Certain Age, even though the lion’s share of the story is set in the same period, the early 1920s, and among some of the same people. Possibly even the same people.

But The Wicked City is a story split between two very different eras and two very different women, with each story blending just a bit into the other.

In the late 1990s, Ella Hawthorne has just moved into a slightly crumbling apartment with a whole lot of character (and characters) in Greenwich Village. She’s also just left her philandering husband, after catching him screwing a prostitute in the hallway of their condo building while he was pretending to fetch a pizza. If the whole scene hadn’t been so tragic, at least in its consequences, it would have slipped into farce.

But Ella’s drama isn’t in her impending divorce, it’s in the building of her new sanctuary. There’s a stream of hot jazz emanating from the basement of the building next door, and that beautiful music is coming not from a live club, but from the ghost of the speakeasy that once thrived there.

While Ella’s late 20th century story is interesting, the real heart of The Wicked City lies in the events of the 1920s, events that centered around both the speakeasy and the apartment building next door, where Geneva Kelly lived in the 1920s and Ella Hawthorne finds herself in the 1990s.

Ella’s story is a tale of wandering husbands, forensic accountants and handsome jazz musicians of the past and present.

Geneva Kelly’s story, on the other hand, is a tale of cold-hearted bootleggers, hot federal agents, and deadly family secrets.

Geneva’s stepfather was an abusive two-bit criminal back home in Western Maryland, but only Gin seems to have seen his true face. Everyone else saw the charm, while she experienced the rot underneath. But after she fled her Appalachian home town for the bright lights of the big city, Duke Kelly moved from small-time crook to big-time racketeer, controlling a major piece of the illegal booze market in thirsty New York, as well as every single soul in his little town.

It was Prohibition, and the feds were looking for a way to take Duke Kelly down. Gin was too, so when a handsome federal agent offered her the chance to get the goods on the snake, she was all in.

Until she was very nearly all the way out.

Escape Rating B+: At first, the story moved a bit slowly, as did A Certain Age when I look back. Both stories take a while to get themselves set up, but once they do, the action careens quickly from boat chase to shoot out to romance, and back again, with lightning speed.

Particularly Gin’s story. Ella’s story feels less fleshed out, and I’m not convinced it was really necessary. Gin’s story is the one that sparkles like a flapper’s sequined dress.

While we don’t feel much of Ella’s dilemma, we do become all too well acquainted with Gin’s. She fled her hometown in the wake of her stepfather’s abusive, and she tries very hard not to look back. She’s also a young woman with not enough education and no family ties trying to make a living in the big city. Some of her choices arise from desperation, and some from pure pragmatism. It’s a hard-knock life.

She wants to bring her stepfather down, which makes her a plum ripe for the plucking by Prohibition agent Oliver Anson. She’s attracted to his stalwart honor even more than she is his good looks. But like everyone else in her life, Anson is keeping secrets that threaten both Gin’s life and her heart. Everything that happens between them feels screened by a haze of smoke and mist, and neither ever knows quite where the other stands until the very end.

cocoa beach by beatriz williamsIn addition to the connection between Gin and Ella, there’s also a connection between Gin and the characters in A Certain Age, and indeed the characters of many of the author’s previous books. It’s not such a tight connection that the reader needs to worry about having read the other books, and it’s also not completely revealed or resolved. But these people all inhabit the same social circles, and everyone seems to know, or at least know of, everyone else.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more, both in the author’s upcoming novel, Cocoa Beach, and by diving back into some of her earlier works. All in all, I’m glad I took this little trip to The Wicked City.

