Review: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan

Review: Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason DoanLady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on June 29, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

“A delicious daydream of a book.” —Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of 28 Summers
“With lyrical writing and a page-turning plot, this sun-dappled book has it all: heart, smarts, and an irresistible musical beat. A tone-perfect evocation of the free-spirited late 1970s and a riveting coming-of-age story.” —Karen Dukess, author of The Last Book Party
“In LADY SUNSHINE, Amy Mason Doan has crafted an engrossing tale of secrets, memory, music, and the people and places you can never outrun. This novel will transport you to the ‘70s and summertime magic and a long overdue reckoning. A fantastic summer read.”—Laura Dave, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Thing He Told Me

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods... until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.
Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.
Lady Sunshine is shot through with free love, hope, and all the magic of the ’70s, but under the sun and music lie dark secrets.It’s a thrilling ride, a beautiful evocation of an era, and a story that will keep readers entranced from the first page to the last.”—Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder
“This book is gorgeous. A gold-drenched nostalgic dream with a fierce female friendship at its heart.”—Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of I'll Be Your Blue Sky
“Haunting and vivid, with layered, complex characters and an evocative setting that sparkles with detail, LADY SUNSHINE will stay with me for a long time.”—Julie Clark, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight

My Review:

This story feels like its drenched in summer, not just any summer, but those summers that exist only in memory, the summers of childhood where the season seems endless when school lets out, but speeds up inexorably as the number of carefree sunny days dwindles down at the end as school looms on the horizon.

Even though Jackie and her cousin Willa are not children in this particular summer. But at 17 when the story begins, they are not exactly adults either. This is a story of that summer where it all changes.

It’s also a story about another summer, the summer twenty years later when Jackie returns to the place she left behind, all alone with her memories of friendship and love and loss. Only to find that she isn’t quite as alone as she believed, and that those memories, as painful as they are, are not quite done with her yet – no matter how much she wants to be done with them.

It’s the summer of 1979, and Jackie has come to spend her last summer of high school at the Sandcastle, the home of her uncle Graham Kingston, a famous folk singer of the 1960s whose best performing and recording years seem to be behind him – along with the demons that lifestyle brought with them.

Jackie, escaping from the straitjacket of conformism that is life with her father and stepmother, finds herself, and finds herself a home, in the free-spirited and freewheeling circle of artists, musicians and friends that hangs around her uncle at the Sandcastle. And she finds the sister of her heart in her cousin Willa.

Twenty years later it’s all gone. Her larger-than-life uncle is long dead, as is her cousin Willa. No one is left except Jackie to inherit the house, the grounds, the studio and all the memories they left behind. She’s back for one final summer, the summer of 1999, to pack it all up and sell it all away. Forever.

But first she has to go back to the time, and the place, where it all went so very wrong. There are pieces still left to break her heart one last time – if only she’ll reach out and grab them.

Escape Rating B: This is such a summer book. The heat of both of those long-ago summers practically steams off the page, and the sound of the surf rolls in your ears as you read Jackie’s old diary over her shoulder.

But the story also moves at the pace of those long ago summers, in that it builds slowly at the beginning, like the early days of summer when it feels like the season will last forever. And occasionally it feels like that part of the book is taking its own sweet summer time to get itself off the ground.

Once it catches its own wave, once the end of both summers is on the horizon, the pace picks up as the girls of 1979 and the woman of 1999 try to wring the last drop of bittersweetness out of each and every day that is left.

In 1979, Jackie doesn’t want to leave. In 1999, it feels like she can’t until she’s done. Or until it’s done with her.

Although speaking of 1979, on the one hand I have to say that it read like I remember. I was just a few years older than Jackie and Willa at the time. On the other hand, I kept wondering why the author chose that particular time period, and I think it must have been the music.

As I said, Jackie’s 1979 felt like the one I remember. Which is part of what carried me through the early parts of the story.

Because it’s the story of that golden summer that sweeps the reader up and carries them away, just as Jackie was carried away by the larger than life figure of her uncle and the place he created around himself on the northern California coast.

Because of the dual timelines, we start the story know that something terrible happened at the end of that summer. The questions all revolve around what that something was that made the idyll crash and burn.

Waiting to discover what that “something” was hangs over the entire book, because even in the secondary timeline of 1999 Jackie refuses to get near that memory. As the story spun out, it became clear that it was a loss of innocence, but not sexual. This is not Summer of ‘42 and the girls neither lose their virginity nor get sexually abused by a trusted mentor or family member. It’s much more complicated, and therefore more interesting, than that.

It turns out that the loss is twofold, they discover that their hero has feet of clay up to the knees, and they discover that their attempts to “fix” things can have tragic consequences. But it takes a fair bit of story to get there.

While the foundation of everything is in 1979, the 1999 portions of the story were more dynamic. More things happen and they happen faster, even as Jackie continues to avoid the real issues that brought her back.

But when those issues finally come full circle, it provides a lovely ending for the whole emotional package. There were points in the middle where I wondered whether this story was ever going to get itself to its sticking point, but when it finally did it made for just the right coda to the entire journey.

