The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-2-20

Sunday Post

As an important reminder from George, all keyboards belong to the cats. We just borrow them now and again.

Someone needs to explain to me the attraction of cats to keyboards when we’re not using them. I understand why they interfere when we’re paying attention to the keyboard instead of to them, but there seems to be an inexplicable desire to feel the caress of keys under their little fuzzy butts that I just don’t get. On the other hand, George also likes to play video games. He will follow the cursor on the TV and try to catch the leaves in any outdoor scenes. Galen just finished playing Ghost of Tsushima, which was awesome. It also has extremely realistic falling leaves. George was mesmerized!

Current Giveaways:

Return to Learn Giveaway Hop STARTS TUESDAY!!!

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Feline Good Giveaway Hop is Ann
The winner of the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop is Nikki

Blog Recap:

B- Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates
A Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer
A- Review: A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair
B- Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass
A- Review: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Stacking the Shelves (403)

Coming This Week:

Search the Dark by Charles Todd (review)
Return to Learn Giveaway Hop
The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite (review)
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (blog tour review)
The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan (review)

Stacking the Shelves (403)

Stacking the Shelves

An oldie but a goodie for this first day of August:

Another month ends.
All targets met.
All systems working.
All customers satisfied.
All Staff eagerly enthusiastic.
All pigs fed and ready to fly.

For Review:
The Bright Lands by John Fram
Colonyside (Planetside #3) by Michael Mammay
Fishing for Trouble (Alaskan Diner Mystery #2) by Elizabeth Logan
Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland
The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny Lecoat
Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy
The Historians by Cecilia Ekback
My Last Duchess (Wildes of Lindow Castle #0.5) by Eloisa James
‘Nother Sip of Gin (Sinners #7) by Rhys Ford
The Paradise Affair (Carpenter and Quincannon #9) by Bill Pronzini
The Patient by Jasper DeWitt
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
The Tower of Fools (Hussite Trilogy #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski
Truth of the Matter (Potomac Point #2) by Jamie Beck
The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery
We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (audio)
The Law & the Heart by Kenneth Schneyer
New Girl in Town (Age is Just a Number #1) by Rebel Carter

Review: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Review: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

My Review:

There’s an old saying that the only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions. And that’s where this story begins, with best friend Ellen Fox and Unity Leandre both stuck in very long ruts. Very, very long.

The problem with ruts is that they can be surprisingly comfortable down there at the bottom. There’s nothing challenging a person out of their comfort zone. Ruts are easy and change is hard – and frequently painful.

Ellen had sex once, 17 years ago, found herself pregnant and unenthused about the process that got her there and settled into life as a single mother with a tiny bit of help and a whole lot of grief and attitude from her disapproving parents. Now she’s in her mid-30s, her son is at the end of his junior year in high school, and the kid is unwilling to apply to the colleges he really wants to go to because he’s afraid of leaving his poor mother all by herself because she doesn’t have a life outside of her teaching job, her two best friends, and him.

The worst part is that he’s not wrong.

Unity is even more stuck than her bestie. Her young husband died serving his country, but Unity seems to have thrown herself at least partway in that grave with him. She lives in his childhood home, sleeps in his childhood room, and has kept all of his things right where he – and his late parents – left them. She’s either living with his ghost or waiting to die. Or both. All of her friends except Ellen live in the age-restricted community where she does a lot of her home handyman work, and it’s a good thing the place is age-restricted or she’d have moved right in. If she could bring herself to move, that is.

Even Unity’s grief group has had enough of the way that Unity seems to feed her grief instead of letting it heal.

So they challenge each other to step out of their oh-so-comfortable ruts. To stretch their horizons and find out who they still have plenty of time to be before it’s too late. Before the dimensions of their ruts close off at the ends into graves.

Because they are both still young and have way too much life ahead of them to spend it waiting for the end. They’ll just have to make that hard climb over the sides of those ruts.

Escape Rating A-: Ellen and Unity may need to step out of their comfort zones, but in picking up this book I stepped right into mine. This was just the kind of friendship story that this author does so well, and reading it was a terrific pick-me-up for these troubled times.

What was great was that I felt for the situations of both of these women, in spite of both of their experiences being so far outside my own. Sometimes I wanted to beat them both with a clue-by-four, but in the way one does with long-term friends. As in I may think you’re way off base and I’ll tell you that in private while in public I’ll defend you from all comers.

