Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. HarrisWhy Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr, #13) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #13
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the newest mystery from the national bestselling author of Where the Dead Lie, a brutal murder draws Sebastian St. Cyr into the web of the royal court, where intrigue abounds and betrayal awaits.

London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . .

My Review:

Every book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series of historical mysteries, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, begins with a question word. The words that inform the investigation of any mystery. Who? What? When? Where? Why? And every book ends with an answer to that question. In the middle, there is a chilling mystery.

But none quite as chilling as the mystery in Why Kill the Innocent, which takes place during the deadly frozen winter of 1814, the last time in recorded history that the Thames River froze over – solid enough for a Frost Fair to be held in the middle of the river, out on the ice.

That winter there was a killing cold, but the cold is not what killed Jane Ambrose. It is up to St. Cyr, with the able assistance of his wife Hero, to discover the cause of that particular mystery.

As in all the books of this series, Sebastian St. Cyr finds himself, or rather feels compelled to insert himself, into a mystery that explores the dark underbelly of the glittering Regency. An underbelly that is very dark indeed, and usually rotten.

The story begins with Hero Devlin and midwife Alexi Sauvage discovering a frozen corpse in the streets of Clerkenwell, a down-at-heels district at the best of times. And these are far from the best of times.

They recognize the body, and they can all too easily determine the cause of death. And that’s where all the problems begin. Jane Ambrose was a talented composer and a gifted pianist, but as a woman, the only acceptable outlet for her talent was as a piano teacher. As one of her students was the Princess Charlotte, heir-presumptive to the throne of England, they are certain that the palace will want to hush the crime up as quickly as possible.

That there is a crime to investigate is all too clear. Jane Ambrose was found with the side of her head bashed in, but there was no blood in the surrounding snow. She did not die where she was found, and she did not stagger to the site after she was struck. Someone put her in the street, making her death at least manslaughter if not murder.

And the palace will not want anyone to talk about a murder of someone so close to the Princess, no matter how much her father the Regent hates and despises both his only child and her mother. There’s a tangled web here even before the body is discovered.

After that gruesome discovery, St. Cyr takes it upon himself, with help from Hero and their friends and associates, to discover everything he can about the last days of Jane Ambrose. And whether she died as the result of something in her own life, or because of secrets she was privy to as a member of the Princess’ inner circle.

And whether or not Hero’s father, the manipulative, powerful and secretive Lord Jarvis, might possibly lie at the center of this web.

Escape Rating A+:The St. Cyr series is deep, dark and marvelous. If you like your historical mysteries on the grim side, where the detective and the reader get to dive deeply into the nasty, smelly side of the glittering past, this series is like the finest dark chocolate, mostly bitter, just a tiny bit of sweet, and absolutely delicious.

Why Kill the Innocent, like the rest of the series, is set in the Regency, but it is definitely not the sparkling Regency of Georgette Heyer. St. Cyr is a troubled soul, suffering from PTSD as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. He feels compelled to search for justice as a way of paying back, not just for his privileges, but also as a way of dealing with a heaping helping of survivor’s guilt.

St. Cyr is a member of the aristocracy, which gives him entry into places that other detectives cannot go. Not just the gentleman’s clubs, but also the halls of power, including the households of the Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte.

He is also in a position to say what other people fear to say, or are punished for. The Regent, the future George IV, is a profligate spendthrift who treats both his wife and his daughter abominably and leaves the actual governance of his kingdom to men like Lord Charles Jarvis, who flatter the Regent’s massive ego while they accumulate power by any means available, no matter how nefarious.

The series as a whole does not shy away from the darkness that lay beneath the glitter. Hero, in particular, is a social reformer, and a tireless investigator. She finds Jane Ambrose’s body because she was in Clerkenwell writing a story about the wives left behind in extreme poverty after their husbands had been “impressed” by the British Navy. (This same practice became one of the foundational causes of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and her recently independent and frequently obstreperous colonies in the Americas).

Throughout Why Kill the Innocent St. Cyr and Hero are fighting an uphill battle. There is no one who wants this death investigated. That they keep doggedly on compels the reader to follow them, as they piece together the victim’s last days. And find not one, but multiple cesspools still stinking. And while the stink may rise all the way to the top, the rot that they are there to uncover lies much closer to the bottom – and much nearer to home.

Although the mystery is, as always compelling, the success of this series relies on the strengths of its two main characters, St. Cyr and Hero. Their unlikely match has resulted in a partnership of equals, which is always marvelous to read. But it is their flaws that make them so fascinating to watch.

