Review: When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

Review: When Falcons Fall by C.S. HarrisWhen Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr, #11) by C.S. Harris
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #11
Pages: 368
Published by NAL on March 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

The much-anticipated new entrée in the Sebastian St. Cyr “simply elegant”* historical mystery series, from the national bestselling author of Who Buries the Dead and Why Kings Confess.
Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own ancestry. But when the body of a lovely widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village’s inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help.   Almost immediately, Sebastian realizes that Emma Chance did not, in truth, take her own life. Less easy to discern is exactly how she died, and why. For as Sebastian and Hero soon discover, Emma was hiding both her true identity and her real reasons for traveling to Ayleswick. Also troubling are the machinations of Lucien Bonaparte, the estranged brother of the megalomaniac French Emperor Napoleon. Held captive under the British government’s watchful eye, the younger Bonaparte is restless, ambitious, and treacherous.   Sebastian’s investigation takes on new urgency when he discovers that Emma was not the first, or even the second, beautiful young woman in the village to die under suspicious circumstances. Home to the eerie ruins of an ancient monastery, Ayleswick reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place of secrets that have festered among the villagers for decades—and a violent past that may be connected to Sebastian’s own unsettling origins. And as he faces his most diabolical opponent ever, he is forced to consider what malevolence he’s willing to embrace in order to destroy a killer.
*Lisa Gardner

My Review:

I read the first five books in this series several years ago, and then lost track. They are excellent books, but I ran into the “so many books, so little time” problem, and for some reason this series fell by the wayside.

Having finished the latest book in the series, When Falcons Fall, I can see that this was a terrible mistake – the series is every bit as awesome as I remember.

Of course, that I enjoyed this one so much after a reading hiatus of five years or so says that you probably don’t need to have read the whole series to enjoy the latest entry. In my case, it makes me want to go back and pick up the ones that I missed.

This series is unusual is that it is a Regency series that is not a romance, although there is a very slow-burning romantic subplot in it after all. Instead, is it a historical mystery series, where the private detective is a dabbling aristocrat who is using his investigations as a productive but unorthodox way of dealing with PTSD after the Napoleonic Wars.

Sebastian St. Cyr is a haunted man. He is also a man clandestinely searching for his identity. At the beginning of the series, he believes that he is the third son and accidental heir of Earl of Herndon and that his mother is dead. As the series progresses, while the legal facts don’t change, Devlin discovers that the truth is otherwise. His mother is very much alive, and whoever his biological father may have been, it certainly wasn’t the Earl. Not that the Earl is planning to expose this fact – Devlin’s two older brothers are dead, and he is the only heir to the title left.

But that leaves Devlin searching for his real antecedents in secret. In When Falcons Fall, his quest has taken him to Aylesworth-on-Teme. The grandmother of one of his fellow soldiers lives there, and Devlin has a final present for her from her late son. Devlin also wants to discover what, if anything is known about his friend’s own father, for Viscount Devlin and his dead friend looked enough alike to be twins. Enough alike that Jamie took a bullet that was clearly aimed at Devlin.

As usual for Devlin, when he reaches Aylesworth his own concerns take a backseat to the investigation he gets dragged into, only to have them circle around and become part of the murder he can’t resist solving.

Emma Chance is dead. Found with an empty laudanum bottle in her hand, and no obvious wounds, the local constable pushes for a rush to judgment of suicide. But the local Squire is not convinced, and that’s where Devlin comes in.

Emma Chance was certainly murdered. She could not have walked to the site of her death without getting mud on her extremely clean boots up to her ankles. Someone obviously staged her death scene. At first, the question is, who? But as Devlin looks into the death of Emma Chance, he discovers that he does not know whose death he is investigating.

Whoever the young widow who expertly sketched people and places in Aylesworth might have been, she certainly wasn’t the widow Emma Chance, because Emma Chance doesn’t exist.

Emma Chandler is dead. She came to Aylesworth to investigate her own identity. A search that parallels Devlin’s. After discovering the identity of her mother, Emma is in Aylesworth searching for the identity of her mother’s rapist among the local gentry.

As Devlin follows Emma’s trail, he can’t help but think that her search upset the local aristocracy. His search discovers a pattern of young women who were believed to have committed suicide, just as Emma was originally suspected of doing, on extremely flimsy evidence, combined with the local desire to sweep the horrible events under a rug, just as they have other, much worse crimes.

And also other much better ones. Aylesworth is just close enough to the coast to be useful for smuggling, and it’s a thriving trade while France is blockaded and French goods are embargoed. It’s entirely possible that poor Emma was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got in the way of the local “free traders”.

Or she ran afoul of the local spy community. Or rather, the not-so-local spy community. Lucian Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, is in residence in the neighborhood. And as Napoleon is fading in power, it is almost certain that he is looking for some rapprochement with his estranged brother. There are French spies in the area, passing messages between the Corsican brothers. And there are English spies in the woods, spying on the French spies. It is all too plausible that someone did not want to be seen in the middle of either treason or espionage.

