Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli

Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham AzrieliDeborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 224
Published by HarperLegend on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the tradition of The Red Tent, The Fifth Mountain, and The Mists of Avalon comes this absorbing historical novel that reimagines the life of one of the Bible's most revered women, the prophetess Deborah, and her epic journey to fulfill her destiny.

Deborah's father dreamed that his daughter would one day become a prophet of the God of the Israelites. But the social and religious mores of her time dictated that a woman must marry—even against her will—and obey her husband. When Deborah is forced into an engagement with the violent son of her local judge, the young Hebrew woman rebels, determined to forge a new path.

Captivated by the notion of transforming herself into a man to escape the arranged marriage and fulfill her father's dream, Deborah embarks upon an epic journey across the desert to find a mysterious elixirist rumored to be blessed with the gift of turning women into men. It is a journey that proves increasingly perilous—filled with wild beasts, lustful men, unscrupulous priests, and warring tribesmen. Yet Deborah discovers that she is not alone; an unlikely coterie of lepers, slaves, Moabite traders, and even a dead tiger come to her aid and defense along the way.

Part traditional biblical fiction, part adventure, Deborah Rising is a captivating tale about the early life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament—a woman of courage and spirit whose battle to overcome discrimination, sexism, and paternalism speaks to women's lives today.

My Review:

The story in Deborah Rising is the very (possibly very, very) fictionalized account of the early life of the Biblical Prophet Deborah. Deborah was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and one of very few female prophets.

Based on this story, one also gets the feeling that Deborah lives up to a saying from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, the one that goes, “A fake fortune teller can be tolerated. But an authentic soothsayer should be shot on sight. Cassandra did not get half the kicking around she deserved.” In this story of her early life, Deborah certainly suffers from all the kicking around that Long would have wished – and she hasn’t even started to prophesy yet.

Then again, when the story ends she’s only 14. She has time yet. And another whole book (Deborah Calling) in which to start speaking truth to power. And speaking with the power of truth.

But for the course of this book, she is also an unfortunate example of “when bad things happen to good people” and just how those good people react. Not that Deborah’s life wasn’t good for most of her childhood, because it was. But a year before the opening of the story, disaster struck.

Her parents were murdered, supposedly by raiders from another tribe. She and her sister were taken in by the local Judge (read ruler) of their town. Not out of the goodness of his heart, because I don’t think he has any. Rather, because the land their parents owned included a cistern – not merely a well but an underground protected water source. Water is worth more than gold in the dry land of Canaan.

Deborah and Tamar have no brothers. They each inherit a half share in the land, but can’t really inherit it. Their half-shares pass to their husbands when they marry. The Judge has a 20 year old son, and the Judge expects that he will obtain the land by marrying first one sister, then the other – whether they want to marry him or not.

The Judge’s son, Seesya, will let absolutely nothing stand in his way. Not poor Tamar, not Deborah, not the law and not the commandments. He takes what he wants, when he wants and how he wants, with as much cruelty as he desires. And he seems to desire endless amounts of it.

All Deborah wants is to escape. She will do anything to escape. Even, if she can, become a man.

Escape Rating B: In the end, this turned out to be a wow! I felt compelled to keep reading, and could not stop until the end.

But as much as I was riveted to the pages, there were some things that bothered me, often quite a lot.

The comparison is being made between Deborah Rising and The Red Tent. I read The Red Tent many years ago, and enjoyed it, but I do not remember it being quite this grim. Every circumstance is against Deborah all the time. The circumstance that she is female means that she has no power of any kind, and is only supposed to endure every terrible thing that happens to her. While that may have been true, we see nothing but terrible things happen to her. At times it makes for hard reading.

The story of Deborah the Judge may end in triumph, but we do not see any of that here, only one catastrophe after another. For every step forward she makes, she seems to take three steps back, and all of those steps over a bed of nails.

Part of what motivates Deborah in her quest is the Judge’s son Seesya. He makes perversely good motivation, because he seems to be evil for evil’s sake. To survive, Deborah must evade him at every turn, because if he catches up to her she will die.

That Seesya and his father want the land makes sense. That cistern represents untold wealth in the right hands – hands like the Judge’s, that will exploit the precious resource in every possible way.

