Review: The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd

maharanis pearls by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford Mysteries
Length: 96 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Living with her family in India, young Bess Crawford’s curiosity about this exotic country sometimes leads her into trouble.

One day she slips away from the cantonment to visit the famous seer in a nearby village. Before this woman can finish telling her fortune, Bess is summoned back for an afternoon tea with the Maharani, a close friend of her parents’. The seer’s last words are a warning about forthcoming danger that Bess takes as the usual patter. But this visit by the Maharani has ominous overtones that mark it as more than a social call. Her husband has political enemies, and she has come to ask Bess’s father, Major Crawford, for help.

As the Maharani is leaving, Bess notices that there is something amiss with the royal entourage. Major Crawford must set out after them—but will he be in time?

And what will happen to Bess, and the household left behind, when a vicious assassin circles back to take hostages?

Here is an extraordinary glimpse into the childhood of the Bess Crawford we know from her service in the Great War.

My Review:

This story is a very short episode in the life of World War I Nurse Bess Crawford long before she became a nurse or volunteered to serve in the Army’s Nursing Corps.

On the other hand, even as a ten-year-old, it’s still very obvious that Bess has always been very much herself; adventurous, intelligent, headstrong in pursuit of what she believes is the right thing, brave and fairly unflappable.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddDuring the main sequence of the stories that chronicle her wartime career (start with A Duty to the Dead) Bess exhibits the same traits as an adult that show up in this brief story from her childhood.

Bess’ often remembers her childhood in India, both for the relative freedom she enjoyed and for the cosmopolitan outlook that growing up slightly outside the strictures of life back in England. She has more experience of more different types and backgrounds of people than most women her age. She’s also much more independent than usual for the era, because she has that broader experience.

In A Question of Honor (reviewed here) we see some of Bess’ memories of life in the Raj, and also discover the fate of some of the children whose A Question of Honor by Bess Crawfordparents sent them back home while they continued their service. Bess discovers just how much she has to be grateful for, that her parents, a high-ranking officer and his wife, kept her with them.

But in her childhood, Bess was already an intrepid explorer and someone who only obeyed the rules when it suited her. In the case of the Maharani’s pearls, Bess’ desire to push at the boundaries results in her being in the right place at the right time to save a life, and perhaps help maintain the British presence in India on a relatively peaceful basis.

Escape Rating B+: The Maharani’s Pearls is a very short story. While I certainly enjoyed the glimpse of Bess as a child, the story also introduced a few more mysteries about the people around her.

Her father’s willingness to listen to her story and take action on information that some might have claimed was a child’s imagining explained a lot about the way she was raised and how much she feels she needs to take action when things go wrong.

Child Bess made a ton of references to her father’s batman, Simon Brandon, and his mysterious origins. Simon, his service, his career and his place in her family’s life has been extremely mysterious from the very first book. It was to be hoped that this earlier glimpse of him might clear up some of the mysteries. Instead, it just makes his past even murkier.

unwilling accomplice by charles toddStill I can’t wait for the next book in the main series, An Unwilling Accomplice. This entire series does well at both evoking the era and providing a page-turning mystery.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger + Giveaway

The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan SchoenbergerFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: Women’s fiction
Length: 243 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Date Released: July 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

My Review:

The Virtues of Oxygen is the story of two women (and a town) who are all having difficulty with something that is critical to survival.

It’s not that Holly started out life somewhere in the upper-middle class and feels deprived because her standard of living has steadily fallen throughout her adult life–it’s that she’s 42, widowed young, with two sons and a job in a dying industry (journalism) in a small town that has been losing economic ground for decades.

She works hard and she does her best, but she’s going to lose her house. And her little weekly newspaper is about to fold, taking her job with it.

Then her mother has a severe stroke and she and her siblings have to face even more bitter truths. Their mother survived, but she will never get better. The woman they knew is gone.

And everything that their parents saved in their life together will have to go to taking care of the body that no longer houses their mother.

Holly says that money is like oxygen, and she just doesn’t have enough. but Holly’s friend Vivian really doesn’t have enough actual oxygen. Ever.

230px-Iron_lung_CDCVivian is 65, and she contracted polio when she was 6–three years before the Salk vaccine. For the past 59 years, Vivian has lived her entire life in an iron lung. She can’t breathe without it’s constant assistance.