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Review: On the Sickle’s Edge by Neville Frankel

Review: On the Sickle’s Edge by Neville FrankelOn the Sickle's Edge by Neville Frankel
Format: paperback
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 474
Published by Dialogos on December 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

What we cannot keep. What we cannot lose.
A sweeping masterwork of love and loss, secrets and survival, On the Sickle's Edge is told through the voices of three characters who lay bare their family's saga: the endearing, scrappy South-African born Lena, transported to Latvia and later trapped in the USSR; her granddaughter Darya, a true Communist whose growing disillusionment with Soviet ideology places her family at mortal risk; and Steven, a painter from Boston who inadvertently stumbles into the tangled web of his family's past. Against the roiling backdrop of twentieth-century Russia and Eastern Europe, the novel delivers equal parts historical drama, political thriller and poignant love story.
On the Sickle's Edge takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century. Instantly immersed in seven generations of the Shtein family, we witness their exhilarating celebrations and provocative controversies, and gain an intimate understanding of the pivotal events in South Africa, Latvia and the Soviet Union. Neville Frankel's ability to combine historical insight and human passion is spellbinding. I couldn't put it down. --Pamela Katz, The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink
In the hands of a masterful storyteller, On the Sickle's Edge pits the weight of an oppressive regime against individual tenacity and profound personal courage. Inspired by Frankel's own family history, this multi-generational epic holds up a mirror to a universal truth: all immigrants face the powerful tension between assimilation and cultural identity. We have--all of us--lived life on the edge of the sickle. --Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee

My Review:

This book is many things, and all of them awesome.

At its heart, if feels like a fictional history of the Soviet Union, but not as is usually done in historical fiction, from the perspective of the movers and shakers. Instead, this feels like a story set among the “groundlings”, as they were called in Shakespeare’s day. Or a “lower-decks” story set on a ship, whether historical or science fictional.

In other words, this is view of life in the Soviet Union from the Revolution to Glasnost, as seen through the eyes of the people it was supposed to benefit, and so obviously in this case, didn’t. It’s not a pretty story, but it is a powerful one.

And as people say about life during the Depression, the average person didn’t really see themselves as deprived. They knew things were awful, that was kind of hard to miss. And everyone was afraid all the time, afraid of being watched, afraid of their neighbors, afraid of their thoughts, afraid of the “Organs” of state.

But it was all they knew, and it was all they were allowed to know.

The story in On the Sickle’s Edge has another side to it. In the case of Lena and her family, in addition to all of the things that everyday Russians were afraid of, they were afraid of the exposure of their big secret.

When the family entered Moscow during the chaos of the Revolution, they entered under forged papers. Those papers stated that the family were Russian peasants, displaced from their farm by the Revolution, but that was a lie. A big one. Instead, they were displaced Jews expelled from Latvia. In an act of intelligence and courage, mixed with a bit of perhaps cowardice, but mostly pragmatism, Lena’s stepmother Esther decreed that because everything terrible that had happened to them, and it was terrible, had happened because they were Jews, they would take this equally terrible opportunity to reinvent themselves as non-Jews.

In an act of self-effacement and self-abnegation, they did. Conditions in post-Revolutionary Moscow were bad for everyone, but worse for the Jews. If things are bad in general, they are always worse for the Jews in particular. Esther’s act saved her family, especially her children and step-children, at least for a while.

So Lena keeps the secret. Along the way, she loses her husband and her half-sister to the insanity of Stalin’s purges, and late in life finds herself raising her daughter’s child, Darya. And she survives. Lena always survives.

Escape Rating A: I finished this at 3 am. It started out well, but somewhere around the 20% mark it completely grabbed me and didn’t let go until the end. Possibly after the end. I’m still thinking about this one. And probably will for a while.

Although Lena is not the only narrator, it was her story that sucked me in. And that is fitting, as the story is told at least in part as her memoir. A clue to her ultimate survival that the reader completely loses track of in the midst of events. I wanted her to make it out, but there were points where I feared it would not be so, even knowing that it was.

Her story, from a briefly happy childhood in South Africa to the family’s return to Latvia, to being trapped inside Russia as the walls closed down paints a compelling picture. We are there with her through all the long years as conditions go from bad to worse to unsustainable, and yet we also see what sustains her, and how she survives those long years.

Some of the story is her granddaughter Darya’s, as Darya learns the secret yet continues to wear the mask of the Communist Party poster girl, complete with marriage to a party official. Like so many young women who think they are in love, Darya doesn’t listen to her grandmother’s instincts that her husband is a monster. But he is.

