Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope

Review: Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. PenelopeUnder a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Pages: 373
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on November 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Four powerhouse authors of fantasy and urban fantasy bring you a feast of romantic midwinter holiday adventures. These heartwarming and pulse-pounding tales celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice, Yule – and holidays from worlds beyond our own. With fancy-dress balls, faery bargains, time travel, blood sacrifice, and festive cocktails, these stories will delight lovers of fantasy and romance, with a dash of seasonal joy.
Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong
The North Yorkshire moors are always a magical place, but they’re particularly enchanting at the holidays…especially if one gets to travel back in time to a Victorian Christmas. For Bronwyn Dale, it is the stuff of dreams. Fancy-dress balls, quirky small-town traditions, even that classic one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells. There’s just the tiny problem of the Butterfly Effect. How does a time-traveler make a difference without disrupting the future forever?
The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel novella to Heirs of Magic, by Jeffe Kennedy
Shapeshifter Prince Rhyian doesn’t especially want to spend the Feast of Moranu at Castle Ordnung. First of all, it’s literally freezing there, an uncomfortable change from the tropical paradise of his home. Secondly, it’s a mossback castle which means thick walls and too many rules. Thirdly, his childhood playmate and current nemesis, Lena, will be there. Not exactly a cause for celebration.
Princess Salena Nakoa KauPo nearly wriggled out of traveling to Ordnung with her parents, but her mother put her foot down declaring that, since everyone who ever mattered to her was going to be there to celebrate the 25th year of High Queen Ursula’s reign, Lena can suffer through a feast and a ball for one night. Of course, “everyone” includes the sons and daughters of her parents’ friends, and it also means that Rhyian, insufferable Prince of the Tala, will attend.
But on this special anniversary year, Moranu’s sacred feast falls on the long night of the crystalline moon—and Rhy and Lena discover there’s more than a bit of magic in the air.
Blood Martinis and Mistletoe by Melissa Marr
Half-dead witch Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead--and spends her free time trying not to get too attached to her business partner, Eli Stonecroft, a faery in self-imposed exile in New Orleans. With a killer at her throat and a blood martini in her hand, Gen accepts what seems like a straight-forward faery bargain, but soon realizes that if she can't figure out a way out of this faery bargain, she'll be planning a wedding after the holidays.
Echoes of Ash & Tears, an Earthsinger Chronicles Novella, by L. Penelope
Brought to live among the Cavefolk as an infant, Mooriah has long sought to secure her place in the clan and lose her outsider status. She’s a powerful blood mage, and when the chieftain’s son asks for help securing the safety of the clan, she agrees. But though she’s long been drawn to the warrior, any relationship between the two is forbidden. The arrival of a mysterious stranger with a tempting offer tests her loyalties, and when betrayal looms, will Mooriah’s secrets and hidden power put the future she’s dreamed of—and her adopted home—in jeopardy.

My Review:

If it’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays where you are, this collection is a terrific way to get into the holiday spirit. Or spirits, as the case might be, for multiple definitions thereof. It certainly made me shiver with the remembered chill and sparkle of the kiss of snow, even if we don’t get much of that around here.

There are five stories in this little collection, all featuring winter and some type of solstice or longest night type story, and all with just a little bit of something extra.

It could be those holiday spirits, although not necessarily Christmas or Yule, as not all of these stories take place on our Earth. These are all some variety of fantasy romance, so the world is not necessarily the world we know – at least not quite.

Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong is a bit of a time-travel story, and it is set in our world and does feature Christmas. But it isn’t quite the one we recognize – although it sorta/kinda is in a delicious way.

Because the Christmas that Lady Bronwyn Thorne is celebrating is an honest-to-goodness Victorian holiday, in the Victorian era where she spends part of her life. The Victorian Christmas celebration is the one on which many of our contemporary traditions, at least in Britain and North America, are based. As a historian, it’s the era that is nearest and dearest to Bronwyn’s heart – as is her husband who she met in that time period, but has married in both.

This was a lovely little story, and I enjoyed its evocation of the holiday spirit as well as feeling for Bronwyn’s time-travel dilemma. At the same time, this story feels like a coda to another, longer story, only because it is. This is the followup to A Stitch in Time, which is wrapped around the romance between Bronwyn and her Victorian-era husband William, and I very much wish I’d read that first.

Likewise, the only other story set at least partially in our world, Blood Martinis & Mistletoe by Melissa Marr, read like just the kind of urban fantasy that I love to sink my teeth into. But this was also part of the author’s Faery Bargains series, and I felt like I’d missed all of the setup which is in the first book in the series, The Wicked and the Dead. Which I now very much want to read because this seems awesome.

(Actually I bought the first books in both of these series because I was so intrigued.)

And now I have to confess two things before I get to my favorite story in the collection.

I didn’t read L. Penelope’s Earthsinger story because I haven’t read the series, and I just didn’t want to get teased yet again by a story that is even more bang in the middle of a series than the previous two.

And, as much as I was looking forward to reading the Grace Draven story, because I have read at least some of her Wraith Kings series, that story wasn’t included in my eARC. C’est la vie.

But, but, but, the story I got this collection for was definitely there. And I’m so happy about that.

I love Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Kingdoms/Chronicles of Dasnaria mega-series, so I’m always up for more. And The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel for Heirs of Magic, her upcoming series set in the same world, certainly delivered.

Did it ever!

The story is “the Next Generation” of that long-running saga, taking place 25 years after the (final?) defeat of the evil Deyrr at the end of the (now we know it’s not) final book, The Fate of the Tala. Which I adored even though I was sorry to see the whole thing wrap up.

I always hoped the saga would continue, so this was a treat from beginning to end.

What’s lovely about this one is that we get to see everyone we met in the previous series, know that they are all doing well and that they have all managed to have their happy ever afters. HEAs that they all definitely earned.

But this story focuses not on the previous heroes, but rather on their children, all of whom are now adults – albeit some more mature than others. Then again, that’s kind of the nature of being in one’s 20s, figuring out who one really is and what kind of a future one is looking for.

Or, in the case of these seven princes, princesses and princelings, the kind of future that is barreling towards them at breakneck speed – even if they don’t know it yet.

So, on the surface, we have the story of the longest night of the year, coupled with a romance that could either be a second-chance-at-love or a story of two lovers who missed their chance and need to close that door before their future truly begins.

The question of which it is going to be is not quite answered by the end of this story about unfinished business and lost chances because a much more dangerous future rears its ugly head just as we think there might be a resolution.

All those delicious and perilous chances are left hanging off the edge of a sheer cliff when the interlude closes, leaving readers – especially this one – absolutely salivating for what is to come.