Ellen and Unity have that kind of friendship and it’s an enviable one. It’s also easy to empathize with the way that they are both just trying to get through this thing called life and doing the best they can at it, even if from the outside it’s clear that they’re not really doing all that well at all. They are sabotaging themselves in ways that are easy to recognize and understand.

I also loved that they were able to finally figure out that many of their issues were sourced in the same place – Ellen’s rule-bound, disapproving parents – and that they both started figuring out ways to remove themselves from those naysaying voices.

One of the highlights of the story was Unity’s friendship with the larger-than-life Dagmar, and the contrast between Dagmar’s 70-something joie de vivre and eagerness to live each day to the absolute fullest, while Unity seems to be counting down the days, weeks, months and years until she can move into the senior village. Dagmar is clearly refusing to go gentle into that good night, in stark contrast to Unity who seems to have already went even though she’s still alive.

I loved the way that they each managed to work their way out of their respective ruts. It also felt very real that they had to be separate for a few weeks in order to make that happen. They were clearly enabling each other to stay stuck, whether intentionally or not.

But as much as I enjoyed this story, and I very much did, there’s a niggle that kept it from being an A. I think I’d have enjoyed the whole thing more if the solution to both women’s issues hadn’t been a romance. Or if it hadn’t felt like the romance and the healing were tied in a bit too strongly together. These women both needed to heal themselves first, and that’s not quite how it felt, particularly in Unity’s case. That Unity was healed enough at the end for an actual HEA doesn’t feel right, although Ellen certainly earned hers.

Still, this was a lovely read and I’m very glad I read it. I just picked up the ARC for Susan Mallery’s next standalone book, The Vineyard at Painted Moon, and I’m already looking forward to it.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about picking up The Friendship List, I posted an excerpt from the first chapter last week as part of a tour. You can still follow the tour entries to get a taste of this delicious story.

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna GlassQueen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #2
Pages: 592
Published by Del Rey Books on May 12, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this feminist fantasy series, the ability to do magic has given women control over their own bodies. But as the patriarchy starts to fall, they must now learn to rule as women, not men.
Alys may be the acknowledged queen of Women's Well—the fledgling colony where women hold equal status with men—but she cares little for politics in the wake of an appalling personal tragedy. It is grief that rules her now. But the world continues to turn.
In a distant realm unused to female rulers, Ellin struggles to maintain control. Meanwhile, the king of the island nation of Khalpar recruits an abbess whom he thinks holds the key to reversing the spell that Alys's mother gave her life to create. And back in Women's Well, Alys's own half-brother is determined to bring her to heel. Unless these women can all come together and embrace the true nature of female power, everything they have struggled to achieve may be at risk.

My Review:

I picked up this book because for the most part I enjoyed the starting book in this series, The Women’s War. But I have to say that I found the message of that first book to sometimes be heavy-handed. Not enough to spoil my enjoyment, but more than enough to make me wonder what would happen next.

Queen of the Unwanted certainly carries on directly from the events in The Women’s War, making it impossible for any reader to start here and make any sense of current events. Or, honestly, to care about what happens to the characters.

This is definitely a middle book, with all the inherent problems therein. Which means not only that you can’t start here, but that it fulfills the sense at the end of the first book, that the situation our heroines, Princess Alysoon of Women’s Well and Queen Ellinsoltah of Rhozinolm are at a point in both of their stories where things are dark and turning darker – quite possibly as a prelude to turning completely black.

So this is a story where more gets revealed but little gets resolved, setting the stage for the third book in the series at some future date. Hopefully not too far in our future, as this is a complicated series which makes picking up the action after a long hiatus a rather daunting affair for the reader.

Although I’ll certainly be back, if only to find out what happens next!

Escape Rating B-: I have to say that this book drove me absolutely bananas – and not always in a good way. I really did want to find out what happened after the earth-shaking events of the first book. But that means I wanted things to actually happen. This entry in the series, being a middle book, means that lots of people are maneuvering, and there is tons of political wrangling and shenanigans, but that in the end, not much happens.

Or at least, not until the very end, when the action suddenly proceeds apace, only to leave readers with multiple terrible book hangovers as they wait for the next book. Whenever it appears. I listened to 80% of this and then read the rest. The audio was interesting enough to keep me occupied while driving, but when things picked up I couldn’t stand to continue at that slow pace.

