#BookReview: Remember Me by Mary Balogh

#BookReview: Remember Me by Mary BaloghRemember Me (Ravenswood, #2) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Ravenswood #2
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on June 20, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Can Lady Philippa Ware forgive the man who once shattered all her youthful dreams? Discover the passionate and heartwarming new novel on the redemptive power of love from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.
Philippa, elder daughter of the Earl of Stratton, grew up eagerly anticipating a glittering debut and a brilliant marriage. Then her brother caught their father out in a clandestine affair and denounced him publicly. The whole family was disgraced, and Philippa's hopes grew dim, then were fully shattered when she overheard the dashing, handsome Marquess of Roath viciously insult her upon learning of her father's identity. Only years later does Philippa find the courage to go to London at last to meet the ton. She is an instant success and enjoys a close friendship with the granddaughter of a duke. Only one man can spoil everything for her, but surely he will not be in London this year.
The Duke of Wilby is nearing death and has tasked his grandson and heir, Lucas Arden, Marquess of Roath, with marrying and producing a son before it is too late. Lucas, who usually shuns London, goes there early in the Season in the hope of finding an eligible bride before his grandparents come and find one for him. He is instantly attracted to his sister's new friend, until that young lady asks a simple question: "Remember me?" And suddenly he does remember her, as well as the reason why the daughter of the Earl of Stratton is the one woman he can never marry--even if his heart tells him she is the only woman he wants.
Unfortunately for Philippa and Lucas, the autocratic duke and his duchess have other ideas and believe them to be perfect for each other. They will simply not take no for an answer. Telling Philippa the full truth is the hardest thing Lucas has ever faced, and the discovery of it will change them both before they discover the healing power of love.

My Review:

The elderly Duke of Wilby may be the most aptly titled character to ever grace the pages of a Regency romance. Because his will has been done, generally to his satisfaction, for most of his long life, and he fully intends that his will be done one last time before the end that his doctor has predicted comes to pass.

On the whole, Wilby is a rather benevolent dictator when it comes to his family, but he seems to have never been faced with an opposition implacable enough to stand against him that couldn’t be overcome. With the possible exceptions of time, old age and death. Although even there he’s negotiating for better terms – or at least terms of his own choosing.

He has only one surviving heir, his grandson Lucas. Lucas’ father died of recklessness years before, there was no spare, the old Duke had no brothers and the next heir is a cousin that frankly neither he nor Lucas believe is worthy of the title. Someone they know will have no care for the many female members of the family who will be left to his dubious mercy if Lucas dies before he has his own ‘heir and a spare’.

The elderly Duke – and his redoubtable Duchess – are determined that Lucas, now twenty six, will spend the coming Season in London, scouring the Marriage Mart for a bride they all find suitable – whether he wills it or not. For that matter, whether SHE wills it or not as well.

The seemingly immovable object standing in the way of Wilby’s plan is Lady Philippa Stratton, daughter of the late Earl of Stratton. Her brother now holds the title. Pippa is twenty two, wealthy in her own right, and her brother is no longer her guardian. She can do as she pleases when it comes to the Season and the Marriage Mart.

She does not please to marry Lucas Arden. Because once upon a time, just a few years previously when they were both a bit younger and a whole lot less cognizant of the effect a few careless words might have on the people around them, Pippa heard Lucas refer to her as ‘spoiled goods’. Not for any action of hers, but for her father’s indiscreet, utterly scandalous, behavior.

A scandal that touched Lucas every bit as closely as it did Pippa. But eavesdroppers seldom hear anything to their credit, and that was the case here. He owes her an explanation AND an abject apology. But it is water very much under the bridge at this point. That she let his words blight the next four years of her life isn’t ALL on him. Although she still doesn’t owe him the time of day.

But the Duke of Wilby is certain that Pippa and Lucas are perfect for each other. And he’ll move heaven, earth and everything in between in order to get them to see it too. Before his negotiations with his Maker come due.

Escape Rating C+: I had intended to read the third book in the Ravenswood series, Always Remember, this week but when I realized that I’d skipped this second book, Remember Me, I switched things up. I’ll get to Always Remember sometimes in February because it’s still the right month for a LOT of romance.

Howsomever, I ended up with a lot more mixed feelings about Remember Me than I expected after the first book in this series, Remember Love – which I liked rather a lot.

There were a couple of things that kept me from falling quite as hard for this second book in the series, one of which was the sheer proximity to yesterday’s book. Part of the reason I enjoyed A Body at the Séance so much was that I found Mabel Canning’s whole, entire life easy to identify with. She’s not rich, she’s not privileged, she’s a woman making it on her own and her life and times are just close enough that it’s easy to step into her shoes. Possibly except for the murder investigations she keeps falling into but still, she’s someone I’d love to have tea with.

Lady Philippa Ware is certainly a good character, as well as a decent human being, but in comparison with Mabel she’s too rich, too privileged, too beautiful and just too damn perfect to be anything other than a fairy tale princess character – including the title. I liked her, I could see why all the other characters warm to her, but she’s got it so easy in so many ways, in a time and place where so many people did not, that I didn’t love her nearly as much as I did Mabel – or as Lucas and his whole, entire family came to do.

I also need to confess that the conflict in this story, the engine moving the plot forward, the way that the Duke of Wilby in his role as benevolent tyrant pushed so hard to have his will be done, to make all the characters move on his chessboard without ever listening to a word they said about their own lives, is triggering for me in ways I can’t explain. And I fully recognize this is a ‘me’ thing and likely not a ‘you’ thing.

But still, I found myself utterly conflicted between the fact that ‘dammit he was right’ and just how much I wanted someone to push back against him and make it stick that it spoiled the story for me. There are so many ways his pushing and shoving could have and should have gone wrong that I wanted to scream at someone the whole way through.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary. In fact, I hope it does because I think a LOT of people are going to love this book. I’m just not one of them although I certainly expected to be.