(Something in the description of Darya’s husband reminded me of Vladimir Putin. I don’t know whether that was intentional or not, but it certainly added to the chill factor)

This was a wonderfully absorbing story, and there is so much more to it that I’m tempted to get into, but will reach much too far into spoiler territory. For me, On the Sickle’s Edge also contained an element of “there but for the grace of G-d”. My mother’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Western Russia probably around the time that Lena was born. They got out just in time. But this story could have been theirs, with all the calamities that followed.

And the echoes to current events absolutely chill me to the bone.

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Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry + Giveaway

Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry + GiveawayThe Fifth Petal (The Lace Reader, #2) by Brunonia Barry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Lace Reader #2
Pages: 432
Published by Crown on January 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Salem’s chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, investigates a 25-year-old triple homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders,” in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed one Halloween night. Aided by Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims who has returned to town, Rafferty begins to uncover a dark chapter in Salem’s past. Callie, who has always been gifted with premonitions, begins to struggle with visions she doesn’t quite understand and an attraction to a man who has unknown connections to her mother’s murder. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian and sometime-aunt to Callie, is guilty of murder or witchcraft. But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?

My Review:

lace reader by brunonia barryIn spite of the blurb, The Fifth Petal doesn’t have much to do with Towner Whitney, the heroine of The Lace Reader. And that’s a good thing, because I never read The Lace Reader. Instead, this work of twisted mystery with just a touch of psychological horror is all about the old mystery of “The Goddess Murders” and the sudden rush of new clues (and red herrings) related to that old crime.

John Rafferty, the Salem Police Chief, finds himself in the thick of a very big mess that begins on Halloween in witchy Salem Massachusetts. Where once Salem hung accused witches, now the town embraces its creepy past as a way of bringing in much-needed tourist dollars.

Which doesn’t mean that the old feuds, the old resentments, and the old fears are not still bubbling just beneath the 21st century surface.

Twenty-five years ago, three young women were murdered at the site of the 17th century witch hangings. All three were young, beautiful and descended from the original witches. That grisly night left only two survivors, the child Callie Cahill, daughter of one of the victims, and Rose Whelan, a local expert on the historic witchcraft frenzy.

Callie was whisked away, but Rose stayed in town. Or at least she stayed after several months in an asylum. Even though she was never charged with the crime, everyone in town assumed that Rose was the murderer. Whatever the truth was, after the trauma she experienced and her incarceration she was never the same. She became the town madwoman, saying that the trees talked to her and other things even more bizarre.

No one bothered her, and she didn’t bother anyone, until that Halloween, when a bunch of young, privileged idiots decided that threatening her with a knife would be a terrific Halloween prank. When one of them dropped dead in the middle of the confrontation, everyone assumed that old Rose had managed to kill him exactly the same way she killed those young women all those years ago. And the town began a modern day witch hunt, complete with anonymous tweets and Facebook posts, baying for her blood.

All of the hoopla over the latest incident reaches the regional papers, and little Callie Cahill, now an adult, discovers that her caregivers lied to her long ago, and that Rose is very much alive. She drops everything to rush to Salem, in the hopes of saving Rose just as she believed Rose saved her all those years ago.

And all the buried secrets of the past burst wide open. While the town whips up witch hunting frenzy, John Rafferty re-opens the old case. He wasn’t in Salem back them, but he doesn’t believe Rose is guilty, either then or now. There was no evidence back then, and there isn’t any now either. But his investigation brings that long-ago crime back to everyone’s mind. If Rose wasn’t the murderer, then someone else was. Covering up those old murders is an unfortunately excellent motivation for another killing spree. This time with a whole new set of supposed wrongs to be set right, and a whole new cast of victims.

In the end, Rafferty discovers that the old wounds and the old wrongs have sunk deep and poisonous roots in much too fertile ground. Almost too late.

Escape Rating B+: Although the story itself is more a mystery than anything else, there is a creepy overtone of horror and evil that gave me the shivers. And looking back, a lot of that evil has nothing to do with witchcraft or devil worship or anything more obviously sinister. Instead, it is all related to an everyday kind of evil.