But Seesya’s pursuit of Deborah isn’t just about the land. It’s personal. He hated her sister, he hates her, and he wants to kill every single person with whom she has contact. As a character, he is so sick and twisted that we can only see the twistedness – we don’t understand why. He’d be scarier if we knew what was motivating him.

One of the interesting twists in the story is Deborah’s quest to become a man. It is not about gender identity as we understand it today. Instead, it is a response to her circumstances. If she had been born male, she could have inherited the land from her parents and protected her sister from marriage to Seesya. She could learn to read and write. She could become the prophet that her parents hoped that she would become. Life as a man, in her time and place, would give her at least power over her own body and her own life. She could testify in court, and she has plenty to say. She could fight back.

Her desire to become male makes sense under her circumstances. However, it feels as if every single person involved in her quest is lying to her in some way, quite possibly for what they believe is her own good, but lying nonetheless. And she is too naive to realize it, or at least to realize it yet.

The story in Deborah Rising does not feel complete – only because it isn’t. As this book ends, Deborah’s quest has just barely begun, and there is no certainty within the story that she will succeed. Also, it doesn’t really feel like it ended at a natural point in the story, which continues in Deborah Calling.

I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of how the author fleshed out this Biblical story. And I want to see Seesya get his just desserts. Or even just see him dead in the desert.

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Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Review:

This story is quintessentially women’s fiction. The story revolves around the women of the Bloom family; sisters Harper and Stacey, Harper’s daughter Becca, Stacey’s soon-to-be-born daughter Joule, and their mother Bunny. Definitely their mother Bunny. OMG Bunny.

The men in this story revolve around the women. One of the men definitely believes that he’s a planetary body in his own right, and that some of the Bloom women are his satellites, but he is so, so wrong.

This one is all about the relationships between the women, especially the relationship between the sisters in the title, Harper and Stacey.

Harper and Stacey are in their late-30s, and they are certainly opposites. But then, they always have been. Harper became the perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker, just as their mother Bunny wanted. But Harper can’t please her hypercritical mother, no matter how much she overdoes.

And it’s overdoing that she no longer has time for. Harper’s marriage failed, leaving her to raise her daughter Becca mostly alone. With no training for any regular job, Harper has turned her super-organized, super-crafty, super-creative energies into her own Virtual Assistant company – but it isn’t quite working. She needs a not-so-virtual assistant of her own to manage her over-scheduled time and keep her from undercutting her own worth.

She already has her mother for that.

Stacey, on the other hand, is happily married, six months pregnant, and scared to death to tell her mother. If Bunny has been hypercritical of Harper’s perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker personality, she has been even more censorious of Stacey’s success as a molecular biologist. As far as Bunny is concerned, there is something wrong with Stacey and her laser-focus on her career. Actually, as far as Bunny is concerned, Stacey is just not normal and she’s not shy about letting Stacey know that at every opportunity.

But Stacey and Harper have always supported each other, possibly as a result of being united against the common enemy – their mother.

As this story unfolds, they both need all the help they can get. Stacey, faces her impending motherhood absolutely certain that she will be unable to bond with her child. Harper faces Becca’s junior year in high school feeling that she’s lost touch with her daughter, and feeling that she is a failure in her business, her life, and her relationship with her daughter.

Standing together, just like they always have, helps them both find a way forward. With just a little help from their friends.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely adored Stacey. I completely understood her focus on her career, her fascination with her work, and her extreme social awkwardness. She was a character I could really relate to.

At the same time, while Harper’s Ms. Susie Homemaker shtick would drive me crazy, her courage at starting her own business and the way that the desire to please that had been ingrained in her (by her mother) kept holding her back, also felt very familiar.

And I totally envied Stacey her close relationship with her grandfather the astronaut, and how that relationship didn’t just change but absolutely made her life. (I have a thing about the space program)

Even Becca’s trials and tribulations felt real and familiar, even though it has been a very long time since I was a teenager.

This is, of course, leading up to a great big BUT. I hated Bunny. She set up both of her daughters for failure, and continued to reinforce those feelings of failure at every turn. Whenever she appeared in the story I wanted to cringe. The terrible mother seems to be a stock character in women’s fiction, and it’s not a stock character I ever enjoy seeing.

