Review: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Review: Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina RatherSisters of the Vast Black (Our Lady of Endless Worlds #1) by Lina Rather
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Our Lady of Endless Worlds #1
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita captain their living ship into the reaches of space in Lina Rather's debut novella, Sisters of the Vast Black.
Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own.
When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care—and that of the galactic diaspora—are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

My Review:

The quick and dirty summary of this story as “nuns in space” does not nearly do it justice.

For one thing, the situation isn’t nearly that simple. At first, it seems like a cross between Farscape, the first episode of Star Trek Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, and the recent We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep. At least right up until the hints of A Memory Called Empire sneak in to bite pretty much everyone in the ass.

Yes, there are nuns aboard the spaceship Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, which still feels like the best name for a spaceship EVAR. But the ship is operating as an interstellar convent – and its pregnant. Hence the references to Farscape and “Farpoint”, because the ship is very much alive.

But the resemblance to We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep is equally apropos, although as seen in a mirror considerably more lightly than in that story. Well, at least the nuns are considerably lighter in purpose and intent than the brothers on the Leviathan.

Even if they are operating just as far outside any clerical authority. And that’s where the reference to A Memory Called Empire comes in, because the memory of imperial glory that the Sisters of St. Rita are concerned about is the dangerous alliance between a resurrected central government on Earth and an equally militant Church of Rome that are both more invested in bringing their long-independent and errant flocks to heel than they are to serving anyone other than their own pride and ambition.

No matter how dark the deeds they must do to bring their former followers back to what only a central authority could possibly see as the light.

Escape Rating A-: The story begins with the nuns on the horns of multiple dilemmas. They’re answering a call to minister to a fledgling colony that needs blessings, baptisms and a bit of medical treatment. Their living ship has somehow found a mate out in the black, is already pregnant and needs to return to that mate for her eggs to be fertilized. Or the sisters need to essentially abort the unfertilized eggs before they rot.

We can all guess just how well that discussion is going.

But four of the sisters have secrets. One has fallen in love with an engineer on another ship and has to decide whether or not to relinquish her vows and her place in the order. The communications officer has received a message from the Vatican regarding the impending arrival of a newly assigned priest to direct their mission towards proselytization and away from service – a direction that none of the sisters have any desire to go. One of the sisters has become aware that their Mother Superior is exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. And the Mother Superior herself is not only aware of her condition but is frightened that her diminishing grip on herself will expose secrets that she’s spent a lifetime concealing.

As a gentle story about religious devotion and service to far-flung colonies out in the black, this would have been a lovely thing without going any deeper. But the ambitions of both the governmental central authority and the religious hierarchy push the story to another level, as the nuns have to decide whether to stand up or knuckle under – with hellish consequences either way.

Those consequences will be visited upon them from all sides in the upcoming second book in this series, Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, coming in February. Someone, or something, is going to burn in the fires they’ve lit. And I can’t wait to find out who. Because even though I figured out where this was going, I was still absolutely fascinated watching it get there.

Review: The Scholars of Night by John M. Ford

Review: The Scholars of Night by John M. FordThe Scholars of Night by John M. Ford
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 256
Published by Tor Books on September 21, 2021 (first published February 1988)
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

John M. Ford's The Scholars of Night is an extraordinary novel of technological espionage and human betrayal, weaving past and present into a web of unbearable suspense.
Nicholas Hansard is a brilliant historian at a small New England college. He specializes in Christopher Marlowe. But Hansard has a second, secret, career with The White Group, a “consulting agency” with shadowy government connections. There, he is a genius at teasing secrets out of documents old and new—to call him a code-breaker is an understatement.
When Hansard’s work exposes one of his closest friends as a Russian agent, and the friend then dies mysteriously, the connections seem all too clear. Shaken, Hansard turns away from his secret work to lose himself in an ancient Marlowe manuscript. Surely, a lost 400 year old play is different enough from modern murder.
He is very, very wrong.

My Review:

The Scholars of Night is a book that lives at multiple crossroads. Or perhaps that should be multiple turning points. The world was changing under pretty much all of the axes at which this book is written, and it was obvious to those in the story – as well as those with eyes to see in the real world – that the verities which they lived under were about to change dramatically even if no one knew at the time what the results would be.

