Review: Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann KrentzLightning in a Mirror (Fogg Lake #3) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Fogg Lake #3
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on January 18, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The final installment in the chilling Fogg Lake trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz.
Olivia LeClair's experiment with speed dating is not going well. First there was the nasty encounter with the date from hell who tried to murder her and now the mysterious Harlan Rancourt—long believed dead—sits down at her table and tells her she's the only one who can help him locate the legendary Vortex lab.
This is not what Olivia had in mind when she signed up for the Four Event Success Guaranteed package offered by the dating agency. She doesn't have much choice, though, because her psychic investigation firm works for the mysterious Foundation and Victor Arganbright, the director, is adamant that she assist Harlan. There's just one problem—no one knows Harlan's real agenda. His father once ran the Foundation like a mob organization, and Harlan was destined to be his heir. There's a real possibility Harlan has returned to claim his inheritance.
For now, however, it's a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend because others are after the secrets of the long-lost lab. Unfortunately for Olivia, the one thing friend and foe have in common is that everyone is convinced she is the key. Her unique psychic talent is required to defuse the ticking time bomb that is Vortex.
Neither trusts the other but Olivia and Harlan soon realize they must work together to survive and unlock the Bluestone Project's most dangerous secrets before more innocent people die.

My Review:

At least in some variations, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you,” is one of the three biggest lies. In Fogg Lake, and the paranormally powered world of this series, “We’re from the Foundation and we’re here to help you,” seems to be the psi-powered equivalent.

But so far in contemporary Fogg Lake it actually seems to be true. Well, it’s true NOW. It wasn’t true back in the day. Come to think of it, the government version wasn’t true then or now.

The entire Fogg Lake series, starting with The Vanishing and All the Colors of Night, has been all about dealing with the mysteries and the dangers that remain from the Bluestone Project and it’s offshoot Vortex, that came into being back in that day when both the government – in the form of that top-secret Bluestone Project, and the Foundation were doing their level best to figure out how to enhance and weaponize psychic powers.

Something that never ever ends well. At this point, the Foundation, at least in the person of Harlan Rancourt, is just trying to make sure it ends – before anyone else gets dead in the process. The Vortex process.

Fogg Lake turns out to be part of the ‘Jayneverse’ of connected stories that encompasses the Arcane Society and Harmony. In the Fogg Lake series, that connection is tangential. You don’t have to have read any of the Arcane Society books to get hooked into Fogg Lake in The Vanishing. (But the Easter Eggs sure are fun to find!)

It’s not like we aren’t aware of plenty of shady government projects that have disappeared without a trace – at least in fiction. It’s also possible to see the now-moribund government office that ran Bluestone as the cramped, dusty office that would later house Mulder and Scully.

But Lightning in a Mirror is the last book in the Fogg Lake series, so if contemporary paranormal romantic suspense sounds like your cup of tea, start with The Vanishing.

This story, while the romance is totally encompassed in this one book, the suspense factor is not. The Foundation, both its current directors, Victor Arganbright and Lucas Pine, as well as the investigators of the Lark & LeClair Detective Agency, Catalina Lark (protagonist of The Vanishing) and Olivia LeClair (this book’s heroine), have been hunting for the remnants of Bluestone and Vortex throughout the series.

As this story opens it looks like Vortex is hunting them as well. At least, they’re hunting Olivia LeClair for the Oracle talent that entirely too many people seem to think she inherited from her grandmother. Vortex would have caught her, just as they caught her mother, if not for the intervention of Harlan Rancourt.

Which is where the story kicks into gear. High gear. Rancourt has been hiding from the Foundation for five years, investigating the death of his own father in a mysterious accident. With Vortex on the rise he returns to the fold to prevent the catastrophe that his own talents tell him is coming.

Rancourt is a wild-card to everyone. A chameleon talent who fools everyone, all the time, about the true nature of the threat he presents. But he never fools Olivia. She sees him for the predator he is – and doesn’t run.

At least she doesn’t run FROM him. Running WITH him to keep one step ahead of Vortex – and to stay together – turns out to be just what both of them have been waiting for.

Escape Rating A-: First and most important, the ENTIRE ‘Jayneverse’ is a whole lot of fun – especially if you like a bit of the paranormal mixed with romantic suspense. She writes the historical parts of the series as Amanda Quick, the contemporaries as Jayne Ann Krentz, and the futuristic Harmony as Jayne Castle. And they are all just oodles of fun.

The links between the series are loose, but like a tangled thread, once you pull at one and get invested in THAT part of her world, you’ll be led to the others. (And I prefer ‘Arcaneverse’ as the collective title but that’s a “me” thing)

There are, as usual for this series, two stories blended into the book. One is the overall series arc, which is the suspense part, and the other is the, well, romantic part. Which, as is also usual, isn’t all that “romantic” in a hearts and flowers sense.

Neither Harlan nor Olivia are hearts and flowers kind of people – and that’s been true of the protagonists for most of the series. They meet because they’re on the trail of a serial killer, or a series of serial killers, they’re both in danger and they’re both capable of taking care of that danger themselves (I love that there are no damsels in her series). But they are better – and safer – together than they are apart.

For select definitions of both “better” and “safer”.

So their romance begins with the forced intimacy of being on the run together, combined with the adrenaline thrills and crashes of facing deadly danger together> That rush to romance is ably assisted and enhanced by psychic compatibility that validates the attraction into becoming something more. It doesn’t feel “romantic” in any of the traditional senses, but insta-lust is a real thing and the insta-love that surprises them both does manage to feel earned.

Nevertheless, what captivated me about this book – and about the Fogg Lake series and everything else this author writes – is the overarching suspense plot. I always enjoy a black-ops project/government agency/conspiracy gone wrong kind of story, and this one is a doozy.

It’s not hard to believe that there are government agencies so secret that no one knows about them, because they’re doing things the government can’t afford to acknowledge. In fact, it’s downright easy to believe this and it’s a stock in trade of lots of genres. Bits of it have even happened in real life – just look up the history of the Manhattan Project, secret towns and all.

That such a project would be rife with criminal shenanigans isn’t a stretch either. And neither is the idea that some people wouldn’t be able to let it go. That’s where Fogg Lake and the Bluestone Project sit, at that intersection of conspiracy theories and government black operations.