I can’t wait. Hopefully I won’t have to wait long, as the projected publication date in Goodreads says next month!

Howsomever, just like the other stories in this collection, The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon is not the place to start your journey with this fantastic series. Start with The Mark of the Tala and settle in for a wonderful reading binge.

Possibly a long enough – and certainly captivating enough – binge to carry you through until spring!

Escape Rating A-: I got this collection for the Jeffe Kennedy story, and I loved that story, so that makes the whole thing a win. I liked both the Armstrong and the Marr stories enough that I bought the previous books in their respective series’ so also a win. I felt the chill of winter snow even in the warm Atlanta fall weather so even more of a win for bringing me just the right taste of a season that I don’t have to experience too much of, definitely a win all the way around! If you are into any or all of the series featured in this collection, you’re in for a treat!

Review: The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich

Review: The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. MalerichThe Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, historical fantasy, historical fiction
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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C. S. Malerich's The Factory Witches of Lowell is a riveting historical fantasy about witches going on strike in the historical mill-town of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Faced with abominable working conditions, unsympathetic owners, and hard-hearted managers, the mill girls of Lowell have had enough. They're going on strike, and they have a secret weapon on their side: a little witchcraft to ensure that no one leaves the picket line.
For the young women of Lowell, Massachusetts, freedom means fair wages for fair work, decent room and board, and a chance to escape the cotton mills before lint stops up their lungs. When the Boston owners decide to raise the workers’ rent, the girls go on strike. Their ringleader is Judith Whittier, a newcomer to Lowell but not to class warfare. Judith has already seen one strike fold and she doesn’t intend to see it again. Fortunately Hannah, her best friend in the boardinghouse—and maybe first love?—has a gift for the dying art of witchcraft.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

This is a story about a group of women who grab their own agency, take back their own power and harness their own magic.

And it’s definitely magical.

The “mill girls” of Lowell, their lives and working conditions, make an interesting story to begin with, even before adding in witchcraft.

Not that the real women who worked in the mills weren’t called unnatural, as well as witches and bitches every single time they went on strike, or as it was called then, a “turn out”. Because these women, mostly young, were able to live away from their families, earn their own wages and save their own money by working in the mills.

It was revolutionary.

At the same time, as is detailed in this story, the conditions really were brutal. The work days started early, ended late, the windows were closed winter and summer, the noise was “infernal” and their leisure time was both limited in duration and ringed round with conditions about where they could go, what they could do, how long they could be away.

It was still freedom – of a sort. More freedom than they would have in the homes they came from for many of them.

It was also, as the residents of many a “company town” discovered, a chain that was difficult to break, as the company they worked for controlled the wages they were paid AND the cost of their food and lodging. As this story begins, and as occurred in real history in 1836, the company could squeeze its workers between the rock of their wages and the hard place of their living expenses at any time and seemingly without recourse.

The recourse that the female mill workers in the story take is the same one that the real mill workers took in the fall of 1836. They went on strike.

The striking workers in this story had a weapon that their real-life historical sisters did not. They had witchcraft. They had the power to make their strike into a magically binding pact. And they had the leadership to make that binding so strong that even the mills bent to their will.

Not just figuratively by giving in, but literally. By magic. And by the power of love.

Escape Rating A-:This was lovely and surprisingly charming, even though the conditions under which the “mill girls” worked were anything but.

What made this story “sing” was the way that the magic of witchcraft, which is always considered to be “women’s magic” and therefore “less than”, wraps itself around the bones of the history like the weft of the women’s work wrapped around the warp of the looms.

And then there’s the character of Judith, and her love for Hannah. In a way, everything Judith does is about her love for Hannah. And they weave together as well. Because Judith is the leader and the organizer. She is the driving force behind the strike and the union and the witchcraft. And yet, it’s not her power. Judith has no “craft” of her own. The craft is Hannah’s. It’s only together that they can achieve the impossible, holding the strike – and saving Hannah’s life.

Their love, and their desire to save each other is the grace note that makes this story just rise.

One of the marvelous things about this story is that it is complete in and of itself, in spite of its relatively short length. Not that I wouldn’t love to know about what happened to all of them, particularly Judith and Hannah. But I don’t have to know to feel satisfied. They lived, they loved, and even if they spent the rest of their lives together fighting the long defeat against the powerful mill owners, it’s clear from the end of the story that there will be plenty of joy for them in that fight.

This is a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. Rather, it ends in a kind of “happy for now”. The Factory Girls Union of Lowell really can’t win the long war against the rich and rapacious “gentlemen” who own the mills. But as the story ends, they have won a big victory, and are firmly resolved to continue the fight. As they did.

As unions continue to do to this day. Unfortunately without the witchcraft – as far as we know.

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney MilanThe Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Wedgeford Trials #1
Pages: 311
Published by Courtney Milan on September 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.
Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

My Review:

I couldn’t settle down to read any of the things I had planned this weekend (Gee, I wonder why?) and this looked like fun and fluff, and this was a good weekend to read something about a woman of color with agency in a time and place where it wasn’t the norm, because, again gee, there’s a lot of glass lying around from all the ceilings that got broken over the weekend.

The Duke Who Didn’t turned out to be the perfect thing to read this weekend. Not that it’s perfect, exactly, but that it had just the right mixture of fun, fluff, fantasy and romance to get me into it and encourage me to keep the smile that was already splitting my face.

There is just a bit of a fantasy feel at the beginning of The Duke Who Didn’t. That this story takes place in the southeast of England in 1891, in a village whose population is primarily British-Chinese seems just a bit outside readers’ expectations of late-Victorian era English-set historical romance. That the village has a well-known once-a-year contest – with slightly obscure rules – that temporarily explodes the population, sounds a bit like Brigadoon a place that only comes to life once a year. That’s not quite the situation here, but comparisons could be drawn.

That the contest has a basis in historical reality is kind of the icing on the cake. The story is definitely the cake. Or possibly it’s a delicious steam bun, a bao, filled with pork and exquisite sauce. Actually the story is a lot about the sauce. Because Chloe Fong is all about the sauce – especially when she’s trying not to be all about Jeremy Yu. And even when she is.

Escape Rating A-: I’m bringing in the rating early because this is a book that is just so much fun that I need to squee about the details. Not all the details, but enough to get you to pick up this book.

On the one hand, the community of Wedgeford doesn’t quite seem historically real, because of its mixed race, primarily Chinese-British, population. At the same time, I don’t care, although if such a community existed, I’d love to know. But if the options for representation in historical fiction involve a little bit of handwavium, I’m all for it. I don’t need historical accuracy in my historical fiction, I just need historical plausibility – and that is definitely present.