When The Scholars of Night was written, and when it was originally published, the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which had been at various temperatures between below 0 Fahrenheit and barely above 0 centigrade since the end of World War II, was about to end. Not that it was actually thawing, more that one of the sides was about to undergo a seismic shift that would change the nature of the game entirely.

And it was a game, as the players involved in this story make very clear. It’s just that it was a game with very real and deadly stakes.

The other factor, that other crossroads, and one as it turned out with equally deadly consequences, was the continuing miniaturization and coming ubiquity of omnipresent and seemingly omniscient information technology. Personal computers had started their shift from hobbyist tinker toys to working business devices with the production of the IBM PC in 1981, while the shift of the U.S. Department of Defense’ ARPANET into the internet we know today was already well on its way.

The intellectual games of espionage and their deadly consequences were shifting from the domain of people who were good at solving puzzles to people who programmed computers to make decisions at the speed of light.

That gamesmaster, academic and occasional intelligence asset Allan Berenson is slated for death by one of those speed of light decisions, and that his protege Nicholas Hansard and Berenson’s lover, the agent known only as WAGNER, do their best and worst to carry out Berenson’s last plan through a combination of intelligent puzzle-solving, ruthless determination and willful blindness to its consequences is a perfect metaphor for the death and the life of one old Cold warrior and the world he knew entirely too well.

Escape Rating A: The story in The Scholars of Night is complex and convoluted and wonderful. No one trusts anyone else, no one is really on anyone else’s side, everyone is waiting for everyone else to betray them – with good reasons – and everyone is unreliable because no one is telling the truth about anything even when they think they know the truth.

Which they usually don’t. This is a story about lies and the lying liars who tell those lies to the point where no one really knows what the truth is anymore or whether the truth even exists. So the truth becomes a fungible commodity, and the lines between collateral damage and just damage are so blurred they don’t even exist any longer.

The way that the story echoes back and around to Christopher Marlowe, his work for Elizabeth I’s spymasters, and the dirty deeds that he participated in and covered up just makes the point with even more emphasis that espionage is always a dirty business. No one involved is on the side of the angels.

(In a peculiar way, The Scholars of Night is a bit of a readalike for A Tip for the Hangman, which covers Marlowe’s forays into spycraft more directly. At any rate, if you like this you’ll probably like that, and there’s enough of Marlowe in the background here to make it very much vice versa.)

The story of The Scholars of Night is not a straightforward one by any means. WAGNER compartmentalizes her plan to enact Berenson’s last play so very well that the right hand and the left hand never even seem to be in the same country or on the same playing field and the reader spends as much of the story trying to piece the clues together as the agent does. Certainly the agencies following her are always at least one step behind, and we often feel that we are, too.

On the one hand, this story feels historical. 1986 or thereabouts are a lifetime ago. So in some ways, the story feels prescient as Berenson’s last big play foreshadows both the end of the Cold War and the rise of intelligent machines controlling the world instead of intelligent people. And yet, the story was contemporaneous at the time it was written.

And excellently well done at that. Especially if you like puzzles as much as Berenson and WAGNER did.

Reviewer’s Note: The story about how this book and the rest of John M. Ford’s work went so thoroughly out of print – with the exception of his Star Trek novelizations – and how they finally got back into print (and ebook for the first time!) is a bit of a puzzle story in and of itself.

A story I got into in a lot more detail in my review of Ford’s best known and most beloved work, The Dragon Waiting, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1984. And is still one of the awesomest pieces of alt-history ever.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-19-21

First things first. This is a save the date announcement about saving the date to save the date. This Thursday, both Caffeinated Reviewer and Reading Reality will be posting the sign up for our Thanksgiving Week Hop. We’re going to expand out a little bit from our traditional Black Friday Hop to start before Turkey Day, so no one has to worry about prepping a post ON Turkey Day, and let it run for a week so there’s more time to enter.

Speaking of things to be thankful for, here’s a picture of Freddie, literally sleeping as snug as a bug in a rug. Or actually a blanket surrounded by his favorite person’s legs and feet. He’s just too cute for words sometimes!