Whatever happened to their ancestors in the 1600s, in the 2010s there’s another kind of witch hunt going on in Salem. Everyone wants to believe that Rose is the killer, both in the past and in the present. And it becomes clear that she is being victimized for exactly the same reasons that the women accused of witchcraft were victimized in the 1600s. She’s an older woman, and she’s weird. And possibly mentally ill. That’s all it took in the 1600s to bring out the accusers, and that’s all it seems to take in 2014-2015.

Today’s witch hunt is just more sophisticated. It uses the internet. But it is equally persecution, and just like the victims in the 1600s, Rose is equally innocent. And it doesn’t matter. She is different, and that makes people more than willing to throw her under that metaphorical bus.

Rafferty finds himself investigating two crimes, and neither is the recent death. That young man died of an overdose, and except for his mother, no one is going to miss him. But the more Rafferty looks, the more he thinks that his predecessor completely screwed up the case. The former police chief wanted Rose to be guilty, and the truth didn’t matter. Or possibly mattered too much.

Rafferty wants Rose to be innocent, so he keeps digging. Meanwhile, all the forces in town seem to be colluding to make his job more difficult. Someone clearly has a secret that they still feel the need to keep at all costs.

In the end, the motives for all the deaths are the oldest of all, greed and jealousy. And as is so often the case, the killer is exposed by overreaching. If they’d left well enough alone, they could have remained hidden. But of course they didn’t and they don’t. The reveal is appropriately chilling and does a wonderful job of wrapping up all the loose and trailing ends, no matter how far back they began. Or how creepy they remain.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Fifth Petal to one lucky US commenter.

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Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: Lord of the Privateers by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayLord of the Privateers (The Adventurers Quartet, #4) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #4
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Revel in the action, drama, intrigue and passion as the Frobishers— with help from Wolverstone, the Cynsters and many familiar others— steer the adventure to a glorious end.
Unstoppable determination
Widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final stage of the rescue mission his brothers have begun. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking Isobel Carmichael—his childhood sweetheart, former handfasted bride and current business partner—with him. A force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own: to find and bring a young cousin safely home. And along the way, she hopes to rid herself of the dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her.
Unfinished business
Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail, much less the new horizons that open before them as they embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the compound deep in the jungle. Yet despite the support of his brothers and their ladies, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. To identify and convict the conspirators behind the illicit enterprise—and save England from political disaster—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton and hunt the villains on their home ground.
Unforgettable love
But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could yet be theirs, how much are Royd and Isobel willing to risk in the name of duty?
#1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens delivers the thrilling conclusion to her acclaimed series THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a passionate Regency-era drama where intrigue and danger play out on the high seas and in exotic tropical jungles, ultimately reaching a dazzling climax in the glittering ballrooms of London.

My Review:

ladys command by stephanie laurensLord of the Privateers is an adventure romp with a romance attached – or a romance with an adventure attached. There be two plot threads here, and they are both compelling, if not equally so.

This book is the culmination of The Adventurers Quartet, and as such wraps up all of the many plot threads that were started all the way back in The Lady’s Command, and built up and added to in A Buccaneer at Heart and The Daredevil Snared.

The story would not be a pretty one if it weren’t for the inevitable happy ending. Far from England, in the English colony of Freeport in South Africa, someone is operating an illicit diamond mine. Not only is the mine unlicensed, and therefore not under government scrutiny of any kind, but the backers of the mine decided to maximize their profit by using slave labor.

They think they are so far above the law that they can kidnap colonists from Freeport, and that no one will care. And even if they are eventually caught, they will be able to walk away.

But the people they take are missed. Not just the children, but also the adults. Especially when they do stupid things like kidnap the military men who are sent to investigate, one after another. The government contracts with the Frobisher shipping clan to find out where everyone has gone, and that’s where the fun of this series begin.

Each one of the Frobisher children (sons AND daughter) is captain of his or her own ship. One by one, the oldest four sons go down to Freeport, put their share of the pieces together, and come back with a bride who is not willing to stay at home and wait while their men sail into danger.

It’s all been leading up to this book, Lord of the Privateers. That “lord” is Royd, the oldest brother and captain of their fleet. It’s up to him to lead the military operation to rescue the prisoners and gather as much evidence as possible on those mysterious and nefarious backers. In that order.