Why Kill the Innocent could be read on its own. The crime and the investigation of it are complete in this story. As St. Cyr and Hero follow the clues and we meet their friends and enemies, characters who have appeared before in the series are given just enough background to keep a new reader engaged in the story. But for those who have read more of this marvelous series, there is added depth to the characters and the story. If you want to get in on this series from its beginning, start with What Angels Fear.

I’ll be over here, waiting for next year’s installment, tentatively titled Who Slays the Wicked.

Review: Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman

Review: Cave of Bones by Anne HillermanCave of Bones by Anne Hillerman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito #22
Pages: 320
Published by Harper on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman brings together modern mystery, Navajo traditions, and the evocative landscape of the desert Southwest in this intriguing entry in the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series.

When Tribal Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito arrives to speak at an outdoor character-building program for at-risk teens, she discovers chaos. Annie, a young participant on a solo experience due back hours before, has just returned and is traumatized. Gently questioning the girl, Bernie learns that Annie stumbled upon a human skeleton on her trek. While everyone is relieved that Annie is back, they’re concerned about a beloved instructor who went out into the wilds of the rugged lava wilderness bordering Ramah Navajo Reservation to find the missing girl. The instructor vanished somewhere in the volcanic landscape known as El Malpais. In Navajo lore, the lava caves and tubes are believed to be the solidified blood of a terrible monster killed by superhuman twin warriors.

Solving the twin mysteries will expose Bernie to the chilling face of human evil. The instructor’s disappearance mirrors a long-ago search that may be connected to a case in which the legendary Joe Leaphorn played a crucial role. But before Bernie can find the truth, an unexpected blizzard, a suspicious accidental drowning, and the arrival of a new FBI agent complicate the investigation.

While Bernie searches for answers in her case, her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee juggles trouble closer to home. A vengeful man he sent to prison for domestic violence is back—and involved with Bernie’s sister Darleen. Their relationship creates a dilemma that puts Chee in uncomfortable emotional territory that challenges him as family man, a police officer, and as a one-time medicine man in training.

Anne Hillerman takes us deep into the heart of the deserts, mountains, and forests of New Mexico and once again explores the lore and rituals of Navajo culture in this gripping entry in her atmospheric crime series.

My Review:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, I used to have a very long commute to work. I listened to a LOT of audiobooks, and one of the series I discovered was the Leaphorn & Chee series by Tony Hillerman. Mysteries are perfect in audio because you can’t thumb to the end to find out whodunit. And the series was particularly good because it is read by the inestimable George Guidall. If you like audio and have not listened to a book read by him you’ve missed a real treat.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the series ended when the author died. That ending turned out to be more of a pause, as several years later his daughter revived the series by switching the focus. In Spider Woman’s Daughter, the “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is struck down in the opening scene, and Navajo Tribal Police Officer Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito, with the assistance of her husband Sergeant Jim Chee, takes over the investigation while Leaphorn begins the long, slow road to recovery.

The torch passes with the perspective, and the series has continued with Bernie becoming the principal character, while Chee appears nearly as frequently, but ironically still kind of the second-banana that he was to Leaphorn. Leaphorn provides consultation and occasional welcome, if sometimes cryptic, clues.

As has turned out to be the case with this continuation of the series, Bernie and Chee are stuck in different places, handling different situations when Bernie finds herself in the middle of an investigation that keeps her hopping all over the Four Corners Reservation and the surrounding area while Chee is in Santa Fe for a training class while keeping an eye on Bernie’s sister Darleen’s latest attempt to stay on the straight and narrow.

And, as usual, just when it seems that their cases can’t connect, the long arm of coincidence reaches out and links the case that Bernie is in the middle of with a few little errands that the Captain asked Chee to take care of while he was in Santa Fe.

It’s a mess that just keeps getting messier and messier, at least until Bernie and Chee, but mostly Bernie, with a few hints from Leaphorn, finally manage to get the disparate problems all wrapped up in one neat package.

Just in time for the crises in Bernie’s personal life to boil over.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this series back when I was listening to it, and I still do. But if this combination of mystery with exploration of the problems that plague the Navajo Tribal Police (as well as the issues that plague the tribe itself) sound like your cup of tea, and you don’t want to go all the way back to the very beginning, starting with Spider Woman’s Daughter will provide plenty of background to the characters, the situation, and the place.