But neither of these new possibilities explain the earlier deaths of young women. It seems highly unlikely that there are two murderers roaming in this small village. And yet, whatever is not impossible, must be the truth.

Can Devlin find that truth before it is too late?

Escape Rating A+: After a five-year reading hiatus on my part, as soon as I turned the first page I was right back in the thick of this series, and it took hours after I turned the last page to come out of the resulting book hangover.

The overarching story of the series is Devlin’s search for identity. He solves murders to fight his demons, but he is always looking for clues to who he really is and where he comes from. That gaping void in his center, where his certainty used to be and no longer is, drives him, and it drives him hard. Every time he tracks down one clue, two more spring up in its wake.

And he must always remember to keep up the charade at all costs. Whoever he knows himself to be, he must retain his identity as Viscount Devlin. There is no other heir. And it’s not as if he is lying to his legal father, the Earl has known the secret all along, and has caused no end of damage in his attempts to manipulate Devlin by withholding that truth. To say that the family is dysfunctional, is an understatement. It is easy to sympathize with Devlin’s mother, who pretended to die in order to escape.

So Devlin sees himself in Emma. And the locals certainly see his friend Jamie in him. Everyone is all too aware that Devlin and the late and well-known local must be secretly related, and no one dares comment directly on the resemblance. Unfortunately for Devlin, Jamie’s true father is also unknown, and even Jamie’s twin sister only has hints of who might have fathered Devlin, Jamie and herself.

Emma’s death digs up local dirt going back decades. In this small community, the past is definitely not over. It is not even slightly past. Under every rock Emma, and Devlin, uncover a new/old snake. One of the neat things in this story is the way that the past is tied into historic events that are still having legal and economic repercussions decades later. Devlin’s wife, Hero, is researching the effect of the Enclosure Act on small rural communities, expecting to find a lot of dirt, even to the point of old murders. She doesn’t expect to find new murders. Or nearly be murdered herself.

Hero St. Cyr is every bit as fascinating a character as her husband. At the very beginning of the series, Hero and Devlin are enemies. Her father is trying to either murder Devlin or get him convicted of something. As the series continues, Hero and Devlin begin to find themselves on the same side in some of his cases, however reluctantly. Their shift from enemies to frenemies to allies to marriage to love is slow and moves fitfully. With Hero’s unusual education and extreme independent-mindedness, she is the perfect partner for Devlin. That it takes both of them a long time and a lot of crises to realize that makes their marriage and partnership that much sweeter to watch.

what angels fear by cs harrisAnd it is Hero’s research that provides so much of the interest and so many of the clues in this puzzling case. If you like historical mysteries with unusual heroes and heroines, you’ll be absorbed by this series. Start your dark journey to the Regency with What Angels Fear.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-28-16

Sunday Post

leap-into-books-2016Happy day-before-Leap-Day! And in celebration of Leap Day, be sure to enter the Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop.

This week suffered from schedule-fall-apart. Again. I’m so grateful to Amy for stopping by with a guest review to help me out. I really enjoyed The Defender, but it weighs in at a hefty 656 pages. It was also a bit denser than my usual fiction. So, it took me longer than just one overnight to read. And after being serious with both The Defender in one way and Cat Shout for Joy in another, I just couldn’t do another serious book. Not that Prince’s Gambit isn’t fiction, but the themes get pretty dark, as exemplified by the first book in that series, Captive Prince. I think I’ll wait awhile before picking that back up again.

It’s not that it doesn’t look good, it’s that I’m just not feeling it right now. Does that ever happen to you with your reading?

Current Giveaways:

Ultimate Series giveaway from Lori Foster
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop

defender by ethan michaeliBlog Recap:

B+ Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + Giveaway
B+ Guest Review: I Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond
A- Review: The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli
B+ Review: Cat Shout for Joy by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
B Review: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu
Stacking the Shelves (173)
Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop

battlestorm by susan krinardComing Next Week:

When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris (review)
Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop (review)
Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear (blog tour review)
Two to Wrangle by Victoria Vane (blog tour review)
Battlestorm by Susan Krinard (review)

Leap into Books Giveaway Hop


Welcome to the Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds.

This year is a leap year, so we all have an extra day to read. That’s one of the great things about leap year.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of leaping into a long-anticipated book that has finally reached you. That marvelous sensation of diving into the next entry of a loved series is always so delicious. (Personally, I’m on the proverbial tenterhooks waiting for The Blockade, the third book in Jean Johnson’s First Salik War series)

So what book are you just waiting to leap into? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at a $10 Gift Card or the $10 book of your choice.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous chances to leap into even more books, hop on over to the other blogs participating in this year’s Leap Into Books Giveaway Hop.