Which leads me back around to the NEXT book in this series, the one I thought I’d be reading this week, Always Remember. I’m looking forward to that story because Lucas’ sister, Lady Jennifer Arden, has faced hardships and tragedies in spite of her wealth and status, and it looks like she’ll be finding a life-partner in spite of all the predictions that a woman with a fortune who can’t walk and can only get around in a push chair has no chance to marry anyone who will not be more invested in her fortune than herself. I have high hopes that Pippa’s older half brother Ben, the child of one of her father’s many, many scandals, will prove everyone wrong. Because Jenny deserves her own happy ever after and I’m looking forward to seeing her get it!

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty Wingate

A- #BookReview: A Body at the Seance by Marty WingateA Body at the Séance (London Ladies' Murder Club, #2) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Pages: 332
Published by Bookouture on January 11, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a body turns up at a glamorous séance, Mabel Canning’s sleuthing skills are put to the test. Because it appears the victim died twice…
London, 1921: As a winter wind blows through the streets of London, Mabel Canning is hired by the Useful Women’s Agency to attend a séance at the home of famous medium Madame Pushkana. But when Mabel hears a choking noise and a loud thud, she quickly turns on the lights to find herself at the scene of a murder.
The victim is none other than Stamford Plomley, whose widow arranged the séance after he died in a fire eight months ago. How did he come back from the dead without a scorch mark on him? And could one of their assembled party of gentlewomen have killed him… again?
When Scotland Yard arrive, the police try to stop Mabel from interfering. But having just formed the London Ladies’ Murder Club, Mabel isn’t going anywhere. And with the help of former detective Park Winstone, she begins to piece together what really happened at the ghostly gathering.
But when Mabel receives a threatening letter warning her to stay away from the case, she realises the murderer may have another victim in mind. With time running out, will she hit a dead end? Or can she keep herself from becoming the next one to be sent to an early grave?
A totally gripping, witty and warm Golden Age cozy murder mystery from USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Richard Osman, Verity Bright and T.E. Kinsey.

My Review:

Whether or not one is a believer in spiritualism, the best one can hope for at a séance is a ‘message from the other side’ from the dearly departed. But no matter how much one believes, one absolutely does not expect the dearly departed to appear in the flesh. Even more miraculously, in the whole and entirely not desiccated or decomposing flesh – in spite of the dearly departed’s departure having taken place eight months previously.

However, one could not exactly say that reports of Stamford Plomley’s death had been greatly exaggerated – more that they were clearly premature eight months ago. Because the man is certainly dead now, strangled with the rope generally used to tie back the curtains that had so recently concealed his quite living body until the advent of the rope and whoever used it to bring about his delayed – or at least erroneously reported – demise.

And not that the world – and certainly Stamford Plomley’s widow Ivy – aren’t both better off with him firmly and finally deceased. However, that leaves both Scotland Yard and Mabel Canning, the head of the Useful Women’s Agency’s private investigations division with cases to solve.

Mrs. Plomley hires Mabel to investigate the circumstances of Stamford Plomley’s ‘first’ death, while Inspector Tollerton of Scotland Yard must look into the case of his second and more permanent one.

They will both have their hands full looking into the cult of believers who attended the séance conducted by the mysterious Madame Pushkana. A séance that was intended to bring Mrs. Plomley a message from the perhaps not-so-dearly departed – a message that was providentially – for someone – interrupted by a bit of flash paper and that rope around Mr. Plomley’s neck.

But if the late and not-so-lamented-as-was-originally-believed Stamford Plomley was killed with a rope in the séance room, when Madame Pushkana, the medium herself, is murdered by a knife in the back, backstage before one of her public ‘spiritual evenings’, both Inspector Tollerton and Mabel are forced to the realization that their cases have become uncannily close – and that someone is stalking their list of potential suspects.

Escape Rating A-: I couldn’t resist diving almost straight into A Body at the Séance so soon after the first book in the London Ladies’ Murder Club series, the charmingly murderous A Body on the Doorstep, because that book was just so much cozy mystery fun that I had to find out if the author managed to capture that lightning in the bottle a second time – even if said lightning jumped out of the bottle and killed someone new.

Which it did – in all the ways that the above can be taken as a pun. A Body at the Séance was every bit as much fun as the first book – if not just a teeny bit more because of the many ways that Mabel managed to hang onto her skepticism even as she found herself investigating an all-too-real murder that was just a bit over the top because of both setting and circumstances.

Watching Mabel unravel the murder while exploring her post-World War I London was just as charming as the first book – even if I did figure out whodunnit well before the final reveal.

What carried this second entry in the series, at least for this reader, was the intelligence and yes, charm, of Mabel herself. She’s easy for contemporary readers to identify with because, in spite of an entire century between her world and ours, her situation is so very similar to that of any independent woman determined to stretch her wings and make a place for herself on her own merits for the very first time in her life.

So Mabel is finding her way in what, for her, is intended to be a brave, new world, and it is. She’s got to earn a living, watch her expenses, find a new set of friends, new familiar places, and generally make her own way. She’s not rich, she’s not poor, she’s not in service, she’s from a comfortably middle-class background and has been given strong roots by her upbringing and wings from being finally able to make her own life.

And that’s a circumstance that many of us can identify with – with or without the ubiquity of social media.

That Mabel may have found an unexpected romance is just icing on a cake that she’s not sure she’s ready to eat. Because her independence is precious to her, she’s worked hard to reach it, and she’s not willing to fall back into the expected female role. She just isn’t sure yet whether the man she stumbled across in her first investigation will be able to accept her as an equal and not just as a wife.

She’s not willing to settle. And she doesn’t have to. Which makes her the kind of role model the world could still use more of.

So, as much as I came for the cozy murder mystery setting so reminiscent of the Golden Age of detective fiction, I’m absolutely sticking for Mabel Canning, her London Ladies’ Murder Club and the wonderful doggy assistance of the rather intelligent Gladys, because I’m loving every page.

Mabel, and her growing ‘Scooby Gang’, especially Gladys, will be back in April in A Body at the Dance Hall. As a child, I thought the old saying was “a new face on the BALLroom floor”, instead of what it really is. It looks like this time I’ll get to see my version come to life. Or, more likely, death, in just a couple of months.

Either way, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Mabel and her friends get to the bottom of their next case!