Review: Murphy’s Slaw by Elizabeth Logan

Review: Murphy’s Slaw by Elizabeth LoganMurphy's Slaw (Alaskan Diner Mystery #3) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on June 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

When a local prize-winning farmer is murdered at the state fair, Charlie Cook gets called in to help investigate, but she’s shocked to learn the victim is a friend in this latest installment in the Alaskan Diner Mysteries.
Charlie Cooke loves many things, like the Bear Claw Diner, the heated steering wheel of her car, and her orange tabby cat Eggs Benedict. Something she has never loved is the state fair. So when her best friend Annie Jensen begs her for a fair day, she’s reluctant. But Annie isn’t the only one who wants her to spend a day among farm animals and deep fried food. A vendor has been murdered, and Trooper Graham needs his favorite part-time sleuth to dig up the truth, and Charlie is happy to oblige.
The case grows personal when Charlie learns the victim is Kelly Carson, whom she and Annie were friends with in high school. If Charlie wants to find justice for Kelly, she and Annie will have to work together to weed out the killer.

My Review:

Everyone knows about “Murphy’s Law”, that entirely too often true dictum that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Then there’s Cole’s Law, which is shredded cabbage with mayo, with or without shredded carrots. There’s another version of Cole’s Law, at least according to the Urban Dictionary, that when dining out, either one person will eat everyone’s coleslaw, or nobody eats the coleslaw at all.

Somewhere west of everything there’s Charlie Cooke’s coleslaw at her Bear Claw Diner in tiny Elkview, Alaska, which doesn’t use mayo in the coleslaw – using vinaigrette instead, and her recipe is included in the back of the book – along with a few other tasty treats!

While people come to the Bear Claw Diner for those tasty treats – along with a bit of traditional diner cooking and flair – it’s not possible, at least not yet, for the delicious aromas and mouth-watering mooseloaf to make their way out of the pages of the book – not that the descriptions won’t make you hungry.

We’re here for the murder mystery, the portrait of life in small-town Alaska, and reading about the way that Charlie Cooke spoils her cat Eggs Benedict – better known as Benny – absolutely rotten. (Sometimes the amount of spoiling Benny gets makes me feel a bit guilty about the relative paucity of treats for our own four cats. And sometimes it makes me feel a bit better that we don’t spoil them quite THAT much!)

Murphy’s Slaw serves up plenty of all of the above, as Charlie and her fellow volunteer investigators find themselves scouring the Alaska State Fair in nearby Palmer for clues to the Fair-site murder of their friend KC. For a woman that everyone in Elkview seems to have loved, there sure are plenty of motives for KC’s murder. It’s ferreting out the possible suspects that keeps Charlie and Company on their investigative toes!

Escape Rating B: I read and enjoy this series because it allows me to vicariously re-visit a place that I once lived and mostly enjoyed. (Except for January, January in Anchorage absolutely sucks rocks.) I still tell Alaska stories from my own time there, and I love reading Alaska stories – especially when it feels like the author gets things plausibly right – as this author generally does.

I have to say that one of the things I read this series for is the way that Charlie spoils her cat “Benny” rotten to an amazing degree. Our cats are spoiled, but she does take the concept to new dimensions. But providing a feline with their due is not quite enough to power an entire series.

So, one of the things that I especially enjoy about this series that probably has more “legs” to power a series is the brush with plausibility of Charlie and her friends assisting Trooper, the Alaska State Trooper assigned to Elkview and its surrounds, with his investigations. There are a lot of ways that things get done differently in Alaska because there are relatively few people spread out over a very big space. The state budget has been shrinking the past several years while there are many more things done at the state level than is common in the “Lower 48” as there are relatively few cities or large towns and there is no governmental unit that is the equivalent of a county. And if there’s no counties, that means there are no county sheriffs, either.

So things are done just a bit differently. Meaning that while Elkview seems to have the same homicide rate as Bar Harbor, Maine or Midsomer County in England, there are considerably fewer police agencies to deal with those homicides and it feels more likely that local volunteers might get enlisted to the cause. (Even if it doesn’t happen in real life at all.)

Something else this story highlights is just how few degrees of separation there are between people. Charlie and her bestie Annie knew the victim in high school. They also have continuing interactions because KC was a local farmer and supplier to Charlie’s diner and possibly even Annie’s inn. KC’s mother and Charlie’s mother are friends. Her murder hits close to home, as does the search for her murderer.

So I enjoy watching Charlie solve the mystery in this series, usually by getting herself smack in the middle of it whether she intended to or not. But what I sink into with a grateful sigh is the cozy small town ambiance that reminds me of somewhere I still remember fondly.

The one element I could have lived without in this particular entry in the series is the “bobble” in the relationship between Charlie and her best friend Annie over whether either of them can, or should, take even the first steps in a potential romantic relationship with the third member of their investigative trio, newspaper reporter Chris Doucette. Chris, of course, is not present for this discussion, but the difficulties that it raises between Charlie and Annie, and between Charlie and Chris, casts a strange air over their performance of their “regular” sleuthing for entirely too much of a chunk of the story. Not every long-running mystery series requires a romance between any of the continuing characters. My 2 cents.

But it all did get resolved by the end, along with the murder. So I’ll be back the next time the author takes a trip to Elkview. After all, I have to see how Benny is doing!

Review: The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Review: The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-GarciaThe Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Pages: 104
Published by Subterranean Press on June 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

From the bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a magical journey of revenge and redemption.
Yalxi, the deposed Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, is on a desperate mission. Her lover and confidant seized her throne and stole the precious diamond heart, the jewel that is the engine of her power. Yalxi sets out to regain her magic and find a weapon capable of destroying the usurper. But this will mean turning to unlikely allies and opening herself up to unpleasant memories that have been suppressed for many years. For Yalxi is no great hero, but a cunning sorceress who once forged her path in blood – and must reckon with the consequences.
Set in a fantastical land where jewels and blood provide symbiotic magical powers to their wearers, The Return of the Sorceress evokes the energy of classic sword and sorcery, while building a thoroughly fresh and exciting adventure ripe for our era.