<!– end LinkyTools script –>

Stacking the Shelves (173)

Stacking the Shelves

What do you do for a reading slump? I’m asking because I’m not sure whether I’m in a reading slump or just a slump. Certainly most of what I saw on NetGalley and Edelweiss this week only looked “meh”. On the other hand, I gobbled up Anna Hackett’s Holmes the second the download finished. So it’s not all bad.

The Jessi Gage Highland Wishes series looks interesting. I read a review somewhere that it was a good followup to Outlander. We’ll see. Eventually.

I think I’ll go for a walk to clear my head. Maybe I’ll come back with a plan.

For Review:
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin
Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan
Hell Squad: Holmes (Hell Squad #8) by Anna Hackett
A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden

Purchased from Amazon:
Choosing the Highlander (Highland Wishes #3) by Jessi Gage
Wishing for a Highlander (Highland Wishes #1) by Jessi Gage
The Wolf and the Highlander (Highland Wishes #2) by Jessi Gage


Review: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu

Review: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia YuAunty Lee's Delights (Singaporean Mystery #1) by Ovidia Yu
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Singaporean Mystery #1
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 17th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

This delectable and witty mystery introduces Rosie "Aunty" Lee, feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore's best-loved home cooking restaurant
After losing her husband, Rosie Lee could easily have become one of Singapore's "tai tai," an idle rich lady devoted to mah-jongg and luxury shopping. Instead she threw herself into building a culinary empire from her restaurant, Aunty Lee's Delights, where spicy Singaporean home cooking is graciously served to locals and tourists alike. But when a body is found in one of Singapore's beautiful tourist havens, and when one of her wealthy guests fails to show at a dinner party, Aunty Lee knows that the two are likely connected.
The murder and disappearance throws together Aunty Lee's henpecked stepson Mark, his social-climbing wife Selina, a gay couple whose love is still illegal in Singapore, and an elderly Australian tourist couple whose visit-billed at first as a pleasure cruise-may mask a deeper purpose. Investigating the murder is rookie Police Commissioner Raja, who quickly discovers that the savvy and well-connected Aunty Lee can track down clues even better than local law enforcement.
Wise, witty and unusually charming, Aunty Lee's Delights is a spicy mystery about love, friendship and home cooking in Singapore, where money flows freely and people of many religions and ethnicities co-exist peacefully, but where tensions lurk just below the surface, sometimes with deadly results.

My Review:

Following in the footsteps of Jane Marple, Mrs. Pollifax and Precious Ramotswe, Rosie Lee is a woman of a certain age who is constitutionally incapable of keeping her nose out of other people’s business – especially when that business is murder.

Everyone calls her Aunty Lee, and Aunty Lee’s Delights is the name of her restaurant and catering business. It seems to also be Aunty Lee’s delight to solve murders and fix people’s lives – to the point where she gets bored when running the restaurant is the only thing on her plate.

So it’s a real, if slightly perverse, treat when the body of a young woman washes up on the nearby shore. Aunty Lee can’t resist bringing up the mystery to everyone in her circle of family, friends and acquaintances, in the hope that someone knows more than the papers are telling about the late “Jane Doe”.

We also meet the cast of characters who both surround Aunty Lee and who are possible suspects in the case. Because it turns out that Aunty Lee, and everyone else involved in her stepson’s “wine and dine” business, knew the victim. The question hinges on which of them the late Laura Kwee knew much too much about.

And when another young woman’s body washes up on the shore, it’s up to Aunty Lee to expose the killer before he kills again – and before the police arrest one of their many possible suspects for a crime that they did not commit.

But in this case of secrets and lies, no one involved is quite who or what they claim to be, including the killer.

Escape Rating B: Aunty Lee’s Delights is the first book in the series by author Ovidia Yu. As a first book, it carries the weight of introducing all the continuing characters, as well as making Singapore come alive for readers who are not familiar with the city-state.

Her main character, Aunty Lee, is surrounded by family, friends and lifelong connections, some of whom are much more likeable than others. Rosie Lee is a bit of a different heroine – on the one hand, she is an elderly detective. On the other, she only acts old when it suits her purpose. At the same time, her lifelong membership in the upper class of Singapore gives her access to a wealth of social power and connections to people in high places.

Her own inner circle is close. Her companion and caregiver, Nina, helps her in the restaurant and with all her “cases”, sometimes whether Nina really wants to or not. Her stepson Mark is kind of sweet but completely ineffectual – he starts multiple businesses that never succeed, and Aunty Lee bails him out over and over. His wife Selina (Aunty Lee calls her Silly-Nah) seems to be a heartless bitch. I’ll confess to hoping that marriage doesn’t last.