The story of the origins of Wedgeford as it exists in this story feels possible – maybe not likely – but possible. And it’s enough to make the leap into willing suspension of disbelief. Because the author doesn’t gloss over Jeremy’s, and Chloe’s, “acceptance” in the rest of British society – it’s every bit as awful as we imagine. The entire world isn’t different – just this one tiny corner of it.

A part of the premise of this story has been done before, and multiple times, including in A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian. Jeremy Yu is the Duke of Lansing, the man who in fact owns the entire town of Wedgeford, lock, stock, barrel and every single house and building in the place. But his estate hasn’t collected rents in over 50 years, and he has no plans to ever start.

Jeremy has been coming to Wedgeford since he was 12 or so, once a year for the Wedgeford Trials. He’s never told anyone in Wedgeford that he’s the Duke. He doesn’t want anyone in Wedgeford to know that he’s the Duke, because they would treat him differently.

And he really, really doesn’t want to be treated differently. Wedgeford is the one place in England where he can be exactly who he is without apology, a young British-Chinese man who is proud of his heritage. ALL of his heritage and not just the bits that are acceptable to British so-called “polite” society.

In other stories, like the above mentioned A Duke in Disguise, the hidden Duke’s, well, ducalness, comes as a great shock to all when it is finally revealed. Jeremy’s story turns that on its head wonderfully in a way that I won’t reveal. It’s a way that should have been obvious to both Jeremy and the reader, but wasn’t. What it was was delightful. Absolutely.

Actually, delightful is the best word for the whole story. The portrait of the community is lovely, the trials themselves are an absolute hoot, and in the middle of it all is the oh-so-organized Miss Chloe Fong, her dreams, her ambitions and all of her lists, her love for her father and her need to help him get revenge on the British gentlemen who stole his work and his recipe and tossed him to the curb. And her lists. Have I mentioned her obsessive lists? Chloe certainly would. She’s never without them.

And then there’s the food. The descriptions of the food are absolutely mouth-watering, as is the romance between Jeremy and Chloe, the serious young woman and the trickster who adores her. To the point of willingly consuming endless meals of hot peppers in order to gain her father’s respect. Or at least his forbearance.

So come for the Trials, and stay for this saucy tale of love and tasty revenge. Revenge served not cold this time, but hot, flavored with the best sauce ever..

Review: Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi

Review: Murder by Other Means by John ScalziMurder by Other Means (The Dispatcher #2) by John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, thriller, urban fantasy
Series: Dispatcher #2
Published by Audible Studios on September 10th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Welcome to the new world, in which murder is all but a thing of the past. Because when someone kills you, 999 times out of 1,000, you instantly come back to life. In this world, there are dispatchers—licensed killers who step in when you’re at risk of a natural or unintentional death. They kill you—so you can live.

Tony Valdez is used to working his job as a dispatcher within the rules of the law and the state. But times are tough, and more and more Tony finds himself riding the line between what’s legal and what will pay his bills. After one of these shady gigs and after being a witness to a crime gone horribly wrong, Tony discovers that people around him are dying, for reasons that make no sense...and which just may implicate him.

Tony is running out of time: to solve the mystery of these deaths, to keep others from dying, and to keep himself from being a victim of what looks like murder, by other means.

My Review:

The character of Tony Valdez and the world he inhabits was introduced in the first Dispatcher story, fittingly titled The Dispatcher. And unlike this second entry in the series, The Dispatcher is available as a hardcover and an ebook, so if the premise sounds intriguing but audiobooks aren’t your thing, you can get a taste for the story that way. (Also, I don’t think anyone will be surprised when a book version of Murder by Other Means turns up. Eventually. But patience is not one of my virtues so I was haunting Audible as soon as I heard this was coming up so I could get a pre-order in.)

The world that Tony Valdez inhabits – or that produced him, take your pick – is fascinating. And weird. And yet, not all that different from our own. Except in one, rather singular, particular. One day, in the not distant at all future, murder becomes theoretically impossible. Suicide and accidents both still happen, but murder, not so much. 999 times out of a 1000 not so much.

Which doesn’t mean that killing people for a living isn’t still kind of a soul-destroying way to pay the rent. Even if it is legal. The person still dies. They still spray their blood and bone matter all over the killer. Then they vanish – along with the mess you made of them, only to reappear, whole and intact and alive, someplace they considered safe. Usually home. Always naked.

So dispatching people has become a job. A licensed, regulated and controlled job. And Tony Valdez is a dispatcher. Someone who dispatches people for a living.

As this story opens, it’s become a poor living. The legal and ethical markets for dispatching, mostly hospitals, have dried up due to budget cuts. Leaving Tony behind on his rent and his bills, and willing to do some dispatching that isn’t exactly on the up and up.

After all, dispatching business people so they can beat a competitor to a lucrative deal isn’t remotely covered by Tony’s license to kill. But it does pay a lot of cash money. And it comes with more headaches than Tony ever imagined.

Because someone has figured out a way around that whole people can’t be murdered anymore thing. And Tony has to prove it before he gets taken out the same way, murdered by other means.

Escape Rating A: John Scalzi has a very fine line in snark. In fact, his snarkitude is a good chunk of what I read him – or in this case listen to him – FOR. His characters generally do a marvelous chuckle-with-a-grimace job at making me chuckle with that grimace, because they manage to say all the clever things that most of us figure out long after a conversation is done while said conversation is still going on – when that smart-aleck-ness can be delivered with full force – even if it’s just within the confines of the characters own head.

Which is where we spend the entirety of Murder by Other Means. In Tony Valdez’ head.

There’s also usually at least one character in each of this author’s stories that feels like it’s the voice of the author’s public persona, and in this particular series, it’s definitely Tony. Meaning that if you like Tony’s “voice” in this story there’s a very good chance you’ll like the author’s other work as well, including his blog, Whatever. If Tony’s too snarky for your taste than probably Scalzi is too. I digress.

As I said, the snarkitude is what I read this author for.

Something that I wasn’t expecting, but loved all the same, was Tony’s Chicago. Even more so than the first book in this series, Tony’s Chicago sounded and felt like the Chicago I remember, to the point where I’m pretty sure that at one point I lived in the same neighborhood that Tony does.

Even the “L” stops are the same. So when Tony described buildings and places, it was more than just seeing them in my head. I remembered them in a way that invoked a profound familiarity as well as nostalgia. I was just there in a way that doesn’t happen often but was utterly wonderful.

This week has turned out to be bookended by stories set in Chi-Town, and that trip down memory lane – however twisted into fiction – has been lovely.