My Review:

For a fairly short story, this was one that kept surprising me. At first, I thought I knew exactly what it was about. But it wasn’t nearly that simple.

Then I thought I had it figured out – and it changed again. And again. Until in the end, I was nowhere near the place I thought I’d be.

At first, this seems like a combination of two very old sayings, the Biblical phrase that proclaims “how the mighty have fallen” and the oft-repeated paraphrase from Lord Acton about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. (I’m always surprised to learn that the actual quote is “The corrupting influence of power is total when one’s power is total.” but it does make me understand why it got rephrased into something a bit pithier, or at least catchier.)

This story, at first, seems to be all about the Sorceress Yalxi, who was once the Supreme Mistress of the Guild of Sorcerers, and plans to be again. As soon as she overthrows the ex-colleague and former lover who betrayed her.

Without the great Diamond that served as both her badge of office and the source of much of her power, Yalxi needs to find herself a source of power that can not just equal, but actually best it. She’s not worried about beating her betrayer, she knows she’s stronger than he is on his own.

But he isn’t on his own, that’s the point. As long as she is, however, he has all the magical power he needs, as well as all the temporal power required to capture her so he can gloat over her defeat and drain her blood to power his own spells.

When Yalxi reaches back into their mutual past for a way to get her revenge, she hunts out two artifacts. One is a ring invested with a spirit that was her first teacher, her first source of power – and the first friend she betrayed.

The second, however, is the malevolent spirit of her mentor and predecessor as Supreme Sorcerer, someone she and her ex-lover first followed, and then betrayed. His spirit is hungry, it desires revenge of its own and has had plenty of time to chill that revenge to an icy temperature that will burn more than any hellfire.

The stage is set, but what is it set for? A tale of the mighty falling, power corrupting, ice-cold revenge and the pride that goes before a fall? Or something older, sadder, and perhaps just a bit wiser?

Escape Rating A-: At first, very much at first, this story reminded me a lot of The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, to the point that if you liked that you’ll like this and vice versa – although this story is told in a bit more of a straightforward fashion than that lovely bit of historical fantasy myth-making.

But the likeness turned out to be more about style and setting, and less about the actual plot of the story than I expected.

The story in Empress is about a comeback. It’s also an explicitly feminist story in that the Empress and her unsung handmaiden stand in for all of the women who have been cast aside and forgotten throughout history.

I thought that the Sorceress’ return would be similar, and was surprised in the end that it wasn’t, and that it was a better story for it. But the circumstances are different, in that the Sorceress has already held power in her own right, and lost that power through her own actions. She’s not simply cast aside as inconvenient – she’s deposed from the seat of power that she took in the exact same fashion.

But still, that’s the story I initially expected. Then, as Yalxi furthered her plans, I was expecting her to be betrayed again. And again. Only differently.

The ending was better than that – also unexpected and more uplifting than the beginning led me to believe. Because in the end, this is a story about love and justice, friendship and redemption. And the way it got there – that’s the best part of this unexpected journey.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 6-27-21

It’s going to be a lazy Sunday here at Chez Reading Reality, because certain humans were up much too late last night playing Mass Effect Andromeda again. Here’s a picture of sleepy Hecate snoozing in the sun and a very sneaky George photobombing her close up. I’ve just realized that George looks an awful lot like the cover picture of the cat Eggs Benedict in the Alaskan Diner series, so he’s even appropriate for this coming week’s books!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or Book in the Dad-O-Mite Giveaway Hop (ENDS WEDNESDAY!!!)

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
B+ Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg
A- Review: Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna Hackett
A+ Review: White Top by M.L. Buchman
B Review: Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh
Stacking the Shelves (450)

Coming This Week:

Murphy’s Slaw by Elizabeth Logan (review)
The Return of the Sorceress by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (review)
Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Doan (blog tour review)
Sparkle Time Giveaway Hop
Cast in Conflict by Michelle Sagara (review)

Stacking the Shelves (450)

Anyone who has ever wondered how these stacks get to be quite so tall needs to take a look at the picture of one week’s deliveries in last Sunday’s Sunday Post. Because it’s splendiferous. And awesome. And OVERWHELMING. If you want to show it to your spouse or significant other to get them to understand that your book habit could be much, much worse, feel free. My mom never did understand that just because I worked in a library it didn’t mean that I didn’t really want to OWN ALL THE BOOKS in my favorite genres. Because I did. And I still do! Even if I do reluctantly admit that THAT is not an achievable goal. Because the house would collapse.

For Review:
After Dark with the Duke (Palace of Rogues #4) by Julie Anne Long
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
Best Laid Plans (Nora Best #1) by Gwen Florio
Bone Chase by Weston Ochse
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate
City on Fire by Don Winslow
Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard
Cruel as the Grave (Bill Slider #22) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Dark Stars: New Tales of Darkest Horror edited by John F.D. Taff
False Witness by Karin Slaughter
Faye, Faraway by Helen Fisher
I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander
In the Crypt with a Candlestick by Daisy Waugh
The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly
Love, Chai and Other Four-Letter Words (Chai Masala Club #1) by Annika Sharma
Midnight Water City (Water City Trilogy #1) by Chris McKinney
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (audio)
Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino
Shipped by Angie Hockman
Star Eater by Kerstin Hall (audio)

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Tor BOMC
Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1) by Steven Erickson

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

Please link your STS post in the linky below:

Review: Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Cherish by Mary BaloghSomeone to Cherish (Westcott #8) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #8
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on June 29, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Is love worth the loss of one's freedom and independence? This is what Mrs. Tavernor must decide in the new novel in the Westcott series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.
When Harry Westcott lost the title Earl of Riverdale after the discovery of his father's bigamy, he shipped off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, where he was near-fatally wounded. After a harrowing recovery, the once cheery, light-hearted boy has become a reclusive, somber man. Though Harry insists he enjoys the solitude, he does wonder sometimes if he is lonely.
Lydia Tavernor, recently widowed, dreams of taking a lover. Her marriage to Reverend Isaiah Tavernor was one of service and obedience, and she has secretly enjoyed her freedom since his death. She doesn't want to shackle herself to another man in marriage, but sometimes, she wonders if she is lonely.
Both are unwilling to face the truth until they find themselves alone together one night, and Lydia surprises even herself with a simple question: "Are you ever lonely?" Harry's answer leads them down a path neither could ever have imagined...

My Review:

There should be a truly hot place in hell for the late, unlamented Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale. But, and it is now a huge, 8 marvelous books and counting BUT, the results of his metaphorical bastardy, to whit, the legal and actual bastardy he inflicted on his three children who believed they were legitimate, have been glorious.

So maybe an exceptionally hot place in hell with a few occasional luxuries. Because it’s all his fault, including some of the surprisingly good things. Like this series which began with Someone to Love and doesn’t seem to be over yet.

Thank goodness. Or perhaps I should be thanking Humphrey’s badness. Maybe a bit of both?

As big of a factor as Humphrey’s badness has been in this entire series, a more fitting summation of the issues in this entry might be this particular paraphrase of Thoreau, the one that goes, “If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good – run like hell.” with the added codicil that it goes double if that someone – or many someones in the case of Major Harry Westcott, are family.

There are an awful lot of well-meaning, good intentioned families in fiction who have, let’s call them, boundary issues. As in entirely too many of them ignore any boundaries set by other members of the family. They’re just sure they know best. And maybe, sometimes, they do. But even when they might, even if they do, they can be a bit much and more than a bit annoying and extremely frustrating when the boundaries they are riding roughshod over belong to adults who might, equally and with much better justification, know what they do and don’t want for themselves.

The story in Someone to Cherish centers around two people, both adults nearing 30, so really, really actual adults mostly adulting, whose families are both firmly convinced that neither of these adults could possibly know what they want for themselves, or really mean anything they say about what they want for themselves, and that other people in the family, older if not wiser, know best.

Ironically, or paradoxically, it’s the women of the Westcott family who are certain that Harry doesn’t know what’s good for him, while it’s the men of Lydia Winterbourne Tavernor’s family who are just as certain that she can’t possibly know her own mind or truly desire her own independence.

But there’s a critical difference. When Harry’s family invades his country home to give him a huge 30th birthday party whether he wants one or not, he goes along with their plans because he loves them, because they are already there, and because it would be horribly rude not to. However, that they brought along three young ladies as possible brides for him, all he has to be is polite. No more, no less. His family can’t make him marry or even make him consider one of those young ladies as a possible bride. Even with all of his wealth and titles stripped from him by his illegitimacy, as a man he is still free to live his life as he pleases.

Lydia’s experience is completely the opposite. During her girlhood, her father and brothers did their best to wrap her in cotton wool and protect her from everything she might worry her little head about. Her father refused to allow her a season because London “wasn’t safe” and she wouldn’t be properly protected from the rakehells of the ton. When she married, she went straight from her father’s loving but demeaning protection to her husband’s dictatorial pronouncements about every single facet of her life. As a woman, she has no recourse, the men in her life, who actually do love her, control her very being and expect her to acquiesce. It’s only as a widow with enough money to support herself that she has the freedom to be who and what she wants to be.

A freedom that she will lose if she trusts herself to another man – no matter how much that man claims to love her. After growing up in an environment designed to keep her childlike, and marrying a man she loved but who dictated her every move and thought, the first person whose judgement she questions is always herself.

And yes, this is a personal soapbox that I’ve climbed on and now can’t quite figure out how to get down from. Pardon me a moment while I search for a very tall metaphorical ladder to use for a descent.

All of that being said – and yes, I know I said a LOT – what eventually becomes the romance between Harry and Lydia is very much of a slow burn kind of romance, because they are both slowly burning kind of people. Both have experienced tragedy, both have hidden their true selves behind masks that they are having a difficult time pulling off, and both are very uncertain about trust.

They are also both prominent people in the tiny village of Hinsford, a circumstance that comes to bite both of them in the ass – but also forces them to decide who they are and who they want to be.

It takes them more than a bit of time to figure out that what they want to be is together, because together they have that trust that both of them have lacked.

Escape Rating B: This one turned out to be kind of a mixed bag for me as a reader. I got up on that really tall soapbox because there were a lot of elements of the setup that obviously drove me utterly bananas. It has felt like every other book that I’ve read in the last couple of months has been chock-full of families with boundary issues and generally heroines who have trouble saying “NO” and setting and maintaining boundaries with their well-meaning but annoyingly intrusive families.

The power dynamics of Lydia’s relationship with her birth family AND her late husband add fuel to that fire, as she has no agency until she becomes a widow – and even then her birth family is eager, insistent and downright smothering in their attempts to snatch that agency away from her.

I see that soapbox looming again so I’ll move on.

Lydia has been self-effacing to the point of disappearing in plain sight for most of her life. A huge and lovely part of this story is watching her stretch, grow, and STOP HIDING. Her two steps forward, half step back progress feels real.