The mystery is fairly cozy. Aunty Lee knows all the possible suspects, both of the victims and the police commissioner. Having friends in both high and low places is always helpful. All of the possible suspects have secrets, and Aunty Lee is an expert at ferreting out people’s secrets, whether or not they lead to murder.

aunty lees deadly specials by ovidia yuThis turned out to be a fun and interesting story. I enjoyed the Singapore setting, it is new to me but the author brought it to life in a way that draws the unfamiliar reader into Aunty Lee’s world. It was also a refreshing change to read a mystery where the case is resolved with brain instead of brawn – or firearms. If you are looking for a different kind of mystery in a fresh setting, Aunty Lee’s Delights is a treat. I’m looking forward to diving in to the next book in the series, Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials.

Warning to readers – do not read this book while hungry! The descriptions of the traditional Singaporean dishes that Aunty Lee cooks throughout the story all sound absolutely scrumptious, whether familiar or not. You’ll want to try everything!

Review: Cat Shout for Joy by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Shout for Joy by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Shout for Joy (Joe Grey #19) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Series: Joe Grey #19
Pages: 336
Published by William Morrow on February 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Awaiting the birth of his first kittens, feline P. I. Joe Grey, his companion Dulcie, and their furry sleuthing pals must unmask a killer preying on some of the most vulnerable citizens in the charming California coastal community of Molena Point.
For Joe Grey and Dulcie, life is a bittersweet mix of endings and beginnings. While they joyfully await their first litter, they are also sad for their friend, the old yellow cat Misto, whose time on earth is drawing to an end. But Misto tells them an exciting future awaits: among the litter will be a little calico returned from the distant past who will be born with the same ancient markings, and the adventurous spirit of Joe Grey.
While the proud parents await the birth of their babies, their humans have their hands full with projects of their own. Kate Osborne has bought the old Pamillon estate and Ryan Flannery is building a new cat shelter as part of their volunteer rescue project. The criminals are busy, too. The Molena Point PD has stepped up patrols to apprehend a mugger attacking the local elderly. The case becomes a homicide when one of the victims dies, leaving everyone in the town—including Joe and Grey and his furry sleuthing companions—on edge, just when the kittens are about to arrive. When Dulcie gives birth, her little calico is just as Misto predicted, as if she has come back to the world from mythic ancient times.
But the celebrations will have to wait. A murderer is on the loose—and neither young nor old is safe until the culprit is found.

My Review:

I think the art on the cover of this entry in the Joe Grey series is intended to represent Dulcie and Joe Grey’s impending kittens. The calico is Courtney, the white cat is Buffin and the dark one is Striker.

Of course I could be wrong about the picture, but I’m right about the kittens. The joy in this book is that Dulcie is expecting, and part of the story is Joe Grey’s, and everyone else’s, reaction to Dulcie’s impending motherhood.

No one except the old cat Misto is certain whether the new kittens will be speaking cats like both their parents. Joe Grey is uncertain about which instincts will rule him, his intelligence or his feline instincts. He is more than smart enough to know that whatever happens, the kittens bring change.

This is also a story where one door closes, and another door opens. As Dulcie enters her last days of pregnancy, the old seer cat Misto breathes his last. All the humans and all the speaking cats love the old tom, and he and his sometimes otherworldly wisdom will be missed.

And in the midst of all of this emotional upheaval, Joe Grey, and Max Harper, the police chief, have a case. At first, it seems like someone is targeting the frail and elderly in Molena Point, for “shits and giggles”. At first no one is harmed and nothing is stolen. But a series of elderly residents are attacked from behind and knocked to the ground while their assailant runs away in glee.

But the attacks are on the frail, and as the list of “prank” victims rises, so does the accidental death toll. Until one of Ryan’s young assistants is shot on a job site, and it’s suddenly clear that whatever is going on, there is someone out there masking a killing spree with a series a nasty muggings.

Partly because he needs to distract himself from all of the emotional upheaval, and partly because he can never resist a good mystery or the opportunity to put away a bad person, feline detective Joe Grey puts himself into the thick of the investigation, sniffing out important clues and pretending to be an innocent kitty as he listens in to evil plots and evil people who plan to escape their consequences.

It is Joe who provides the vital links between the series of muggings and a heinous San Francisco crime, but it’s a force of nature that delivers the baddies to their just rewards.

Escape Rating B+
: The fun in this series is watching the cats figure out ways to both investigate the crimes and to give the police the evidence they need without revealing themselves. In this age of caller ID and instant tracking of everything everywhere, concealing their identities is an ever increasing challenge.

And they know they must conceal themselves. Not only would revealing themselves to the police endanger any evidence they provide, but there is always a risk that someone will discover who and what they are and want to take them away for experimentation. The more people who know their secret, the greater the risk.