But this is, primarily, a mystery story – even if it does have a futuristic and/or urban fantasy type vibe. It honestly feels more like urban fantasy, as Tony’s Chicago doesn’t feel all that far away in time from the now. And there’s no science. No one knows why people stopped dying by murder. It could be science. It could be magic. It could be a deus ex machina. And it doesn’t matter.

What matters is the human response to the change. And that is something that we get a terrific perspective on through Tony’s eyes and in Tony’s voice. The fascination in the story is that the circumstances may change, but human beings are still totally screwed up.

And the way that they are – that we are – screwed up leads both to the crime and its solution in a way that keeps the reader in Tony’s head long after his voice (marvelously brought to life by Zachary Quinto) fades away.

Review: The Patriots by Winston Groom

Review: The Patriots by Winston GroomThe Patriots: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the Making of America by Winston Groom
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, history, U.S. history
Pages: 464
Published by National Geographic on September 8, 2020
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this masterful narrative, Winston Groom brings his signature storytelling panache to the intricately crafted tale of three of our nation's most fascinating founding fathers--Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams--and paints a vivid picture of the improbable events, bold ideas, and extraordinary characters who created the United States of America.
When the Revolutionary War ended in victory, there remained the stupendous problem of how to establish a workable democratic government in the vast, newly independent country. Three key founding fathers played significant roles: John Adams, the brilliant, dour, thin-skinned New Englander; Thomas Jefferson, the aristocratic Southern renaissance man; and Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. In this complex and riveting narrative, best-selling author Winston Groom tells the story of these men--all of whom served in George Washington's first cabinet--as the patriots fundamentally responsible for the ideas that shaped the foundation of the United States. Their lives and policies could not have been more different; their relationships with each other were complex, and often rife with animosity. And yet these three men led the charge--two of them creating and signing the Declaration of Independence, and the third establishing a national treasury and the earliest delineation of a Republican party. The time in which they lived was fraught with danger; the smell of liberty was in the air, though their excitement was strained by vast antagonisms that recall the intense political polarization of today. But through it all, they managed to shoulder the heavy mantle of creating the United States of America, putting aside their differences to make a great country, once and always. Drawing on extensive correspondence, epic tales of war, and rich histories of their day-to-day interactions, best-selling author Winston Groom shares the remarkable story of the beginnings of our great nation.

My Review:

One thing the play Hamilton got right – these three men really didn’t like each other much, although Adams and Jefferson did reconcile in old age. Which doesn’t mean that they didn’t manage to work together for the good of the country they helped to create.

There’s definitely a lesson in there. Maybe we’ll start acting upon that lesson again.

It’s clear from this book – unlike the U.S. History classes most of us took in school – that there was nothing inevitable about the American Experiment in general or the American Revolution in particular.

Every other country on the planet thought that the ragtag army of the fledgling country was going to lose. And by rights it should have. The British Army was the premier fighting force in the entire world in the late 18th century. They had us outgunned, outmanned, and out pretty much everything else.

But they also had a very long supply line in a war that was expensive to prosecute. A war over territory that their own people didn’t think much about or care much about. And we had George Washington, who knew that he just had to keep himself and some kind of army out of the hands of the British for the tide to turn.

Not the tide of war, but the tide of British willingness to prosecute that war.

But the country that the Revolution gave birth to was every bit as fractured as the country we live in today – if not more so. And along some of the same lines. Lines that were baked into the compromises made by the three men profiled in this book, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

They kicked the can down the road, in the sure and certain knowledge – from their perspective – that the most important thing was having that can to kick. They compromised to keep the American Experiment alive.

It’s time for us to do our parts.

Escape Rating A-: I read this on Election Day and Ballot Counting Day (11/3 and 11/4) and it is impossible to separate my reading from real life events, going on in real time, that are the direct result of the actions and compromises that fill this book and our history.

So this is a book that made me think and feel a lot about this country and where it currently stands. About the work the Founders left for us to do, and about the difficulties involved in doing it.

But I need to talk about the book. First, it is imminently readable. It was so easy to just get sucked in and stay sucked, making it a perfect read for the occasion in multiple ways.

It probably helps that the story begins with Hamilton, and does so in such a way that it puts flesh on the bones of a story that we are now so familiar with. At this moment in time, Hamilton feels like the most accessible of the “founding fathers” so starting with him doesn’t just make sense but draws the reader right into the narrative.

So even though this book is heavily researched and has lots of footnotes and an extensive bibliography, it NEVER gets bogged down by that research. Instead it illuminates it in a way that brings these men, with all their flaws as well as their virtues, to life.

Although, speaking of illustrations, the print edition of this book is undoubtedly heavily illustrated. However, the eARC does not include the pictures. This is one of those times when I really, really wish I’d gotten a print copy to review, because the illustrations I have seen in various promotional materials for the book are both illustrative and gorgeous.

As I said, I’m writing this review on November 4, which is Ballot Counting Day or Obsessive Doomscrolling Day or a nauseating combination of the two. That we have a country to vote in and vote for is the legacy of these three men among many others both sung and unsung. The compromises that they enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in order to get both abolitionists and slaveholders, industrial states and farming states, those who feared the government would be overwhelmed by masses of urban voters and those who feared that lower-population rural voters would hold back progress brought us the U.S. Senate as it is currently configured and the Electoral College.

They respected each other – whether they could stand each other or not – and they compromised so that we’d have a country to improve upon. Their work is done. Our work continues. After all, they didn’t leave us “a more perfect union” – only the tools with which to achieve it.

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Review: Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark

Review: Ring Shout by P. Djeli ClarkRing Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, fantasy, historical fiction, horror
Pages: 192
Published by Tordotcom on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan's reign of terror.
D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.
Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she's not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she's fighting monsters she calls "Ku Kluxes." She's damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh--and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

My Review:

Ring Shout is perched rather comfortably at the top of a pyramid whose sides consist of horror, very dark fantasy and historical fiction. That pyramid feels like a fitting image, as its top comes to a sharp point – just like the heads of the Ku Kluxes that Maryse and her compatriots are hunting.

And being hunted by.

The bones of the story come straight out of fantasy – albeit a fantasy so dark that it sidles up to horror and oozes over the border.

In this version of our world, there are other worlds that exist in other dimensions. Worlds that contain beings that think we’re food, or toys, or both. This is a classic trope in fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.

But this is where Ring Shout bleeds over into historical fiction – and is made all the more horrific because of it.

The film The Birth of a Nation was every bit the disgusting phenomenon that is described in the story – without the special showing on Stone Mountain, which is its own kind of horror.