(Yes, Bunny reminds me of my own mother, and right now I have enough unresolved feelings in that direction to fill my own book. Seeing those feelings reflected in fiction was a bit cathartic, but also quite annoying the longer it went on. Your reading mileage may vary.)

Harper and Stacey’s stories, while complicated by Bunny, also do a marvelous job of showing a range of women’s choices and how they can go both right and wrong. But mostly right. Stacey’s husband Kit in particular is a real gem of a husband and a great character. As is Harper’s business partner Dean.

Harper’s ex-husband is more than a bit of a tool, not surprising. But so is Lucas, the man she finally falls for. The difference is that Lucas gets better – even if he doesn’t grovel nearly enough. Still I liked the way that their romance does not become the focus of the story, and that Lucas forges a friendship with Becca separate from whatever relationship he does or does not have with Harper.

In the end, a good time was had by all, and I liked both Harper and Stacey and really enjoyed seeing them both figure out their lives.

TLC
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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-21-18

Sunday Post
Life feels like it is finally back to normal after the unfortunate events over the holidays.  There was a little while there where I had absolutely no interest in reading romance (something like a Norovirus does not leave one inclined towards romance) nor did I feel like facing a family drama story, having much too much left unresolved in my own. But I’m feeling better and life is adjusting, so reading-wise things feel back to normal.

And it’s warming up a bit here in Atlanta. I moved South to get away from the frigid winters in some of the other places that I’ve lived, and did not enjoy the re-hash. Especially as it turns out that the house we’re renting seems to have no insulation on the first floor whatsoever, leaving the kitchen and living room at least 10 degrees colder than the bedrooms and offices. I got a lot of reading done!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the January Book of Choice Giveaway Hop is Cali M.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop is Buddy G.

Blog Recap:

Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop
A- Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood
A- Guest Review by Amy: Her Sweetest Fortune by Stella Bagwell
B+ Review: Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson
A Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Stacking the Shelves (271)

Coming Next Week:

Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery (blog tour review)
Deborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli (blog tour review)
Cast in Deception by Michelle Sagara (review)
Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell (review)
Markswoman by Rati Mahrotra (review)

Stacking the Shelves (271)

Stacking the Shelves

A relatively short stack this week, but it still has a couple of books that I’m really looking forward to. And my library hold for the first book in the Elder Races series finally came in. I think the entire rest of the series arrived first. Murphy’s Law for the win!

For Review:
The Day of the Dead (Frieda Klein #8) by Nicci French
Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins
The World Awakening (Gateways to Alissia #3) by Dan Koboldt

Borrowed from the Library:
The Darkest Promise (Lords of the Underworld #13) by Gena Showalter
Dragon Bound (Elder Races #1) by Thea Harrison
True Colors (Elder Races #3.5) by Thea Harrison

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi CoatesWe Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Format: eARC
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: essays, history, nonfiction, U.S. history
Pages: 367
Published by One World on October 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A sweeping collection of new and selected essays on the Obama era by the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me

"We were eight years in power" was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. Now Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America's "first white president."

But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period--and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation's old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective--the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.

We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates's iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including "Fear of a Black President," "The Case for Reparations," and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates's own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.

My Review:

I came to this book via multiple odd routes. I heard the author speak a couple of years ago, because my husband really likes his writing. While it doesn’t resonate with me quite the same way, when it does, it really, really does. Coates’ comment at the beginning of Between the World and Me regarding the social construction of whiteness in America, and how that social construct can be withheld, conferred and taken away as conditions change, spoke directly to me and my own experience as a Jew growing up in America. I was not white when I was a child. I have been through most of my adulthood. But if the neo-Nazis chanting at that Unite the Right rally last year in Charlottesville have anything to say about it, I will not be again in the future.

I was also interested in the historical resonance. I recently completed the extremely well-written (and incredibly massive) biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow. The historical “eight years in power” that Coates refers to in the title of the book largely overlap the years of Grant’s administration. Grant attempted to guarantee civil rights for the newly freed slaves in the South, and broke the 19th century incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. But the resulting backlash of white supremacy swept away his achievements, and those rights that were held most dear and paid for in blood.

That the backlash in the 19th century looks all too much like the backlash after Barack Obama’s election and administration in the 21st is all too poignant. And frightening in the intensity of its fear and hate, and in the depths of its depravity and its denial that there is anything wrong that still needs to be addressed.