In this entry in the series, it’s the emotional issues that hold the forefront, and the case is often in the background. This book represents huge changes for the characters. Joe Grey and Dulcie now have kittens to train. While they are proud of their new family, the kittens also increase the risk. How does one teach an intelligent, curious and playful baby that it is not safe to talk or burble in front of the humans? Joe Grey and Dulcie discovered their voices in adulthood, they don’t know what it is like to raise speaking kittens. Assuming that they will have speaking kittens, which is not certain to anyone but old Misto.

At the same time, the passing of Misto is sad and beautiful. As is so often the case, Misto is ready to go, but his loved ones are far from ready to let the wise old cat leave. Readers who have experienced the loss of a beloved companion animal will need lots of tissues to get through his passing. Just thinking about this part of the story gets me in the feels.

The mcat on the edge by shirley rousseau murphyystery takes a back burner in this entry in the series. As we discover, the killers and their rationale are both more than a bit nuts. Also, one of them is so completely unlikeable that readers will find themselves hoping she is guilty of something from the very beginning, just so she gets what’s coming to her. And that’s well before we think she’s guilty of anything beyond being a bitch. The ending of the mystery occurs offstage, and loses a bit of its cathartic value at being reported second-hand.

From the moment in the first book in this series, Cat On the Edge, when Joe Grey uses his new-found voice to order delivery from his favorite deli and charges it to his human, the big grey tom snagged a piece of my heart in his claws, and he hasn’t let go yet.I hope that there will be a 20th book in this marvelous series, and soon. I enjoy my visits to Molena Point, and I can’t wait to see what trouble the kittens will get themselves, and their parents, and their humans, into next!

Review: The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli

Review: The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan MichaeliThe Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Pages: 656
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on January 12th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

“An extraordinary history…Deeply researched, elegantly written…a towering achievement that will not be soon forgotten.”Brent Staples, New York Times Book Review  Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of black America. Robert S. Abbott founded The Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated South, and was dubbed a "Modern Moses," becoming one of the first black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper’s clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for The Defender’s support. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King.
Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen’s clubs to do their jobs, from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama.

My Review:

The story of The Defender is really multiple stories. It is a history of America in the 20th century, as seen through a slightly different lens than the one many of us were taught in the history books. And because of that lens, because of the audience that The Chicago Defender was built by and for, it is also the history of Black America in the 20th century. And all of that from the focal point of Chicago, where The Chicago Defender was based and from which it drew so many of its stories.

And it is also the history of the rise and fall of one newspaper, and in some ways newspapers in general, in the 20th century. The Chicago Defender began publishing in 1905, saw its own rise and the rise of the community it served, and it now survives reduced in size and influence, as so many newspapers have been reduced in size and influence.

February is Black History Month, and The Defender is a marvelous book for this month, as it tells its story from Bronzeville, that part of Chicago that became the heart of the Black community in the city.

But the story of The Chicago Defender begins earlier, at the Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exposition in 1893, as so many Chicago stories do. It was in the White City that a very young Robert Sengstacke Abbott met the already elder statesman Frederick Douglass, and began to conceive of the idea of a newspaper for African-Americans based in Chicago. Abbott had trained to be a newspaper man at college, and he just plain wanted to move to Chicago from his home in the rural, segregated and downright dangerous, South.

Much of the early chapters of the book are also Abbott’s story, as he begins his newspaper on the thinnest of shoe-string margins, at first not only doing all the work himself but also relying on the kindness of his landlady to house the fledgeling enterprise in her dining room.

Abbott was smart. He was lucky. And mostly, he had a dream that he diligently pursued for the rest of his life. His dream was to provide news, education, exhortation and uplift to the African-American community, not just in Chicago but around the world. His goal was to break the back of Jim Crow in the South and tacit segregation in the North. And while he did not succeed in his lifetime, he is certainly one of the giants on whose shoulders the mayoralty of Harold Washington and the presidency of Barack Obama stand.

So this is history, from the very late 1800s and the birth of the idea, to the sale of the paper from the family to an outside company in 2003 after nearly a century of ownership by the founding family. By 2003 The Defender wasn’t what it was in its heyday, but no newspaper is what it was. Even The Chicago Defender’s long-time rivals in the Chicago mainstream press, The Chicago Sun Times and The Chicago Tribune, have shrunk from their glory years.

But what fascinates about the story of The Chicago Defender is the way that it in its time, and it in its history, shine a different light on events that mainstream audiences are familiar with – from the corrupt administrations of “Big Bill” Thompson to the machine politics of Richard J. Daley to the ascendancy of Harold Washington. The Chicago Defender was one of the great sparking motivations for the “Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North in the first half of the 20th century.

The power of the voting block mobilized by The Chicago Defender held the fate of congressional representatives, Chicago mayors and even presidents in its collective hands on Election Day. And the principals of The Chicago Defender pressed for, and eventually achieved, among other notable successes, complete integration in the U.S. Armed Forces.