What takes this story from historical fiction to fantasy and horror is the result of that showing. That the film was a spell that allowed the beings that Maryse calls Ku Kluxes to invade our Earth with the intent of taking over. As invaders do.

An apologist would claim that it was the Ku Kluxes that committed all of the evils, fostered all of the racial hatred and hate-motivated violence that the Ku Klux Klan was infamous for. But this isn’t that kind of story. This isn’t about the myth of the so-called “Lost Cause” and there is absolutely no whitewash.

Because this isn’t a story about aliens doing bad things. This is a story about humans being so evil that they invite the aliens in so they can indulge in more evil without even the tiniest bits of remorse or conscience.

And that’s what Maryse and her friends are fighting. They’re fighting the monsters. They’re fighting the humans who have given themselves so far over to the monster within that they have become the monster.

It’s a fight that is righteous, but it is not a fight without casualties or costs. But Maryse’s cause is just, and just like so many champions of just causes that face overwhelming odds, she comes with a fiery sword with which to smite her enemies – once she recognizes, for once and for all, who and what they really are.

Escape Rating A+: I picked this today because this is Halloween weekend. I knew this book would be scary, but from the blurbs I wasn’t totally sure whether the horror was more Lovecraftian or more metaphorical.

The answer to that question is “yes”. Absolutely yes. It’s not one or the other, it’s very much both. And all the stronger – and more frightening – because of it. Because we all want to believe that human beings just couldn’t be that bad without outside interference, even though we know that they can be and are.

Thinking about this story, I realized that this would still be horror-tinged fantasy without the historical elements. It feels like that version could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone – or maybe it was. But that version isn’t half as scary as the one with the historic elements.

Because human beings always behave way worse than we like to think about, or than the white-bread-vanilla TV of the original Twilight Zone era was willing to portray. Ring Shout draws a lot of its fear-factor from the fact that we know humans are awful. That power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and that white people in the U.S. have had one type of absolute power or another over people of color since the founding of the country.

With that historical element, Ring Shout is utterly compelling. We feel both the horror of this story – and the horrors of the present that it invokes.

At the same time, it is a story, an extremely dark fantasy bordering on Lovecraftian horror. As Lovecraft himself was someone who hated a lot of people, I love that a writer has used his kind of horror to tell a story where the hero is a black woman – someone Lovecraft would have hated on both counts.

I also love Maryse as the hero because she so fits the fantasy hero mold – even though she shouldn’t. She’s the prophesied champion, she has the legendary sword, she even rescues her male lover who actually gets fridged – in grave danger and under threat of death. The role reversal was marvelous.

In a peculiar way, Ring Shout also felt like a bit of a shout out to A Wrinkle in Time. Not just because the Ku Kluxes seemed to come from someplace like Camizotz, but really because the three Aunties felt like Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, who in their turn are the representatives of the Three Fates and pretty much every other trio of wise, prophesying and/or witchy women who have ever graced a myth.

Which Ring Shout also feels like it is.

Last but not least, reading Ring Shout felt like it was another side to the same dice that rolled up The Deep by Rivers Solomon. That this is another story that takes a piece of the horrors of the African American experience and gives it the power for its own people that it should have – instead of being about the power of everyone else.

Review: The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

Review: The Memory of Souls by Jenn LyonsThe Memory of Souls (A Chorus of Dragons, #3) by Jenn Lyons
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chorus of Dragons #3
Pages: 640
Published by Tor Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Memory of Souls is the third epic fantasy in Jenn Lyons’ Chorus of Dragons series.
THE LONGER HE LIVESTHE MORE DANGEROUS HE BECOMES
Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever.
To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.
Worse, Kihrin must come to terms with the horrifying possibility that his connection to the king of demons, Vol Karoth, is growing steadily in strength.
How can he hope to save anyone when he might turn out to be the greatest threat of them all?

My Review:

This shouldn’t work. It really, really shouldn’t. But it oh so very much does.

The Memory of Souls is the third book (out of five, dammit) in A Chorus of Dragons. With each book, the plot gets more convoluted, the politics get both more corrupt and even more twisted, the cast of characters grows almost exponentially, and things go pear-shaped so often and in so many different and competing ways that the shape has become a permanent condition.

And it all just keeps getting better and better with each installment.

The whole thing is also so inverted and convoluted and twisted and upside-down and every other direction that it should take forever to get into each new book. But it doesn’t. The minute I start, I’m instantly sucked right back in, and all the insane details come rushing right back.

At least the details I think I know. Part of the incredible charm of this series so far is that what I think I know, for that matter what the characters think they know, keeps doing handstands and kickstands and headstands.

Nothing is as it seems. Or perhaps it’s better to say that no one is as they seem. Or both. Definitely both.

The Ruin of Kings was a sword. The Name of All Things was one of the cornerstones of this world. Following the pattern, I was expecting The Memory of Souls to be an object of some sort.

But it’s not. It’s literally the memory that souls carry with them of who they were, in ALL their previous lives. It’s as if, in the iconic Star Wars scene, instead of saying, “Luke, I am your father” Vader had said, “Luke, in my last life I was your father.” Which actually happens to one of the characters in THIS story, and it has just as much impact.

That’s a big part of the way that this entry in the series makes everything more and more and even more complex. Because all of the protagonists don’t just know who they are – for sideways definitions of “who” and “they” and “are” – but they also remember who they have been in all of their previous lives.

Every single relationship in the present is complicated by the relationships in the past. In a previous life, Teraeth and Janel were married. In that previous life, Kihrin was the son she died birthing. Although in a previous life to that one, Kihrin and Janel were lovers. In this life they’re probably going to end up as a triad, if they survive – GIGANTIC IF – and if they can manage to get past all of the crap they’re all dragging from all of the previous relationships between them.

Theirs isn’t even the most complicated. In this life, Doc is Teraeth’s father. The Goddess of Death is Teraeth’s mother. And Doc’s wife Valathea used to be Kihrin’s harp. Like I said, it’s complicated.

This is also one of those epic fantasies that I refer to as “walking like a duck and quacking like a duck but not actually being a duck.” Like Pern. A Chorus of Dragons reads like fantasy, including magic and those dragons. But the original people on this planet are all interplanetary refugees. So it’s also sorta/kinda science fiction-y.

And it absolutely has to be read in order to make any kind of sense. So you care about Kihrin and Janel and Teraeth and Thurvishar – and whether any of them are going to manage to survive the saving and destroying of the world. Because they’re probably going to be simultaneous. Or close to it. And possibly even in that order.

Unless Kihrin manages to find another way to get them all out of the mess that the beings known as the 8 Immortals, or the 8 Guardians, who are thought of as gods but definitely are not, have gotten them all into.