So the romance didn’t seem all that romantic, but I was all in on the conspiracy parts, and that’s what kept me flipping pages as I poured through this story and this series.

While we may be finished at Fogg Lake, I’m looking forward to visiting another corner of this universe in May, when we return to 1930s Burning Cove, California in When She Dreams.

Review: Emperor by Anna Hackett

Review: Emperor by Anna HackettEmperor (Galactic Kings #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Galactic Kings #2
Pages: 300
Published by Anna Hackett on January 18th 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

When an experimental starship test goes horribly wrong, a scientist from Earth finds herself fighting for her survival, and her only lifeline is a wild, powerful alien king.

Waking on an alien world, wracked by pain, Dr. Poppy Ellison is confused and adrift…until his voice calls to her in the darkness. The big, wild, enthralling man reveals that she’s been infected and is turning into an alien shapeshifter. Poppy has always been smart, practical, and boring, but with her entire life turned upside down, there is no one she can trust…except for this alien wolf.

Emperor Brodin Damar Sarkany is king of Damar and its shapeshifters. As wild as the forest city they call home, the Damari can be volatile, always fighting to control the wolf inside. Brodin uses his immense strength to keep his people in check and protect them from the most dangerous evil of all—his war-mongering father. He can’t afford the distraction of a small, tantalizing woman from Earth, even when everything about Poppy sings to the instincts of both man and wolf.

As his father’s ruthless warlord attacks, innocent children are at risk, and Poppy knows she has to help by mastering her new, emerging abilities. She must also face the shocking passion that explodes between her and Brodin. But as Poppy and Brodin hunt down the enemy, they uncover a plot that could mean the destruction of all the Damari…if they don’t stop it in time.

My Review:

Emperor reads more than a bit like it’s part 2 of the story we started in Overlord. In that first book in the Galactic Kings series, we got further acquainted with Overlord Rhain Zhalto Sarkany, a character we were introduced to at the end of the author’s Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone series, in the book Weapons Master.

When Overlord opened, I confess to wondering exactly how a woman from Earth was going to make her way to Rhain’s system. It was established in the Galactic Gladiators series that Carthago and its nearby systems, including the Sarkany system, are so far from Earth’s solar system that the only way to get from one to the other was through a wormhole. A VERY temporary wormhole.

Science – especially in science fiction – often finds a way where one did not exist before. Sometimes even when it shouldn’t. This may or may not be one of those times.

It may not be possible to send people from one side of the galaxy to another without that wormhole, but communication is another matter. The Terrans stranded on Carthago sent back plans for advanced technology, including space ships, in the hopes that someday someone might bridge that gap.

And that’s where Pilot Mallory West and her best friend and mission engineer Poppy Ellison enter the story. They were on an experimental ship that was supposed to generate its own wormhole and skip through our galaxy on a test flight.

Well, they did manage to create that wormhole, but it extended a whole lot further than anyone planned. The ship crashed on Zhalto, in the Sarkany system. Mallory was rescued by Rhain and his people, the story which is told in Overlord.

But Poppy fell into the hands of an evil, mad scientist working for Rhain’s dastardly father. By the time she was rescued, she was suffering from the results of that mad scientist’s evil experimentation. (I’m not really hyperbolising here, it seems like all of dear old dad’s high-ranking minions are insane AND evil.)

Poppy can’t be cured, but she can be helped. Whatever the experiment was intended to do, its result gave Poppy many of the powers of the inhabitants of another planet in the Sarkany system, Damar.

The people of Damar are wolf shifters. Poppy can’t fully shift, but she seems to have received most of the rest of the suite of powers; enhanced sight, hearing, smell, faster reflexes – and the ability to shift her fingers into claws.

Along with a few extras that no one even thought were still a part of the Damar genome. And maybe they aren’t, unless that genetic heritage is given to someone from Earth. Like Poppy.

Escape Rating A-: As I said, Emperor reads like it’s the second part of that story we began in Overlord. Mallory and Poppy arrived together, and they’re besties. Brodin, the Damari Emperor, agrees to help Poppy as a favor to his brother Rhain. So in a lot of ways, Emperor reads like a continuation of Overlord.

(It’s not necessary to read the Galactic Gladiators series to get into this one. But they’re fun so why wouldn’t you?)

As there often is in Anna Hackett’s series, there’s an overall arc to the story. In this case it’s the three sons of King Zavir Sarkany, united in their determination to throw their father’s evil minions off of their respective planets and overthrow their hated father. And it certainly seems like they have cause.

Even though there’s a scene near the end of Emperor that makes me wonder about more than a few things. We’ll see in later installments.

But in the meantime, Poppy is trying to figure out where she fits, and Emperor Brodin is trying to ignore just how well she fits into his heart, his people, and his bed. He’s determined to remain alone to focus all of his concentration on the needs of his people. Poppy’s determined to make a place for herself in her new circumstances, no matter how much she misses her family back home. She has Mallory and that’s going to be enough.

But yes, Brodin is an idiot. Not about most things, but definitely about what both he and his people need when it comes to strength and focus – both his and others.

The story here is twofold. There’s Poppy, an engineer and scientific genius, who can help his people – even before its discovered that she’s brought back a talent his people thought had been lost over the centuries.

Then there’s the Damari fork of his father’s plan to bring Brodin back to his side – by attacking, kidnapping and experimenting upon Brodin’s people.

Something is really wrong with either King Zavir or his plans or both. Terrorizing the people in each of his sons’ kingdoms is NOT going to win them to his side – unless that provides an opportunity for them to get close enough to kill him. After meeting Zavir at the end of this story, I’m suspecting that there’s something rotten on Sarkan that we haven’t seen yet – and that’s it not just Zavir.

The Damari people remind me a lot of the Changelings in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Which means that their reaction to this invasion of their world and threat to their population brings a predictable result – they fight back with everything they have. And they are intelligent and strategic in that fight.

(I think that resemblance made me like this story just a bit more than Overlord. It felt like I was already familiar even though technically I wasn’t.)

I loved the relationship between Brodin and Poppy. There’s nothing stopping them from being together except their own misguided beliefs, insecurities and fears. Well, Brodin has the mistaken beliefs and Poppy has the insecurities and fears. But they’re a good match and I really enjoyed watching them figure that out.