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

Welcome to the blog tour for A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. This is another author who I discovered through participation in a blog tour, so I’m thrilled to be back again with another book and tour. I’ve already finished A Quantum Love Story and loved it, so look forward to that review late next week. But the book is coming out TOMORROW, so here’s an excerpt from the very first chapter to whet your reading appetite for the whole, quantum tangle of this story!

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

1
Carter Cho wasn’t really into science experiments.
Otherwise, he might have completed his degree in quantum mechanics. Cooking experiments, though? Totally different, because there was a real joy to that process. But setting a hypothesis, identifying controls, and looking for…stuff?
Seriously, that seemed like such a slog.
Except for this particular Thursday morning, on the corner of a crosswalk and standing across from the world’s biggest, most advanced particle accelerator, a science experiment felt necessary.
He didn’t really have a choice. It seemed to be the only way to possibly understand or even escape his very strange predicament.
Carter checked the time on his phone, waiting for it to tick specifically to twenty-three seconds past 8:22 a.m.
At that moment, the crosswalk light would switch, signaling for pedestrians to go.
Then everything would cascade, a waterfall of specific actions by the world around him:
The person on Carter’s right would step out first.
The person behind him would wait an extra four seconds, eyes stuck on his phone.
Annoyed, the woman next to that person would let out an exaggerated sigh, move around, then rush forward six steps into the street before catching her shoe.
Then she would stumble forward, her coffee spilling. The first time he went through this, he’d noticed the spill just in time to sidestep it before continuing on.
All of these actions sat line by line on the old-fashioned paper notebook in his hands, a checklist of what was to come with the precision delivered by his photographic memory.
Science experiments all led to a result. As for this, he wasn’t quite sure what the result, or even the purpose, might be. He already knew he was in a loop of some sort, something that started the instant he woke up on Monday mornings.
And it always ended up with the huge facility across the street exploding.
The Hawke Accelerator, both a modern marvel of technology circa 2094 and also some sort of weird top-secret project that no one really understood—now also the place that would simply go boom.
Carter should know. The first time he experienced this, he was in the accelerator chamber’s observation room, right in the heart of where the go boom happened at precisely 12:42 p.m. on Thursday. Which was today, again. Just a few hours from now.
He’d been through this six times before, each time expanding his acute understanding of the details surrounding him. Usually he wrote things down at the end of the day, a memory trick he’d
learned about himself very early on that helped cement the details into place, so even when he started the loop over without any scribbled notes to organize his thoughts, his photographic memory recalled it.
But this morning, he went in reverse, writing out the exact steps as they were meant to be.
And then he’d make sure it played out that way, bit by bit.
After that, he wasn’t sure. Carter thought of his parents, their usual voices chastising him for his lack of planning and forethought, how his teenage foray into coding and hacking was more about fun than applying himself, and now look at him, simply a technician running tests and tightening screws. Even now that he’d been through this loop several times, he hadn’t bothered to call them back from their birthday messages. Part of him used the excuse that he should stay as close to the original path as possible, but he knew better.
Even if this weird loop existence meant a complete lack of consequences, calling his parents was the last thing he wanted to do.
Carter checked his phone one more time, five seconds remaining until the crosswalk kicked off the sequence. He gripped the notebook, staring at the list of things to come.
A chime came from the crosswalk. And Carter began to move.
The person on the right moved.
The man behind Carter stayed.
An exasperated sigh came from behind him. Carter kept his eyes on his notebook, counting steps in his head. “Ack,” the woman said, right when Carter sidestepped. His focus moved down to the next item on the list, then the next, then the next, not once looking up. Instead, he executed through a combination of memory and instinct, sliding sideways when a cyclist rolled by on the sidewalk and slowing down just enough to follow in a group waiting at the front entrance of Hawke.
Someone coughed, marking a time to pause and wait thirteen seconds, enough time to review the next items on the notebook still in front of him:
Front desk hands out mobile device for the David AI digital assistant.
Security guard says something about visiting group from ReLive project.
Passing scientist asks what time Dr. Beckett’s flight gets in.