She has managed to make a life for herself. Computers and the internet opened up a vast array of outside contacts for her. She invested her money wisely, (she’s very good at it) and has mostly done ok by financial standards.

But she is tired of everything. As her series of podcasts reveals, she has lived her life as best as she could, but she has reached enough. The problem is that someone is, of necessity, always taking care of her, and ensuring that her life-giving machines never lose power.

When Holly finally runs out of choices, Vivian takes her and her boys into her home. Holly’s family gives Vivian one last chance to experience life in a busy and happy household. Holly’s family gives her purpose.

They also give her one last chance to pass the benefits of her life, hopefully without the disadvantages, to a friend she cares for, and the town that has cared for her.

Escape Rating B+: The Virtues of Oxygen is a story that builds slowly, but involves the reader with all the aspects of both of its protagonists lives. This is not a story where dramatic action would be appropriate, instead it weaves its spell by deepening the reader’s understanding of the difficulties faced by all the characters.

Vivian is simply an awesome character. From the first of her “unaired podcasts” Vivian’s personality roars off the page. Her experience is so much broader than the horizons of her iron-lung bound life might have been. For someone who starts out extraordinarily unlucky, she makes the absolute most of what she has. Until she exhausts herself in a way that is as understandable as possible in circumstances that none of us can compare to.

Vivian has managed to make herself the personal and economic center of little Bertram Corners, binding the town together in caring for her in a way that helps the town as much as it assists her. It’s obvious from the story that it took Vivian a while, but she finally figured out how to give back to her caregivers and her community in a really big way.

Holly’s life keeps going from bad to worse, and she keeps on putting one foot in front of the other, but she’s just not able to dig out of the hole she’s in. Because she doesn’t have any reserves, she can’t manage to help herself make money. Everything that comes in is eaten up by daily life; the mortgage, utilities, keeping both sons clothed and fed, trying to keep their lives from being a complete drag as the house gets more dilapidated.

Her life has never recovered from the absurdly young death of her husband. No one expects to die in their early 30’s, with so much of their promise unfulfilled.

The town is slowly dying, and into this economic bust Vivian brings a storefront cash-for-gold store. The presence of the store, and it’s city-wise manager Racine brings a boost to the downtown area, and possibly even a boost to Holly’s life. She just can’t figure out what his game is or whether he has one.

For a character who changes so much from the beginning of the story to the end, we don’t see as much of Racine’s perspective as might have been helpful. The Virtues of Oxygen is totally Vivian’s and Holly’s stories.


Susan is graciously giving away a paperback copy of The Virtues of Oxygen to one lucky U.S commenter:

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Invisible City by Julia Dahl

invisible city by julia dahlFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Rebekah Roberts, #1
Length: 305 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Date Released: May 6, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it’s clear that she’s not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

My Review:

Invisible City is the story of a search for identity wrapped in a murder mystery and a police cover-up. Several cover-ups. But no matter how convoluted the plot gets, what we’re left with at the end is the same conclusion that the protagonist arrives at: this investigation provided Rebekah Roberts with the excuse she needed to help her find her mother.

Both find as in locate, and find as in understand. Rebekah is aware, at least in fits and starts, that her mother is the real issue, but she loses herself in solving the case, sometimes deliberately so.

It is a fascinating case, after all. A woman is found dead in a construction crane. She’s naked and her head has been shaved. There is no reasonable way that this is not a very questionable death. But no questions are asked. The woman is a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the Borough Park neighborhood of New York City, and the community has its own rules about investigating crime among their members, and more than enough political clout with the city to be permitted to go their own way.

The body is whisked away, and not by the coroner. Rebekah Roberts, a low-paid stringer for the tabloid New York Tribune, sees it all and can’t figure out why there isn’t going to be an autopsy. But she’s fascinated, because the dead woman is a member of the same community that Rebekah’s mother briefly escaped from, and then went back to, leaving 6-month old Rebekah in the custody of her Christian father in Florida.

But Rebekah is technically Jewish, and everyone in Borough Park seems to see her that way, especially NYPD detective Saul Katz, who serves as the police liaison to the community. Saul knew her mother; and has kept in touch with her father. He becomes her entrée into the closed community to which she might have belonged, if life had been very different.

Saul has his own reasons for wanting to make sure that this case is fully investigated. He makes sure she gets enough information to keep her newspaper interested. “Crane Lady” generates plenty of column inches in the Trib while their covert investigation continues.