But Royd’s mission is compromised. Not by betrayal, but by his own unfinished business coming back to haunt him. Isobel Carmody, his childhood best friend and the love of his life, turned him away eight years ago. One of the captives is Isobel’s cousin, and she insists on accompanying him to Freeport. They have unfinished business between them to work out on this journey. They need to decide once and for all whether to try again, or to finally move on.

Royd thinks he has all the time in the world to woo Isobel again. Isobel thinks the voyage will be long enough for her to figure out whether she can trust Royd with her heart again, after he broke it eight years ago.

And they have a colony to save. And in the process, all their secrets will come out, and all the truths will finally come to light.

Escape Rating B: There are two plots here, the second chance at love story, and more importantly, the military operation to rescue the enslaved workers at the mine.

Unlike most second-chance love stories, this one feels resolved fairly early on. They are back together almost instantly, so most of the rest of the romance angle seems a bit anti-climactic. Also, their inevitable marriage is a foregone conclusion from the outset. Eight years ago, Royd and Isobel were handfasted, an old Scottish form of trial marriage. But if a child is born of the handfasting, the couple must automatically marry, or the child must be given up to the father. (Yes, I know it’s terribly misogynistic, etc., but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the law of the time).

Isobel gave birth to Royd’s son eight years ago, while he was away on a secret mission that he chose not to tell her about. She’s kept the boy a secret ever since, at least until he stows away aboard their ship to Freeport. Once that “cat” is out of its bag, an eventual wedding is the only possible conclusion.

But the military operation and the subsequent clean up of the gentleman backers is a romp from beginning to end. And if it weren’t for the fact that this is historical romance and therefore must lead to a happy ending, the clean-up operation feels like it might teeter towards disaster at any moment. That was the part of the story that had me on the edge of my seat.

It was wonderful not just to see all the dirty bastards finally get their just desserts, but to have those desserts handed to them by a combined delegation of the Frobishers, the Cynsters and the Bastion Club was a special treat for those who have read any of the author’s previous series.

But speaking of series, The Adventurers’ Quartet is one where you probably need to have read at least some of the previous entries. I read books 1, 3 and 4, and didn’t feel as if I missed anything except a good story by accidentally skipping Buccaneer. Because Lord is the payoff for all the previous books, I think it looses its punch if you start with it.

Because the romantic side of the plot was resolved early on, those scenes that “furthered” the romance were furthering something that already felt completely developed. To say they became anticlimactic makes for a very bad pun that nevertheless was true for this reader. Your mileage (measured in knots in this case) may vary. But the rescue operation makes for a cracking good yarn.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Stephanie and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Review: Dragon Springs Road by Janie ChangDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 10th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother.
That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .
In 1908, Jialing is only seven years old when she is abandoned in the courtyard of a once-lavish estate outside Shanghai. Jialing is zazhong—Eurasian—and faces a lifetime of contempt from both Chinese and Europeans. Until now she’s led a secluded life behind courtyard walls, but without her mother’s protection, she can survive only if the estate’s new owners, the Yang family, agree to take her in.
Jialing finds allies in Anjuin, the eldest Yang daughter, and Fox, an animal spirit who has lived in the courtyard for centuries. But Jialing’s life as the Yangs’ bondservant changes unexpectedly when she befriends a young English girl who then mysteriously vanishes.
Murder, political intrigue, jealousy, forbidden love … Jialing confronts them all as she grows into womanhood during the tumultuous early years of the Chinese republic, always hopeful of finding her long-lost mother. Through every turn she is guided, both by Fox and by her own strength of spirit, away from the shadows of her past toward a very different fate, if she has the courage to accept it.

My Review:

In a peculiar way, Dragon Springs Road reminds me a bit of Jade Dragon Mountain. Although both stories are set in China, their settings are 200 years apart. But the similarity is in the way that both stories managed to evoke a “you are there” feeling, at least for me. It was more than reading about something, it felt like being drawn into the story in both cases.

There was also a tiny element of The Tale of Shikanoko, even though Shikanoko is Japanese and not Chinese. In both that story and this one, there’s that sense of the mythic bleeding into the real. In the case of Dragon Springs Road, that mythic element is the fox spirit who protects Jialing and her mother during their residence on Dragon Springs Road.