He moved through the security gate designated for employees, taking him past the lobby threshold and over to the main hallway that split in three directions. He stopped, leaned against the wall and waited for the final item to come to pass. Nothing special or unique, just the sound of heels walking in a hurried cadence from his right to his left. Carter checked the notebook, waiting for the visitor’s David AI to speak exactly what he wrote.
“Your next meeting starts in two minutes,” the AI said from the small mobile unit in his familiar London accent. “Oops! Looks like you might be late. Should I give the meeting notice of that?”
Carter mouthed the words as the visitor spoke, his voice fading down the hallway. “No, thanks. I’ll just hurry.”
David’s simulated voice could still be heard as Carter put the notebook down, holding it at his side while considering what just happened. He wasn’t particularly religious, though part of him wondered if he’d been condemned to some sort of purgatory. The predictability of it all, the strange exactness of everything he saw playing out as written on the notebook in his hands.
The first few times, he’d felt disbelief. Then curiosity. Then amusement.
This time, well, he guessed that was the purpose of this experiment: to figure out how he felt knowing he could predict every exact movement of every person he encountered.
Disbelief, curiosity, amusement, and now the whole thing was just unnerving.
Nothing out of turn. Nothing different. Nothing unexpected.
He blew out a sigh, hands pushing back his wavy black hair. Something tugged at him, a wish for things to be different. A person walking from his left instead of his right. Or the plant behind him coming to life and biting his arm. Or a piano dropping out of the sky and smashing his foot.
Anything at all to end this.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people
milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s totally fine. I, uh,” he said. She bit down on her lip, brow scrunched, though eventually they locked gazes. “I should have watched where I was going.” He gestured at the growing coffee stain on his outfit.
“You sure?”
“Absolutely. It’s work clothes. It gets dirty. No big deal.”
The woman’s expression broke, relief lifting her cheeks into a toothy grin, one of those unexpected sights that made everything a little bit better. She looked back at the group, then the coffee cup in her hands. “Damn it, I spilled a bunch. Is there a place to get a refill?”
“You’re going to the main conference room?”
“Yeah. Spent all week there.”
All week. All the times Carter had been through the loop before, even seen the names of various guest groups on schedules, and yet they’d never crossed paths—not until he did the exact opposite of his routine.
Funny how that worked.
“We finally get to see the observation room, though. In a little bit.” She held up her coffee cup. “Just need a refill somewhere along the way.”
“Café is back there,” he said, thumb pointing behind him. “Way back there.”
“Ah,” she said with furrowed brow, a conflicted look that seemed about much more than a coffee refill. “Probably should meet with the team. Not enough time.”
Not enough time. The concept almost made Carter laugh. “Well,” he said, pulling out a bag, “a donut for making you late?”
She took the bag and peaked inside, cheeks rising with a sudden smile. “I don’t usually like donuts. But these glazed ones. Simple, you know?” She shuffled the bottom of the bag to nudge the donut out the opening. “Are you sure? I spilled coffee on you.”
“Yeah. I’m, uh,” he started, pausing as their gazes lingered. “My fault for running into you.”
The wrapper crinkled as she examined it up close before taking a small bite. “I should get back to my team. Maybe they’ll hand out free coffee by the time we get to the observation room. Thanks for this.”
Carter dipped his chin, a quick farewell as he considered the inevitability of the next few hours, a march toward a chaotic and violent reset. He matched her smile, though as she turned, he pondered saying something.
Normally, he wouldn’t. But with the world exploding soon? He went with the opposite of normal.
“My name’s Carter, by the way,” he said. “Carter, the guy who gives people donuts.”
Her gaze shifted, first looking at the floor, then up at the ceiling, even at the bag on her shoulder before finally locking eyes again. “Mariana,” she said, holding up the donut bag, “the woman always looking for coffee.” She bit down on her lip before glancing around. “I’m going to tell you something completely random.”
“Okay?” Carter said slowly. “About donuts?”
She laughed, an easy, bright laugh, though her eyes carried something far heavier. “No. The group I’m with. We’re touring the facility. But I’m quitting. They don’t know yet. Today’ll be my last day. Science is great until it’s not.” Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Probably because we’ll never see each other again.” She spun on her heel, an abrupt move followed by determined steps forward.
“Not unless you need another glazed donut.”
She turned, slowing as she walked away backward, this mystery scientist who spilled coffee on him and then caught his attention. Because the idea that someone didn’t like most donuts, well, that
was as opposite as anything he’d ever encountered in his life. “Maybe that,” she said with a small grin.
“I’ll remember your name in case we do,” he said. “Mariana.”
Her fingers fluttered in a quick wave, then she turned, and Carter leaned against the wall, ignoring the people who came and went.
Mariana. Maybe he should write that down, just in case she became important. He pulled the notebook out from under his arm, only to find the pages soaked with coffee.
A pen would rip through those pages. He’d have to trust his memory to recall her name, her voice, her face. On the off chance that they ever met again.
None of it mattered anyway, but as experiments went, this morning did at least prove helpful.
Now Carter knew that he could do anything, even the opposite of normal. And that might just lead to him escaping this thing. Or, at the very least, a lot more pastries.
Mariana disappeared into the sea of people, and as she did, her words echoed in his mind. First her group went to the conference room, then the observation room above the accelerator core. He knew that space well; after all, he’d been in that same room when everything began to explode and—
Wait.
That was it. A possible connection that he’d somehow missed before. He’d been there, of all places, summoned to check some of the power conduits lining the walls as the whole thing fell apart. Could that exact space be important?
Carter’s head tilted up. Maybe the observation room held the key to everything.
And if it did, what would happen if others were caught in it too?

Excerpted from A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. Copyright © 2024 by Mike Chen. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the Author:

Mike Chen is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Brotherhood, Here and Now and Then, Light Years from Home and other novels. He has covered geek culture for sites such as Nerdist, Tor.com and StarTrek.com, and in a different life, he’s covered the NHL. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter and many rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

 

 

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-28-24

This week’s cat picture is George, curled up into the tightest kitty-ball his long-legged self can manage. Which is surprisingly small for the size of the cat.

George squeezes himself into this position when the world gets overwhelming and he’s doing his best to cut off the ‘whelm’. It works for him. I wish I could join him but at the moment I can’t bend that way because of last week’s epic fall. My leg is the same color as my hair – which is PURPLE. It’s a great color for hair, not so good for human skin. It is getting better but it’s not been the best week, all things considered. I think my brain finally rebooted around Wednesday, so things are looking up!

This week’s reviews are going to be interesting – for select values of that word as well. I’ve been in a bit of a murder-y mystery mood this year so far, but this week’s reviews have turned out to be nearly all romances – going with the theme of Thursday’s Giveaway Hop and Valentine’s Day later in the month. Although I’m wondering if that will hold – because I’m really enjoying that story about the body at the seance so far. We’ll see as the week goes on.

One other thing to see, or I’m seeing, or however best to put that. I have a question for you all. I’ve started putting the review rating in the title of the post, which is great for Instagram as I work my way through that den of complexity. But I’m struck by how awkward it looks when a book gets a plain ‘A’, no pluses or minuses. Just typing ‘A #BookReview: Title by Author’ tho’ also looks weird because whatever grade it gets its always ‘a book review’ as that’s the whole point.

Anyone have any better ideas? Thanks for following and keeping up with the cat pictures!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan
A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys Ford
Grade A #BookReview: Gryphon by M.L. Buchman
A- #BookReview: The Hero She Wants by Anna Hackett
A+ #AudioBookReview: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen
Stacking the Shelves (585)

Coming This Week:

A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen (spotlight + excerpt)
A Body at the Seance by Marty Wingate (review)
Remember Me by Mary Balogh (review)
Heart 2 Heart Giveaway Hop
That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf by Kimberly Lemming (review)

Stacking the Shelves (585)

So I picked up a couple more books this week than I did last week. What’s a few extra books between friends, amirite? Especially since Enlightenment absolutely ran away with the ‘pretty book cover’ award for this week’s stack!