America was founded on and prospered because of two original sins. One was the theft of the land itself from the Native Americans who already lived here, and the generations upon generations of continuing theft, pillage, murder and suppression, all sanctioned by law.

The second original sin is chattel slavery, the kidnapping of people in Africa, their shipment to the U.S., and their continued bondage, exploitation, theft, pillage, murder and suppression, all sanctioned by law. The wealth and prosperity of this country was founded on slavery, and the suppression of the descendants of that crime continue to this day. And tomorrow.

If the arc of history does bend towards justice, it seems to operate on a geologic scale of time. What feels more real is that for every swing towards what seems like progress, there is an equal and opposing backlash that feels worse than the oppression that went before, because once there was hope, and then there isn’t.

Which sums up a lot of liberal feelings about the election of Trump, after eight years of a President who was intelligent, thoughtful, statesmanlike, progressive, an always informed if not always inspiring speaker, and scandal-free – but who just so happened to be black, which is an original sin that too many people cannot forgive. Not because he was a bad president, but because he was a good one. Not perfect, but then no human is. But good.

And in the eyes and hearts of white supremacists, his Presidency is something that must be erased or delegitimized at every turn. Because it is proof that truly anyone can hold the highest office in this land.

Unfortunately, the current occupant also proves the exact same thing. Anyone can be President. But Obama appealed to the better angels in our nature, where Trump continues to build his base among the worst elements of repression, racism, anti-semitism and suppression of any and all people who are not just like him, meaning white, male, Christian, heterosexual, and rich.

Reality Rating A: Some of the above is personal. And while it isn’t directly about the book, it also is. We Were Eight Years in Power combines essays that Coates published in The Atlantic during the course of Obama’s administration, one for each year, with a framing narrative that is his own personal story of who he was at the time, what he was trying to accomplish with his writing craft, and how he felt both about what he was writing and about the issues that he raised within it. He places himself, his research and his writing within the context of the black writers who came before him, and attempts to set himself in the context of those who will come after.

Some of the early essays are a bit dated, and occasionally it is obvious that the writer was still honing his craft. The later ones are searing in their intensity, as the author marshalls both his facts and his passion in service of stories that need to be told and things that must be said, but unfortunately seldom are.

The ending is hard to read, because we know what came after. And there is a bit of an element of what should be “preaching to the choir” but isn’t. Because I agree with the author that so much of what caused the rise of Trump is racism (along with its terrible brethren, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all the rest of the fearful hatreds of people who the perpetrators perceive as “not like them” and equate in their minds to “less human”).

But too few writers seem to be willing to call it by its name. Because until this terrible history, and the present that derives from it, is acknowledged as exactly what it is and called to account, it can never become the past, and we can never move forward.

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri WestersonSeason of Blood (Crispin Guest Medieval Noir #10) by Jeri Westerson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Crispin Guest #10
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on December 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A missing Holy Relic. A mysterious and beautiful woman. Two murdered monks: Crispin Guest tackles his most intriguing investigation to date.

1390. Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, England. Two monks lie murdered, their Holy Blood relic stolen: a relic that is said to run liquid for the sinless and remain stubbornly dry for the sinner. Unwilling to become involved in a bitter dispute between a country monastery and Westminster Abbey, the disgraced former knight Crispin Guest attempts to return the relic to Hailes where it belongs, but somehow it keeps returning to his hands no matter what.

As he tries to shield a former nemesis from a charge of murder while becoming entangled with a mysterious and beautiful woman caught between Church politics and the dangerous intrigues of King Richard's court, Crispin begins to suspect that someone at Westminster is conspiring with the assassins. Can the Blood of Christ point to the killer?

My Review:

Season of Blood follows last year’s A Maiden Weeping, and Crispin seems to have learned very little from all the trouble he got into during that case.

A man dies on his doorstep with a knife in his back. In Crispin’s down-at-heels section of London, that actually might not be all that uncommon an occurrence. But the dead man in this particular case is a monk. And in addition to his corpse, he leaves Crispin with two big problems.

That knife in the monk’s back clearly bears the seal of Simon Wynchecombe, former Sheriff, current Alderman, and always a thorn in Crispin’s side. Simon hated Crispin while he was Sheriff, and beat and belittled him at every turn, including when he needed Crispin to resolve a case.