At first, it looks like an investigation into the rich and powerful. It becomes a voyage of discovery, as Rebekah peeks into a community that polices and especially cares for its own, but isn’t readily able to admit outsiders when situations go beyond their skill at healing.

Rebekah’s lost heritage, at first her entrée into this closed world, almost becomes her undoing.

Escape Rating A-: In any mystery, it’s usually the secrets that people keep from the world that finally lead to their guilt. In this case, there are more secrets than the usual. The entire ultra-Orthodox community operates as one giant secret.

A part of the narrative about the community, the way that they care for each other and eschew the modern world as much as possible, reminds the reader a bit of how us “English” view the Amish, at least in popular fiction.

The difference being that Amish communities tend to be rural or small-town (Lancaster, PA is the popular example) but this ultra-Orthodox community is set in the heart of New York City, yet is still permitted to operate as if it were on an island of its own. Living according to their own laws is bound to cause friction with the wider community, unless there is a powerful incentive to leave them alone.

Politics, as they say, makes very strange bedfellows.

Rebekah is outwardly looking for a killer, but really searching for her mother, Aviva. Aviva started questioning the Hasidic way of life, and temporarily flirted with joining the greater world. A flirtation that resulted in Rebekah.

Rebekah’s search for identity makes a compelling underpinning to this mystery. Her delving into the way that the community works (and doesn’t work) provide a fascinating glimpse into this “city within a city”.

Rebekah is ultimately a very flawed heroine, someone who is not merely very young, but in completely over her head, while so engrossed in the thrill of the chase that she doesn’t see the dangers around her.

I’ll be very curious to see if the author can extend Rebekah’s story into more cases.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Maxwell Street Blues by Marc Krulewitch + Giveaway

maxwell street blues by marc krulewitchFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Jules Landau, #1
Length: 245 pages
Publisher: Alibi
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Chicago runs in Jules Landau’s veins. So does the blood of crooks. Now Jules is going legit as a private eye, stalking bail jumpers and cheating spouses—until he gets his first big case. Unfortunately, the client is his ex-con father, and the job is finding the killer of a man whom Jules loved like family. Why did someone put two bullets in the head of gentle bookkeeper Charles Snook? Jules is determined to find out, even if the search takes him to perilous places he never wanted to go.

Snooky, as he was affectionately known, had a knack for turning dirty dollars clean, with clients ranging from humble shop owners to sharp-dressed mobsters. As Jules retraces Snooky’s last days, he crosses paths with a way-too-eager detective, a gorgeous and perplexing tattoo artist, a silver-haired university administrator with a kinky side, and a crusading journalist. Exposing one dirty secret after another, the PI is on a dangerous learning curve. And, at the top of that curve, a killer readies to strike again.

My Review:

I lived in Chicago for quite a chunk of my adult life, so when I saw the description for Maxwell Street Blues, I just had to see if the town painted in the book matched my memories.

The Maxwell Street area, and all the streets and neighborhoods mentioned in the book really do exist. And while the names have been altered to protect the innocent, or possibly the guilty, there really is a university in and around what used to be the Maxwell Street Market area.

I’ve even been there. It’s the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and they even have a nearby residential development, just like in the book.

I’m sure it didn’t happen quite like the author describes. But then, we are talking about Chicago, so it may not surprise readers to learn that the true-life events bear a startling resemblance to the history outlined in the story.

Maxwell Street is where Chicago first sang the Blues. In this story, it’s also the location where “the city that works” is working out a construction deal mostly under the table between a large public university, a well-connected construction company and some more-or-less dirty cops.

Someone was bound to end up dead. After all, as Sean Connery’s character famously put it in the movie The Untouchables, “that’s the Chicago way.”

The body belongs to Charles Snook, a CPA with a lucrative sideline in laundering money for cops, aldermen, university chancellors and anyone else who had the right connections. Snooky was damn good at his job. Until his body was found, and then everyone assumed that he’d betrayed his clients’ trust or pissed off somebody important.

His childhood friend Jules Landau can’t let it alone. Jules is a private investigator barely getting by, but his family has generations-long connections in the underworld that seems to have been his friend’s downfall.

Jules can’t stop himself from searching for the truth about his friend’s death, in spite of having no experience whatsoever in investigating murders. Particularly a murder that everyone wants to bury–along with Snooky, and possibly Jules.