At the same time, one of her first steps forward is to ask Harry, in an extremely roundabout and circuitous way, if he’d be interested in starting what we would call a “friends with benefits” relationship. With her.

And every single thing that both of them expect, along with a passion that neither of them knew to expect, happens. Especially all the bad things. It’s their response to those bad things that forms the heart of the romance in this story, but it takes a bit too much of the book to get off the ground – even though they’ve already gotten off. So to speak.


So as much as I’ve enjoyed this series as a whole, the book in the series that this one most reminds me of is Someone to Care, the story I liked the least so far. In that one, the first half was lovely and the second half drove me bananas. With this one its the other way around. The first half was a slog but the second half worked itself out into a lovely HEA.

I’m glad I read this, both to see how the rest of Harry’s large and boisterous family are doing and to see one of the original “victims” of Humphrey’s bastardy finally get his own life fully together and happy.

I’m still fascinated with the Westcott family, so I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, Someone Perfect – we’ll see about that! – coming just in time for the holiday season.

Review: White Top by M.L. Buchman

Review: White Top by M.L. BuchmanWhite Top (Miranda Chase NTSB #8) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #8
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
The White Top helicopters of HMX-1 are known by a much more familiar name: Marine One. The S-92A, the newest helicopter in the HMX fleet, enters service after years of testing.
When their perfect safety record lies shattered across the National Mall, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB crash investigators go in. They must discover if it was an accident, a declaration of war, or something even worse.

My Review:

I’ve always found shopping in Walmart to be generally depressing, so I don’t go there often. But the Walmart scene in this story is enough to make me swear off the place for life! Possibly you will too, when you read the literally explosive details of a helicopter crashing into a Walmart and turning the entire huge store PLUS the surrounding parking lot into a gigantic fireball.

That the helicopter that crashed is Marine Two, carrying the Vice-President, is what pushes the crash into the path of the NTSB’s pre-eminent investigator, Miranda Chase, along with her crack team of top-notch experts into the investigation.

Not that she might not have been called in anyway, come to think of it, but Miranda and her team are the only NTSB team with the security clearance to deal with the potential causes and the political fallout of an entirely too successful attempt to sabotage one of the most secure aircraft in the nation’s entire arsenal.

And all of that is exactly what I read this series for. Miranda and her team are beyond excellent in their specialties, making every single book in this series an absolute delight of competence porn. There’s something absolutely fascinating about watching a bunch of interesting people do their complex jobs at the peak of pretty much everything.

The group that has coalesced around Miranda is one of the best teams it has ever been my pleasure to read about, and I mean that in both senses of the word “best”. Because they are all so damn good at their jobs – see above paragraph about competence porn.

But they are also a delight to read about and follow along with. Each member of the team has their own place, from Holly, the former Australian Special Forces operator who serves as the team’s muscle, to Mike, the human factors specialist, to Andi, the helicopter expert – much needed for particular crash, to Jeremy, the expert in all things geek and also Miranda’s “Mini-Me”.

That last bit turns out to be an important part of the story as far as the ongoing development of the characters is concerned. It’s getting to be time for Jeremy to leave the nest. It’s up to Miranda’s team, especially that human factors specialist, to help Miranda – who does not like change at all – to realize that it’s time to give Jeremy the opportunity to learn, grow and fail as a team leader so that he can be ready to become the Investigator in Charge (IIC) of his own team.

Which intersects both well and badly with the crash of Marine Two. It’s time for Jeremy to learn to lead, but this is not the crash he can “officially” lead. Too much is at stake and too much is at risk.

That’s where the other thing I love about this series comes in. In the Miranda Chase series, that the author has managed to out-intrigue one of the masters of the political intrigue genre, Tom Clancy. Buchman does it better in this story and this series, at least in part because it feels like he has an editor he actually listens to. (That is an opinion and I have no actual knowledge, but having read Clancy let’s say that the first books were great and then they got bloated. IMHO for what that’s worth.)

The setup for this story goes all the way back to the very first book in this awesome series, Drone. And it all pays off beautifully here, as the sabotage links back to players on the international stage who are in cahoots with power brokers in the U.S.

We follow along with Miranda as she and her team figure out how it was done, and we have a ringside seat as one of the prime movers and shakers of the whole series learns just how far her thirst for power has managed to lead her away from achieving her dream of it.

Escape Rating A+: The scenes of the two opening crashes, of which the Walmart crash was the second, are gruesome in their dispassionate recital of just how terrible and terrifying the loss of life was. (There were many times more dismemberments than in the book earlier this week.)

But this series is not about the gore, it’s about how the pattern of the crash – including the gore – allows Miranda and her team to figure out what happened. The purpose of that “figuring out” in normal life is to eliminate any design or mechanical factors that are capable of happening again – so they don’t.

In this particular instance, because this is a political thriller as much as it is anything else, the purpose of figuring out what happened is about assigning blame – and if possible, taking vengeance.

Although that part is not usually Miranda’s bailiwick. Not that she occasionally doesn’t end up in the thick of it anyway. But then, Miranda goes where the clues lead her, whether anyone wants her to go there or not.

In this case, those clues lead her, her team, her mentor and her president to a few inexorable conclusions. Conclusions that will certainly factor into where this series goes next. And I am so there for wherever that turns out to be. I’m just mad that the author is making me wait until next freaking year to find out!

But at least I got to see Miranda’s team punch the lights out of her douchecanoe ex-boyfriend, not once but twice. And he got tased again. The women on Miranda’s team stick up for her, for each other, and for the team and definitely for the win!