Jialing believes that Fox is real, and she certainly seems to affect real things. But does she? As this story is told through Jialing’s eyes, we see things how she believes them to be, not necessarily how things are.

We also see a world that is in the process of change. Dragon Springs Road is in Shanghai, and the story takes place during the first two decades of the 20th century, through both the World War I years and the contentious early years of the Republic of China, as factions and warlords fought for power and against the rising tide of communism within, and Japanese imperial ambitions without.

As the story begins, Jialing is a little girl, one who has lived her entire life on the fringes of the Fong household on Dragon Springs Road. But things are not going well in the Fong household, and her mother, the concubine of the master of the house, is particularly vulnerable. Jialing is too young to understand any of this. All that she knows is that one day her mother goes away, leaving Jialing hiding in the decrepit outbuilding where they have lived.

And from that inauspicious beginning, Jialing is set adrift. She is very, very young. And she is mixed race, and therefore despised by both the Chinese and the Europeans. The household that moves into the Fong’s former residence take her in out of charity. And so she lives, dependent on the kindness of strangers, and knowing that she doesn’t belong anywhere, no matter how hard she tries.

Through the years, Jialing grows up. She makes friends, and enemies. She is fortunate enough to receive a Western education. But no matter how much she improves herself, all that anyone sees is the lowest of the low, a woman of mixed race.

Her friend, companion and guide through the lost years is the Fox who watches over the compound, and over Jialing. Fox both teaches her about the world outside, and makes her forget inconvenient questions. And Fox prevents others from asking inconvenient questions about Jialing.

The one thing that Jialing longs for above all others is to find her mother, and to discover why she was left behind all those years ago. And she does. Just as her entire world falls apart.

Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

Escape Rating A: This is an absolutely lovely story that pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the end. It feels as if you are walking that road with Jialing, and not just reading about it. Stories that do that are rare and precious.

Dragon Springs Road is also a very quiet story. Jialing’s life is not the stuff of an adventure tale. She grows up, she does her best to serve, she watches and waits. Much of the action in this story happens to other people, as Jialing watches a second family overtaken by the bad luck that seems to haunt this one house.

And outside the gates, the world changes. Revolutions come, not just to China, but also to nearby Russia. The world that is coming is going to be very different from what has gone before. And Jialing becomes involved, but in the most unlikely of ways.

One of the threads that permeates this story is the prejudice that Jialing faces from all sides, and the ways that prejudice limits her choices. On all sides she is hemmed about by people who consider her less than dirt because she is neither fully Europeon nor fully Chinese. At a time and in a place where lineage is everything, she has none.

And yet she perseveres, making the best choice available to her. And we’re right there with her.

This is a book I simply loved. I was swept away at the beginning and left bereft at the end, gasping and flailing at my return to the real world. It feels like I was in a dream with the Fox, and she just turned me loose.

Dragon Springs Road is a book to get lost in. I loved it so much I’m having a difficult time articulating that love. Why don’t you pick up a copy and see for yourself!

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Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Those Texas Nights by Delores Fossen + GiveawayThose Texas Nights (Wrangler's Creek, #1) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on December 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Granger siblings thought they'd left their ranching days behind, until fate sends them home to Wrangler's Creek, Texas and into the passionate arms of those they'd least expect
It's some run of bad luck when Sophie Granger loses her business and gets left at the altar all in one day. Desperate to not appear jilted, Sophie begs Clay McKinnon, Wrangler's Creek's smoking-hot police chief, to pretend they're having an affair. But Clay refuses, leaving Sophie to retreat to the family ranch to lick her wounds.
Hoping to leave his disreputable past behind, Clay moved to Wrangler's Creek for a fresh start. But that looks unlikely when Sophie's ex-fiance shows up married to Clay's impulsive kid sister. Overcome, Sophie resuggests the affair but this time for real. Clay is hesitant. City-girl Sophie isn't usually his type. But he can't deny the desire she elicits or his yearning to have her plant her cowboy roots for good.