The second problem presented by the corpse is that he has a religious relic in his possession. Crispin has been involved with relics before. He doesn’t trust them or the people who traffic in them. But the damnable things keep invading his life, and that never ends well for him.

On the heels of the corpse, a woman hires Crispin to find her errant niece, who seems to have run off with a married man – that married man being the same Simon Wynchecombe whose knife was in the dead man’s back.

This all should scream “unlikely coincidence” to Crispin the expert tracker, but something about this woman has Crispin doing most of his thinking with his little head instead of his big one. Not that that hasn’t happened before, too. Crispin can never resist a pretty face, especially when there’s a clever brain behind it.

So Crispin, as usual, finds himself investigating a case where he trusts that no one is telling the truth. He is forced to rely on his own wits to determine who killed the first monk (and eventually the second and the third) without having anything like 21st century forensic science. Only his own knowledge of how things work and how people behave – even if his wits are a bit addled by the beautiful woman who seems to be at the center of this spider’s web of a case.

And just because he doesn’t believe in the truth of the relic, doesn’t mean that others are not willing to kill for them. Or that just because so many of the people involved with this case are celibate monks, does not mean that there are not men under those robes, just as fascinated by a pretty face as he himself is. Possibly even the same pretty face.

The chance to solve this conundrum tests Crispin at every turn. But the unexpected chance to score against an enemy – PRICELESS.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say that this was fun, in spite of the dead bodies falling at every turn. This case is interesting because it is so foreign. The past is definitely another country in this one.

Crispin is skeptical about the truth and the efficacy of those much venerated relics. His attitude is in some ways almost modern, and in others fits within his time. He’s not sure they are real, but if they are, we don’t deserve them. And it’s not for him to judge their religiosity, only to follow the trail of death and end it – no matter the cost.

But this is a case where trying to follow “who benefits?” is difficult because the benefits don’t seem based in our reality – even though they are in theirs.

As always, Crispin is a fascinating character. Once upon a time, he was a nobleman, who lost his station and his fortune by backing the wrong claimant in one of the early skirmishes of what became later known as the “Wars of the Roses”. He should have been killed for his treason, but instead he was reduced severely in station.

He should have died of his ignorance, but instead was helped and taught until he could manage to make his own living as the infamous “Tracker” who solves problems for a fee and shows up the Sheriffs at every turn. He has seen life from both the heights and the depths, but is a stranger in both and at home in neither.

He’s also in his mid-30s and starting to feel that he is no longer young. At the same time he has no idea of if or how to “settle down”. He does have a knack for gathering interesting people around him who both help and support him. A group that gets more interesting all the time, particularly in this outing.

If you like historical mysteries where you really feel (and occasionally taste and smell) just how different the past is from our own present, Crispin Guest is a master at bringing his world to life – and solving its suspicious deaths.

Guest Review: Her Sweetest Fortune, by Stella Bagwell

Guest Review: Her Sweetest Fortune, by Stella BagwellHer Sweetest Fortune by Stella Bagwell
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: The Fortunes of Texas: The Secret Fortunes #2
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin on January 17, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

FRIENDS WITH...BENEFITS?

Sophie Fortune Robinson is on a mission. The word around the office watercooler is that the boss's youngest daughter is intent on landing Mr. Right by Valentine's Day--and that she has her eyes, and heart, set on a certain hunk in Marketing. But when she enlists her longtime pal and coworker Mason Montgomery to teach her how to get a man to notice her, little does she know she's already captured his attention!

Now Mason's in a real bind! He has just a few short weeks to fight his way out of the "friend zone." On his agenda: convincing sweet Sophie that he is the real man of her dreams! Will Fortune smile on true love's venture?

Guest Review by Amy:

Sophie Fortune Robinson has found her man, The One For Her.  He must be! And she’s utterly certain that she’s the right catch for him. Only–well, see, there’s this guy from IT, and he’s been a good friend to her for a while now, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him that she’s part of the stunningly wealthy Fortune clan.

Escape Rating: A-. Stella Bagwell has written over ninety books for Harlequin, and this isn’t her first foray into the sprawling “Fortunes of Texas” arc of stories. Going in, it looks really predictable: it’s the “I Was Here All Along” trope, tried and true. But Bagwell is an experienced author, so I was counting on a surprise.