So, the story is slow going for a lot of its length. Of which there is rather a lot. And there are oodles of political machinations, but they don’t seem to go anywhere for much of the story.

The big message in this one is that old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The history of this place is that men have had all the power, all the time, and now that women have carved out their own, tiny piece of it the men will do anything to get their absolute domination back.

The message is extremely heavy handed, to the point where it gets overdone. The reader feels a bit bludgeoned by it – as many of the female characters are beaten and degraded on a frequent basis. The treatment of women in this entire world is utterly appalling.

At the same time, the stakes are so high, and yet, particularly in Women’s Well, the behavior of both Princess Alys and her brother Tynthanal feels so petty and selfish. Neither of them seems to be thinking of the greater good of their beleaguered kingdom, but rather railing against all the things that are just not going their way in their personal lives.

And the major villain of the piece does tip into over-the-top-ness and reaches villain fail. Not just that he is so inept he can’t possibly succeed at anything, but that it is amazing that his own country doesn’t depose him early on. He’s not just evil, he’s a bad king and it’s OBVIOUS. He is neither respected nor feared and that should be a short trip to a headsman’s axe.

Instead, he becomes a figure of ridicule, not just to his court but to the reader. He has no self-control; neither over his temper nor his overindulgence in food and drink. His steadily increasing girth is meant to evoke the figure of Henry VIII, but Henry, for all his petulance, was an effective king which Delnamal NEVER is. Instead, the villain’s increasing weight becomes a vehicle for mockery and it just feels wrong.

Speaking of things that feel wrong, one of the points I mentioned in my review of The Women’s War was the utter lack of same-sex relationships. This feels like a world where such relationships would have been frowned upon if not banned, but human nature happens. There’s a whole spectrum of it that isn’t happening here in circumstances like the all-male army barracks and the all-female abbeys for unwanted women where it feels like it would have.

I know I’m complaining a lot about a book that I gave a B- rating to. I liked this story. I liked the first book better but I’m still very interested in seeing what happens. Even if it drives me crazy yet again.

Review: A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair

Review: A Royal Affair by Allison MontclairA Royal Affair (Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery #2) by Allison Montclair
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Sparks & Bainbridge #2
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

More goes wrong than could be imagined when Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge of The Right Sort Marriage Bureau are unexpectedly engaged to dig into the past of a suitor of a royal princess in Allison Montclair’s delightful second novel, A Royal Affair.
In London 1946, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau is just beginning to take off and the proprietors, Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, are in need of a bigger office and a secretary to handle the growing demand. Unfortunately, they don't yet have the necessary means. So when a woman arrives—a cousin of Gwen's—with an interesting and quite remunerative proposition, they two of them are all ears.
The cousin, one Lady Matheson, works for the Queen in "some capacity" and is in need of some discreet investigation. It seems that the Princess Elizabeth has developed feelings for a dashing Greek prince and a blackmail note has arrived, alluding to some potentially damaging information about said prince. Wanting to keep this out of the palace gossip circles, but also needing to find out what skeletons might lurk in the prince's closet, the palace has quietly turned to Gwen and Iris. Without causing a stir, the two of them must now find out what secrets lurk in the prince's past, before his engagement to the future Queen of England is announced. And there's more at stake than the future of the Empire —there is their potential new office that lies in the balance.

My Review:

I picked this up because I absolutely adored the first book in this series, The Right Sort of Man. So I wanted to see what happened next to Sparks and Bainbridge.

In spite of the titles of the books, this is emphatically NOT a romance series. Set in the immediate post-World War II period, Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge run a marriage bureau, called The Right Sort. As in they are looking to find the right sort of man or woman for their clients to marry. They get paid, not by the hour, but by their successful matchmaking.

But in the first book in the series, their matchmaking investigation leads them into a murder investigation – as the investigators. Which may, or may not, have been just the kind of notoriety they needed to get their fledgling business off the ground.

That notoriety, however, does bring them to the attention of the Palace. Buckingham Palace, that is.

The Queen – the one who became known as the “Queen Mum” – in the person of her confidential agent Lady Matheson, has a case for Sparks and Bainbridge that should be right up their alley. The only problem is that the alley in question is covered by the Official Secrets Act.

They want Sparks and Bainbridge to vet one of Lilibet’s suitors. Because whoever marries Lilibet, better known to history as Queen Elizabeth II, will become Prince Consort and the father of the next heir to the throne. While not King, whoever it is will still represent the United Kingdom on the world stage.