Something that will fascinate long-time readers of the series is the way that the series is set in what is sometimes referred to as the “Perpetual Now”. If Leaphorn had aged chronologically from his first introduction, he would be over 100. Instead, he seems to be in his 60s, while Chee is still in his 30s. And all the updates to police methods of the 21st century, markedly absent in the early books set in the 1970s, are both a help and hindrance to everything in 2018.

There is a bit of a contrivance in the way that the author keeps Bernie and Chee apart during their cases, forcing them to rely on their own resources and not able to lean on each other. The coincidences that bring their cases back together at the end sometimes have a very long arm.

At the same time, this allows us to see one side, and the bigger part at that, from Bernie’s solo perspective. She is always caught between a rock and a hard place, between her duty as a police officer and her duty to her mother and sister. That conflict is a perspective we never saw when it was just Leaphorn and Chee, and it helps ground the series and keep the characters feeling human and real.

The case in Cave of Bones starts out a bit convoluted and keeps adding more and more parts and conundrums as it goes. While it is not difficult for the reader to keep straight, it does feel like the mountain of both Bernie’s and Chee’s tasks and duties keeps growing and growing.

It all starts with a missing person. And it ends with one, too. But it middles in helicopter parenting, scared teenagers, embezzlement, illegal antiquities, family squabbling and grand theft auto. And it’s a marvelous ride all along the way.

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + Giveaway

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + GiveawayUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters, #1) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #1
Pages: 320
Published by Avon Impulse on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

My Review:

This is my first book from the author who claims on her twitter profile to write “Marxist tracts with boning,” but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll admit that when I read the quote, I expected “boning” to be more of a double entendre, not just referring to sex but also to the boning in ladies’ corsets during the Regency period.

But there are no boned corsets here, at least not ever on the person of the heroine. And that’s a huge part of the point of the story.

The Marquess of the title, Alistair, is unapologetically bisexual. He may have a giant stick up his fundament about his role and his place in society and proper behavior, or at least proper public behavior, for that place, but he doesn’t whinge, whine or feel the least bit guilty about his bisexuality. And that’s refreshing and different, particularly for a character who begins as the epitome of the stock Regency hero of the aristocratic type.

It seems to be the one part of himself that he accepts unconditionally, because most of the rest of the time he’s putting on an act. Multiple acts. In his heart of hearts, he’s not nearly as buttoned up as he plays – but that stick is fairly firmly lodged and it takes Robin and that “champagne pop of laughter” to slowly begin to dislodge the damned thing.

Robin, however,  is nothing like he appears to be. And that is an epic understatement.

Once upon a time, Robin was Charity Church, a foundling who was literally discovered in a church, and raised there for several years. Let’s just the late clergyman who raised her was way better at teaching her to read, write and figure than he was imaginative when it came to names. Charity went from being a foundling at the vicarage to a servant at the Selbys, taking care of old Mr. Selby along with his two children, Robert and Louisa. Robert and Charity were the same age, and Laura just six years younger.

They became friends, and co-conspirators, and eventually family-of-choice. So when it came time for Robert to go off to Cambridge, and he really, really didn’t want to go, Charity went in his place. Literally in his place. As far as her fellow students knew, Charity Church WAS Robert Selby.

As Robert Selby, Charity had the life of the mind she always dreamed of, and the freedom, if not the pockets, to indulge it. The real Robert was an indifferent student at best, but Charity-as-Robert took a double first. She absolutely had the time of her life, and wished it would never end. But she didn’t expect it to continue quite like this.

Charity doesn’t see herself as playing a part. Except for having to pretend to be Robert Selby in particular, as opposed to just being a man and not a woman, she feels like she has found her true self. Being Robert becomes the real person, while being Charity becomes the pretense.

At least until Robert dies, and Charity feels compelled to pretend to be Robert full-time, at least long enough to see Louisa happily and safely married.

And that’s when “Robert” and Louisa come to London for the only Season they can manage to afford, in the hopes that Louisa’s extremely beautiful face will indeed prove to be her fortune. And that’s where “Robert” inserts himself into the outer social circle of Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, and finds all the stratagems that were devised to take care of Louisa have made an absolute mess out of “Robert” and any chances he might find happiness.

Or have they?

Escape Rating A: As a Regency romance, this still has its occasional farcical aspects, but overall this story is an absolute delight from beginning to end, while skewering pretty much every single trope of the genre along its merry way.