As this book ends, it leads into the next book in the series in a way that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I was expecting the next book to focus on Rhain’s and Brodin’s remaining brother, Graylan, ruler of the planet Taln. And I’m sure we’ll get to his story eventually, but I wasn’t ready for this series to end so soon.

And it isn’t. Rhain’s second-in-command, Thadd Naveri, and Brodin’s second, Annora, get along about like kerosene and matches. Combustible in every situation. They’ve been given a joint command to investigate whatever King Zavir is up to – undoubtedly no good – on the unpopulated but mineral rich planet Andret. They’ll find out what mischief Zavir is mining on Andret – or they’ll make the planet explode. Or both. Probably both.

I can’t wait to watch the fireworks in Captain of the Guard, coming in May!

Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott

Review: Servant Mage by Kate ElliottServant Mage by Kate Elliott
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on January 18, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fellion is a Lamplighter, able to provide illumination through magic. A group of rebel Monarchists free her from indentured servitude and take her on a journey to rescue trapped compatriots from an underground complex of mines.
Along the way they get caught up in a conspiracy to kill the latest royal child and wipe out the Monarchist movement for good.
But Fellion has more than just her Lamplighting skills up her sleeve…
In Kate Elliott's Servant Mage, a lowly fire mage finds herself entangled in an empire-spanning conspiracy on her way to discovering her true power.

My Review:

In the immortal words of humorist Lewis Grizzard, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” The story of the Servant Mage, Fellian the Lamplighter, shows just how much of a surprise it is to the lead dog – or the ass that thinks they’re in front of you – when one of those dogs in the back gets sick of viewing that ass and decides to take themselves out of the pack.

I’ve carried this metaphor far enough, but it is still the lingering image in my mind after reading Servant Mage.

Fellian is the servant mage of the title, a mage in forced indentured servitude – in other words enslaved – as all mages are in these lands ruled by the so-called “Liberationist Council”. The weren’t really “liberators”, of course, or anything even close to that. They’re a theocracy, a religious tyranny that blames mages for all the ills of the world and has forced them into slavery to keep their spirits diminished and their magic untrained so that they won’t rise up and overthrow the tyrants.

Which makes Fellian ripe for recruitment into a conspiracy to overthrow the Liberationists and bring back the monarchy. All she has to do is rescue a bunch of monarchists trapped in an underground mining complex.

The conspirators assume that Fellian will be grateful for her rescue. And she is. Who wouldn’t be? They assume that her gratitude will extend to her continuing to serve the rebellion as a second class citizen because that’s considerably better than the slavery-conditions she had been forced to serve under. And that’s all they think she’s worthy to be. A second-class citizen, useful to them but not as equal or worthy as themselves.

But Fellian considers a bargain to be a bargain. Once her work is done, she has plans for her own future. As far as the monarchists were concerned, Fellian was a means to an end. Aren’t they surprised to discover that in the end, they were EXACTLY the same thing to her!

Escape Rating B: Let me begin by indulging in my usual complaint about novellas; this book was too short. I know I say that all the time but this time I really, really mean it even more than I usually do.

It’s not that Fellian’s journey from “servant mage” to epic heroine isn’t wonderfully complex – because it is. And it’s not that the cause she is recruited for isn’t worthy even if it’s not exactly perfect – because it is. And it’s absolutely not because the worldbuilding in this story isn’t fantastic – because it certainly is that.

And that’s kind of where the too short complaint comes seriously into play. The worldbuilding feels even deeper than the mining complex where Fellian stages that all-important rescue that she was recruited/strong-armed into performing. We get so much about the way this world works – and mostly doesn’t at the moment – that it feels like we’re at the entrance to something much bigger and greater.

Like a truly epic epic fantasy.

Especially when we view the world through Fellian’s eyes and especially Fellian’s mind. Because Fellian is from a land with a surprisingly egalitarian political structure – a place she can’t wait to get back to once this job is done.

From our view of Fellian we can see that she notes every single microaggression and disrespect that she receives, not just from the people who have enslaved her, but from the people who have rescued her as well.

Which leads right back to paraphrase my opening quote, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.” Her rescuers are sure they are the lead dogs and that they don’t have to be anything more than barely kind to the ones they perceive as being in the back of the pack. Which makes their reaction all that much more satisfying when Fellian rejects their oh-so-kind offer to help them in their quest.

Their privilege makes them blind, which does make the reader wonder how that will bode for their quest to restore the monarchy. Which may make things better for them, but not necessarily for anyone else. At least not better enough.

All of which leaves the reader with all sorts of interesting and lingering questions. What is going on where Fellian came from? What does she face when she returns? What’s going to happen to the rebellion? Can it possibly succeed and on what terms?

And, and, and…ad infinitum. Not quite ad nauseum but reaching towards there – at least in the sense that the questions left unanswered in this too-short story are downright legion.

In the end Servant Mage read as the beginning of something that might be marvelous and fascinating. But I’d feel a whole lot better about it’s incompleteness if I had an inkling that more were on the horizon.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Versus the Insurance Companies

Car pooling during the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Photograph by Don Cravens/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

A thorn in the side of Martin Luther King, Jr. in September of 1956 was… several auto insurance companies. From a letter that he wrote to Bayard Rustin that month:

We are still confronting pressure from reaction forces. For instance there is still the attempt to block our transportation system. The policies have been cancelled on more than half of our station wagons, and we have confronted insuperable difficulties trying to get them reinsured. You can see what it means to our transportation system to have about ten station wagons out of operation. We have had these station wagons out of operation for more than a week simply because they are not insured. This seems to be the major problem confronting us at this time.

Say what?

In order for the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama to be effective, African Americans need alternative transportation. A carpool was organized by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was formed shortly after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. The MIA’s president? Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to private cars, local churches provided 22 station wagons for the carpool. Then as now, cars cannot be legally driven without insurance policies, and at one point the local insurance companies had cancelled the policies on 17 of the 22 station wagons. As King noted, the cancellations were done that the behest of the Montgomery White Citizens Council:

Formal objections to the car pool included the charges that the cars were improperly insured and the drivers were “morally unsuitable.” It is true that for a time some cars were without insurance—since the White Citizens Council brought pressure on the insurance companies to cancel the policies on cars being used in the pool. But this was remedied long before the court case, when Lloyds of London insured each car to the amount of $11,000. As evidence of the moral unfitness of the drivers, the city listed the numerous traffic tickets with which it had harassed us from the beginning. Despite this strange justice, we decided to comply with the court order.