Current Giveaways:

Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany (paperback)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop (ENDS TUESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop is Francine

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany + Giveaway
A- Review: Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda James
C Review: Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Devereaux and Tara Sheets
Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop
B Review: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull
Stacking the Shelves (462)

Coming This Week:

The Scholars of Night by John M. Ford (review)
Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather (review)
The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes (review)
Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop Sign Up
An Impossible Promise by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets (blog tour review)
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (review)

Stacking the Shelves (462)

I just realized that this list makes it look like I cut off half the alphabet – except for that one book I got from the library. Looks kind of weird, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles, or at least that’s the way the titles fell out this week.

For Review:
An Impossible Impostor (Veronica Speedwell #7) by Deanna Raybourn
Just One Look by Lindsay Cameron
The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
The League of Gentlewomen Witches (Dangerous Damsels #2) by India Holton
The Night Shift by Alex Finlay
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher
A Practical Guide to Conquering the World (Siege #3) by K.J. Parker
Shady Hollow (Shady Hollow #1) by Juneau Black
Sweep of Stars (Astra Black #1) by Maurice Broaddus
The Thousand Eyes (Serpent Gates #2) by A.K. Larkwood
Unity by Elly Bangs
What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins

Borrowed from the Library:
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty


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: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

Review: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell TurnbullNo Gods, No Monsters (The Convergence Saga, #1) by Cadwell Turnbull
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, horror, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Convergence Saga #1
Pages: 387
Published by Blackstone Publishing on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.
As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.
At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?
The world will soon find out.

My Review:

The title of this book is a play on the old anarchist slogan, “No Gods, No Masters.” It’s a reference to the belief that no one should be above anyone else and no one should be below anyone else. That all humans should be equal

The “monsters” that have suddenly come out of wherever they’ve been hiding themselves have adopted the old slogan to put forward the idea that monsters aren’t separate from the rest of the population, that neither humans nor monsters should be above or below each other, that all should be equal.

It’s a question that has come to the forefront in the wake of an event that the amorphous, unreliable narrator of this story refers to as the “Fracture”, when a group of shifters – werewolves and their kith and kin – staged a peaceful demonstration of their ability to shift from wolf to human. A demonstration that took place in front of a bunch of cops and other bystanders, and was filmed in its entirety.

The video of the demonstration appeared very briefly on the internet, showing the full change from a line of wolves to a line of humans. The video went viral. Everybody saw it. People were debating the existence of monsters and what it meant.

At least until all the copies of the video were edited to eliminate the parts that showed the change. And the debate shifted, from people discussing what they saw to people arguing about whether or not they’d really seen it. About whether or not monsters really exist at all.

But even with and beside and under the debate, the world is changing. The “Fracture” has had an effect on everyone, whether believer or skeptic, monster or human. Even for those who have chosen not to rock their familiar world by admitting that there might be more things on heaven and earth than were dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy, nothing and no one will ever be the same.

Escape Rating B: There are multiple ways of looking at this story, because it feels like it says different things depending on how the reader approaches it, beginning with the debate about whether this is science fiction or fantasy. To which the answer is probably “Yes”.

The point of view characters, whether monster or human, focus the story on the perspective of the “other”, where being a monster is just one additional axis upon which a person can be considered “other”.

The story opens with the death of Laina’s brother Lincoln, where Laina is looking for the truth about why the cops shot him. Laina expects to find yet another police cover up of cops killing a black man for no particular reason. What she finds is a video of really, truly, seriously frightened cops shooting an out-of-control werewolf who only turns into her brother after he’s dead. That the video is left for her by an invisible woman adds to Laina’s desire for answers to questions she hadn’t even known were possible.

The story spins out from there. Laina releases the video. Mysterious forces edit the video. More monsters reveal themselves to their friends and family. More people have questions and search for answers – only to find that those answers are more dangerous than they ever imagined.

The story doesn’t so much proceed as it spirals outward in ever increasing circles and greater and greater number of perspectives, from the members of a co-op who learn that one of the members is a techno-mage and that factions of monsters are hunting all of them to a young politician and secret weredog and who is still desperate to learn what happened to the parents who disappeared when she was a child – only to discover that the forces that broke them want to take and break her as well.