For Review:
The City of Marble and Blood (Chronicles of Hanuvar #2) by Howard Andrew Jones
Close to Death (Hawthorne and Horowitz #5) by Anthony Horowitz
Enlightenment by Sarah Perry
The Friend Zone Experiment by Zen Cho
The Runes of Engagement by Dave Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell
A Sorceress Comes to Call by T. Kingfisher
What Feasts at Night (Sworn Soldier #2) by T. Kingfisher (audio)
Yoke of Stars (Birdverse) by R.B. Lemberg

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
Before the Coffee Gets Cold (Before the Coffee Gets Cold #1) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Before We Say Goodbye (Before the Coffee Gets Cold #4) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Before Your Memory Fades (Before the Coffee Gets Cold #3) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
The Devil’s Brew (Sinners #2.5) by Rhys Ford
Tales from the Cafe (Before the Coffee Gets Cold #2) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi


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:

A+ #AudioBookReview: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen

A+ #AudioBookReview: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC RosenThe Bell in the Fog (Andy Mills, #2) by Lev A.C. Rosen
Narrator: Vikas Adam
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery, noir
Series: Andy Mills #2
Pages: 261
Length: 9 hours and 40 minutes
Published by Forge Books, Macmillan Audio on October 10, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The Bell in the Fog, a dazzling historical mystery by Lev AC Rosen, asks―once you have finally found a family, how far would you go to prove yourself to them?
San Francisco, 1952. Detective Evander “Andy” Mills has started a new life for himself as a private detective―but his business hasn’t exactly taken off. It turns out that word spreads fast when you have a bad reputation, and no one in the queer community trusts him enough to ask an ex-cop for help.
When James, an old flame from the war who had mysteriously disappeared, arrives in his offices above the Ruby, Andy wants to kick him out. But the job seems to be a simple case of blackmail, and Andy’s debts are piling up. He agrees to investigate, despite everything it stirs up.
The case will take him back to the shadowy, closeted world of the Navy, and then out into the gay bars of the city, where the past rises up to meet him, like the swell of the ocean under a warship. Missing people, violent strangers, and scandalous photos that could destroy lives are a whirlpool around him, and Andy better make sense of it all before someone pulls him under for good.

My Review:

The typical San Francisco fog hides a lot in this historical mystery set in the early 1950s, and gay ex-cop turned private investigator Andy Mills is caught in the thick of it.

It all begins with a case, as most noir-ish detective stories do. A case told from Andy’s often anguished, confused and frequently pained point of view. Because whatever the actual case is, the thing it investigates most is the past that Andy has done his best to get, well, passed.

And failed.

A former lover is being blackmailed. Someone has pictures of the man in a ‘compromising position’ with another man in a hotel room. Pictures that will scuttle Andy’s ex James’ promotion to Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and send him straight to the stockade with a dishonorable discharge.

Andy needs the case because he needs the money. Business for an ex-cop turned P.I. isn’t good when EVERYONE remembers that he used to be a cop – the people who hassle and roust and beat up guys just like them Just like him, which makes the betrayal that much worse.

But more than the business, Andy needs closure. About James. About what happened to the lover who disappeared from his shipboard bunk one night at the end of the war and didn’t even bother to say goodbye. A disappearance that left Andy desperately afraid that they were caught and he was next. A disappearance that caused Andy to nearly blow up his entire life to get away from.

Andy has four days to find the blackmailer and the evidence – or James’ life goes up in smoke. He has no leads and no clues and no certainty that he doesn’t want James to go down for all the agony he left behind when he disappeared to catch the promotions ladder.

It’s only when Andy solves THAT case that he learns that his nostalgia-washed memories of the war and his relationship with James were a lie, and that the real search for identity is the one that Andy has just begun – a search for who he will be and what life he will live now that he has at least caught all the edges he can of living his own truth instead of hiding behind a scrim of lies.

Unless it gets him killed first.

Escape Rating A+: I initially picked up this series in audio for the voice actor, Vikas Adam, who was one of several fantastic narrators of Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons series. The funny thing is that when he’s narrating Andy Mills, the picture I see in my head is Oscar Isaac, but that’s not at all who I see when he’s Kihrin in A Chorus of Dragons and CERTAINLY not the image in my head from when he was Pounce in Day Zero. That’s the alchemy of story for you.

It’s also ironic that, as much as I loved the voice narration, this is one where I flipped to text halfway through because I absolutely HAD to learn whodunnit – and that just wasn’t happening fast enough in audio and I didn’t want to spoil the narration by increasing the speed.

C’est la reading – or listening – vie.

What I loved about this second entry in the Andy Mills series – after 2022’s marvelous Lavender House – was that it combines a typical noir case of searching for an unknown person – actually several missing and/or unknown persons – with a search for identity. And the way that both of those searches are wrapped in fog, smoke and mirrors. Sometimes all at the same time.

Then, wrapped around that mystery like an even denser fog are the questions raised by the historical setting and the damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t problems of living while gay at a time and place where being real was illegal and pretending was illegal and seemingly everyone and everything was peering at every life through a microscope for anyone and anything that could be labeled different from any and every norm.

And what that means for anyone trying to just live their life the best they can where that life has already been declared a criminal act.

In the case of this particular mystery, it leads to a situation where the mystery gets solved but its not possible for good to totally triumph or for evil to get any full measure of its just desserts – and yet it still manages to satisfy as a mystery because Andy has done the best he can and he lives to solve another case another day and that’s all the triumph possible.

Speaking of living to solve another case another day, one of the advantages of waiting a few months to listen/read The Bell in the Fog is that I already know when Andy gets to start on his next case. He’ll be returning to the scene of the crimes and the punishments of his first case in Rough Pages, coming in October. I can’t wait!