Alistair, on the surface at least, seems like the typical, overbearing and often priggish Regency hero who just needs a good woman to help him become less stuffy and less priggish (even if not less overbearing) so that he can find his happy ever after with a woman who will grace his life and give him the heirs his title requires.

Instead, Alistair gets the person he eventually nicknames Robin, and all the qualities, as well as all the flaws, that make Robin Robin are what Alistair really needs – even if he takes a long time and rather a lot of heartache to finally let go of everything holding him back. Because as much as he loves Robin as he is, once he learns that Robin is also Charity he spends a long but not incomprehensible time both loving him as he is and trying to mold Charity into what she isn’t in a way that is as much stubborn as it is stupid.

Even so, part of what makes this story so much fun is its intelligence. Robin and Alistair find their way towards each other with witty dialog and shared interests. Their scenes together are a joy to read and laugh along with.

One of the problems of historical romance, at least for this reader, is the necessity for the author to walk the tightrope between making sure that the heroine has enough agency to actually BE a heroine, without making her so anachronistic that she does not at least plausibly fit into her time and place.

As a solution to that particular dilemma, Charity/Robert/Robin is utterly marvelous. And also marvelously subversive. Robin is who Charity really is, on the inside. She doesn’t seem to want to actually BE a man, but she certainly does want to have the freedom and agency that men have, and she is not merely unwilling but absolutely unable to give it up. But she’s also not just a woman in men’s clothing – that clothing represents her real self. But that real self is neither male nor female as her society defines those terms.

Society may not be able to make heads nor tails of Robin’s gender identity, but Robin knows what works for her. And what I loved about this story is that in the end she doesn’t give up who she is to be who the hero thinks he needs her to be. Instead, Alistair finally realizes that she is, as she is, exactly what he needed all along.

And that’s something that doesn’t happen in historical romance nearly enough.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

LINK:  https://goo.gl/qQovFr

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 4/22/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Hammered by Kevin Hearne

Review: Hammered by Kevin HearneHammered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #3) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #3
Pages: 336
Published by Brilliance Audio on July 5, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully — he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare. One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plane of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

“Kevin Hearne breathes new life into old myths, creating a world both eerily familiar and startlingly original.” —NICOLE PEELER, author of Tempest Rising__________Unabridged, 8 audio discs, 9 hours 43 minutes

My Review:

I mostly listened to this, and usually while working out. But I finished up reading the ebook, because my workout ended in the middle of the climactic battle, and I just couldn’t wait to see how issues resolved.

They mostly didn’t. And that’s probably as it should be. The book ends with a lot of loose ends still jangling.

Hammered feels like the “turning point” book in the Iron Druid Chronicles. Although Atticus faced a certain amount of trouble in the first two books, Hounded and Hexed, at the end of each book Atticus was able to settle down after a job well done and live what counts as his normal life while waiting for the next crisis to jump up and bite him in the ass.

Hammered has a much different tone, and there was a strong sense throughout the story that however things ended, life was never going back to what passed for “business as usual” for Atticus, his Irish wolfhound Oberon, and his apprentice Granuaile, no matter how things turned out.

The warnings from both the Morrigan and Jesus that Atticus was stepping into a pile of shit that was going to rain crap all over everyone were not the only hints that he was messing with something that should never have been messed with, but they were the biggest and certainly the freakiest.

And of course they don’t stop him. He gave his vampire friend his word that he would take him to Asgard to help him kill Thor – no matter what it takes, and no matter what it costs.

Even if that cost is higher than he ever wanted to pay.

Escape Rating A: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am absolutely loving this series in audio. I’m not sure how consuming one right after another would work if I were reading them, but as something to listen to on the treadmill, Atticus’ snarky sense of humor read in Luke Daniels’ marvelous voice is just about perfect.

I smirk, I chuckle, I snigger and occasionally I even laugh out loud. A lot. The scene where Jesus shows up to have a beer with Atticus and deliver his warnings – along with a rather painful lesson – had some fantastic laughter inducing moments.

But the overall tone of Hammered is pretty darn serious. Atticus is making plans to take his vampire friend and lawyer Lief as well as his werewolf friend and lawyer Gunnar to Asgard so that they can finally get revenge on Thor for some pretty seriously awful stuff.

Atticus spends a lot of the book making contingency plans. If he comes back, he knows that the gods, not just the Norse gods but multiple pantheons of gods, are going to be after him, and he needs to leave Tempe and lie very, very low for a while, along with Oberon and Granuaile. He does a lot of serious leave-taking all around, and his farewell to the Widow MacDonagh had me sniffling.