Conspiracy theorists learn the lesson about being careful what you wish for because you might get it. Or it might get you. That it takes a monster to catch a monster – as one of last week’s books explored much less seriously  and considerably less well – and that the only ones capable of really damaging creatures who are seriously at the top of the food chain are others who are just the same.

The switches in perspective and narration made it a bit difficult to follow the story. They give a strong sense of the story being much bigger than what we see, but also make it harder to put everything in any kind of order. At the same time, because this is also a story of the multiverse, those hints that the situation is bigger than we imagine make a certain kind of sense.

Even if I occasionally wished we stuck with one perspective so we could figure out a bit more of what’s really going on.

One of the things that I kept coming back to in my own head was that we all know that there ARE gods and there ARE monsters, even if the gods are the kind that man creates in his own image and the monsters all walk on two legs all of the time. The certainty of both of those things does not prohibit the possibility that there are also gods or pantheons of gods of the omniscient and omnipotent variety, nor that some of the monsters that go bump in the night in fiction don’t also do it for real.

It becomes clear over the course of this story that the humans are capable of being way more monstrous than the actual monsters, and that the ones who believe they are godlike are the worst of all.

The end of the blurb leads readers to questions that the story itself doesn’t raise – at least not yet in the series. Why is this happening now? (At least for certain perspectives on exactly what “now” means.)

Speaking of perspectives, at least in the audiobook that I listened to they blurred into each other just a bit. The reader was good, and if his voice was intended to represent the unreliable narrator we begin and end the story with, he does a good job of representing that particular voice. But this story has a LOT of voices, all of whom are unreliable to one degree or another – some because they don’t know what they don’t know, and some because they don’t want to know what they don’t know – and the audio might have worked a bit better if there had been a few more narrators to help the listener keep track.

In the end, which is not an end but really just a pause, I’m intrigued. It feels like this book opens a tiny window into a much wider and deeper catalog of worlds and stories and possibilities and what ifs. This first book felt like a whole bunch of teasers and I want to see where they ALL lead.

Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Falling Into Leaves Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

It’s that time again. Fall is nearly fell. The leaves are just barely beginning to turn around here, so there’s a bit of time before anyone has to think about raking them. Your seasonal mileage may definitely vary on this point!

One of the things that attracted us to this house is that it is surrounded by fairly mature trees, to the point where the backyard gets absolutely no sun at all so we can’t grow grass back there and don’t have to mow it. The tree coverage is also thick enough that we can’t see the neighbors’ houses on the other side of the creek – and most importantly they can’t see through the picture window in our bathroom. Except in the winter, when all that lovely, leafy coverage falls down.

Although we occasionally lose a tree when it storms, and that’s much less fun.

But still, the changing and falling leaves are always lovely to watch. I’m glad we live somewhere that gets four seasons, especially as winter generally just glances by, just enough to turn the leaves.

So I enjoy the falling leaves, love the cooler but absolutely not too cool weather, and looking forward to the holiday season. What about you? What’s your favorite thing about the fall season and the falling leaves? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance of the usual Reading Reality prize, the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous fall prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets

Review: Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Deveraux and Tara SheetsChance of a Lifetime by Jude Deveraux, Tara Sheets
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, time travel romance
Series: Providence Falls #1
Pages: 336
Published by Mira on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In one century she loved him madly, and in another she wants nothing to do with him
In 1844 Ireland, Liam O’Connor, a rogue and a thief, fell madly in love with a squire’s daughter and unwittingly altered the future. Shy and naive Cora McLeod thought Liam was the answer to her prayers. But the angels disagreed and they’ve been waiting for the right moment in time to step in.
Now Liam finds himself reunited with his beloved Cora in Providence Falls, North Carolina. The angels have given Liam a task. He must make sure Cora falls in love with another man—the one she was supposed to marry before Liam interfered. But this Cora is very different from the innocent girl who fell for Liam in the past. She’s a cop and has a confidence and independence he wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t remember Liam or their past lives, nor is she impressed with his attempts to guide her in any way.
Liam wants Cora for himself, but with his soul hanging in the balance, he must choose between a stolen moment in time or an eternity of damnation.