While kings and princes may later have scandals attached to their names – the debacle of Edward VII’s abdication is still in recent memory – the royal family can’t afford to let anyone in with a scandal already attached.

It’s obvious from recent photos, gleefully published by the gossip papers, that Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark is going to propose to Princess Elizabeth – and probably soon. It’s unfortunately clear from recent correspondence addressed to the Princess that someone has dirt on Philip.

Well, not exactly on Philip himself. After all, no one is responsible for the circumstances of their own birth. But even a hint of a question about whether said birth was legitimate will be more than enough scandal to wreck any possibility of his marrying the future Queen.

As well as throw a spanner into any possibility that his cousin, King George II of Greece, will ever get the chance to sit on his own throne.

It all sounds like a case that should be a bit too big for a simple marriage bureau to handle. But Sparks and Bainbridge are more than up to the job!

24th November 1947: Princess Elizabeth and The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh enjoying a walk during their honeymoon at Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Escape Rating A-: After decades of pictures of Queen Elizabeth as matron, mother, grandmother and now great-grandmother, it’s hard to remember that once upon a time she was the young and beautiful princess in love with her very own handsome prince. But the pictures from the time when this story takes place, while they may or may not show the true state of the affection between Elizabeth and Philip certainly show them as being young and quite photogenic at the very least.

I was expecting this story to be more of the wonderful formula that we first saw in The Right Sort of Man, two women in a strong and developing friendship – or womance, to use the female equivalent of bromance. Iris and Gwen are from different backgrounds and have taken different roads to get where they are, but they each have something the other lacks.

Iris has street smarts, but more than that she has the training to use those smarts. Training that was honed during the late war in her service as an undercover operative doing things that would put her in prison in peacetime. Things that would have certainly gotten her killed if she had been caught. Which she wasn’t.

In addition to her deadlier skills, Iris also brings a whole host of “friends in low places” to their partnership. She can get things done. She can get bodies buried. She can get them into and out of trouble.

Gwen Bainbridge is a single mother being essentially held hostage by her wealthy in-laws. It’s a privileged life, but Gwen is very much the bird in the gilded cage. Working with Sparks is a way of keeping her sanity and giving her purpose – which also helps her keep her sanity. And it keeps her out of her in-laws house where they watch her like a hawk. After her husband’s death during the war, Gwen went into a slough of despond – she descended into a deep depression. During that period her in-laws took custody of her young son – their grandson. Now that she’s well on the mend, she wants custody back. And they are holding that over her head at every opportunity.

What Gwen brings to the partnership is her knowledge of the upper crust, and her membership in those rarefied circles as well as her Cambridge education. She can get them entree into places that would otherwise be closed to them, and can get information out of people who would otherwise show them the door – or at least the entrance to the servants’ quarters.

The progress of this case both makes their partnership stronger and shows the places where they still need to work on it. They are friends and partners, but there is also more than a hint of lingering resentment and jealousy on both sides, as each wishes they had some of the other’s circumstances or advantages. And they occasionally play one-upsmanship (up-womanship?) games with each other.

But it was the case that held my interest in this one. I was not expecting to get something that matched the espionage and governmental skullduggery that occurred in Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook, not even with a much happier ending. Especially not combined with the romance that forms the backdrop of The Gown.

These are two great tastes that I did not expect to even see together, let alone to discover that they taste great together. But they definitely do!

I hope that we’ll see more of Sparks & Bainbridge’s adventures. I can’t wait to see how they top this one!

 

Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer

Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth SchneyerAnthems Outside Time and Other Strange Voices by Kenneth Schneyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 372
Published by Fairwood Press on July 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Curator's notes from an art exhibition. Exam questions. A children's social-studies textbook. An end-user license agreement from God. From Nebula-nominated author Kenneth Schneyer comes this collection spanning the range from fantasy to science fiction to horror to political speculative fiction. Representing more than a decade of work, these 26 weird, disorienting stories will accost your expectations while relocating your heart. This volume includes such celebrated works as "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer," as well as two stories never before published.

My Review:

When I read this collection a few weeks ago, I found myself astonished all the way around. And I mean that in the best way possible.