I had a little trouble understanding where our heroine was coming from, at the outset of this book. We know she’s the boss’s daughter, she’s interested in the flashy dude from marketing, and she’s only-recently been found to be a scion of the massive Fortune clan around which this group of stories revolve. But, to me at least, she came off a little…shallow. Think of Disney’s Gaston, from Beauty and the Beast:

“She’s the one, the lucky girl I’m going to marry!”

“The inventor’s daughter? But she’s…”

“The most beautiful girl in town! And that makes her the best! And don’t I deserve the best?”

The opening sequence of this book feels like a gender-swapped version of that, to me. He’s the hunkiest, and he’s high up in marketing, so he’s The One, and she’s set her cap to get him. Sure, that’s the formula at play here, but Sophie comes off as almost predatory. For me, it was a tiny sour note, right from the outset, but being the stubborn reader that I am, I powered on.

Once we see where this is heading, it’s easy to think that the end will write itself. But not so fast–it turns out that Sophie’s infatuation with the hunk ends much earlier in the book than I expected–she and her pal Mason, the IT guy, hit it off, and things are ticking along marvelously, before we’re even 2/3 of the way through the book. But what about the subplot that got Sophie into this “Fortunes of Texas” arc in the first place? Her father, you see, lived a double life for a long, long time, and it turns out that he’s a Fortune–and he has illegitimate kids here and there, to boot. Sophie’s brothers and sisters have discovered another one, and it’s stressing her. She withholds this from Mason, and also is keeping their relationship on the sly, to avoid gossip. Predictably, Mason’s not okay with this state of affairs for long, and only then do we see where the real ending of the story will be. Bagwell gave us two Harlequins in one, in a way, and it was cleverly done.

Stella Bagwell shows us her expertise as a writer in Her Sweetest Fortune, and it made for a lovely read for me. Like most Harlequins, this is not a book to dwell on and think over; it’s escapism, pure and clean and unadulterated. Other than the minor bobble with the opening, it’s a cute, fun story, and well worth a read.

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood

Review: The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry GreenwoodThe Castlemaine Murders (Phryne Fisher, #13) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #13
Pages: 240
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on July 1st 2006
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

The fabulous Phryne Fisher, her sister Beth and her faithful maid, Dot, decide that Luna Park is the perfect place for an afternoon of fun and excitement with Phryne's two daughters, Ruth and Jane. But in the dusty dark Ghost Train, amidst the squeals of horror and delight, a mummified bullet-studded corpse falls to the ground in front of them. Phryne Fisher's pleasure trip has definitely become business. Digging into this longstanding mystery takes her to the country town of Castlemaine where it's soon obvious that someone is trying to muzzle her investigations. With unknown threatening assailants on her path, Phryne seems headed for more trouble than usual....

My Review:

This was the first time that one of Phryne Fisher’s mysteries gave me a bit of a book hangover. Normally, this series is more like a palate cleanser for me, in that when I find myself in need of a quick, comfortable read, I pick up the next book in the series, read it in one night and the next morning I’m ready for whatever is next on my actual schedule.

The true historical elements wrapped into this story, combined with the cultural background on Chinese immigration and Chinese society in Australia in the 1920s and before were fascinating. Also, unlike most of the books in the series that I have read so far, this particular story was not filmed, nor were any of the elements from this story part of any of the filmed episodes.

So it was both utterly familiar and completely new at the same time.

There are really two stories in this book, running mostly in parallel and eventually meeting up at the end. Phryne uncovers (unmasks, perhaps unboots) a mummy at an amusement park. In spite of the age of the mummy, who while certainly not an Egyptian pharaoh seems to be at least half a century old, someone still seems to be dead – or perhaps deadly – interested in preventing Phryne from discovering who he used to be.

Meanwhile, Phryne’s lover Lin Chung is in the process of assuming control of the Lin family. His venerable Grandmother is still alive, but now that Lin Chung is an adult, control of the family businesses is his. If he can manage to gain that control without offending the old dragon too much, and without making her lose too much face in the process. It’s a delicate balance.