My Review:

I picked this up last year, but it fell into the black hole of “so many books, so little time” and I just didn’t get a round tuit. Fast forward a year later, I pick up the second book in the Providence Falls series, intending to review it for a tour, only to realize that An Impossible Promise isn’t so much the second book in a series, with the possibility it can be read as a standalone, as it is the second “chapter” of what appears to be a continuing story.

Whether that story concludes in An Impossible Promise or continues further, well, I’ll find that out next week. Thankfully this book tour is a bit open-ended. Because I’m not sure that reading that second book makes any sense at all without this first one.

Although I’m not totally sure this first one makes a whole lot of sense, either.

There’s a reason why time travel stories generally send their characters back in time rather than forward. Life probably wasn’t any simpler in the past – just that the complications were different then they are now. And there are any number of ways that the author can give their time travelers knowledge about the past they end up traveling to.

A character coming forward into the future has no clue what they’re letting themselves in for, not even in this particular instance when Liam O’Connor’s soul is fast forwarded from Ireland in 1844 to Providence Falls, North Carolina sometime more or less here and now.

But Liam has been sent forward to fix his own great mistake, at least according to the two angels who are doing the sending. Once upon a time, Liam fell in love with Cora McLeod, and very much vice versa. According to the angels, that was not her destined path. Cora was supposed to marry someone else and give birth to a child that was destined to “help” humanity . Instead, she died young, and has continued to do so in every reincarnation since.

Liam’s been sent forward in time to make sure that this time Cora fulfills her destiny. He’s been given a minimal number of tools, an even more minimal amount of the knowledge the angels believe he needs to live in the 21st century, an amazingly deep cover story, and a deadline.

He has three months to make sure that Cora marries the man she’s supposed to marry and not the man of her dreams. Because that would be Liam. If he does the right thing and gives up the only woman he has ever, or will ever, love, he’ll go to heaven.

But if he gives into his own heart, and hers, he’ll go straight to Hell.

Escape Rating C: I’ll say this up front. I had to chuck my common sense and my willing suspension of disbelief really far out the window in order to finish this book. Because there is just so much that makes me go “WTF?” over and over and honestly, over.

Maybe I’ve read too much fantasy and paranormal romance, because what the angels did gave me so many vibes that either they aren’t on the up and up, they’re not angels at all, or they just lied their wings off to Liam to get him to participate in whatever scam they’ve got going on.

I’m not saying they aren’t some kind of supernatural being of some sort, but this whole thing makes way more sense if they’re demons posing as angels. Or if the reason they’ve set Liam up like this is NOT what they said it was. Or if there’s something bigger and more important going on that hasn’t been revealed.

Part of that is because the time travel setup is way too much like Dorothy’s trip to Oz. Possibly including someone behind the curtain that Liam isn’t supposed to be paying attention to – but we’re not there yet by the end of this book.

Howsomever, what makes the time travel so “fishy” in this story is that every single person that Liam knew in mid-19th century Ireland has been reincarnated and relocated to 21st century North Carolina and THEY ALL HAVE THE EXACT SAME NAMES AND FACES. For the most part, they also have the exact same relationships to Liam and to each other that they did over 150 years ago and 8,000+ miles away.

This is not logical and my brain went ‘tilt’.

The other part that makes me question pretty much everything that Liam has been told about Cora, his mission in this future and his own fate is that, while Liam may have seduced Cora in their original timeline – and he maybe a himbo and a horndog in both timelines – he seems to really love Cora and in their original timeline she really loved him.

While 19th century Cora could have been forced to marry the man her father picked out for her, 21st century Cora lives in an entirely different world of choices and options. And the 21st century reincarnation of the man she’s supposed to marry is a really nice guy with zero charisma that Cora has been friends with for years. He may be in love with Cora, but she just likes him as a friend. Every once in a while she feels a bit more, but it’s so rare that it’s more than possible that someone is manipulating her. As things stand when this part of the story ends, I’m not seeing anything that remotely resembles a Happy Ever After for Cora with this particular “destiny” as someone else’s endgame.

Because I already don’t trust those angels, I’d be putting my money on them as the manipulators. Especially since we don’t really know why it is just so damn important that Cora marry this guy that so many people are being maneuvered to make it happen. The angels could be telling the truth about the child that never was, or it could be part of whatever scam they’ve got going on.