Whether Relos Var, who began as the villain and may still be the villain, or maybe not, is planning to save the world or end it or both. This is literally a story about the end of the world as they know it, and so far, nobody feels fine. At all. Or thinks they ever will again. In any life.

Escape Rating A++: Last year’s entry in this series, The Name of All Things, was the first time I officially gave an A++ rating. The Memory of Souls is a worthy successor. This is a rare case where an epic fantasy series seems to just keep getting better and better as it goes along – as well as getting way more complicated – while still remaining fascinating and comprehensible to anyone who has been along for the entire ride.

In other words, and I really can’t say this enough, you can’t start here, you have to start at the beginning – and it is so worth it.

I have the eARC of this one. I’m generally an ebook reader. But this is one story where the audiobook is vastly superior. There are several reasons for this. One is just the way that the story is being told. In this entry, Kihrin and Thurvishar are reading pieces of the story to each other, up until the very last chapter when Thurvishar is left to, let’s call it, speculate about what happened after he and Kihrin parted company.

They’re reading their own personal accounts plus every other scrap of information that Thurvishar, seemingly the official chronicler, has managed to gather. But Thurvishar is a historian and an academic, as well as, in the opinion of at least one of their sometime companions, a storyteller who can’t seem to resist making things up on entirely too many occasions. As he does at the end of this book.

Which also means that Thurvishar doesn’t just read his own parts to Kihrin, he can’t manage to stop himself from commenting on ALL of the parts, adding facts and opinions willy nilly. Something which works fantastically well in audio, and fails miserably in an ebook. Making this a rare case where my first choice would be the audio and the hardback second.

Especially considering that the readers for this entry in the series, Feodor Chin and Vikas Adam, are utterly fantastic. I just wish I was 100% certain which of them is Kihrin and which is Thurvishar. It doesn’t matter for the enjoyment of the audio, I just really, really want to know.

I finished the audio in the middle of Atlanta rush-hour traffic and just kind of sat there and stewed as I drove the rest of the way home. This series gives rise to absolutely epic book hangovers, fitting for this truly epic series.

I expect this series to just continue getting better and better. After all, The Memory of Souls is a middle-book that completely ignores that it’s a middle book, refuses to end in a slough of despond and instead leaves the reader hanging, absolutely on fire, at the edge of a cliff.

I can’t wait for book four, The House of Always, scheduled for May of 2021. Not nearly damn soon enough. Although I’m still laughing about the God of Little Houses. And you will, too.

Review: The Secret Women by Sheila Williams

Review: The Secret Women by Sheila WilliamsThe Secret Women by Sheila Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Amistad on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, now a Netflix film starring Alfre Woodard, returns with a riveting, emotionally rich, novel that explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters in a fresh, vibrant way—a stunning page-turner for fans of Terry McMillan, Tayari Jones, and Kimberla Lawson Roby.

Elise Armstrong, Carmen Bradshaw, and DeeDee Davis meet in a yoga class. Though vastly different, these women discover they all have one thing in common: their mothers have recently passed away. Becoming fast friends, the trio make a pact to help each other sort through the belongings their mothers’ left behind. But when they find old letters and diaries, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee are astonished to learn that each of their mothers hid secrets—secrets that will transform their own lives.

Meeting each month over margaritas, the trio share laughter, advice, and support. As they help each other overcome challenges and celebrate successes, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee gain not only a better understanding of the women their mothers were, but of themselves. They also come to realize they have what their mothers needed most but did not have during difficult times—other women they could trust.

Filled with poignant life lessons, The Secret Women pays tribute to the power of friendship and family and the bonds that tie us together. Beautiful, full of spirit and heart, it is a thoughtful and ultimately uplifting story of unconditional love.

My Review:

I picked this up because the story was wrapped around family secrets that three women discover in the process of grieving for their mothers’ deaths. This was also the central theme of another book that I read recently, the excellent but completely different Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker.

Although the stories share something besides their theme, as both are set in my own hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

I’m attracted to stories like these because I lost my own mother three years ago this December. Everyone’s grief process is different, although stories like this certainly all live up to that old saying about all happy families being alike while misery seems to have a thousand mothers – and fathers.

But stories like this one have resonance for me, especially this time of year, and especially when the women are somewhere in mid-life or thereabouts, as Elise, Carmen and DeeDee certainly are.

All three women are somewhere in mid-life, all are black, and all are having difficulties dealing with the deaths of their mothers – however recently or not. And all of them are stuck wading through the detritus left behind, both in the sense of physical material and emotional baggage.

Elise in particular has an entire apartment full of stuff to go through and make decisions about. Her mother was a ruthlessly organized woman, which is the only thing that kept her from being featured as a hoarder. Her condo and its storage area are full to the brim with her many, many collections, starting with, but definitely not ending with, 15 complete sets of dishes. Not 15 place settings of dishes, 15 sets of 12 or so place settings each. Along with similar amounts of clothing, jewelry, collectibles, knick-knacks and whatnots. Lots of whatnots.

So these women bond, a bit over their yoga class and their snarky comments about their rigid drill instructor of an instructor, somewhat over the losses they haven’t managed to process, and definitely over a shared need to make peace with the women their mothers’ were by dealing with the secrets they left behind.

And the boxes. Boxes of jewelry, boxes of letters and especially boxes of secrets that bring home the realization that none of them really knew their mothers, not the secret women that their mothers really were.

Escape Rating A: Elise, Carmen and DeeDee have reached this point from three very different journeys, and the secrets that they uncover, both about their mothers and about themselves, are all equally different. They cover a spectrum of mother-daughter relationships and women’s lives that will have a lot of resonance for any woman.

Elise is the one with the most regret, DeeDee is the one who has the most to remember, and Carmen is the one who uncovers the biggest revelation.

There, that was cryptic.

Elise has both the hardest journey, because her loss is the most recent, but also the simplest. She has to empty her mother’s condo and she has to forgive herself for not accepting her mother’s new romantic relationship. Her mother moved on from her father’s death, while Elise mostly didn’t. But there are relatively simple ways for Elise to still find closure and forgiveness, and she eventually does. Her issues aren’t easy – none of this is easy, but they are simple.

DeeDee, whose mother has been gone the longest, has to reach back into her own memory to reset what she thinks and feels about her mother, and how those memories have affected her relationships with her sister and her own daughters.

Bipolar disorder runs through DeeDee’s family, and her mother suffered from both that disorder and severe postpartum depression, which most likely exacerbated each other. The traumatic childhoods of both DeeDee and her sister – who inherited the disorder – still haunts her. In finally opening the boxes her mother left behind, DeeDee is finally able to remember the good as well as the bad, and to begin to let her own daughters know the artistic genius their grandmother was.