That very pleasant surprised was on two counts. The first being that short story collections usually aren’t my favorite thing. I tend to find them a mixed bag at best, with some strong stories mixed with at least one or two that missed the boat – or in this case the rocket ship – completely. That didn’t happen here. At All. Every story hits its mark – sometimes with a bang. And occasionally – when completely appropriate to the story – with a whimper. Usually on the part of the reader. A kind of contented, contemplative “OH!”

That the collection was written by an author I hadn’t heard of before – in spite of the Nebula nomination – was the second thing that surprised me. I wouldn’t have picked up a collection of something I don’t normally care for by an author I don’t otherwise know without receiving it as an assignment from somewhere.

In this particular case, an assignment from Library Journal. But I loved this book so hard that I felt compelled to signal boost it here, as many reviews in LJ are behind a paywall – although this review might not be. But here we are, just in case.

What I found so compelling about this collection was the way that it does something that SF and fantasy don’t always do well. So much of speculative fiction in general concentrates on the gee whiz of either rocket ships or dragons – or sometimes both – that it misses the human connection.

Not that I don’t love me a good hard SF story. Or for that matter a good time travel story or a good story about dragons either doing or done wrong or a big high-flown epic fantasy. Or a mix of all of the above – although that’s HARD.

But all stories written by humans are about humans, no matter what skin or fur or feather or metal they might be wearing on the outside. And that’s what this collection does so well, whether in its SF or its fantasy stories.

This author is great at letting the reader see the effects of the SFnal or fantasy elements on the humans who are our perspective on what’s happening. And that’s fantastic!

Escape Rating A: This author has what can wonderfully be called a somewhat sideways view of the world. A view that is certainly on display in that Nebula-nominated story, Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer. It’s a story told through the unusual lens of museum case notes. One of this author’s fascinating devices is to tell a story through something else, often something small like the tiny notes next to exhibit entries, and let the pulling together of the story in its entirety occur in the reader’s mind – as it does anyway.

(For the curious, the winner that year was If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky which was itself a nominee for the Hugo the following year. Eligibility periods for the Hugo and the Nebula are confoundingly different!)

The stories in this collection, those Anthems Outside Time, are not fluffy bunnies. Most of them come from the darker corners of the imagination, and all of them are compellingly readable.

The stories in this collection manage to be prescient, heartbreaking and provocative, sometimes by turns and sometimes all at once. They are stories for readers who want their SF and fantasy to make them think, and think hard, about the human condition. And they’re marvelous.

I’ll certainly be looking for more of this author’s work, starting with his previous collection, The Law & the Heart.

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey YatesThe Hero of Hope Springs (Gold Valley, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #10
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Will Gold Valley’s most honorable cowboy finally claim the woman he’s always wanted?
For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…
Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…

My Review:

There’s a big part of me that wants to call this a “friends to lovers” romance. And that’s kind of true. As the story opens – actually, as the entire Gold Valley series opens, Ryder Daniels and Sammy Marshall have been friends, but never lovers. Not for the 17 years that they’ve known each other. And not that Ryder, at least, hasn’t had thoughts in that direction.

Thoughts that he has ruthlessly if not completely suppressed, every time they’ve, well, come up.

That’s something Ryder has had lots of practice with. By that I mean suppressing any thoughts he doesn’t think he can afford to let fester inside his skull – and that he can’t let out of his mouth, either.

But Sammy and Ryder are more than just friends. They’re best friends. They are deep inside each other’s lives, and occupy a whole lot of space inside each other’s hearts. So it feels more like this is a story about two people finally acknowledging a relationship that’s been there all along.

There are, however, a few problems with changing what they are to each other. As it turns out, more than a few. Lots and bunches.

The biggest one being that any attempt to change what they are to each other has the strong possibility of wrecking everything that they are to each other. A risk that neither of them is willing to take.

Until there’s no choice at all.

Escape Rating B-: This is a mixed feelings review in multiple directions. So let’s get right to it.

One of the reasons that I love this author is that she creates tension in romantic situations that feels REAL. The problems between Ryder and Sammy, and there are lots of them, feel organic to their lives and aren’t silly misunderstandammits that could be resolved with a single conversation.

The problem for the reader, or at least this reader, is that a huge chunk of their mutual problem, as much as they are definitely a case of opposites attracting, is that for entirely different reasons both of these people live a lot of their lives inside their own heads.