So the story so far is a bit of a hot mess. I like Cora and Liam well enough, and am more than dead curious enough about those angels and what’s really going on that I’m definitely reading An Impossible Promise next week in the hopes of possibly finding out what all of this is leading to.

Review Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda James

Review Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda JamesDigging Up the Dirt (Southern Ladies Mystery, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #3
Pages: 296
Published by Berkley on September 6, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of Dead with the Wind and Bless Her Dead Little Heart is back with more of those sleuthing Southern belles, the Ducote sisters...
An’gel and Dickce Ducote, busy with plans for the Athena Garden Club’s spring tour of grand old homes, are having trouble getting the other club members to help. The rest of the group is all a-flutter now that dashing and still-eligible Hadley Partridge is back to restore his family mansion. But the idle chatter soon turns deadly serious when a body turns up on the Partridge estate after a storm...   The remains might belong to Hadley’s long-lost sister-in-law, Callie, who everyone thought ran off with Hadley years ago. And if it’s not Callie, who could it be? As the Ducotes begin uncovering secrets, they discover that more than one person in Athena would kill to be Mrs. Partridge. Now An’gel and Dickce will need to get their hands dirty if they hope to reveal a killer’s deep-buried motives before someone else’s name is mud...

My Review:

Honestly, I picked this one up because I just felt like it. I was looking for something that would be both familiar and new at the same time, and this seemed like it would be it. And it was.

Also, I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, so even though I was a bit disappointed in Dead with the Wind I like this author more than enough to want to see if the third time would be the charm. And I had high hopes for a cameo from the main characters in the author’s other series, Cat in the Stacks, so I was very happy to see a bit – but not too much – of librarian Charlie Harris and his gentlemanly Maine Coon cat Diesel.

The story in Digging Up the Dirt reads like it’s at the intersection of two “old” sayings. The first is from the late, much-lamented Terry Pratchett, who said in the book Moving Pictures that “inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” More likely wondering what the HELL happened, but the thought is definitely there.

The quote it intersects with is something that a friend used to say fairly often when her spouse had just done something she wished he hadn’t. Her comment was that “the problem (with spouses) is that you can’t live with ‘em and you can’t bury ‘em in the backyard because the dogs will dig them up”

The Ducote sisters, An’gel and Dickce, along with the rest of the Athena Garden Club, have been rather abruptly confronted with the truth of the Pratchett quote when Hadley Partridge returns to Athena after a four-decade absence.

When Hadley left Athena all those years ago, he left the entire Garden Club in a veritable tizzy, as he was charming, handsome, rich and flirting with every single member of the club. When he left town, rumor had it that his brother threw him out of the family mansion in a fit of jealousy. Everyone in Athena, including, unfortunately for Hadley, his older brother, was just absolutely certain that Hadley was having an affair with his brother’s wife.

So when that same woman, Hadley’s sister-in-law Callie Partridge, disappeared without a trace a few days after Hadley’s abrupt departure, everyone just assumed that she ran off after Hadley.

At least that’s what everyone assumed until Hamish Partridge died and left the family manse to his brother Hadley. When Hadley returned to Athena, and got the entire Garden Club into pretty much the same tizzy he left them in, he claimed that he had not seen Callie in the intervening 40 years.

Then the Ducote sisters’ labradoodle, Peanut, digs up a body in the backyard of the Partridge estate. A body that goes a long way towards explaining where Callie Partridge has been “hiding” for all these years.

But doesn’t get either amateur sleuths An’gel and Dickce Ducote or Sherriff’s Detective Kanesha Berry much further in their hunt for the person who is killing the members of the Garden Club in the here and now.

Escape Rating A-: Except for the Ducote sisters, whose ages seem to be fixed at 80 and 84 for the entirety of this series, we don’t actually know the ages of the rest of the Athena Garden Club. Just that all of them were adults and Garden Club members 40 years previously, making all of them somewhere north of 60, if not quite as far north as An’gel and Dickce Ducote.

What I loved about all of them, even the ones that are crazy as betsy bugs, is that they are all, to a woman, vital and independent and healthy and active. (Physically healthy at least although there are one or two whose mental health may be – and have always been – a bit iffy.) And that it seems like everything they felt 40 years ago is just as alive in their heads and in their hearts – and possibly other places – now as it was then.