The secrets that Carmen uncovers change her perception of who she herself is and her place in the world, as the boxes her mother left behind reveal her life as a young woman, before she married Carmen’s father and became a preacher’s wife. A time when she traveled the world. A time when she married Carmen’s natural father. When she became a very young widow, and when her young husband’s mother erased both Carmen and her mother from her dead son’s life. Because his mother never accepted her son’s black, gentile wife and their mixed race child.

Carmen’s mother believed that her first mother-in-law’s rejection and erasure was solely because she was black. It’s possible that at least some of that attitude was religiously motivated, as it was not unheard of for Jewish parents at that time to consider a child who married outside the religion to be dead and to perform funeral rites over them, to sit shiva and say kaddish. Whatever the motivation, it was despicable treatment that sent Carmen’s mother back home to her family, to her childhood best friend, to the man who Carmen knew as her father for her entire life.

Until she opened those boxes and discovered her mother’s past.

But all three women find a marvelously supportive friendship with each other. A burden shared is, after all, a burden halved. Or in this particular case, thirded. They all find some much-needed closure, they all make a bit of peace, and they all move forward. For this reader, the story was tremendously cathartic, especially as I found touchstones to my own journey among theirs.

I really wish I could take that yoga class with them – although I’m not too sure about maintaining the headstand pose. But friendship like theirs would definitely be worth the effort!

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona DavisStories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis, Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on October 27, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A collection of short stories from a chorus of bestselling writers all set on the same day, October 23, 1915, in which over a million women marched for the right to vote in New York City with an introduction by Kristin Hannah.
Stories From Suffragette City is a collection of short stories from the leading voices in historical fiction that all take place on a single day. The day one million women marched for the right to vote in New York City in 1915. A day filled with a million different stories, and a million different voices longing to be heard. Taken together, these stories from writers at the top of their bestselling game become a chorus, stitching together a portrait of a country looking for a fight, and echo into a resounding force strong enough to break even the most stubborn of glass ceilings.With stories from:Lisa Wingate, M. J. Rose, Steve Berry, Paula McLain, Katherine J. Chen, Christina Baker Kline, Jamie Ford, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Megan Chance, Alyson Richman, Chris Bohjalian and Fiona Davis

My Review:

Forget, if you can, the David Bowie classic song, Suffragette City, because the song wasn’t about these suffragettes, in spite of the title. And in spite of the song being the first thing that popped into my head when I read the title. To the point where I have an earworm.

But this book is something entirely different.

On October 23, 1915, 105 years ago today, between 25,000 and 60,000 women marched through the streets of New York, in front of at least 100,000 spectators lining the streets, blocking traffic and generally grinding the entire metropolis to a screeching and sometimes cheering halt.

The Five-Mile Suffrage Parade of 1915 (AP Photo)

New York State was just about to vote on a referendum that would allow women the right to vote. The parade was intended to draw concentrated attention to the referendum, to provide a clear and incontrovertible testament that women were political and should be granted the right to vote.

Not all women agreed. And certainly not all men, who would be the ones doing the actual voting, for or against. As it turned out, mostly against. The referendum failed in 1915. It succeeded in 1917. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose centenary occurred earlier this year, gave all women the right to vote, even if it didn’t – and still doesn’t – mean that all women are actually able to vote.

Nevertheless, the October 23, 1915 parade was a watershed moment. And this collection of short stories that all take place on that day, within and surrounding that parade, tells the story of that moment and the women who were a part of it, through fictional perspectives from all sides, from the rich and famous – and occasionally infamous – Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells to Irish and Armenian immigrants to a young niece of the storied Tiffany family.

These are not any of their stories in their entirety. Rather, they are the stories of actions on that one, singular day, the thoughts, feelings and struggles that brought them to the parade, and the joy and occasional heartbreak that surrounded both its triumphs and its failures.

Escape Rating A-: It’s time to talk about the stories themselves.

This is one of those times when ALL the stories in the collection are just terrific. And that feels rare in collections. After all, not every style agrees with every reader. But this time, with its emphasis on this one day and all of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, works. (If the concept of stories around a significant historical event appeals to you, Fall of Poppies, focusing on the cessation of the hostilities of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is also very lovely and well worth a read on this coming, or any other Veterans Day.)

Back to the stories. Although I will say that the differing perspectives that these stories focus on do lead the reader down plenty of mental and emotional byways. The day may have been singular, but the perspectives on it certainly were not. That’s what makes the collection as a whole so fascinating.

Many of the stories deal with women’s responses to the men in their lives who are either against the idea of women’s suffrage or just think that marching is unseemly and unsafe, and that women are delicate flowers that need protection from the dirty scrum that is politics.

Two of the particularly excellent stories on this topic are A First Step by M.J. Rose and Deeds Not Words by Steve Berry. A First Step also introduces the character of young Grace Tiffany, who flits through almost every story in the book. But in this first story about her, she and her aunt Katrina are planning to march in the parade, even though Grace’s uncle, Charles Tiffany, thinks it’s too dangerous and thinks he’s succeeded in convincing little Grace. He hasn’t. In the end, Grace convinces him.

There are also several stories that focus on the women who were, in one way or another, not welcome in this parade of mostly privileged white women. Ida B. Wells isn’t there. Rather, in Dolen Parkins-Valdez’ story, American Womanhood, Wells is in Chicago, speaking to a group of black women about the issues they face being subject to both racial prejudice and misogyny, expected to always do the most while receiving the least benefits. And as she speaks she remembers her own treatment at the Washington march in 1913, where the genteel southern ladies who had taken over control of the movement refused to let her or any other non-white women march with the main parade. And where Wells did it anyway.

The story that moved me the most was Just Politics by Chris Bohjalian. This story is an immigrant’s story, told from the point of view of Ani, an Armenian woman who has become a teacher in New York. But Ani came to New York during the years of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government just before World War I. Everyone around her tells her that the march is “just politics” but Ani has first hand experience of exactly how terrible and deadly “just politics” can become. Her perspective, that combination of hope with bitter, bitter experience, provides a leavening that makes her story just rise.

So, read this collection for its marvelous stories, and for its kaleidoscope of perspectives on what that day, the cause of women’s suffrage, and the cause of equal rights in general and not just the specific. And think about how many times that tide has risen and fallen and just how much is still left to fight for.

And then, if you have not already done so, go out and vote. It’s a right that was hard won, and it demands that we exercise it.