A- #BookReview: The Hero She Wants by Anna Hackett

A- #BookReview: The Hero She Wants by Anna HackettThe Hero She Wants (Unbroken Heroes) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Unbroken Heroes #2
Pages: 220
Published by Anna Hackett on January 25, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The last thing he wants is to trek into the jungle to save the President’s daughter.
Shepherd “Shep” Barlow left the military behind. All he wants is to stay on his Colorado mountain—alone, with no interruptions, and no people. He especially likes to avoid people.
Then his former commander arrives, asking him to risk his life on a deadly mission to Central America. A mission to rescue the archeologist daughter of the President of the United States.
Once a member of a covert Ghost Ops team, Shep has the skills to get in quietly and rescue Ms. Sinclair. And as much as he wishes otherwise, he can’t leave an innocent woman in danger.
Hayden Sinclair loves her work. It keeps her far away from the liars, cheats, and phonies in Washington D.C. But when she’s abducted from her archeological dig in Nicaragua, she’s plunged into a life-or-death situation. Her captors plan to use her as a bargaining chip, and Hayden knows she has to escape.
What she never expected was to collide with the world’s biggest, grumpiest rescuer.
On the run in the jungle with six and a half feet of rugged, muscular, scowling man, she finds Shep rude and annoying. But as her captors ruthlessly hunt them, she also discovers a man who’ll risk his own life to protect hers.
Neither of them are looking for love, especially when they have to fight to survive…besides, there could never be a happy ending for the daughter of the President and a grumpy, battle-scarred soldier, could there?

My Review:

Archaeologists make the best protagonists – because there are just SO MANY WAYS they can get into trouble. Just ask Indiana Jones – or better yet, his father, Professor Henry Jones.

That rule certainly applies to this author’s work, as her very first heroine, in her very first book, At Star’s End, was an archaeologist among the star-scattered human diaspora. It’s a theme that has cropped up again and again, not just with the entire Treasure Hunter Security series (distant ancestors of the crew in that first book, but, also in this latest work with Dr. Hayden Sinclair, expert in pre-Columbian Central American history.

An archaeologist who also happens to be the daughter of the sitting President of the United States.

Hayden was determined to go on this dig, and determined to do it as a working archaeologist and not as a visiting dignitary or show pony or whatever. This is her job, and she’s determined to do it well and more importantly without a whole squad of Secret Service agents guarding her every step.

No matter how much, as it turns out, she might need them. Or, at least her teammates and fellow archaeologists do. Or did.

After all, the kidnappers plan on keeping her alive so that she can be auctioned off to the highest bidder looking for leverage on the U.S. President. The rest of her colleagues are merely…collateral damage.

Hayden Sinclair, is tied up and held captive in the middle of a compound full of the men who just killed her team and her friends. She should be at her lowest ebb – and she kind of is. But that doesn’t stop her from rescuing herself.

Only to walk straight into the arms of the one-man rescue team that has been sent to take care of that job FOR her.

Shep Barlow may be just a bit behind on Hayden’s jailbreak, but he’s EXACTLY the man she needs to walk beside her every step of the way home. No matter what it takes. No matter what he has to give up.

Because he’s the hero she wants, and she’ll do anything and defy anyone to keep him. Even her own father. Even Shep himself.

Escape Rating A-: This whole, entire series so far gives me a giant earworm. Everytime I even think about either of the books in this series so far, I get the chorus of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” playing in my head. Or even better – or worse depending on persistence – the scene from Shrek II.

Although Hayden doesn’t actually NEED a hero. She’s already rescued herself. Not that she can’t use Shep’s help and survival skills, because she certainly can. But she’s no delicate flower and doesn’t need anyone who will treat her like one.

The title of this entry in the series says it all. Hayden doesn’t NEED a hero, but Shep Barlow is certainly the man she wants – precisely because he knows better than to treat her like she needs rescuing. Not even her father is able to figure that out.

What makes the story in this one such a compulsive page-turner is the way that Hayden and Shep jump together out of the frying pan and into yet another fire, over and over again, as her kidnappers do their damndest to close off all avenues of escape.

What makes the romance in this one sing and zing is that this is a romance of equals in spite of the heroine-in-jeopardy start, a romance that has to carry both partners’ heavy baggage until they finally figure out they can drop it all and hold onto each other for dear life. For the rest of their lives.

The Unbroken Heroes series has been terrific so far, beginning with The Hero She Needs and continuing with this second book, The Hero She Wants. The third book in the series, The Hero She Craves, is coming in June and I expect that terrific streak to continue. What I’m loving about this series so far is that, although the link in the series is through those heroes, it’s the heroines who stand up, take charge, and participate oh-so-actively in their own rescues.

There are no delicate flowers here, and that’s the way I like it. One of the other things I like is that this particular set of heroes has interesting friends in some very high and dangerous places, like Hayden’s father-the-president, and the stories have high stakes that extend beyond the mutual rescue and the heart stopping romance.

Which is reminding me quite a lot and very much of M.L. Buchman’s romantic suspense series(es), particularly his Miranda Chase series, where smart civilians find themselves walking the halls of power to find the loves of their lives and keep the country safe along the way. So if you’re looking for something to tide you over between Anna Hackett’s heroes, consider this a recommendation for M.L. Buchman’s books as excellent readalikes with lots to explore.

Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for Anna Hackett’s next entry in her action/adventure romantic suspense Fury Brothers series, Burn, coming in March.

Grade A #BookReview: Gryphon by M.L. Buchman

Grade A #BookReview: Gryphon by M.L. BuchmanGryphon (Miranda Chase NTSB #14) by M L Buchman
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #14
Pages: 370
Published by Buchman Bookworks on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With the rising threat of Russia, Sweden joins NATO for its own protection. But someone wants to make them pay—in blood. Sweden’s home-built, world-class jet fighters, the Saab JAS 39E Gripen—named for the mythological Gryphon—are falling out of the skies. The stability, the very existence of NATO could be torn apart, as if trapped in the Gryphon’s mighty eagle claws. Can Miranda’s team of air-crash investigators solve the crisis before the powerful lion-half shreds them asunder?

My Review:

Like all of the previous entries in the Miranda Chase series from the very first page in Drone, Gryphon is an edge-of-the-seat political technothriller with World War III looming over every action on every page.

What makes this OMG FOURTEENTH book in the series stand out is that this is the one where all of the hyper-competent people that we have come to know and love over the course of the series so far are anything but.

Not that they don’t still manage to get the job done – because of course they do! – but rather because it’s clear from the opening page that all of the members of Miranda’s team are broken after the events of Osprey – and Miranda herself is the most broken one of them all.

It’s hard to lead anyone anywhere when your heart, your soul and your entire psyche are lying in pieces on the ground at your feet.