This book is a captivating look at 20th century America, and a marvelous study of the power of the press to achieve greatness.

Reality Rating A-: I both enjoyed this book and was fascinated by the view of history that it illuminates. I love reading narrative history, where the story, while true, also has a beginning, middle and end, which the history of The Chicago Defender certainly does. The paper began as one man’s dream, and its history with his family ends in the 21st century as newspapers around the country struggle with finding a foothold on the future.

But The Chicago Defender still has a real voice and force in Chicago and U.S. politics. Its annual Bud Billiken Day Parade is still one of the places for up and coming politicians to see and be seen, and for sitting political leaders to get in touch with their constituents and the African American community.

The history in this book was most interesting the further away it was from the present. Reading about the early years, one can almost see the initial small staff laboring away in Mrs. Lee’s dining room, surviving those lean years on hope and her homecooked meals.

It was ironic that the parts of this history that the author witnessed as a member of the staff in the late 1990s felt like a much barer recitation of names and dates, while the early years are almost luminous.

As someone who lived in the Chicago metro area during the Harold Washington years, I remember the way that the mainstream news outlets covered his campaign and his running battle with the Chicago City Council. In reading this account of The Defender’s coverage I get a much more balanced view of that period, seeing much from sides that the mainstream newspapers chose not to cover because it interfered with their narrative.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in differing perspectives on 20th century America, or in the history of 20th century newspapers in general and the Black press in specific. And for anyone who wants to sink their teeth into a solid chunk of fascinating Chicago history.

Guest Review: I Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond

Guest Review: I Think I Love You by Stephanie BondI Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, mystery
Pages: 384
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on July 7th 2002
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

So there's some bad blood and bruised egos among the Metcalf sisters. At least they're reuniting. A cause to celebrate? Not for Justine, Regina, and Mica. Their parents are splitting up and the family business is going on the auction block--just a little reminder of how much they really have in common...
Take the local bad boy who proposed to Justine, seduced Regina, and ran off with Mica. Add the unsolved murder they witnessed when they were young girls, and their vow to keep it a secret. Toss in their knack for being drawn to shady men, and there's only one thing left for them to do--put the bonds of family loyalty to the test.
But it takes courage to outsmart a murderer, know-how to avenge the cad who betrayed them, and patience to bring their parent back together. Three talents. Three sisters. And who knows? Maybe even three new chances to fall in love when Justine, Regina, and Mica discover how much they're willing to risk--and forgive--in the name of sisterhood...

Guest Review by Amy:

When I found this well-worn paperback in the clearance bin at my local used bookstore, I knew I was onto something; the spine was bent, and many pages showed evidence of having been dog-eared from many re-readings. The back cover teased me with a tale of intrigue and romance, so I grabbed it, and two days later, was done reading it. I’m a big fan of Nora Roberts’ trilogy format where she has three stories, interconnected, and three romances come out at the end. Clearly, it works for her, and it sells lots of books, so I’m not surprised that she does that. But Stephanie Bond tries to do it all in one volume: three sisters who, despite their dysfunctional family, are bound together by a shared secret, and by a cad of a man.

Twenty years ago, three teenage sisters were witnesses to a murder, a secret they’ve kept for two decades as their lives have taken them to the far corners of the country. But finding out that their parents are splitting up brings one home, while a second is hiding out from an angry woman whose husband she’s had an affair with, and the third is running away from the cad, to give herself time to think about her life and career. Their lives, and their secrets, begin to unravel as the man wrongly convicted of their aunt’s murder all those years ago is seeking a new hearing, and the town is fairly crawling with lawyers and police trying to figure out what really happened all those summers ago. Meanwhile, an attorney-turned-appraiser is busy pricing all the antiques in the family store for auction, so they can settle their debts before the sisters’ parents break up.

Still with me?  Good. It’s all very complicated, I know.  Regina, the bookish middle sister, is intensely attracted to the handsome appraiser who, being a non-practicing attorney, has all sorts of useful skills outside the bedroom. Big sister Justine is running from an insanely angry woman who wants to kill her, and the cop who’s hunting the madwoman is awful darn cute, and he’s got a thing for the tall redhead. Dark-eyed, dark-haired baby sister Mica is running away from the abusive man who she stole from Justine years ago–who had made passes at Regina, before that–and her modeling agent sure is awfully sweet to her. If that’s not enough, Dean follows her back to their hometown, where he has the gall to get murdered–and the sisters’ father is the lead suspect!

Throughout all this mayhem, the three sisters are finally back in the same house after many years apart, and Justine and Mica, in particular, just aren’t getting along, which is kind of to be expected. After all, Dean left Justine on their wedding day to run away with Mica. Not cool. Regina tries and mostly-fails to keep the peace between them, and her exasperation shows in an ironic wit when she’s dealing with the flirtations of Mitchell while she’s helping him with the appraisal work.