My Review:

What happens to the bride after she gets left at the altar is an idea that has been done many times before. My most recent encounters with this trope that I can find were in Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller and The Best Man by Kristan Higgins. The story of how the jilted bride picks up the pieces of her life and manages to move on is one that is always ripe for drama, growth and redemption.

And sometimes more than a bit of melodrama as well. The situation is rife with possibilities for tragicomedy, as long as one is not the jilted bride oneself. And in fiction, she is always better off without the cowardly or asshat (or both) so and so.

So it proves for Sophie Granger. It would have been better all around if Brantley the ball-less wonder (I don’t like him much) had figured out a whole lot sooner that he was in love with someone other than Sophie, his bride-to-be. Especially since that other someone is already just a little bit pregnant with his baby.

But on the day of Sophie’s busted wedding, she has a whole lot of other crap to deal with. Not only is her wedding a bust, but it looks like the family company is too. For the Granger siblings, Sophie and her brothers Garrett and Roman, it looks like Sophie’s romantic woes are the least of their collective troubles.

Their trusted CFO, who is also their godfather, seems to have embezzled pretty much all of the company’s assets, Even worse, because he was apparently dealing with money launderers, the FBI wants its fingers in this pie as well. They have to investigate all the Grangers to make sure that no one was either involved in or profiting from what look like very illegal gains. Which can’t be found.

The company assets are frozen, including all their cars, all their apartments, and all their bank accounts. All that’s left is the quite substantial family ranch that their grandfather used to launch their cowboy outfitting business. Which means they all have to move in together, and with their mother.

Meanwhile, everyone in town has jumped on the “pity poor Sophie” bandwagon, when all she wants is to get on with her life. As soon as she gets most of it back.

But nothing fuels the town’s gossip mill more than Sophie’s choice of whom to get that life back together with. In a series of comic errors, everyone believes that Sophie has taken up with the new police chief. The good news is that Clay McKinnon is single. The bad news is that Sophie’s ex is now playing happy families with Clay’s sister.

Which doesn’t stop either Clay or Sophie from acting on an attraction that is oh-so-bad, but feels oh-so-good.

Escape Rating B: This is a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of small-town drama and small-town characters mixed into the romance in ways that make the reader smile, chuckle and occasionally laugh out loud. To say that Clay and Sophie have a ton of bad luck in their attempts to work their attraction out of their systems without the entire town commenting every step of the way fail miserably is an understatement.

They can’t catch a break, and they can’t manage to stay away from each other. But neither says they want a relationship. Sophie is dealing with too much crap, and Clay is carrying way too much baggage. Which, in the end, doesn’t matter a bit.

no getting over a cowboy by delores fossenThe town has its character, and its characters, both good and bad. The most fun of these is Vita, the local witch and the mother of Sophie’s best friend Mila. Clay’s ranch house is under assault by feral chickens, and a running gag in the story revolves around Vita’s various attempts to end the siege. A second, and even funnier running gag follows Mila’s attempts at a “fantasy date”, which usually end with Sophie and/or Clay witnessing something that they really, really, really wish they could un-see.

One of the less fun characters is unfortunately Sophie’s mother Belle. A little of Belle goes a very long way. She’s mean and bitter, and constantly rags on all her children and everyone in town pretty much all the time. She also doesn’t listen to anyone. Ever. Not seeing someone set her down and give her a piece of their mind left me with a bit of a bitter taste and a lack of resolution. She’s just not a stock character I like to see.
We also don’t get quite as much buildup for the romance as I would have liked. Once they are in, they are both all in, but we don’t really see how they get there. On that other hand, we do see a lot of the relationships that surround them, and with the exception of Sophie’s mother, I want to get to know everyone. There are oodles of fascinating future story possibilities here, just waiting to unfold.