Everyone says that Snooky was a terrific accountant who kept his mouth shut and did a great job laundering everyone’s dirty money. The mobs didn’t want him dead, because dead accountants just aren’t any good.

Jules, like good detectives everywhere, follows the money. Money that leads from a crazy tattoo artist to the highest offices of a major university, scooping up dirty cops and aldermen along the way.

Nobody seems to have really wanted Snooky dead. But once he pokes his nose into the case, the line of people who want Jules dead grows by leaps and bounds.

Also by brass knuckles and baseball bats.

Escape Rating B: The story has a solid Chicago flavor, almost as tasty as a Chicago Hot Dog (and yes, that’s a thing, with celery salt). While I’m certain you don’t need to have lived in Chicago to enjoy this story, that I knew all the places gave it an extra layer of nostalgia for me. It feels right.

The mystery is one of dogged persistence. Although it starts out being about Snooky’s murder, it veers quickly into the murky waters of the deal to destroy the old Maxwell Street Market neighborhood. Every person with even the tiniest bit of decision-making power seems to have taken a slice of pork out of that barrel.

Even more damning, the cops investigating the murder have it in for each other, and both of them were on the take in multiple ways. No one involved with the Maxwell Street development/destruction seems to have been clean.

Jules is in way over his head. A head that keeps getting punched and beaten as he pursues the case. All of his involvements and attempts at a solution just get him another beating. Literally. And yet, he keeps on.

There’s a sense that he wants to right all the wrongs that he finds, until he is beaten down to the realization that one person can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the way business is done in Chicago.

The ending of the case is murkier than the Chicago River. But the conclusion of Jules’ story was surprisingly satisfying.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-27-14

Sunday Post

This almost turned out to be “city” week at Reading Reality. Monday’s Maxwell Street Blues is very Chicago, and Invisible City takes place in a part of New York City that is, well, invisible. Until, of course, it isn’t.

I’m still suffering from “Con hangover” after Detcon. We had an awesome time and I want to go back. And I’m bummed that we couldn’t manage LonCon this month. The Hugo voting is this week, and I’m starting to look forward to next year in Spokane. Which doesn’t quite sound right, but it’s a WorldCon, so it’s all good.

Back-to-You-Blog-TourCurrent Giveaways:

Back to You by Jessica Scott (paperback)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Summer Reads Giveaway Hop is Michelle B.
The winner of Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann is Jo C.
The winner of Until We Touch by Susan Mallery is Blair S.

truly by ruthie knoxBlog Recap:

C+ Review: The Forever Man by Pierre Ouellette + Giveaway
A+ Review: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
A+ Review: Truly by Ruthie Knox
B Guest Review: Star Trek: The Original Series: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson
Interview with Author Jessica Scott + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (98)

maxwell street blues by marc krulewitchComing Next Week:

Maxwell Street Blues by Marc Krulewitch (blog tour review + giveaway)
Invisible City by Julia Dahl (review)
The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger (blog tour review + giveaway)
The Maharani’s Pearls by Charles Todd (review)
The Winter King by C.L. Wilson (blog tour review + giveaway)

Stacking the Shelves (98)

Stacking the Shelves

This is pretty much the last two weeks. Lots of interesting stuff. I’m feeding my Sherlock Holmes addiction with not just one but two anthologies, and I bought the Brenda Cooper books just for the covers. (I have the cover of The Diamond Deep on the Detcon t-shirt).

Speaking of Detcon, I bought (or rather Galen bought for me) One-Eyed Jack by Elizabeth Bear. I adore her Promethean Age series (start with Blood and Iron) because it’s one of the best Fae/Earth crossover series I’ve ever read. I’m beyond thrilled that it’s continuing after a 6-year break!