But time, tide, plane crashes and international catastrophes wait for no one. Even if not a single one of Miranda’s team remotely has their shit together, between them they still have enough to figure out exactly which enemy is responsible for the recent series of disasters plaguing Sweden’s civilian and military aviation.

Although Sweden doesn’t have a whole lot of enemies. Which doesn’t make Ian Fleming’s old truism any less true, that “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” It’s just that this time around they’ll have to start by identifying just who they have to stop.

Escape Rating A: Gryphon is a hard read for fans of Miranda Chase and her team. Which isn’t to say that it’s not a good read, because it oh-so-definitely is. But rather, it’s hard to see people that we’ve come to like and respect and care about act this observably broken.

It’s a heartbreaking response to the events of the previous book, but damn it hurts to watch.

But it does make it easy for someone, actually a few someones, to slip a whole lot of things past them all – because they are all very much NOT at the top of their respective games. More like at the bottom.

The crisis is a conundrum, because it only makes sense in bad ways. Either the Swedish aviation industry is having the worst luck in the universe, over and over, or someone is out to get them. And yet, the usual suspects are all quiet.

And on the third hand being held behind someone’s back, considering the current crisis in the Ukraine, blaming Russia for everyone’s troubles is a damnably easy conclusion to jump to. So it becomes a question of whether Russia has faked out literally everyone – or whether someone else is trying to make it look that way in the hopes of, what? Causing World War III? Who is crazy enough to want to ring that bell?

A question which, in its own way, is at the center of what makes this series so damn good. Because both the question and the solution in each entry in the series isn’t about the techno part of the thriller. It’s always about the human factors. Technology may make the events and crises and calamities and near-catastrophes possible, but it’s always human beings who set them into motion for all too human reasons.

And it’s the humans of Miranda’s team – pulling together and putting it all together – that have to stop the worst from happening.

Not that the tech isn’t fascinating and not that we don’t get a lot of it while following Miranda and her team – but it’s the humans we feel for and with and it’s the human cost of the disaster they’re trying to prevent that make us keep turning pages until they pull literally everyone’s fat out of whatever particular fire they’re facing this time around.

And all of that is just, well, harder in Gryphon because the humans on all sides of this particular equation are all broken, The villains are broken because the game they are playing is not worth the cost, and the ‘good guys’ are broken because they’ve been pulling separately instead of pulling together, so they’re a mess and getting messier by the day.

Whether the radical solution they come up with to begin to start fixing their broken places is something that we’ll all get to find out in the next book in this awesome series, Wedgetail. Until that comes out this summer, we’ll all just have to hope right along with the rest of the team.

A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys Ford

A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys FordPort in a Storm (Sinners #8) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Series: Sinners #8
Pages: 192
Published by Dreamspinner Press on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

San Francisco SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and Crossroads Gin drummer Forest Ackerman make an odd couple. Connor, an Irish-born cop from a tight-knit family, never imagined he’d find his happily-ever-after with a raised-on-the-streets musician, but Forest had the gentlest soul he’d ever met. After a long, hard road of heartbreak, murder, and trouble, they fell hard in love and married.
Then Fate intervenes and throws their lives into a chaos neither one of them is prepared for.
During a brutal SWAT raid, Connor stumbles on Tate, an abused, vulnerable little boy caught in a shoot-out with his father’s drug-running gang. As heavy fire riddles the walls, an injured Connor rescues Tate from the fray… only to be struck numb when a caseworker pries a sobbing Tate from his arms.
Scarred from his own childhood experiences, Forest doubts he can be a good enough father, but Connor assures him they can give Tate what he needs and more. Soon they are on an insane ride where trust and affection are hard-earned, especially when coming from a little boy raised in society’s filthiest gutters. Facing down every challenge thrown their way, they battle to give Tate what Connor treasures and Forest never had—a family to call his own.

My Review:

Port in a Storm, the long-awaited final book in the utterly awesome Sinners series combines coda and confirmation into one beautiful if sometimes heartbreaking package, coming full circle halfway around the world to end where it all began. With a dog named ‘Dude’.

We first met the Morgan Family and the members of Crossroads Gin back in 2012, in Sinner’s Gin – although I personally didn’t discover the series until five years later after falling in love with the author’s characters and work through her Cole McGinnis series.

Either way, it’s been a long road, getting from there to here. But here we are just the same.

As this story opens, it seems as if the current generation of the Irish-American, mostly SFPD cops of the Morgan family have found their various happy ever afters, often by pairing up with one of the members of Miki St. John’s resurrected band, Crossroads Gin.

That’s certainly true for Kane Morgan and Miki himself, whose meeting, facilitated by a dog that neither of them has ever fully admitted is theirs – honestly they are his, anyway – kicked off the entire series back in that first story.

But SFPD SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and the band’s drummer Forest Ackerman, as happy as they are together – and they most definitely are – discover that there’s a child-shaped hole in their lives that they need to fill with Tate Robinson, a seven-year-old boy that Connor rescues in the midst of a drug raid.

A raid that was intended to net the major drug cooker listed as ‘father’ on Tate’s birth certificate.

Connor’s team may have come up empty-handed as far as the drugs or their maker were concerned, but left with a heart full of the need to get one desperate child out of the foster care system that still gives his husband Forest so many nightmares.

The battle in Port in Storm isn’t the Morgan family’s usual fight against criminals and drug dealers nor is it an attempt to break up or break down the band or any of its members. Instead it’s the battle against an overworked – at best – foster care system that seems to be more about ticking off boxes and protecting bureaucrat’s asses than it is about making the right decision for a young child even though that right decision has been handed to them on a silver platter.

Escape Rating A-: Those of us who are fans of the Sinners series were pretty convinced that book six, Sin and Tonic, was the ending – a happy ending that all the characters had earned and deserved – especially Dude.

And that the short story collection, ‘Nother Sip of Gin, was basically lagniappe. A lovely treat, a bit of a filling in of the corners, a chance to visit with old and dear friends one last time.