And I’m looking forward to reading them all, starting with No Getting Over a Cowboy early in the spring.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde + Giveaway

Review: Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde + GiveawaySay Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 358
Published by Lake Union Publishing on December 13th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

On an isolated Texas ranch, Dr. Lucy cares for abandoned animals. The solitude allows her to avoid the people and places that remind her of the past. Not that any of the townsfolk care. In 1959, no one is interested in a woman doctor. Nor are they welcoming Calvin and Justin Bell, a newly arrived African American father and son.
When Pete Solomon, a neglected twelve-year-old boy, and Justin bring a wounded wolf-dog hybrid to Dr. Lucy, the outcasts soon find refuge in one another. Lucy never thought she’d make connections again, never mind fall in love. Pete never imagined he’d find friends as loyal as Justin and the dog. But these four people aren’t allowed to be friends, much less a family, when the whole town turns violently against them.
With heavy hearts, Dr. Lucy and Pete say goodbye to Calvin and Justin. But through the years they keep hope alive…waiting for the world to catch up with them.

My Review:

This story quietly drew me in, and then blew me away. It’s slow and sweet and just plain lovely. It’s about the triumph of hope, and it’s about the family you make being stronger and braver and better than the one you are born to.

And it’s also a story whose happy ending flies in the face of racism and sexism and trumpets the hope and joy and triumph of not giving in to either, no matter how much they beat you down along the way.

In 1959, in small-town Texas, there are a whole lot of things that just seem wrong to 21st century eyes. And yet, those are the way things were. And unfortunately in many cases and places, still are.

One of those seemingly immutable laws in that place and time was that the races don’t mix. Not just that it was still very much illegal for a black man and a white woman to marry (or vice versa), but that the innocent pre-teen friendship between a white boy and black one will result in both of them getting beaten. The only difference in those beatings is that the white boy gets beaten by his abusive father, and the black boy gets beaten by white toughs at the instigation of the white boy’s abusive father.

It all starts innocently enough. A boy rescues a dog, left for dead next to the road. But the dog isn’t dead. He also isn’t just a dog. And Pete’s saga to save the dog he names Prince is anything but easy.

Prince is a wolf/dog hybrid. The local vet refuses to treat the animal. And Pete is broke.

There’s a lady doctor out in the sticks, way outside of town. Rumor has it that while she doesn’t like people much, she will take care of wounded animals. So Pete drags the poor wounded dog four miles down the road in his little red wagon, hoping that the doctor will help the poor beast..

Dr. Lucy can’t resist a wounded stray – at least not one with four legs. Or wings. Or whatever. It’s people she’s trying to keep away from. But Pete is just as wounded as Prince, and he somehow worms his way into her heart, just a little bit underneath that frozen layer that protects her from the world.

Then Pete brings Justin, his equally young and even more scared black friend. They’ve both been beaten for being seen walking down the road together. The town wants to enforce that separation of the races at all costs, even if it’s the life of a young boy.

And Justin brings his dad, Calvin Bell, into Dr. Lucy’s life. And that ice dam around her heart is broken irrevocably. But as the town makes increasingly clear, there is no future for any of them in Texas. Justin and Pete can’t be friends, and Calvin and Lucy can’t explore whatever might be developing between them.

Until the world changes. Just enough.

Escape Rating A: Just as Pete and Justin and Calvin sneak their way into Lucy’s heart, this book snuck into mine.

It’s possible that Pete and Lucy are just way ahead of their time. But it feels more as if the point is that racism is taught. Pete just doesn’t take the lesson that his father tries to beat into him. Justin is his best friend, and it doesn’t matter to Pete that he is white and Justin is black. They have found a rare and perfect friendship, and race is a stupid thing to get in its way.

Lucy may or may not have been a woman of her time, but she’s stepped outside her setting in so many ways that falling in love with Calvin doesn’t seem anything but right to her, even though she’s aware that the world around them does see it as extremely wrong. As a woman doctor, she’s faced a different type of prejudice on her own. And the tragedies that led her to her life of isolation have changed her value system. And as a doctor, any society that would beat a child half to death for something so trivial as walking down the road with a friend doesn’t deserve her support. What it gets is her fear.

That they all manage to keep hope alive makes for a beautiful story. The world does change. In 1967, the Supreme Court strikes down all anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S. with their ruling in the case of Loving v. Virginia. It doesn’t mean that Lucy and Calvin will have an easy life together, but it does mean they have a chance at a life together. And that’s what they’ve been waiting for.

If your heart needs warming on a cold winter’s night, read Say Goodbye for Now.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Say Goodbye for Now to one very lucky US/CAN winner.

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