Ryder’s stuck inside his head because his parents died when he was 18 and about to go off to college on a football scholarship. He had big plans far away from the family ranch. But Ryder was the oldest of several children, and the only way for them all to stay together and keep the ranch was for Ryder to give up his dreams and become a surrogate father to his siblings and his cousins who also lived with them.

So Ryder’s always had LOTS of thoughts about what might have been, what he wished was, and just getting through being a parent when he wasn’t quite done with being a child himself.

Sammy lives inside her own head because it was the only place she could be free. She learned to distance herself emotionally when she couldn’t do it physically while her angry and violent father was taking out all of his disappointments on Sammy – with his fists. While her mother looked on. She left her parents and moved into a tiny camper on the grounds of Ryder’s ranch when she was 16 and he was 18, because he made her feel safe.

He still does.

While the reasons that both Ryder and Sammy live inside their own heads a lot – and with a lot of internal angst – feels like an entirely real response to the situations in their lives. It makes for hard reading. Because they also have their heads inside their own asses a lot, unable to get out of their own ways.

So this is a story where it reads like there’s more internal dialog than external dialog – or action. And that’s right for these characters but drove this reader a bit bananas. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

As I said, I finished this book with mixed feelings. While there was more internal angst than worked for me in a romance, the reason for that angst felt real and true to life. I liked these characters and wanted them to achieve their HEA, but admit to being kind of surprised that they actually managed to do it! But I do enjoy the Gold Valley series so I’m looking forward to seeing Ryder and Sammy again as secondary characters in later books. Especially as it looks like some of Ryder’s siblings are up next!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 7-26-20

Sunday Post

I bought A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking for the title. Some books get bought for their covers, but for this one it was definitely the title. The cover is cute but it isn’t all that. But the book, oh, the book was definitely this week’s winner among some very excellent contenders. I just won’t ever be using Wizard Mona’s recipe for gingerbread. Her book, on the other hand, was terrific!

 

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Feline Good Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Seas the Day Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $20 Gift Card from Rhys Ford and Silk Dragon Salsa is Sandy

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Hearts and Stones by Robin D. Owens
Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery
B Review: Falling for Mr. Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes
A+ Review: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
A Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees
Stacking the Shelves (402)

Coming This Week:

The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates (blog tour review)
Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer (review)
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (review)
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair (review)
The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (402)

Stacking the Shelves

George went in for his ‘snip and chip’ yesterday. He’s fine. He came home and immediately tried to eat ALL the things and destroy ALL the toilet paper. It took hours for him to calm down. But he’s definitely fine.

The stack embiggened again. Embiggen is such a lovely little word, even if it means the size of the virtually towering TBR pile has grown ever larger. Or especially because!

For Review:
The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
Behind the Red Door by Megan Collins
The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader
Breathe the Sky by Michelle Hazen
Everything Here is Under Control by Emily Adrian
The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne
Hearts and Stones (Celta’s HeartMates) by Robin D. Owens (review)
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
How to Catch a Queen (Runaway Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole
If the Boot Fits (Cowboys of California #2) by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Kitty’s Mix-Tape (Kitty Norville #16) by Carrie Vaughn
A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem (Lady’s Guide #1) by Manda Collins
The Less Dead by Denise Mina
Love and Theft by Stan Parish
Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore
Persephone Station by Stina Leicht
The Princess Knight (Scarred Earth #2) by G.A. Aiken
The River Home by Hannah Richell
Voodoo Heart by John Everson
When She Was Good (Cyrus Haven #2) by Michael Robotham

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Kickstarter:
The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
The Year of the Cat: A Cat of Disdainful Looks edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith (Kickstarter)

Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees

Review: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia ReesMiss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 512
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A striking historical novel about an ordinary young British woman sent to uncover a network of spies and war criminals in post-war Germany that will appeal to fans of The Huntress and Transcription.
World War II has just ended, and Britain has established the Control Commission for Germany, which oversees their zone of occupation. The Control Commission hires British civilians to work in Germany, rebuild the shattered nation and prosecute war crimes. Somewhat aimless, bored with her job as a provincial schoolteacher, and unwilling to live with her stuffy genteel parents any longer, twentysomething Edith Graham applies for a job with the Commission—but is instead recruited by the OSS. To them, Edith is perfect spy material…single, ordinary-looking, with a college degree in German. And there’s another thing—the OSS knows that Edith’s brother went to Oxford with one of their most hunted war criminals, Count Kurt von Stabenow, who Edith remembers all too well from before the war.
Intrigued by the challenge, Edith heads to Germany armed with a convincing cover story: she’s an unassuming schoolteacher sent to help resurrect German primary schools. To send information back to her OSS handlers in London, Edith has crafted the perfect alter ego, cookbook author Stella Snelling, who writes a popular magazine cookery column that embeds crucial intelligence within the recipes she collects. But occupied Germany is awash with other spies, collaborators, and opportunists, and as she’s pulled into their world, Edith soon discovers that no one is what they seem to be. The closer she gets to uncovering von Stabenow’s whereabouts—and the network of German civilians who still support him—the greater the danger. 
With a unique, compelling premise, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is a beautifully crafted and gripping novel about daring, betrayal, and female friendship.