For Review:
Dangerous Calling (The Shadowminds #2) by AJ Larrieu
The Devil in Montmartre by Gary Inbinder
Gentlemen Prefer Curves (Perfect Fit #3) by Sugar Jamison
Hard to Hold On To (Hard Ink #2.5) by Laura Kaye
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
Left Turn at Paradise (Antiquarian Book Mystery #2) by Thomas Shawver
Lethal Code by Thomas Waite
The Lodge on Holly Road (Life in Icicle Falls #4) by Sheila Roberts
The Magician’s Land (Magicians #3) by Lev Grossman
Slow Hand (Hot Cowboy Nights #1) by Victoria Vane
Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets edited by David Thomas Moore
While You Were Away by D.J. Davis
Wild (Ivy Chronicles #3) by Sophie Jordan

The Creative Fire (Ruby’s Song #1) by Brenda Cooper
The Diamond Deep (Ruby’s Song #2) by Brenda Cooper
Into Tolari Space (Tales of Tolari Space #0.5) by Christie Meierz
The Marann (Tales of Tolari Space #1) by Christie Meierz
One-Eyed Jack (Promethian Age #5) by Elizabeth Bear
Worth the Weight (Worth #1) by Mara Jacobs

Interview with Author Jessica Scott + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome back Jessica Scott, who recently published Back to You (reviewed here). If you enjoy military romance, or simply love contemporary romance with marvelous characters, Jessica’s Coming Home series is absolutely awesome. 


Marlene: Welcome back, Jessica! Can you please tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since we last talked (in October 2012)?

Jessica: Wow, so much has changed since then. Let’s see, I’ve finished my first year of grad school and am still sane. We’re settled now in North Carolina for another year. I’m working on new books in the Coming Home series as well as getting ready to start an new series and I’m still working on my master’s thesis. So I guess a lot has changed and then again, not much has?

Marlene: Which came first, the fiction or the non-fiction? And why both?

Jessica: Fiction came first and the non fiction rose out of my journey both to Iraq as well as to become a published author.

Marlene: Of all the books in the series, which couple has generated the most fan comments? Were you surprised?

back to you by jessica scottJessica: I think Back to You has generated the most chatter. It took so long for me to find the right way to tell Laura & Trent’s story, I think a lot of people had expectations. For the most part, the folks who have contacted me have loved the way we managed to get their story beaten into shape, lol!

Marlene: And who is your personal favorite?

Jessica: It’s a toss up between Carponti (I’ll Be Home For Christmas) and Reza (All For You). Carponti is just instant stress relief but there really is something about Reza that touches something for me.

Will there be more books in Coming Home series? What is next on your schedule?

Jessica: So far, I’ve got two more books in the Coming Home series written and I’m hard at work on a third new one. There will be more news coming closer to the end of the year (hint hint: my newsletter will be the first to hear so go on ahead and sign up!)

Marlene: As busy as you are, what is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Jessica: You know there are two things I really love: falling into the page as Stephen King would say and just losing yourself in the story. The other thing (and I may get kicked off the writer’s island for this one) is revisions. I absolutely love getting notes from my editor and diving in to make the changes because there’s little better than seeing the rough draft you’ve just pounded out take form into something that will really resonate with readers. My editor is critical to helping make my books better.

Marlene: What words of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Jessica: Learn what right feels like for you. If someone gives you feedback that doesn’t resonate, figure out why and stick to your guns. At the same time, you need to learn how to hear what people think about your story and learn to listen to honest feedback that’s trying to help you improve.

Marlene: What is the book you most want to read again for the first time?

Dragonflight by Ann McAffreyJessica: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. I first discovered her books almost twenty-five years ago and I didn’t realize when I first read it how much those books would influence my life as a writer. She had a truly special gift and I was deeply saddened when she passed a couple of years ago.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Jessica: Hmmm, let’s see. I’m addicted to ice cream much to my pant’s chagrin. I was just in Maine and one of the awesome things about being at home is that there are ice cream shops everywhere. Course this means I may not fit into my RITA dress this week, lol!

Marlene: Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Jessica: Lately I’m more of a night owl. There’s just something about being awake after the whole house is asleep. I manage to get a lot done between about 10 pm and 2 am-ish.

Jessica ScottAbout Jessica Scott

USA Today bestselling author Jessica Scott is a career army officer; mother of two daughters, She’s written for the New York Times At War Blog, PBS Point of View: Regarding War Blog, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She deployed to Iraq in 2009 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and has served as a company commander at Fort Hood, Texas. She’s pursuing a PhD in Sociology in her spare time and most recently, she’s been featured as one of Esquire Magazine’s Americans of the Year for 2012.To learn more about Jessica, visit her website or follow her on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook.