Review: Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna Hackett

Review: Blackmailing Mr. Bossman by Anna HackettBlackmailing Mr. Bossman (Billionaire Heists #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Billionaire Heists #2
Pages: 292
Published by Anna Hackett on June 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon

To save my best friend’s husband, all I have to do is blackmail a billionaire.
My friend’s husband was abducted by a gang of white-collar criminals. These guys are bad, and they want her to spy on her boss—a man who owns half of New York. She’s falling apart and she needs my help.
My name’s Aspen. I’m a private investigator, and I’m usually doing surveillance on cheating spouses or insurance scammers, but now I’m going undercover.
I’m trading my jeans for skirts, and playing assistant at Kensington Group so I can get up close and personal with Liam Kensington—the owner of a multibillion-dollar construction and property empire.
Not to mention a tall, lean, golden-haired god with a sexy British accent.
The white-collar thieves have Liam in their sights and in return for my friend’s husband, they want me to blackmail a billionaire. Aw, hell.
But I didn’t count on how Liam would make me feel, or my crazy need to keep him safe, or our incendiary attraction.
Now I have to save a man’s life, catch some bad guys, and stop myself from falling in love with a billionaire who’s way out of my league.

My Review:

I was looking for something a bit lighter than yesterday’s book. You know, something with not quite so many deaths and dismemberments. Or at least not so many gruesome descriptions of the dismemberments. Fictional deaths, if they’re of the right people, aren’t so bad.

There are certainly more than a few people who need to die – or at least be removed from their ability to make trouble one way or another (and possibly from the gene pool), in the Billionaire Heists series. Not to mention, the billionaires are gorgeous, the women who manage to win their hearts have plenty of moxie and especially agency, and there’s always a happy ever after waiting in the wings.

After evil gets its just desserts, of course.

In the first book in this series, Stealing from Mr. Rich, the first of the “Billionaire Bachelors” found himself falling for a woman who set out to rob him blind. Not that Monroe O’Connor actually wanted to steal anything from Zane Roth, except possibly his heart. But Monroe was in over her head with some really evil dudes who had kidnapped her way-more-immature-than-he-thinks-he-is younger brother, and, well, needs must because the devil is certainly driving.

The situation in Blackmailing Mr. Bossman does have some familiar vibes from that first story, and not just because Zane and Liam Kensington, the titular Mr. Bossman, are besties. Or would be if billionaires would be caught dead using that term.

Like Monroe in that first story, Aspen Chandler has no desire of her own to blackmail Liam Kensington – not that he doesn’t spark plenty of other desires in Aspen and every other straight woman with a pulse in New York City.

Aspen is a licensed private investigator. She’s working on behalf of a client – one of her own best friends – who happens to work at Liam’s megacorp headquarters. Her friend’s husband has been kidnapped, and his “ransom” is delivering the blackmail material to Liam. A task that Aspen has taken over on her behalf in the hopes of finding a way to take down the bad guys behind this mess.

But she has to go through with the blackmail in order to get all the goods on everyone involved. Or, at least she thinks she does. So she goes undercover at Kensington Group in order to get close to Liam and let the real blackmailers believe she’s on their side and under their thumb.

And that’s where everything starts to go very, very wrong – at least as far as Aspen’s ability to keep her work compartmentalized from her heart. It’s also where things start to go very, very right for the possibility that the P.I. and the billionaire might have a chance at an HEA.

They just have to survive a crazy mobster first. Make that two crazy mobsters, one in the here and now, and one reaching from beyond the grave with his hands full of diamonds.

Escape Rating A-: I have to admit that I’m not all that crazy about the cover of this book, and I kind of hate the title – but I really LOVED the story. So definitely don’t judge this book by anything you see on its cover except the author’s name. Because Anna Hackett delivers and this one is definitely no exception.

I’m really loving this Billionaire Heists series quite a lot after merely liking a couple of the Norcross Security series – although there was one book in that series (The Specialist) that I absolutely adored. For a good reading time call Anna.

The thing about this series in particular is that the women are all very, very good at taking care of themselves, thankyouverymuch. Neither Monroe nor Aspen ever needs to be rescued by their billionaires. It’s not just that they are in control of their own lives before their current problem landed in their laps, it’s that they are working the problem that has landed in their laps – and doing a damn good job at it.

Where Aspen doesn’t so much fall down on the job as change her plans for the job is that she can’t continue the undercover aspects of the mess once both hers and Liam’s emotions get involved. Once she stops pretending to be either a PR assistant or a blackmailer, their working relationship becomes fairly equal, and that’s something I always like to see in a romance, because relationships that are not equal don’t work in the long run.

The inequality in their relationship, and there certainly is quite a bit, can be set aside if they’re both willing to work at it, and that’s where the push-pull tension comes into play fairly realistically for a story that has a high quotient of real-world-type-fantasy mixed in. Liam is, after all, a multi-billionaire, as are his friends. Aspen works hard to support herself, her twin sisters and her mother. She’s doing okay most of the time, but Liam is in a whole other stratosphere.

Aspen’s certain that the gap can’t be bridged, while Liam is certain that it can. They’re the best thing that ever happened to each other, if they can just manage to hang on to what they’ve almost got.

The case that brings them together is a scream. Both in the sense that Liam, Aspen and the reader all want to scream at Liam’s douchebag father who is the real target of the blackmail. There aren’t words for how vile he is. The ransom is an even bigger scream, in the sense that it’s fascinating and historical and, in the end, plenty scary. It reaches all the way back to Prohibition and features a dilapidated warehouse, a notorious gangster and a too-well-hidden cache of priceless gems.