Despite the rescue by Lloyds of London on the insurance front, the court order King refers to put the car pool out of commission on 13 November 1956 — the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court first struck down segregation on public transportation. So, they walked until the last appeal by the city was denied and bus service in Montgomery was desegregated on 21 December 1956.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream, but that dream was not realized with a snap of the fingers or a single speech. Both segregation and the efforts to lift it involved many quotidian details.  That’s my focus for today: few get the opportunity to stand in front of a microphone in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands, but many, many more of influence in the realm of the small detail and can use that influence wisely… or poorly.

For further reading: the King Paper Publications at the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford, which has many writings by King available online — and not just the big speeches. Sometimes it’s good to look at the little ones, too.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-16-22

The cat picture below is the state of the Lucifer this weekend. And continuing through Tuesday. He’s not happy. I’ve put myself in ‘kitten jail’, otherwise known as my office, because I’m tied up in a four day zoom meeting. Galen said he’s planning on me being, and I most definitely quote, “a delicate zombie” for the entire thing.

It’s a committee meeting to discuss the books we’ve all been reading and make determinations. It’s great fun, and wonderful to discuss books with a bunch of passionate book people. But…four days on zoom is a lot of zoom. I do let the cats in at least some of the time because we all need the break, but they can be distracting as well. During last year’s meeting, there was a point where Hecate decided no one was paying enough attention to her so she stood on my desk and waved her ass in front of the camera.

This is why I have cats.

Don’t feel too sorry for Lucifer. The door pushes inwards and it doesn’t latch. He could stand and push it open if he wanted. He just likes to sit out there and pout. He makes sure I can see him through the glass so I know he’s pouting at me.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley by Mercedes Lackey
A- Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick
A+ Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark
B Review: The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
A- Review: The Wedding Setup by Sonali Dev + Spotlight + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (479)

Coming This Week:

Servant Mage by Kate Elliott (review)
Emperor by Anna Hackett (review)
Lightning in a Mirror by Jayne Ann Krentz (review)
Shady Hollow by Juneau Black (review)

Stacking the Shelves (479)

There are BOOKS again on NetGalley and Edelweiss. Seriously. Wonderfully. And they all look bright and shiny and I want to read every single one of them. Which is impossible and yes my virtually towering TBR pile is ginormous. As addictions go, reading is much safer than a whole lot of other possibilities. Thank goodness!

Just to leave you with a laugh, when I was looking up all the cover pictures in Amazon, my search for A Strange and Stubborn Endurance (wonderful title BTW) included in the results – above the book I was searching for – was a “Yodeling Pickle”. I swear. Why? I have no idea whatsoever. Nor do I honestly have any idea what one would do with a yodeling pickle. But they exist!

For Review:
The Boardwalk Bookshop by Susan Mallery
Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson
Emperor (Galactic Kings #2) by Anna Hackett
Fires of Edo (Shinobi Mystery #8) by Susan Spann
The First Binding (Tales of Tremaine #1) by R.R. Virdi
Haven by Emma Donoghue
The Hunger of the Gods (Bloodsworn Trilogy #2) by John Gwynne
The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander
Lost Worlds & Mythological Kingdoms edited by John Joseph Adams
The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick
Mirror Lake (Shady Hollow #3) by Juneau Black
A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Raven Spell (Conspiracy of Magic #1) by Luanne G. Smith


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


Review: The Wedding Setup by Sonali Dev + Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: The Wedding Setup by Sonali Dev + Spotlight + GiveawayThe Wedding Setup: A Short Story by Sonali Dev
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, short stories
Pages: 67
Published by Amazon Original Stories on January 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev comes a heartfelt short story about one woman’s journey of self-discovery and what it means to be happy.
Ayesha Shetty lost her brother seven years ago, the same time she lost everything else important to her: her dreams, her fierce independence, and the man she loved. Not wanting to see her mother hurt anymore, she put her wild self away and became the dutiful daughter her mother needed and took on her brother’s role in the family business.
Now her best friend’s big, fat Indian wedding is a chance to get away from her endless duties at the restaurant and maybe even have some fun (if she remembers how). But a setup arranged by her mother, with a doctor no less, is the last thing she needs. The fact that he checks all her mother’s boxes just makes everything better…and worse.
Then Emmitt Hughes shows up. Her brother’s best friend. The love she once chose over family duties and her responsibilities. The one she asked to leave, and who did. The one who knows the real Ayesha. Torn between a love from the past that could cost her the only person she has left and her sense of obligation to her mother, will Ayesha find the strength to stop thinking about what everyone else wants and finally put herself first? Or is the old Ayesha truly gone for good?

My Review:

The Wedding Setup is a short story, so I’m going to try to do it justice in a short review. Especially since this is a jam-packed post with an interview with the author, an excerpt from the story AND a giveaway!

From a certain perspective, this is a story about handling grief – or rather NOT handling grief. Ayesha has put herself in a box in her attempt to be the perfect daughter that she never was – and it’s a straitjacket. But so is the reason for that attempt, the death of her brother and her desperate need to hold onto her mother in the ultimately vain hope of preventing either of them from suffering any more losses. Ayesha’s father died when she was ten, and her mother was the rock that sheltered both her and her brother through the rest of her childhood. When her brother died, they were all each other had left. That and the depth of their grief and the fear of another loss.

But they lost each other along the way – even as they spent 16 hours a day together keeping the family’s restaurant afloat. Hanging onto the last remaining bit of her brother’s dream.

As this story opens, it’s been seven years since Ajay died, and Ayesha’s mother has had enough of living with Ayesha’s obedient ghost – because that’s who it seems has been trudging through the world in Ayesha’s place.

But that is far, far, far from what the story seems to be for most of its length. As Amma does her level best to bring back the old, vibrant, downright combative Ayesha by poking that sleeping tiger with every single stick she can find.

In the hopes that her daughter will come back to life and reach out for her own happy ever after.