Their spirits are all still as willing as they ever were, even if the flesh occasionally creaks a bit. A feeling I can empathize with all too well – even if, or especially because, some of them were being really silly with it. Every bit as silly as they were 40 years ago. As another old saying goes, “we are too soon old and too late smart.”

The red herrings in this particular story are also steamed to a delectable turn. That there are murders to be solved in both the past and the present just adds to the number of different ways that the detectives and the reader can be led delightfully astray.

And we are all the way to the end. I was convinced until the very end that the present-day murderer was an entirely different party than the person who turned out to be guilty after all, although I did figure out Hadley’s secret slightly earlier than the Ducote sisters. Of course I wasn’t having any nostalgic or romantic ideas to cloud my judgment the way that they were.

There were two things that put this one head and shoulders over the previous book in the series. Except for the Ducote sisters and their traveling household of ward, dog and cat, there were very few likeable characters in Dead with the Wind. Which combined a bit too neatly with the second thing, that the story took An’gel and Dickce away from their home in Athena, robbing them of their usual support network and eliminating several people that the reader could have – and has – happily followed along with.

Which leaves me a tad worried about the final – at least so far – book in the series, Fixing to Die, which also takes the sisters and their household out of Athena. I’ll still be back for it, the next time I need the Ducote’s particular brand of reading comfort.

Review: Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany + Giveaway

Review: Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany + GiveawayDeadly Summer Nights (Catskill Summer Resort Mystery #1) by Vicki Delany
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Catskill Summer Resort Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 14, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An immersive setting with details of running a Catskillsresort in the 1950s (think Kellerman's in Dirty Dancing) beautifully frame a story with plot twists and a cast of well-delineated characters.--Booklist
A summer of fun at a Catskills resort comes to an abrupt end when a guest is found murdered, in this new 1950s set mystery series.
It's the summer of 1953, and Elizabeth Grady is settling into Haggerman's Catskills Resort. As a vacation getaway, Haggerman's is ideal, and although Elizabeth's ostentatious but well-meaning mother is new to running the resort, Elizabeth is eager to help her organize the guests and the entertainment acts. But Elizabeth will have to resort to untested abilities if she wants to save her mother's business.
When a reclusive guest is found dead in a lake on the grounds, and a copy of The Communist Manifesto is found in his cabin, the local police chief is convinced that the man was a Russian spy. But Elizabeth isn't so sure, and with the fate of the resort hanging in the balance, she'll need to dodge red herrings, withstand the Red Scare, and catch a killer red-handed.

My Review:

Remember the movie Dirty Dancing? That romantic drama was set in the same location as this cozy mystery series, just ten years later. Things don’t seem to have changed much in the Catskills summer resorts during that intervening decade, but that was kind of the point.

One of the real Catskill resorts during its glory days

Back in the 1950s, the time period of this series, the Catskills resorts were in their storied heyday, not just a place but an entire experience, a setting where middle and upper class New Yorkers could retreat from the city’s heat to a beautiful mountain location upstate, close enough that the husbands could come up on the weekends to visit their families but still work in the city on weekdays.

And the resorts were self-contained enough to keep the wives and children entertained and cosseted for as long as the family could afford. An entire summer if they could manage it. Kind of like a cruise ship, just without the shore excursions.

Elizabeth Grady, manager of Haggerman’s Catskills Resort, and her mother, retired Broadway star Olivia Grady, are new to the Catskills. The summer of 1953 is only their second season, and Elizabeth is determined to make a go of the only asset she and her mother have. No matter who, or what, gets in her way.

They seem to be on track to profitability this year – or at least they are until the dead body of one of their guests is pulled from the lake one night.

That a guest might die while at the resort is not unheard of. Many of their guests are neither young nor in perfect health. Families have come to the Catskills resorts for at least two generations at this point, and sometimes those generations pass while at the resort.

But a murder is entirely other matter. Guests come to the Catskills to GET away from it all, not to be done away with as this one certainly was. This pot of scandal is further stirred when the local police chief searches the guest’s cabin, discovers a couple of maps and a copy of the Communist Manifesto, and calls the FBI in on suspicion that the “Reds” that Senator Eugene McCarthy is screaming about in Washington have made their way to the Catskills.