All in all, I had a terrifically good reading time with this one, and I can’t wait for the final book in this trilogy, when the last billionaire bachelor takes his fall in Hacking Mr. CEO, coming in late July to a kindle near you. Or rather definitely, to an iPad near me!

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Abduction of Pretty Penny by Leonard GoldbergThe Abduction of Pretty Penny (Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery, #5) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #5
Pages: 352
Published by Minotaur Books on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

A continuation of USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg's Daughter of Sherlock Holmes series, The Abduction of Pretty Penny finds Joanna and the Watsons on the tail of an infamous killer.
Joanna and the Watsons are called in by the Whitechapel Playhouse to find Pretty Penny, a lovely, young actress who has gone missing without reason or notice. While on their search, the trio is asked by Scotland Yard to join in the hunt for a vicious murderer whose method resembles that of Jack The Ripper. It soon becomes clear that The Ripper has reemerged after a 28-year absence and is once again murdering young prostitutes in Whitechapel.
Following a line of subtle clues, Joanna quickly reasons that Pretty Penny has been taken capture by the killer. But as Joanna moves closer to learning his true identity, the killer sends her a letter indicating her young son Johnny will be the next victim to die. Time is running out, and Joanna has no choice but to devise a most dangerous plan which will bring her face-to-face with the killer. It is the only chance to protect her son and rescue Pretty Penny, and save both from an agonizing death.
The Abduction of Pretty Penny is a wonderful new entry in a series that the Historical Novel Society calls “one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books."

My Review:

The Abduction of Pretty Penny falls prey to a temptation that has proven irresistible to more than one writer of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, just as Pretty Penny herself seems to have fallen victim to one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

It looks like the star of the Whitechapel Playhouse, the Pretty Penny of the story’s title, has been kidnapped by a criminal who is notorious – not for kidnapping his victims, but for murdering and dismembering them, leaving their mutilated corpses to be found in the alleys of Whitechapel.

Of course, I’m referring to Jack the Ripper, and therein lies both the terror and the multiple conundrums of this story. Because Joanna Blalock Watson is the daughter of Sherlock Holmes. She has certainly inherited her father’s prodigious talents – but she is manifestly not his contemporary.

Joanna plies her inherited trade in the early years of the 20th century, while Jack committed his best-known crimes between 1888 and 1891. The heyday of Joanna’s famous father, and before her own birth.

It’s been 28 years since the Ripper stalked Whitechapel, but in addition to Pretty Penny’s abduction, Jack has been leaving his calling cards, the mutilated corpses of Unfortunates, as prostitutes are called, all over Whitechapel.

While sending especially terrifying notes to Joanna. And seemingly holding Pretty Penny captive until he can display her fresh corpse as part of his grisly “final act”.

So what begins as the search for a kidnap victim turns into a deadly contest between Jack the Ripper and, in a peculiar way, Sherlock Holmes. It’s clear from the Ripper’s actions that in his mind his antagonist is the Great Detective himself, even if the person he is taunting is Holmes’ daughter – and her son.

Escape Rating B+: So the story here is really Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper – only once removed, sort of like cousins, as in “first-cousin once-removed”.

Which only serves to highlight the thing about this story that drove me absolutely freaking bananas.

Many writers have succumbed to the temptation to write the case that never was but should have been, that of Sherlock Holmes investigating the Ripper. If Holmes were factual rather than fictional, this is a case that would certainly have happened. The Ripper’s spree occurred between 1888 and 1891, while Holmes’ first case, A Study in Scarlet, was published in The Strand in 1887, so presumably took place in that year or the year before.

Holmes and Moriarty had their presumed fatal encounter at Reichenbach Falls in 1891, so if Holmes had truly been operating during the Ripper years, he would have either been called in by Scotland Yard or would have been drawn in by his own irrepressible curiosity. (If you’re curious, the best accounting that I have ever read of Holmes investigating the Ripper is still Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye.)

As this series features Holmes’ daughter Joanna, her husband (and chronicler) Dr. John H. Watson, Jr., AND his father, Holmes’ friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, Sr., now retired, I kept expecting to see some references by the senior Watson to either Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or the reason that Holmes didn’t involve himself with the Ripper case. The lack of such a reference was annoying. In the extreme.

I ended up with a lot of mixed feelings about this entry in the series – although the series opener, the appropriately titled The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, is still the best.

The progress of the case itself provided plenty of thrills and chills, to the point where some of the gruesome descriptions caused me to stop reading at bedtime. Some people have no problems sleeping after reading the details of human dismemberment but I’m not one of them.

So the investigation, and the hunt for Pretty Penny, had me riveted from the beginning to the surprisingly real sensation of relief at the end.

But it’s the things not said or not fully explained that keep this from true excellence.

As noted above, there should have been a reference either to Sherlock Holmes’ own investigation of the Ripper or an explanation of why such an investigation never took place. The lack was frustrating – infuriating even, like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Likewise there seemed to be a bit of a lack of explanation of why the Ripper went dormant for 28 years only to suddenly reappear at this particular juncture. Reasons were implied but not well explained. This may be the result of a desire not to mess with the known history – that the Ripper was never identified. This story does a surprisingly good job of having its cake and eating it too in that particular regard. But in order to make that part work, explanations of his long hiatus and his “resurrection” felt a bit scant.