Jessica is giving away copies of Back to You (U.S. and Canada only)! For a chance to win, use the Rafflecopter below:

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Guest Review: Star Trek: The Original Series: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson

Star Trek - The More Things Change by Scott PearsonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 90 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star
Date Released: June 23, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Six months after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Doctor Christine Chapel and Spock must save the life of an ailing Audrid Dax, her true nature as a Trill having remained a mystery until now. But after an unknown vessel attacks their shuttle, a risky game of cat-and-mouse may be the only way to save all their lives.

Guest review by Galen.  Visit The Book Pushers for Marlene’s take.

This novella has a possible future as a one-set play. All of the action of note takes place inside a shuttle-craft. In fact, it would almost work as a monologue, as the heart of the story takes place inside the head of Christine Chapel.

Chapel, no longer Nurse Chapel but Dr. Chapel, has gained her medical degree and is starting to spread her wings. The events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, however, have delayed her assuming full confidence by putting Dr. McCoy back as Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise.

McCoy dispatches her and Spock to take the Trill ambassador Audrid Dax to rendezvous with a Trill vessel to deal with an urgent medical issue of Dax’s.  However, there is more under the surface than meets the eye: with Dax, with the mission, and with Chapel’s relationship with Spock.

Escape Rating B: This is a competently written character piece that is worth reading by any fan of TOS, particularly those who hanker for knowing what comes next.

As near as I can tell, The More Things Change references just about every canonical appearance of Chapel and provides a nice bridge between TOS and her final appearance in The Voyage Home. Some of the references to incidents in the animated series are inspiring me to dust off the DVDs and give TAS a proper watch.

On the other hand, it did feel like the story was a little too careful to name-check every relevant incident in the TV shows; it would have been nice if it had given Chapel a little more roam to wander around in her life, as it were. That said, her voice rang true as that of a person ready to acknowledge the past that shaped her and move on to her future.

The big reveal that Audrid Dax is both Audrid and Dax, host and symbiont,  is of course not a surprise to any fan of Star Trek, though it was to Dr. Chapel. I do have a quibble about how long the Trill could have actually kept their secret in the face of sensor technology (and the impression one gets that just about every space-faring civilization in the universe of Star Trek is effectively a total surveillance state), but well, such quibbles are part of what make fandom fun.  The external conflict (in the form of raiders chasing the shuttle in an attempt to capture Dax) was strictly paint-by-numbers, but didn’t detract from the core story of Chapel resolving her relationship with Spock and preparing to leave her second family.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Truly by Ruthie Knox

truly by ruthie knoxFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, mass market paperback
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: New York, #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Loveswept
Date Released: August 5, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

May Fredericks hates New York. Which is fair enough, since New York seems to hate her back. After relocating to Manhattan from the Midwest to be with her long-distance boyfriend, NFL quarterback Thor Einarsson, May receives the world’s worst marriage proposal, stabs the jerk with a shrimp fork, and storms off alone—only to get mugged. Now she’s got no phone, no cash, and no friends. How’s a nice girl supposed to get back to safe, sensible Wisconsin?

Frankly, Ben Hausman couldn’t care less. Sure, it’s not every day he meets a genuine, down-to-earth woman like May—especially in a dive in the Village—but he’s recovering from an ugly divorce that cost him his restaurant. He wants to be left alone to start over and become a better man. Then again, playing the white knight to May’s sexy damsel in distress would be an excellent place to start—if only he can give her one very good reason to love New York.

My Review:

Truly was originally released as an e-serial last year through Wattpad, but I decided to wait for the complete book to come out. While the Wattpad readers loved it, I’m glad I waited until I could get the whole story. I love Ruthie’s work (see review of About Last Night for just how much) but I hate being teased.

Truly is definitely one of Ruthie’s trademark romances. By that, I mean that the hero, the heroine and the situation are believable, or at least identifiable-with, and that the tensions in the situation are part of real-life, and not ridiculously invented.

I hate stories where the stress break-up in the relationship is the result of a grand misunderstandammit that could have been fixed with a simple conversation. Ruthie doesn’t do that.

So, what we have is two people who meet very cute, but need to work at discovering that they are perfect for each other. Also two people who, just like most of us, need a bit of work. Not that either of them is planning to fix the other, but that each of them acknowledges individually that they have some stuff to take care of in order to be their best selves at least some of the time.

And in this particular case, they both have the realistic but difficult problem of needing to shake off the destructive messages that their parents have implanted in their brains, whether their parents intended well, or poorly, or anything at all.