My Review:

Welcome to the Cold War. The same as the old war. Well, not exactly. But it feels like all the forces that set up – and set off, World War II are ALL still around. Even the ones that shouldn’t be after the defeat of the Nazis.

At the same time, in 1946 Germany, we also see the opening stages of what history calls the Cold War, which was only cold because most of the actual fighting was conducted through proxies.

But in the immediate aftermath of WW2, we see the seeds for the next 30ish years of history, along with a whole lot of dirty deeds done in the name of patriotism – or just plain survival.

On the one hand, Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook brings this slice of history to life, as Miss Graham finds herself caught between opposing forces – not all of whom were supposed to even be opposing.

As a British operative for the Control Commission for Germany, she’s there to assist with re-opening schools in Germany – and it’s a job that’s sorely needed. On the other hand, she’s trapped in the middle between Operation Paperclip, run by the U.S. and Operation Surgeon, run by Great Britain. Both agencies were formed with the purpose of whitewashing and using selected Nazi personnel with important skills – most famously Wernher von Braun – and denying those people and those skills to the Soviet Union. Justice for the atrocities committed by the Nazis was only to be served on those who were either too infamous to cover up, like Goebbels and Himmler, or too junior or commonplace to be of any use to the victors.

And there was definitely a third hand, that of the people looking for that justice denied. Both the surviving Jewish agents who had seen what happened for themselves, who had lost friends and family and needed an accounting and to see justice served.

Along with Vera Atkins, the director of the Women’s Section of the Strategic Operations Executive in Britain, who needed to find both closure and justice for the operatives that she personally sent into Occupied France and Nazi Germany. Operatives who were betrayed by someone in her own office. She needs to know who, and why, and how, and make sure they get punished for their treason.

If she can. If Edith Graham, using a code derived by a ubiquitous wartime cookbook, can manage to find the information – and keep it from everyone else who wants to use it – and her.

Escape Rating A: Parts of this story have been told before, as part of the action – the search for the fates of the missing female agents – formed the heart of last year’s The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.

But the story told in Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is both larger, and in the end smaller, than that one. Although they do share a character in Vera Atkins, the real-life head of the Women’s Section of the Special Operations Executive. Atkins was the inspiration for Eleanor Trigg in Lost Girls (and also for Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War).

Discovering the fate of those lost agents isn’t the only iron that Edith has in the fire in Germany. The bigger story is the one about the so-called “rehabilitation” of the reputations – and definitely not the beliefs – of any Nazis who had skills that could be useful in the coming Cold War. Even as early as 1946, no one in power seemed to have any appetite for bringing the butchers to justice, while everyone was looking to get a leg up on the opposition. Not to mention sniping at each other over the “best” prizes.

Edith is caught in the middle. She sees the conditions in post-war Germany for the hellscape that they have become. She wants to help those who can be helped – especially the children. She refuses to turn a blind eye to the many and varied forms of corruption all around her, not even the ones perpetrated by her own side.

In spite of being nearly 40, Edith has led a relatively sheltered life. She’s well-meaning, but naive to a fault. A fault that everyone around her is more than willing to exploit, from her German lover from before the war to her secretive cousin lurking somewhere in MI6. She may have come to do a job, but she’s there to be used.

And everyone does.

But in the process, following Edith as she does her best to save what she can, help who she can, and get justice where she can, we see that the idealized history that we’ve been taught about the postwar reconstruction of Germany was far, far from the dirty deeds done that couldn’t see the light of day.

So Edith’s part of this story is personal – and by pulling in to her focus, we’re compelled to follow her journey to its end. And beyond.