Escape Rating A-: I have only one complaint about this story – it’s too damn short. It’s beautiful, it’s marvelous, and all the characters are fascinating – even the ones who only exist in memory. I would have loved this story even more if it had been novel length. But it isn’t so I’ll make do with what I have.

Part of the fun of The Wedding Setup is that the setup of Ayesha is not what either Ayesha or the reader think it is. The story is a gem of misdirection, and the reveal at the end forces both Ayesha and the reader to rethink everything that has happened. And rejoice at the ending.

Also laugh uproariously at the mental picture of a rat in scrubs administering a pap smear. Which is the only way to laugh at one of those necessary evils. Read The Wedding Setup to find out just how that comes to pass. The mental picture, that is.


Interview with Sonali Dev + Excerpt from The Wedding Setup

The Wedding Setup may be a short story, but it is tremendously powerful. How would you describe it to readers?

Thank you. It’s the story of a girl who used to be a rebel who followed her heart and fought for what she wanted, and then her brother’s death leaves her responsible for her widowed mother. It’s about being knocked off your feet and getting stuck, and learning how to stand back up and reclaim yourself.

The story invites us to take an intimate look into a mother-daughter relationship. This is a universal theme, however, you also steep the plot in your own Indian heritage. Can you tell readers what this story means to you as a daughter? What it means to you as an Indian woman?

There is so much of my own relationship with my mother in this book. We’ve always been incredibly close. She’s outspoken and confident and she modeled some powerful behaviors for me growing up about owning her own body and her voice. But there were the other parts where she was a product of her time and culture, believing in absolute terms that it is a woman’s duty to nurture her family, to marry ‘at the right time,’ to be a certain kind of mother. These are things she pushed hard. Things I internalized but also fought to do on my own terms and not hers. Ayesha’s relationship with her mother used to be this way, and then a tragedy changes their dynamic. So, it’s an exploration of how battles for identity get derailed by tragedy and grief and what it takes to heal.

Ayesha’s mom describes her as obedient, responsible, and “always putting everyone else before her own needs.” After hearing this Ayesha (internally) feels hypothermic. Can you explain how these seemingly sweet compliments completely destroy your heroine?

The mother-child bond comes with a kind of intuitive understanding of each other that’s unique to that relationship. So, while Ayesha has lost her fiery spirit and both she and her mother have lost years to their grief and struggle to survive, her mother knows who her daughter is deep down and how much she’s buried. So there’s a very nuanced intent to these ‘compliments’ and they hit the nerve they’re meant to hit. Ayesha’s reaction to these words is her dead parts coming back to life.

It only takes a moment—one second—for Ayesha to break free from her ice…a single word from Emmitt has her coming back to life. Why does she have such a powerful reaction to someone she hasn’t seen in seven years?

Ayesha had a crush on Emmitt for many years before they got together. She’s always had a strong reaction to him. The years they spent together as young adults were years when she came into herself, and felt seen and cherished. Then she loses all of that when her brother dies and they break up. So, it’s a combination of things that come together when Ayesha meets Emmitt again. They have a natural connection, but also, with his return come all the memories of who she used to be and how much she used to let herself feel.

Ayesha has never forgotten how Emmitt turns “her messy, impulsive, unfettered emotion into something beautiful.” But she has forgotten the effect that she has on him. What buried memories are uncovered as she watches Emmitt react to their reunion?

Emmitt has always dealt with the world and the pain it causes him by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But Ayesha destroys his defenses with her ability to love (and do everything else) so fiercely. So, when he loses her he’s already lost his ability to protect himself. Their joint grief is what separated them, so, while they understand each other’s pain they both also understand the loneliness of not having each other to lean on. They’ve had to make the journey to healing individually, but meeting each other again brings up the piece that needs the other to heal.

How did you get to know your couple? How were you able to understand what was needed to heal their broken hearts?

The one theme that threads through all my books is finding yourself on the tightrope between personal freedom and responsibility to family and community. Healing is always about finding or rediscovering your love for yourself. So, I understand my characters through that lens: how have they lost themselves? What about themselves do they need to reclaim and fall in love with? A truly connected couple is one who aids this journey in each other, recognizes it, and supports it.

In a limited number of pages you not only give readers a living, breathing couple, but also an avalanche of equally interesting characters like Ayesha’s best friend, suitor, aunties…and you even create depth with characters that are no longer living. Why was it so important to spend time with these secondary characters? What do they reveal about your hero and heroine?

I believe that as humans we are a sum total of our relationships and the world we live in and build for ourselves. How someone treats other people and how they respond to how they are treated is what constitutes character.

At its heart, every story is about a person who is somehow at odds with the world they live in or with themselves because of the expectations of their world, and the journey they make to resolve that conflict. Ayesha wouldn’t be Ayesha without her mother and Bela, her best friend and the community she was raised in. Bela has been her wild other half growing up, then their paths diverged, but they continued to be each other’s support. Her mother has become a crutch she uses to hold on to her grief. Emmitt’s grief over his friend has run his life for seven years too. So the secondary characters are just as integral to the story as the protagonists.

While the plot focuses on grief, there is also great joy to be found. After all, the backdrop of the story is a giant wedding. What do you personally find the most fun at a traditional Indian wedding celebration?

I’m always only there for the food and dancing! Fine, and getting to dress up. And the wine. Also, maybe the chance to hang out with family and friends I only see at weddings. And the drunk aunties and uncles.

After readers devour The Wedding Setup, which of your other books would you recommend they read next?

First, thank you so much for devouring The Wedding Setup! I’m incredibly proud of my Rajes series, a set of retellings of my four favorite Jane Austen novels set in a politically ambitious Indian American family from Northern California. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is a gender flipped Pride and Prejudice. Recipe for Persuasion is a two-generational homage to Persuasion set on a Food Network show. Incense and Sensibility, the love story between a gubernatorial candidate and a yoga therapist who can save him but also destroy his campaign, pays tribute to Sense and Sensibility. And the upcoming The Emma Project (May 17th 2022), which is a gender flipped Emma that explores what it means when a person with tremendous privilege offers charity to someone who has much less.

The Wedding Setup Excerpt

Goose bumps rose across Ayesha’s skin, one sharp dot at a time.

“Ayesha.”

That was it. Just that one word. Her name. In a voice that was its own ghost.