Until this. Until Port in a Storm and this nearly heartbreaking but ultimately just happily teary story that confirms that happy ending for everyone and ties it up with a really marvelous bow. Even better because we weren’t expecting it so we’re all crying a bit that it’s over but smiling because it happened.

(In other words, treat the above as a huge hint not to start here OR with either ‘Nother Sip of Gin or Sin and Tonic, because these are the endings. Start with Sinner’s Gin and settle in for a fantastic read!)

The actual story in Port in a Storm – is about just that. About a young boy finding his very own port in own storm with a badass cop and a rockstar drummer who also happens to be a foster care survivor himself. It’s about Tate Robinson finding the best home he could ever have found, with two men who have stepped up to be his dads in every single way, backed by friends and families who will help them figure out how to be dads and help Tate himself figure out how to love and trust again in spite of everything he’s been through.

That the social worker and agent of the system who does her damndest to break up their family is an avatar for Dolores Umbridge – complete with pink suits and simpering non-smiles – says all that needs to be said about how wrong the system was in this case and how right Connor, Forest and their whole entire family are for Tate.

And I’ll admit I wish we got just a bit more explanation of why and how she got involved and was so determined to break their family apart. But that was the only tiny niggle in one whole, entire, utterly marvelous wrap to a terrific series. So I’m left being just thrilled that we got to see everyone’s HEA confirmed and with bells on.

And that’s awesome – but maybe it’s time to go back and read the whole saga from the very beginning. Because that would be awesome too!

 

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison BrennanThe Missing Witness (Quinn & Costa, #5) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #5
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a key witness goes missing, Quinn and Costa must find her before a killer silences her for good…
Detective Kara Quinn is back in Los Angeles to testify against a notorious human trafficker, finally moving past the case that upended her life. But when the accused is shot by a masked man in broad daylight, the chaotic scene of the crime turns up few reliable bystanders. And one witness—a whistleblower who might be the key to everything—has disappeared.
After the prosecuting DDA is stabbed to death, it’s clear that anyone who knows too much about the investigation is in danger, and tracking down the witness becomes a matter of life or death. With government corruption running rampant and someone on the inside trying to pin anything they can on Kara, she trusts nobody except FBI special agent Matt Costa and a handful of allies.
But when explosive secrets begin to surface within the LAPD and FBI, Kara questions everything she thought she knew about the case, her colleagues and the life she left behind months ago.
Now Quinn and Costa must race to find the missing witness and get to the bottom of the avalanche of conspiracies that has rocked LA to its core…before it's too late.

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” or so Sir Walter Scott claimed – even if the quote is generally and erroneously attributed to Shakespeare. It does rather sound like one of his, after all.

The Missing Witness, both the person and the case she’s caught in the middle of, is all about those practices of deception, and the need for the FBI’s Mobile Response Team to get to the heart of those deceptions. Bloodily if necessary.

Because the case in this fifth book in the series, after The Third to Die, Tell No Lies, The Wrong Victim and last year’s Seven Girls Gone, takes LAPD Detective Kara Quinn’s temporary membership in the MRT all the way back to where it began, to the case that made LA much too hot a place for her to remain, putting her on an unwelcome vacation and pushing her straight into the path of the FBI – and into the arms of the MRT’s Special Agent in Charge, Matt Costa.

Kara has been dragged back to LA, possibly because the human trafficking case that sent her out of town is finally being brought to trial. Or, more likely because the villain of the piece wants her back in town so he can send his goons out to eliminate her – just as he’s done with all the other witnesses to his many, many crimes.

Not that both of those things aren’t true – they’re just not anything remotely like the whole entire story or any of its moduses and/or operandis.

This is a case that has always been about deception. Including covering up the fact that the case is much bigger on the inside than appears on the outside. But also because Kara’s participation at the beginning, misplaced guilt in the middle and exile at the end are all about, not the deceptions that all the perpetrators have perpetrated in order to keep the dirty deeds on the down-low. The biggest deceptions in this case are the lies that the cops who were supposed to be on Kara’s side, on her team, the people that she trusted to bring her back home to her city and her job, have been lying to her all along.

And that’s one betrayal that she has utterly no capacity to forgive.

Escape Rating A: The case in The Missing Witness was solid and compelling and confounding, all at the same time. Because it’s wrapped around something so huge, so monstrous, and so easy to hide and obfuscate, that it’s nearly impossible to see the whole of it at once.

When Kara Quinn opened this case and this can of worms not quite a year ago, it was about sweatshops and human trafficking and scum who are so rich and so well connected it seems like they can even buy forgiveness from the FBI

But Kara tipped over a huge, gigantic rock, and the things that crawled out from underneath it have tentacles reaching from the Mayor’s Office to the County Board of Supervisors to the LAPD and the LA Office of the FBI – and that’s just for starters.

So Kara left town so that the case against one human trafficker could get pulled together without her body ending up in the middle of it. But that’s not the case her friends and mentors at the LAPD are investigating. They’re investigating the much bigger monsters that crawled out from under that rock – and they’re keeping Kara out of town for her own good – or so they believe.

Their cause is righteous, but their methods are not. To the point where the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing – or who the left hand is killing along the way.

At its heart, this is a case about political corruption, greed and graft, and the way all those things have intersected within the morass that has been called the Homeless Industrial Complex.

But white collar corruption and fraud cases are huge and complicated. There are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to get people to understand what’s at stake and who has been staked. So an awful lot of bad has happened but it’s been hard to even get the public’s attention OR to get a District Attorney to prosecute.

Murder cases, on the other hand, are easy to reduce to the soundbite of a gunshot.

What makes this story so compelling, is the way that Kara’s pursuit of the original murder and trafficker is used as a vehicle to get us inside, to get us to care about the larger but much more amorphous corruption case that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

And the way that even though a measure of justice gets served, we still feel the depths of the betrayals Kara suffers, that the people she once believed had her back have been lying to her all along in their belief that she wouldn’t have been willing to serve the same justice they were.

Which leads to the epic conclusion of The Missing Witness, a conclusion that is certainly the ending of the story arc of the first five books in this thrilling, suspenseful series, but hopefully will lead to much more to come. Because I’ve loved this whole series and I absolutely do not want it to end!