A lot of the book is spent chasing around the clues to two murders, one fresh, and one twenty years cold. Regina’s beau Mitchell is most helpful, but we only hear about the other two men from “their” sisters. It isn’t until the very end that they show up for cameos. That would be my one complaint about Bond’s attempt at three romances in one novel: it’s unbalanced, and deeply so. We follow Regina and Mitchell, but Justine’s romance with Officer Lando, and Mica’s with her agent Everett, really don’t start to show until we’ve nearly reached the dénouement. Yes, it’s kind of obvious that they will get together into those pairings, but I’d much rather have spent some time seeing that happen. After we find out who the real villain was–and it’s not who you think, at all!–we wrap things up pretty quickly, with Justine and Mica getting involved with their men only after they get back to their homes.  Happy endings all ’round, of course, but it seemed just a little abrupt to me.

Escape Rating: B+. I like romances, and I like mysteries, and this tale had both. The trail of clues to the murders kept me interested enough that it was hard to put this book down. I was kind of stunned when we finally unmasked the villain, as I’d not seen it coming, and there were some tense moments there. The romance between Regina and Mitchell was interesting and entertaining, and Regina’s character was enough of someone I could identify with that I could get drawn into her story very well. Justine and Mica’s lives are different enough from mine that I had trouble identifying with them, and as noted, the romances for these two women were at-best glossed over, when they could have been more-deeply covered. This story had a lot going for it–interesting characters, romances, mysteries, almost a comedy of errors in some ways, but doing all that in one volume proved difficult for Bond, and while the book is an enjoyable read, there are a few aspects that left me feeling a little unfulfilled.

I’ve not read any of Stephanie Bond’s work before, but I look forward to finding another one.

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster + Cover Spotlight + GiveawayFighting Dirty (Ultimate, #4) by Lori Foster
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Ultimate #4
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

He's the hottest MMA fighter in the game, but one woman is ready to try out a few steamy moves of her own in an unforgettable new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster...
With the life he's led and the muscles he's gained, Armie Jacobson isn't afraid of anything. Except maybe Merissa Colter's effect on him. It's not just that she's his best friend's little sister. Fact is, she deserves better. Women pursue him for one night of pleasure, and that's all he wants to offer. Until rescuing Merissa from a robbery leads to the most erotic encounter of his life.
Good girl meets bad boy. It's a story that rarely ends well. But Merissa is taking matters into her own hands. No matter how he views himself, the Armie she knows is brave, honorable and completely loyal. And as past demons and present-day danger collide, they're both about to learn what's truly worth fighting for…

My Review:

Considering that this looks like the last title in Foster’s Ultimate series, both the title and the story are very, very fitting.

no limits by lori fosterIn every book in the Ultimate series, starting with No Limits (reviewed here) there is always someone who is fighting very, very dirty, and it isn’t the hero. Each of the stories in this series has a villain who starts out as a nasty piece of work and only gets worse as their story goes on – until they get their head figuratively handed to them and they get handed over to the law to get their just desserts.

It’s always icing on that cake that the law officers who cart the bad guys away are the heroes of Foster’s previous series, Love Undercover. Which, if you are interested, starts with Run the Risk (reviewed here).

Bringing up that Ultimate spun off of Undercover is also fitting, because at the end of Fighting Dirty the author gives a sneak peak at the series that will spin off from Ultimate Body Armor – starting in November with Under Pressure.

It’s always fun to jump into one of her series and see how everyone from the earlier series is doing!

If the title of Fighting Dirty is appropriate, the story is even more so. Through the entire series, the author has teased us with hints of Merissa Colter’s long-standing interest in Armie Jacobson, and Armie constantly running away from Rissy. It’s so obvious that he cares, and equally obvious that he’s decided that Rissy can do better than him. While it is equally true that he is being an idiot and not asking her what she thinks or wants, his reluctance is not completely far-fetched.

Rissy is Cannon Colter’s sister. Cannon is Armie’s best friend. If Rissy and Armie try a relationship and it doesn’t work, there will be no getting away from each other unless one of them gives up the circle of people they both call “family”. Additionally, and we’ve seen hints of this all along, there is something nasty in Armie’s past that he has been successfully keeping under wraps – and it’s a secret that he’s sure will kill both any chances he has with Rissy and any chances he has to be a success in the SBC.

tough love by lori fosterBut at the end of Tough Love (reviewed here), Armie finally gives in and signs with the SBC. The powers-that-be in the SBC, Jude, Havoc (Havoc’s story is in Causing Havoc, the first book in her SBC Fighters series) and Simon, whose story is Simon Says, the second book in that series, are going to back Armie every step of the way in fighting that long-ago mess. Which turns out to be a bogus rape charge that everyone, including the cops, knew was a lie, but that was backed by a lot of threats from the liar’s rich and powerful daddy.