She squeezed her eyes shut. One tight squeeze. Tight enough to hurt, tight enough to almost dislodge the false eyelashes Andre had pressed into her lash line one by one with the precision of a surgeon. Then boom! she was in control again and back to Ayesha on Ice.

Eyes blank, face set, she turned toward the voice.

Emmitt.

The impact of him was a body blow.

The entire universe stilled. Words weren’t a thing. Or sound. Breath? What was that?

Ayesha! Get a grip.

No grip. That’s how it had always been. She’d had no grip when it came to Emmitt Hughes. Not even a little bit. Not when she’d spied on him and Ajay playing Mario Kart and Minecraft and GTA for hours, for years. Not when she’d yearned and dreamed and spun stories with him at the center.

I’ve made my love for you, my god.

It was the cheesiest of lines from one of those Bollywood songs her parents had played on repeat at the restaurant. Amma had loved translating the over-the-top lyrics and explaining their nuances.

Back when Amma was full of stories and songs and laughter. Before Ajay.

Ajay.

Her brother’s unspoken name fell between them like a glass bauble and shattered.

“You remember Emmitt,” Edward had the gall to say.

Bela shot him a glare.

You didn’t tell me he would be here. Ayesha threw the silent accusation at her traitorous best friend, who gave her nothing more than another worried look.

No, Eddie. Remind me again who he is? The snarky words stuck in Ayesha’s throat. Old Ayesha would have said them. Old Ayesha said everything.

“Emmitt,” New Ayesha said, every feeling buried under her customer-is-king voice from the restaurant. “Nice to see you again.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed in the long column of his throat. How was he still so darned beautiful?

One swallow, and then he smiled back. Banking feelings where no one saw them had been his thing. Emmitt the Wall. That’s what Ajay had called him. Her brother had been best friends with him since Emmitt had moved to Naperville in fifth grade after his parents’ divorce. Years of friendship, and he’d still held Ajay at that slight distance he’d been so good at. Something she would always wish she hadn’t cured him of.

You broke me, Ayesha.You broke every defense I’ve ever had against the world.

She, Ayesha Shetty—too tall, too dark, too outspoken, too intense, too ambitious, too everything for everyone else had been just enough to break through Emmitt the Wall.

“It’s nice to see you too,” he said gently, sounding . . . she dug through her brain to come up with the right word. Grown-up? Contained?

Good. Because Ayesha was all those things now too. Not a grenade with its fuse pulled, ready to blow up the world.

Author Biography

USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that explore universal issues. Her novels have been named best books of the year by Library Journal, NPR, the Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews. She has won numerous accolades, including the American Library Association’s award for best romance, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for best contemporary romance, and multiple RT Seals of Excellence; has been a RITA finalist; and has been listed for the Dublin Literary Award. Shelf Awareness calls her “not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, two visiting adult children, and the world’s most perfect dog.

Buy Link: https://amzn.to/3pWDqM8

Social Media Links

Website: https://sonalidev.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SonaliDev.author

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sonali_Dev

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonali.dev/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7025918.Sonali_Dev

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Review: The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

Review: The Paris Bookseller by Kerri MaherThe Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on January 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The dramatic story of how a humble bookseller fought against incredible odds to bring one of the most important books of the 20th century to the world in this new novel from the author of The Girl in White Gloves.
When bookish young American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company on a quiet street in Paris in 1919, she has no idea that she and her new bookstore will change the course of literature itself.
Shakespeare and Company is more than a bookstore and lending library: Many of the prominent writers of the Lost Generation, like Ernest Hemingway, consider it a second home. It's where some of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century are forged--none more so than the one between Irish writer James Joyce and Sylvia herself. When Joyce's controversial novel Ulysses is banned, Beach takes a massive risk and publishes it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company.
But the success and notoriety of publishing the most infamous and influential book of the century comes with steep costs. The future of her beloved store itself is threatened when Ulysses' success brings other publishers to woo Joyce away. Her most cherished relationships are put to the test as Paris is plunged deeper into the Depression and many expatriate friends return to America. As she faces painful personal and financial crises, Sylvia--a woman who has made it her mission to honor the life-changing impact of books--must decide what Shakespeare and Company truly means to her.

My Review:

Sylvia Beach is one of those people who, if she hadn’t existed, someone would have had to invent her. Her story reads like one of those that, if it were truly fictional, would be a bit too over-the-top to be believed.

But, as happens more often than we think, it’s only fiction that has to be plausible. History just has to be true. And this story, or at least the big, important, supporting bones of this story, are that. Or close enough. (Beach herself wrote a memoir of this period, titled, of course, Shakespeare and Company. There is also a well-known biography of Beach by Noel Riley Fitch, Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, that was published in 1983.)

So what we have in The Paris Bookseller is a fascinating, fictionalized version of an equally fascinating life in a time and place that was spectacular when it happened and has taken on a storied life of its own in the century that followed.

The story in The Paris Bookseller is kind of a “portrait of the bookseller as a young woman”. Although the book begins at with Sylvia’s service at the end of World War I, the story really begins in 1919, with Sylvia looking for a way to be a part of the fomenting new art and literature scene in Paris, a place that her heart has already come to call home.

She falls in love with Adrienne Monnier, a Parisienne bookseller, as well as Adrienne’s shop and the warm, homey but intellectual atmosphere it embodies. While Sylvia’s surprisingly accepting parents have always encouraged her to write, Sylvia doesn’t find writing literature to be her calling.

She decides to do her bit – and it turns out to be a VERY big bit indeed – in the rising tide of new and challenging arts and letters by promoting literature instead. She opens the doors of the first English-language bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Company.

And through those doors walks the cream of literary ex-patriots, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and, to Beach’s delight but eventual financial ruin, James Joyce. An author on the road to immortal fame, infamy and Ulysses.

Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co. (Paris, 1920)

Escape Rating B: The absolute best thing about this book is the way that it brings the Paris of the “Lost Generation”, the Paris of the 1920s to life. Sylvia Beach and her iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, were at the center of a great deal of at least the literary life of Paris during those storied years. And that’s the part of this book that really grabbed me.

(Also reminded me a bit of Laurie R. King’s The Bones of Paris, which also brings those years and those people to vivid life – just in a much different kind of story.)