So, lots of mixed feelings. I got instantly caught up in the story and was riveted to the end. But at that end, the link to Sherlock Holmes that I come to these stories for, fell just a bit short.

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine AddisonThe Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor, #2) by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, mystery, steampunk
Series: Goblin Emperor #2, Cemeteries of Amalo #1
Pages: 240
Published by Tor Books on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Katherine Addison returns at last to the world of The Goblin Emperor with this stand-alone sequel.
When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Celehar’s skills now lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

My Review:

I read this because I absolutely adored The Goblin Emperor – and I’ve liked many of the author’s books written as Sarah Monette as well. So if you like the one there’s a fairly good chance you’ll like all the others and vice versa.

There’s irony in the above as I picked up The Witness for the Dead because I was hoping for more like The Goblin Emperor. But The Witness for the Dead, in spite of the titular witness being one of the characters introduced in the first book, is absolutely nothing like the first book.

Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t marvelous and well worth reading in its own right, because it’s both. But if you’re expecting another story about high-level political shenanigans and corruption at the heart of the empire wrapped around a coming of age or coming into power story, check those expectations at the door before opening this book.

The Witness for the Dead is a murder mystery, with Thara Celehar, the titular witness for the dead who witnessed for the young emperor’s dead in the earlier story, reaping the “fruits” of his labor in a far-flung corner of the empire that the young goblin emperor Maia now rules.

And that’s as much as there is to the connection between the two stories, meaning that you do not have to have read The Goblin Emperor to get right into The Witness for the Dead. Because court intrigues are pretty much the last thing that Thara Celehar wants to ever be involved with ever again and quite possibly the last thing that anyone with any power whatsoever will ever let him get near even with someone else’s bargepole.

The clerical intrigues he’s stuck in the middle of are quite enough. More than enough. From his perspective, more than annoying and infuriating enough, too, but he’s stuck with those.

Celehar has been assigned to remote Amalo in order to serve his calling as a witness for the dead. Because that’s what he does. He legally serves as a witness for whatever messages or entreaties or truths – especially for the truths – that the recently – make that the very recently – dead are able to transmit through him before they leave all their worldly concerns behind along with their bodies.

He doesn’t hear them speak, not exactly. What he does is witness, as in watch and listen to, their final sights, sounds, impressions and thoughts. And then he acts upon what he has witnessed, whether to bring justice to the dead – or to bring justice or restitution to those the recently departed has wronged.

Some people seek out his services. Some people are not happy with the answers he gives or the results he gets. Some people are frightened to see him coming, while some are grateful that he did.

The cases that find Celehar as he witnesses for the dead in Amalo are a mix of all of the above. A dead opera singer whose murderer should be brought to justice. A grieving family searching for the burial site of their missing sister. A wealthy family caught in the turmoil left behind by their late patriarch and his two contradictory “last” wills and testaments.

It’s Celehar’s job as well as his calling to find answers for the friends and families left behind. Even if those answers are not the answers they wanted. And no matter what Celehar has to go through – or whom – in order to find them.

Escape Rating A+: Based on the blurb, this wasn’t exactly what I expected. And it doesn’t matter because I absolutely loved it.

For one thing, in spite of the fantasy setting, Celehar’s story mostly reads very much like a historical mystery. The past is as much another country as Amalo is. But people are still people, and murder is still murder. Some of the investigative techniques may be different, but the principles are still the same. “Who benefits?” is an investigative concept that is equally applicable no matter what language it is in.

In the case of the duplicate wills, benefit is the easiest to determine, but the most difficult to bring about. Money, after all, talks, and when the competing sides of this case start using theirs to talk to the powers-that-be, each trying to influence the ultimate decision in their favor, Celehar is caught in the middle – with nearly catastrophic results. Not for the rich beneficiaries, but for poor Celehar whose only interest is in a truth that no one expected to hear.

There is a common element among all three cases. They are all about money. The opera singer was also a blackmailer, and the woman whose burial site was hidden was married for her money – and possibly murdered for it. (There’s that not-so-old saying about money being the root of all evil and every woman needing roots. In these two cases perhaps not so much.)

While there is plenty of satisfaction in the resolution of his cases, what makes this story such a pleasure to read is Celehar’s exploration of this city and the people in it in his pursuit of the truth, as well as the character of Celehar himself. Who is humble, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, and yet supremely talented and more intolerant than is safe or politic of the way that most people are treated – even as he bites his tongue and seems to just accept the way that people in power treat him.

He’s also someone who is bearing up under a load of guilt that he can’t let go of, but as he helps and befriends the people along his path we see that load begin to let go of him. He’s fascinating in his contradictions and I hope we see him again.

Even though this story is part of the world of The Goblin Emperor, the story it reminds me of is not its own predecessor but rather the saga of Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold. Penric and Celehar have a surprising amount in common, as both find themselves in the midst of situations and investigations through the offices of a being who expects them to get on with their work on his behalf without much material assistance. These are both worlds where the supernatural of one type or another is not mythical but actual, and where gods expect work as much as if not more than worship and are not shy about manifesting in one way or another to nudge their agents when needed.

While Penric is considerably less self-effacing than Celehar, I think they’d have as much in common as their stories feel like they do. They also share the fact that I’d very much like more of both!

In the end, The Witness for the Dead was just a story that worked for me on pretty much every level. I loved the protagonist, enjoyed exploring his world, wanted to hang with his friends and punch out his enemies – even though he wouldn’t – and had a grand time following him as he investigated his cases and witnessed for the dead as well as the living who would otherwise have no voice in the world. A fantastic read all the way around!