The interlinking series are lots of fun. And clearly a continuing theme.

So the story here is Armie finally letting Rissy into his heart and into his life. The danger turns out not to be from that old rape accusation, but from something much more recent, and all, unexpectedly, on Rissy’s side of the table.

The question is whether Armie can get out of his own way to protect Rissy from the slimeball in her own past, and whether Rissy can forgive him from being a self-sacrificing idiot before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: As you can probably tell from the above comments, I generally enjoy Foster’s series. Even though I don’t have reviews for all of them, I have read all of the series listed in the above text, and several others. She’s a go-to contemporary romance author for me.

At the same time, because I like her stuff, I also have quibbles. One of themes that runs through the Ultimate series is that the heroines always end up in jeopardy and the fighters rescue them, with or without their participation or consent. Also, with or without those heroines willingness to admit that they need protection. I don’t mind the rescuing, it’s the lack of participation and/or consent on the part of the heroines.

Rissy’s situation was kind of in the middle of that spectrum. Her spidey-senses are tingling, so she’s aware that there is trouble, but the bad guy starts out fairly subtle, and he isn’t an expected bad guy. In fact, his evil came from pretty far out in left field for this reader. His motives didn’t quite seem plausible, even though his evil was obvious to the reader early on, but only because we saw scenes that Rissy didn’t.

This reader, and I suspect many others, was incredibly glad to see that Armie and Rissy got their story before the series wrapped. This one has been brewing for a long time, so it was great to see it resolve before the story moves to the next series.

As a personal comment, I will say that once the reader discovers the whole of Armie’s backstory, his reluctance to be in the spotlight or enter into a relationship make sense. However, I wish that the cause had not been a fake rape charge. There are too many tropes in the media about how many women pretend to be raped for whatever reason, when in fact the numbers are minuscule. I wish this had been something else, because that’s a beast I don’t want to see fed in any form.

I liked both Armie and Rissy a lot. We’ve seen their characters throughout the series, and it was good to see them finally get a happy ending with each other. Armie’s outrageousness is a ton of fun, and Rissy does a great job walking a fine line between being independent and letting her brother look after her a bit because he needs it, not because she does.

All in all, a good wrap to a fun series. I can’t wait to see Leese’s story in Under Pressure. He’s turned out to be a great guy after a rocky start, and deserves his own happily-ever-after.

Cover Spotlight: No Limits by Lori Foster

Want to know what goes into making a sexy, MMA-themed cover? Read on to find out more about the cover art for Lori Foster’s No Limits, the first book in the Ultimate series, as well as the book itself.

lori foster ultimate covers

Here’s what Art Director Kathleen Oudit had to say:

“Illustrations for Lori Foster books are always focused on a dramatically lit, strong male physique/character. For the entire “Ultimate” series we will depict men with fighter’s physiques, and subtle cues from the MMA environment such as hand wraps, simple gym clothing etc. But, we will always use these props “lightly” and we have deliberately kept the background non-recognizable–we are subtly directing the viewers emotion to the hero’s character and romantic journey–rather than his “matches”. It is important to skirt this line carefully or we risk making Lori’s covers look like a men’s health magazine!”

Lori FosterAbout the author: Since first publishing in January 1996, Lori Foster has become a USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and New York Times bestselling author. Lori has published through a variety of houses, including Kensington, St. Martin’s, Harlequin, Silhouette, Samhain, and Berkley/Jove. She is currently published with HQN. Visit her online at


Lori is giving away the entire Ultimate series to one lucky entrant!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-21-16

Sunday Post

princes gambit by cs pacatI should have known better last week than to think I would be able to resist the siren song of Brotherhood in Death for more than a day or two. And then I thought I could just hold the review for a while, but not last week. In addition to the books listed here, I also reviewed two books over at The Book Pushers (Ghost Talker by Robin D. Owens and Countdown to Zero Hour by Nico Rosso) and there just wasn’t enough time to squeeze reading an eighth book into the week. I’m fast, I’m not THAT fast.

And that pushed Prince’s Gambit to this week. So many books, so little time!

Current Giveaways:

Counterfeit Conspiracies Prize Pack ($50 value)
$10 Amazon Gift Card from Lisa Medley and The Astronaut’s Princess

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley is Anne.

death of an alchemist by mary lawrenceBlog Recap:

B Review: Counterfeit Conspiracies by Ritter Ames + Giveaway
B Review: The Astronaut’s Princess by Lisa Medley + Giveaway
A- Review: Brotherhood in Death by J.D. Robb
A- Review: Death of an Alchemist by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson
Stacking the Shelves (172)


cat shout for joy by shirley rousseau murphyComing Next Week:

Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster (blog tour review)
Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu (review)
Cat Shout for Joy by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (review)
The Defender by Ethan Michaeli (review)
Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat (review)