But the thing about putting fictional meat on the bones of a real life story reminds me a bit of the rules about time-turners in Harry Potter, in that the author can’t change things that they know to be true. It’s possible to shift minor events around a bit, drop a few characters and amalgamate a few more, but the broad outline of the story is set in the real life history of the person being fictionalized.

What that means in The Paris Bookseller is that I frequently wanted to reach through the pages and shake some sense into Sylvia Beach, at least in regards to her working relationship with James Joyce.

She reads as rather young and a bit naïve – particularly in matters of business. (She was 32 in 1919) And Joyce, as portrayed in both this book and as happened in real life, was focused on his art to the exclusion of practical matters. Or he was a user. Or both. It feels like both. And Beach is certainly one of the people that he used in order to both fund his life as he worked and to get his work published.

At the same time, from our point looking backward into history, that great flourishing of new styles of writing is still being felt today, and it was important and necessary that someone tilt at the windmills of U.S. censorship, just as it was important in the 1950s that someone get Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago out from under Soviet censorship.

To put the quote into its original French, apropos considering the location of Shakespeare and Company, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose “ (the more that changes, the more it’s the same thing).

The 1920s in the U.S. may have “roared” with bathtub gin, but that was because of the repression of Prohibition. There was plenty of repression to go around in that decade. Ulysses was censored under the Comstock Act that prohibited the distribution of obscenity through the mail. Meanwhile Hollywood faced mounting pressure to censor itself by increasingly stringent rules – a pressure that eventually resulted in the Hays Code.

Sylvia Beach’s Paris suffered from no such restrictions, which was a big part of the reason that the ex-pat community was filled with so many luminaries of arts and letters. (That legal discrimination against same-sex relationships had been eliminated during the Revolution didn’t hurt either, and was certainly part of the reason that Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, as well as Beach herself, found Paris such a congenial place to live.) The painters could paint what and how they wanted, the growing cadre of photographers could take pictures of whatever and however they could manage, and the writers could write as realistically and shockingly – often those were the same thing – as they pleased and get their work published.

And the cost of living was relatively low.

The story of The Paris Bookseller is the story of Sylvia Beach at the center of so very much of this. She was neither a writer nor an artist, but she provided the room where much of it happened. And she brought James Joyce’s Ulysses into the world – even though it nearly broke her and her store.

In the end, I liked The Paris Bookseller but didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would. I loved the way that Paris in the 1920s came to life. There was such a strong sense of “being there” at Shakespeare and Company as the store flourished, as the salons and discussions happened, as Ezra Pound came in to fix the chairs. (Seriously, he does, and it’s such a marvelous little detail that makes so much feel real.)

I found Beach’s business relationship with Joyce frustrating in the extreme. It really happened that way, but, as I said, I wanted to shake her for not protecting herself and her business better. But it happened.

As a character, the author’s interpretation of Beach reads as a bit young and naïve. Some of that is the reflection of time, as these events are a century ago and we know how history played out. The hope of the 1920s covered the post-war despair of the same era and led to the Great Depression and eventually – and inevitably in retrospect – World War II.

So we know that Sylvia’s bright hopes and dreams of change are not going to come true. Even scarier, it feels like the forces of censorship and thought repression that she left behind in the U.S. in the 1920s have come around again. Which had me reading more than a bit of today into a story set a century ago.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.“ Indeed.

Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark

Review: Under Color of Law by Aaron Philip ClarkUnder Color of Law by Aaron Philip Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Trevor Finnegan #1
Pages: 304
Published by Thomas & Mercer on October 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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The murder of a police recruit pins a black LAPD detective in a deadly web where race, corruption, violence, and cover-ups intersect in this relevant, razor-sharp novel of suspense.

Black rookie cop Trevor “Finn” Finnegan aspires to become a top-ranking officer in the Los Angeles Police Department and fix a broken department. A fast-track promotion to detective in the coveted Robbery-Homicide Division puts him closer to achieving his goal.

Four years later, calls for police accountability rule the headlines. The city is teeming with protests for racial justice. When the body of a murdered black academy recruit is found in the Angeles National Forest, Finn is tasked to investigate.

As pressure mounts to solve the crime and avoid a PR nightmare, Finn scours the underbelly of a volatile city where power, violence, and race intersect. But it’s Finn’s past experience as a beat cop that may hold the key to solving the recruit’s murder. The price? The end of Finn’s career…or his life.

My Review:

Depending on how you look at it, Under Color of Law is either a mystery thriller about a young LAPD officer who finds himself a witness to a terrible act of police brutality and decides to go along with the coverup in trade for being fast tracked from uniform to detective. Only for karma to come back and bite him in the ass in a way that may be nothing less than he deserves, but endangers not just his career but his life.

Alternatively, this story is a searing indictment of the “thin blue line” and the culture that not merely allows but actually encourages bad cops to stay bad and get worse – because they know that their brothers and sisters in uniform – and even the brass that gives the orders – are more interested in covering up misconduct than investigating it. Because investigations lead to exposure, and exposure leads to questions, and questions cause the people that pay the taxes and support the police to lose even more faith and confidence in the ones who are supposed to serve and protect them than they already have.

It’s about controlling public perception much more than it is about the public good. And if both of the above interpretations don’t sound familiar, you haven’t read much crime fiction – and you haven’t been paying much attention to the news, how it’s delivered, and who nearly always ends up getting the short end of the stick.

Escape Rating A+: Under Cover of Law is compelling as hell. That’s it in a nutshell. This is an absolute breakneck page-turner of a book. I could not put it down and I could not stop reading until the bittersweet, heartbreaking but surprisingly hopeful end.

Although I have to admit that I can’t quite figure out how this could be a series starter. On the other hand, I don’t care. This was beautifully and thrillingly complete in and of itself. If there are more, I’d be thrilled. If there are not, this was marvelously enough.

(The second book in the series has been announced with the title Blue Like Me and will be published in November. I can’t wait to see how this story continues, because it felt like it ended and ended well. We’ll see.)

The, I want to call it the frame but that isn’t quite right, let’s say the opening mystery and its aftermath in the life of Detective Trevor Finnegan is one that has been used plenty of times in police-based mysteries. The story of the young cop who gets caught up in something beyond his control and chooses to go along to get along instead of risking the career he’s just begun has been used before. Sometimes the young cop goes bad. Sometimes he or she tries to blot out the memory and things go wrong that way. Sometimes they just hide it and karma comes around to be her bitchy self by the end.