Elizabeth needs to find the murderer before the scandal takes her fledgling business right under the water along with the corpse. While her competition from the other resorts cheer on her business’ demise.

Some of them, at least, are absolutely salivating at the very though. After all, it will just prove what they’ve been saying all along, that running a business like Haggerman’s is simply not a suitable job for a woman.

Escape Rating A-: There is a lot to like in Deadly Summer Nights, and one thing that niggled at me a lot. I’ll get to that in a bit.

What I really liked about this story was the way that it dug a bit deeper into what the real world was like during the 1950s, as opposed to keeping reality at bay as the Catskills resorts were famous for doing in their heyday. Which were, after all, the 1950s.

Elizabeth is a woman running a business at a time when women were expected to stay home with the children and not “worry their pretty little heads” about such things as payrolls and suppliers and invoices and contracts. She’s every bit as competent and capable as any man around her and knows they’re being stupid and ridiculous but she plays as much of the game as she must in order to get by.

And she’s very good at asserting her authority when she has to – as she all too frequently does. That she can’t assert any authority over her mother is an entirely different matter. Most of us can’t manage that particular trick no matter how necessary we feel it might be.

I loved the way this story dealt with McCarthyism and the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. The police chief’s witch hunt is bogus and everyone knows it’s bogus. At the same time everyone has to take it seriously out of fear of very real consequences.

I also enjoyed the way that this series opener creates Elizabeth’s world, the resort and it’s annual three months of frenzy, the relationships between Elizabeth and her mother and her aunt, the way she treats her employees, how she deals with the guests, including the demanding divas, and the symbiotic relationship between the resorts and the towns that they are not quite a part of.

I have to say that the focus of the story is on the worldbuilding rather than the mystery, and that works for a series opener. The red herrings are certainly tasty, but Elizabeth has so many fish to fry on an average day that her investigation gets a bit lost in the chaos. I liked her more than enough to enjoy watching her work, whether on the murder or just keeping the resort afloat.

About that thing that niggled at me.

Although this review is being posted around the publication date of the book, I actually read it back in July. On the weekend I read this one of the last of the “Borscht Belt” comedians, Jackie Mason, passed away at the age of 93. I know this seems like a non sequitur, but it’s not. Because the “Borscht Belt” where Mason and so many others honed their stand up routines was just another name for the Catskills summer resorts where this story takes place. The Catskills resorts catered to a Jewish clientele, served Kosher food and gave a lot of Jewish comedians their start or bolstered their careers.

As is mentioned in the story, Milton Berle really did perform in the Catskills. The comedian who gets caught up in the murder investigation was probably based on Lenny Bruce, who also performed there during his all-too-brief but controversial career.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was missing at Haggerman’s, until I realized that the context of who the clients were and who many of the owners were was entirely missing. If it was subtext it was so sub that I missed it. And I feel like a lot of the flavor of the area was lost.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

But I really liked Elizabeth, her family and her resort, more than enough that I’ll be back for her next Catskills season in Deadly Director’s Cut, coming next March. Just at the point where winter’s doldrums will make reading about the summer sun seem like a real getaway!

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

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The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-12-21

Because one of this week’s books was a real disappointment, here’s a picture of George living his best, if slightly confused life. If you’re wondering what he’s doing, he’s doing his damndest to nurse from one of Galen’s shirt buttons. It looked hilarious while it was going on as it was obvious from his face that the whole thing was not quite working out the way he expected to. I was torn between laughing hysterically, worrying about the button breaking off and reflexively cringing just thinking about him trying to nurse from his mother with quite that level of toothy aggression!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop (ENDS WEDNESDAY!!!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Write My Name Across the Sky is Les

Blog Recap:

Labor Day 2021
September to Remember Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: King of Eon by Anna Hackett
C Review: Jekyll & Hyde Inc. by Simon R. Green
B Review: Forgotten in Death by J.D. Robb
Stacking the Shelves (461)

Coming This Week:

Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany (blog tour review)
Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda James (review)
An Impossible Promise by Jude Deveraux (blog tour review)
Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop
Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire (review)