Wisconsinite May Fredericks is stuck in New York City with no cell phone, no ID, and $5 to her name. Not because she’s a deadbeat, but because she finally broke up with her NFL quarterback boyfriend after he delivered the most ham-fisted marriage proposal ever, in front of a crowd on ESPN. Her entirely justified reaction went viral on YouTube. It’s not every day that you see an NFL star get stabbed in the hand with a shrimp fork.

It’s never wise to say that the reason you’re marrying someone is because they are just so plain and unexciting. He deserved that fork.

May got mugged by the paparazzi on her way out. Not just ambushed by the lights and microphones, but literally mugged by one enterprising reporter who wanted to mine her cell phone for juicy info.

Being a pretty rabid Green Bay Packers fan, May takes refuge in a Greenwich Village Packers bar, hoping that someone will take pity on her plight.

Ben Hausman is looking for redemption. Or at least a way of lowering his blood pressure and calming his ever-present anger. He decides, very much on a whim, that playing white knight to May’s obvious damsel in distress will help make him a better person.
He’s both very, very right and very wrong, sometimes within the same 5 minute interval. May makes him laugh. She also makes him re-examine the assumptions that cost him both his marriage and his restaurant career.

His intervention gives May the freedom to explore that still, small voice in her head (the one that sounds remarkably like her mother) that tells her that the real May is wilder, sexier and way more confident and capable than she has ever allowed herself to be.

The more time they spend together, the harder they fall. Until May has to go back home and face all of her benevolent demons, and everything falls apart. Including Ben. Only May isn’t willing to let him, or her new self, go. No matter how angry she has to get.

Escape Rating A+: Truly is a big story, one that was definitely worth staying up after midnight to finish.

I love May. She’s spent most of her life squeezed into the role of “good sister” and “family peacemaker”, and doesn’t really know how to get out. Her well-meaning mother has also spent May’s whole life trying to squash May into a future that she believes will be safe and secure, whether its right for May or not.

She’s also given May a metric butt-load of negative body images, because both mom and sister Allie are petite little waifs, and May is 6 feet tall and built like an Amazon. An absolutely gorgeous and sexy Amazon, but that’s not the way her mother sees her. May’s spent her whole life trying to disappear, and it’s not working.

Breaking out of her safe and boring relationship with the quarterback was the only way for May to rescue herself from a life of complete self-effacement. And she does rescue herself. Ben helps with some of the practicalities, but that option only opens because May first takes charge of her own life.

Ben is interesting because he’s not a typical romantic hero. He may be handsome, but he’s also a complete mess who doesn’t know what to do with himself or his life. He’s totally screwed up once, and is afraid he’ll do it again. He’s also so angry with himself that he inflicts that anger on everyone around him at the drop of a hat.

May takes him out of himself, and makes him view the world around him with fresh eyes. As part of that freshness, he shows her the city that he has come to love.

The other part of the story focuses on their family relationships. We see a lot of May’s family, but only a little, and very telling, glimpse of Ben’s. But they are definitely facing some of the same demons. I’ve always said that the reason it is so easy for family to push your buttons is because they’re the ones who installed them. Both Ben and May really show how that works, and so often doesn’t.

I’m gushing, so I have to stop. If you enjoy contemporary romance, you have to pick up Ruthie Knox. Truly would truly be a great place to start. Me, I’m waiting for the next book in the series, Madly. Madly counting the days, that is.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

written in my own hearts blood by diana gabaldonFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction; time travel romance
Series: Outlander, #8
Length: 849 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date Released: June 10, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

1778: France declares war on Great Britain, the British army leaves Philadelphia, and George Washington’s troops leave Valley Forge in pursuit. At this moment, Jamie Fraser returns from a presumed watery grave to discover that his best friend has married his wife, his illegitimate son has discovered (to his horror) who his father really is, and his beloved nephew, Ian, wants to marry a Quaker. Meanwhile, Jamie’s wife, Claire, and his sister, Jenny, are busy picking up the pieces.

The Frasers can only be thankful that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in twentieth-century Scotland. Or not. In fact, Brianna is searching for her own son, who was kidnapped by a man determined to learn her family’s secrets. Her husband, Roger, has ventured into the past in search of the missing boy . . . never suspecting that the object of his quest has not left the present. Now, with Roger out of the way, the kidnapper can focus on his true target: Brianna herself.