The most recent series I’ve read that uses this plot device is TA Moore’s Night Shift series that starts with Shift Work. Even in that series’ paranormal setting, the plot device still works. And I’m sure there are others that just aren’t coming to the top of my mind at the moment.

What sets Under Color Of Law apart from other mystery/thrillers that use that same setup to get themselves set up is the way that it uses Finnegan’s experience as a rookie cop and his bargain with the brass to shine a light on the way that entrenched corruption rots even those who start out with the intent of reforming the system from the inside. Then it takes THAT story and contrasts it with a second story that begins with the same intentions, and interweaves it into a contemporary setting where we have all too much knowledge of how bad things really are because we’ve seen it splashed across the news following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner – among entirely too many others – in police custody under suspicious circumstances that would result in murder convictions for anyone not a cop.

We see that story unfold through the experience of Trevor Finnegan, a black police detective in LA, the son of a black police officer, as he is forced to reckon with the crimes that he committed, he allowed to be committed, and their impact on the life he’s dragging himself through instead of living.

And as we read and watch, we can’t turn our eyes away. And we shouldn’t.

Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda QuickGarden of Lies by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 359
Published by Berkley on April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The Kern Secretarial Agency provides reliable professional services to its wealthy clientele, and Anne Clifton was one of the finest women in Ursula Kern’s employ. But Miss Clifton has met an untimely end—and Ursula is convinced it was not due to natural causes.   Archaeologist and adventurer Slater Roxton thinks Mrs. Kern is off her head to meddle in such dangerous business. Nevertheless, he seems sensible enough to Ursula, though she does find herself unnerved by his self-possession and unreadable green-gold eyes…   If this mysterious widowed beauty insists on stirring the pot, Slater intends to remain close by as they venture into the dark side of polite society. Together they must reveal the identity of a killer—and to achieve their goal they may need to reveal their deepest secrets to each other as well…

My Review:

The popular perception of heroines in historical romance is that their lives were restricted and that they were supposed to be innocent even into adulthood and as a consequence were naïve and/or ripe to become damsels in distress who needed to be rescued by the hero.

An image that probably wasn’t true even among the aristocracy, and certainly couldn’t have been outside it. Which doesn’t prevent it from still being a popular perception. But readers aren’t looking for innocent damsels in distress nearly as much as they used to. We’re looking for women we can manage to identify with.

In that sense, Ursula Kern is a fascinating choice as a heroine. She’s a widow. She’s permitted to no longer be innocent or naïve. She’s on her own, and she owns her own business – not as a member of the demimonde – but a respectable business employing respectable women who are able to earn respectable incomes.

Whatever hopes and dreams she may have, she is expected to present herself as a responsible, respectable, professional adult person. She’s been through enough to know that the only person who will take care of her is her. As a woman with neither a husband nor living parents nor male siblings, there is no one to gainsay her determination to make a living for herself and to provide good livings for as many women as possible in her employ.

Ursula may not have family, but she does have friends as well as colleagues and employees. The late Anne Clifton was all of the above; an employee who became a colleague and friend. Ursula Kern is certain that Anne Clifton was murdered. Finding her killer is the last thing that Ursula can do for her friend – and she’s determined to do it.

She just needs a bit of help. Or at least she hopes for it. And that’s where Slater Roxton comes in. Slater, a man with a mysterious incident in his past that has fueled the gossip rags and gutter press for years, is an expert on finding lost artifacts and tombs – where he once got trapped.

(Come to think of it, he’d probably be a contemporary of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Sr., the father of archeologist, treasure hunter and troubleshooter Indiana Jones. If there turned out to be some influence there I wouldn’t be at all surprised.)

Slater, for reasons of his own, some more obvious than others, can’t let Ursula go off on her investigation all alone. It’s not that he doesn’t believe she quite capable as an adult and as a businesswoman, but ferreting out the truth about dastardly murderers who have so far been successful at making their crimes look like accidents is a dangerous business.

A business with many more dangerous tentacles – or should I say twisted roots and entangling vines – than either Slater or Ursula ever imagined.

Escape Rating A-: I read this for fun. I was bouncing hard off of everything and went looking for a story that I knew would be instantly absorbing. I was highly tempted to read this author’s Lightning in a Mirror which is out next week, but then I remembered that Garden of Lies was STILL on my “Highly Anticipating” Shelf on Edelweiss. In fact, it was the oldest book on that shelf. So here we are.

Garden of Lies was every bit as instantly absorbing and fun as I hoped, even if I didn’t completely buy the inevitable romance between Slater and Ursula. The rest of the story, especially the uncovering of the full scope of the criminal plotting AND the nefarious dealings on both sides of the pond, was absolutely riveting.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the way that all the women in the story, including the secondary characters, dealt with their world in a way that seemed realistically sensible. Not just that Ursula and the women she employs have made their own way independently, but the way that Slater’s mother, the actress who was the lifelong paramour of a titled noble, knew exactly what she was letting herself in for and moved through the world as she found it and not as anyone dreamed or hoped it would be. That his late father was sanguine enough to not merely acknowledge Slater was his but to trust his illegitimate son to protect his legal widow and legitimate heirs from her abusive father.

Their approaches to their world make sense in a way that isn’t always true in historical romance.

The mystery plot was marvelously convoluted and the reveal of it was appropriately painstaking. Ursula starts with the death of her friend, finds evidence that her death was murder, and then begins to dig. The solution is revealed in layers, as each new bit of information leads to a place that no one had foreseen from the opening. The web was woven very tightly, and it takes and appropriate amount of time and effort to unravel it fully.

As Ursula and Slater eventually manage to do. I liked them as partners, I just didn’t see enough of them “falling” in love to buy that they really were in love. But I’m still glad they found their slightly unconventional HEA.

There was no paranormal woo-woo in this standalone book, as there so often is in the author’s Arcane Society series, yet it still had some of the same feel with its nefarious plot, double-dealing, wheels within wheels criminal organization, and the investigation into dirty deeds done in very dark places for both evil and mercenary ends.

But the author has two books with some of that paranormal vibe coming soon, Lightning in a Mirror next week and When She Dreams in April. My reading appetite for both has certainly been whetted!