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + GiveawayThe Light at Wyndcliff (Cornwall, #3) by Sarah E. Ladd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cornwall #3
Pages: 320
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this sweet Regency Cornwall series, one young man must search for truth among the debris of multiple shipwrecks on his newly inherited property.
When Liam Twethewey inherits the ancient Wyndcliff Hall in Pevlyn, Cornwall, he sets a goal of fulfilling his late great-uncle’s dream of opening a china clay pit on the estate’s moorland. When he arrives, however, a mysterious shipwreck on his property—along with even more mysterious survivors—puts his plans on hold.
Evelyn Bray has lived in Pevlyn her entire life. After her grandfather’s fall from fortune, he humbled himself and accepted the position of steward at Wyndcliff Hall. Evelyn’s mother, embarrassed by the reduction of wealth and status, left Pevlyn in search of a better life for them both, but in spite of her promise, never returns. Evelyn is left to navigate an uncertain path with an even more uncertain future.
When the mysteries surrounding the shipwreck survivors intensify, Liam and Evelyn are thrown together as they attempt to untangle a web of deceit and secrets. But as they separate the truths from the lies, they quickly learn that their surroundings—and the people in it—are not as they seem. Liam and Evelyn are each tested, and as a romance buds between them, they must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their growing differences.

My Review:

The Light at Wyndcliff is lovely and slightly bittersweet, best categorized as historical fiction with romantic elements. A romance does happen, but it’s not the central point of the story.

The plot wraps around the sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous and always criminal smuggling operations that the rougher bits of the Cornish coast are notorious for But this is not a story that romanticizes smuggling. Rather, it paints an all-too-clear portrait of the rot that burrows into the whole town when smuggling – and the protection of it – become the whole town’s economic mainstay.

But at its heart, it feels like this is a story about figuring out not just who you are, but who you want to be, and taking the steps to achieve that goal – no matter how difficult the road or how many people and institutions stand in your way.

For Liam Twethewey it seems as if that goal should be easy to achieve. He’s 22, he’s male, and he’s just come into his inheritance, Wyndcliff Hall on the Cornish Coast. His dream is to make the property profitable, and to make the area that surrounds it self-sustaining for the benefit of the people who live there.

He wants to provide good jobs at good pay. He wants to be someone who administers his land for the good of everyone, and not just his own profit. He wants to be a good man and a good steward of his property, just as his uncle and mentor has taught him to be.

Ironically, the person standing squarely in Liam’s way is his own steward. Once upon a time Rupert Bray was the owner of his own wealthy property, but either unwise investments or an addiction to gambling or some combination of both cost him his estate. Now he’s the steward of Wyndcliff, and has become the unofficial leader of the nearby town in the long interregnum between the death of the previous owner and Liam’s ascension.

It’s a power Bray doesn’t want to give up. Not over the estate, not over the town, and especially not over his grown-up granddaughter, Evelyn. Partially, that’s because Bray is, quite frankly, a petty tyrant. Much of it is because Bray has secrets that he fears that an active master at Wyndcliff will uncover.

And a whole lot of it is because Evelyn is female, and women didn’t have nearly as much as agency as men, a situation that was even more true in the 1820s setting of this story.

So an important but sometimes frustrating part of this story is Evelyn’s hesitant search for who she wants to be now that she is grown up. A quest that is under siege, caught between her grandfather’s desire to keep her safe, his secret plans for her, her absent mother’s ambitious plans for her future marriage to a man of her mother’s choosing – and the written and unwritten expectations of behavior that society holds over her head.

The more time that Liam and Evelyn spend together, no matter how publicly or how innocently, the more the townspeople judge her for her behavior. In their eyes, she is reaching above herself and consorting with an enemy – even though neither Liam nor Evelyn are aware that the villagers consider him such.

When the crisis finally comes to a head, everyone has fixed their places in the drama – except Evelyn. Everyone makes demands of her. Her grandfather – and the townspeople – expect her to lie for them. Liam, and the agents of the Crown, expect her to tell the truth. And her mother expects her to abandon all of them for the glittering future that she has always promised her daughter.

No matter what she decides, Evelyn is going to make someone she cares about absolutely furious with her. She has to find her own way in a life where she has been discouraged from doing just that at every turn.

Escape Rating A-: A romance between Liam and Evelyn does happen in this story, but it doesn’t feel like the romance is the point of the story. More like it’s the reward for doing the right thing. Figuring out what that right thing is, that feels like it’s the central point of the story. And that’s the story that swept me away.

The suspense and tension in this story come from Liam’s efforts to become the true master of Wyndcliff, in spite of Bray’s opposition. The more Liam digs into what’s really going on, the more obvious it is that Bray and the villagers are hiding a whole lot of skullduggery that no one – except Liam – wants to see brought to light.

This story’s treatment of smuggling, showing it as a criminal enterprise that leads to even more – and darker – criminal behavior reminded me of last year’s The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick. So if the exposure of the smuggling ring and its corruption of the town is something that intrigued you, you might want to check that story out as well.

But Bray’s corruption and the town’s participation in it felt fairly obvious from the very beginning. The reader may not know at the outset exactly what he’s hiding but it’s exceedingly clear that he’s two-faced at best.

Liam’s perspective was interesting but not particularly new. I liked him as a character, and it was clear that he was trying to do his best – and that his best was going to turn out to be fairly good. But the story of a young man taking up his inheritance, feeling some uncertainty while facing some challenges is a story that’s been told many times and will be again.

The fascinating and frustrating part was Evelyn’s story. She was caught betwixt and between in so many ways, and was aware of it and often confused and flummoxed about it all. She knew what she was supposed to feel – and she knew that she didn’t feel it – while also being aware that she was hemmed in by so many conflicting expectations. It felt very much as if The Light at Wyndcliff is more Evelyn’s story than anyone else’s. She’s the character who is stuck in a role that everyone expects to be passive – and yet isn’t.

But speaking of expectations, this series is focused on Liam’s family, the Twetheweys. And his story is central to the book, even if it doesn’t feel as much his journey as it does Evelyn’s. He becomes the person he’s always been expected to be, while Evelyn’s journey has all the twists and turns.

That being said, Liam has moved away from his family, the protagonists of the first two books of this series, The Governess of Penwyth Hall and The Thief of Landwyn Manor, to take up the inheritance that kicks off this book. This distance from his family means that it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to get immediately drawn into this one. He’s moved away and the story has moved away too.

So if you’re looking for a story that brings a small town to life, contains a bit of true-to-life historical suspense and features characters who manage to do the right thing, catch the bad guys, pay the emotional price AND get rewarded by a happy ever after, The Light at Wyndcliff is guaranteed to sweep you away to the Cornish Coast!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Light at Wyndcliff to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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