My Review:

The title is much too long, but completely evocative of the story, assuming that the heart in question belongs to Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (and briefly Grey).

outlander mediumIf the above recital of names requires explication, please start this series at the very beginning, with Outlander. If you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be extremely glad you did.

Consider all of this as spoilers to the Starz Outlander TV series that starts next month. Just as with The Game of Thrones, someday, if the series is successful, TV will catch up to the books.

By the time of this particular story, it is 1778, and Claire and Jamie are caught in the midst of the American Revolution. Even though Claire is a time traveler, she only remembers the bare outlines of 18th century American history. The Colonials obviously won in the end, but who won which battle is not something she ever studied in medical school.

Claire and Jamie live their 18th century lives one day at a time, doing their best to survive. Life, however, has a way of throwing them curveballs, ones almost as big as the trip through the standing stones that brought Claire back to the 18th century in the first place.

scottish prisonerWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood begins just where An Echo in the Bone left off, five years ago. (Waiting for the next book in this series is awful).

At the end of Echo, Jamie has just returned to the colonies after a trip to Scotland, a trip where he was reported dead. Claire is married to Lord John Grey (see The Scottish Prisoner (reviewed here) for more on Grey) as a way of being protected from accusations of sedition against the British. As Grey is homosexual, it was assumed that this would be a marriage entirely of convenience. It was, mostly, emphasis on mostly.

So Jamie comes back to find out that his wife has married one of his best friends, and takes Grey out to beat him to a pulp. A beating that Grey feels he not only deserves, but actively encourages. The results, however, leave Grey wandering around the Pennsylvania countryside with severe injuries. He finds himself batted, and battered, back and forth between the rival Colonial and British forces as he alternately conceals and reveals his identity in an attempt to return home.

Meanwhile, Jamie returns to Philadelphia and gets dragooned into the Colonial Army as a General, based on his experience in Europe as well as in the Colonies. Claire follows him as a surgeon while they repair their slightly strained relationship.

And in the 20th century, their daughter Brianna faces multiple kidnap attempts as she tries to figure out where and when the best place will be to raise her children, all while her husband in lost back in the 18th century on a wild goose chase for their son.

All anyone wants to do is go home, if they can just dodge the armies and other forces against them; and if they can figure out exactly where that elusive “home” might be.

Escape Rating A+: Okay, I’ll say upfront that I love this series, and have since the very first book, over 20 years ago. This series is sprawling and awesome and sprawlingly awesome.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood was the perfect book to read on a 5-hour flight. I didn’t finish the 800+ pages, but I was enthralled every step of the way, both mine and Claire’s.

After 8 books in the series, what continues to fascinate, at least this reader, are the closely intertwined relationships among all the participants. Family and friendship make incredibly strong bonds, and in this story we see how close everyone has remained, even across three centuries and three generations.

The story encompasses not just Jamie and Claire, but also his nephew Ian, his natural son William, Bree and Roger in the 20th century, and every member of both families. And it’s all so enthralling that each person plays their own separate and completely needful part in the narrative. Including John Grey and his family from the British military side.

Not only is every story part of every other, but we get a glimpse at the time before Outlander started through Roger’s wild goose chase in the 1730s, and we see the genesis of characters who have fallen by the wayside. Even Bree’s 20th century stepfather manages to send an important message back from the grave.

Following the American Revolution from the ground is bloody, gory, frightening and amazing. Claire’s perspectives of the battles, from her position as a medico, give the entire scene a “you are there” feeling that keeps you on the edge of your seat. We meet some of the towering figures of the Revolution, like Washington and Benedict Arnold, only to discover that they were human and fallible (especially Arnold!) but still amazing.

I hope that Claire gets to meet Ben Franklin, I think it would be hilarious.

But speaking of hilarity, the story definitely has it’s lighter moments. The humor and occasional sarcasm laced through Claire’s 20th century observations of the 18th century are often snort-chuckle funny. The characters are so familiar that the humor in many situations comes through wonderfully.

If you have an interest in any of the periods that this series covers, if you enjoy historical fiction laced with romance and in the midst of a sprawling family saga, try Outlander. (If the size of the books alarms you, the first seven are available in an ebook bundle.)

I can’t wait to visit with Claire and Jamie again. The story does not (thankfully) end on a cliffhanger, but one is left with the intense feeling that there is much more yet to come!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.