A balance that is made even more delicate when Lin Chung manages to settle a century-old feud between the Lin family and the equally distinguished Hu family. Among the many outstanding issues to be settled between them is the theft of gold from the Lin family and the murder of their four couriers back in 1857, at the height of the Australian gold rush and the depths of anti-Chinese prejudice in Australia.

But when all the accounts are settled between the two families, with nothing left owing on either side, the theft and the deaths are still outstanding, because the Hu family was not responsible. So who was? What happened to the bodies? And what happened to the gold?

Meanwhile, Phryne’s younger sister Beth has been rusticated to Australia by their bully of a father, because she will not marry either of the two men he has picked out for her. And with excellent reasons, even if it does take her half the story to finally reveal all.

It is rather convenient that the mysterious mummy, the missing couriers and Beth’s erstwhile suitor all resolve into one single problem. And it’s also a whole lot of fun to watch it all finally unravel.

Right along with the rope that the villains tie Phryne up with.

Escape Rating A-:This was the right book at the right time. I’ve been reading the Phryne Fisher series in order, but not one right after another. As much as I love the series, what makes reading one seem fresh would get a bit stale if I tried reading a bunch of them back-to-back, no matter how tempted I might be.

The Castlemaine Murders was one that tempted me a great deal. It had a lot of elements that made it just a bit different from previous books in the series, while, unlike Death Before Wicket, the story was not based on something in which I have neither the interest nor the understanding.

Instead, the mystery in The Castlemaine Murders is all about history. And while the particular mystery that Phryne had to solve was fictional, the events of the Australian Gold Rush in general, including the terrible treatment of the Chinese laborers brought in to work the fields, was all too true. Much of the history that Phryne and Lin Chung investigate really happened, if not quite in the same way as in the story.

A significant chunk of this story revolves around Lin Chung rather than Phryne – they operate separately for much of the narrative. It’s a fascinating introduction to a culture and society that I am not familiar with, while at the same time the prejudices that the Chinese laborers faced in Australia were unfortunately not all that different from what they faced in the California Gold Rush.

This is also to some extent Lin Chung’s coming of age story, as he begins to operate as head of the family and out from under his very formidable grandmother’s thumb. He’s an interesting character in his own right (and in Phryne’s life) and his parts of the story were absorbing.

One of the ways that this story diverges from the TV series, in addition to the significant part that Lin Chung plays in the narrative, is the part of the story relating to Phryne’s sister Beth (who is dead in the series) and their father who is rather feckless in the TV series but a bully and a tyrant here.

For those reading this book expecting it to be just like the TV show will probably be a bit disappointed, or even censorious about Phryne’s continued relationship with the married Lin Chung. But for those following the book series on its own merits, this one is a treat.

Up next is Queen of the Flowers, the next time I need a comfort reading break!

Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop, Hosted by Bookhounds.

It’s time to not just talk about the best books of last year, but also to give some away. This blog hop celebrates the best books of the previous year, at least according to yours truly.

I publish three different “Best of the Year” lists. One for me, one for Library Journal and one for the SFR Galaxy Awards, coming up at the end of the month. But no spoilers for the Galaxy Awards, to that means two lists to work with.

Two lists for you to work with, that is.

So take a look at 17 for 2017 here on Reading Reality, and the whole Library Journal Best Books 2017 article and let me know which book appeals to you the most.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-14-18

Sunday Post

Both the January Book of Choice Giveaway Hop AND the Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop end this week. But as it still seems to be Hop Season, the Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop starts tomorrow!

I’m still doing a lot of comfort reading, and this time that seems to mean mysteries. I’m not quite sure why, exactly, but I’m going with it, at least for a bit longer. Phryne Fisher was the one bit of comfort reading I hadn’t picked up in a while, so I’m reading the next book in my Phryne read through and really liking it. It’s one of the stories that was not filmed, and it feels a bit meatier than some of the others, at least so far. And there’s a historical angle that I’m liking a lot.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the January Book of Choice Giveaway Hop (ENDS TOMORROW!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop (Ends Wednesday)

Blog Recap:

A Review: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
A- Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda James
Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery
A- Review: Wings of Fire by Charles Todd
A- Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci French
Stacking the Shelves (270)

Coming Next Week:

Best of 2017 Giveaway Hop
The Castlemaine Murders by Kerry Greenwood (review)
The English Wife by Lauren Willig (review)
Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson (review)
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (review)