But Atticus is also planning for the reality that he might not come back, something that Granuaile doesn’t want to hear or deal with, and who can blame her?

It’s obvious throughout the story that whatever happens in Asgard, it certainly won’t stay in Asgard. Some of their very assorted company will not make it back, and even if they do, Atticus life will be irrevocably changed. The creatures who will be coming after him will be bigger, badder and a lot more powerful.

The story is going to get darker from here – and it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Even if that’s where it goes.

I have a feeling that the events in Hammered are going to be crucial for the events in the next several books, And I can’t wait to find out. I’ve already got the audio of the next book, Tricked, cued up and ready to begin.

One final comment. As Atticus and Lief’s very motley crew get ready for the trip to Asgard, there are several chapters where all the participants tell their individual stories of just why they are willing to possibly throw their lives away for a shot at Thor. The individual stories are absolutely riveting, and all are ultimately tragic. But the storytelling sequence itself reminded me very much of the author’s epic fantasy, A Plague of Giants, which is told in its entirety as a bard telling stories to a crowd. I found myself wondering if the genesis of that book might be in this sequence. Whether it is or not, A Plague of Giants is marvelous!

Review: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Review: My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray & Laura KamoieMy Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 672
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife...

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and the imperfect union he could never have created without her…

My Review:

At the end of the play Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, a widow for 50 years after her husband’s famous duel with Aaron Burr, reflects on his life and hers with the song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”

The play mostly tells Alexander Hamilton’s story, the man’s story, as American Revolutionary Iconography so often does. 1776, while focusing on a different group of people and a different set of events, also tells its story from the point of view of the men, those “Founding Fathers”, forgetting almost entirely the “Founding Mothers” who stood beside them or waited for them to come back home, even though Abigail Adams explicitly asks her husband John to “Remember the Ladies.”

No one tells Eliza’s story. There is very little written about her, although this was an era of prolific letter writing, a fact that is borne out by the thousands of letters written by Hamilton himself. Few of Eliza’s letter remain, but it is documented that she was a tireless worker after his death, spending her life preserving his legacy, in spite of his betrayals of her if not of his country – even if few of those documents are in her own hand.

Through their pens, however, (word processors, now, of course) two historical fiction writers have attempted to tell the story of Eliza Hamilton as much as possible through her own eyes. And an utterly marvelous story it is.

Escape Rating A: I opened with a reference to the play Hamilton because that is what will bring many readers to this book. In the play, Eliza is very much of a secondary character. But as we see at the end, she had a lot to say, and her lifelong devotion to preserving Alexander Hamilton’s legacy is the reason that there is still so much known about him, and why his achievements endure.

But her story is interesting in its own right. She often was, as another song from the play goes, “In the Room Where It Happened” and she witnessed history as it was being made. As portrayed in this fictionalized biography of her, she was not merely a witness but an informed and opinionated one.

We normally want our fiction to go from small beginnings to big endings. Or from tragedy or ignominy to triumph. At any rate, in fiction we expect the story to go from down to up.

This one can’t. My Dear Hamilton is not merely historical fiction but rather fictionalized history, and we already know how this story ends. Or at least middles, because it middles in tragedy. It begins in triumph, or at least gets there fairly quickly, but Alexander Hamilton’s story is the story of Icarus – he rises too high, and then he doesn’t merely fall – he plummets to the ground in fire. His wife’s story could have ended with his, if not literally, then certainly her history as even the smallest mover and shaker on the world stage.

Part of what makes My Fair Hamilton such a compelling read is that we are following Eliza’s story, and her life does not merely continue, but continues to have its own triumphs and tragedies – and we want to see her rise to meet them.

So this story moves from triumph to tragedy to, if not triumph again, at least reconciliation and understanding. It’s a human journey, and an absolutely marvelous read.

One final note for those who have seen the play, or at least know how the story goes in that re-telling. In the play, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton is portrayed as a bit of a lightweight, and it feels as if her sister Angelica Schuyler was much more Alexander Hamilton’s equal. We are left wondering if perhaps Eliza wasn’t worthy of him.

In My Dear Hamilton, told from Eliza’s perspective, we are left wondering if, after all, Alexander wasn’t worthy of Eliza. He would have been the first to say that he was not. And perhaps he was right.

TLC
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Review: Head On by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: Head On by John Scalzi + GiveawayHead On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Lock In #2
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on April 17th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

My Review:

Head On is the sequel to 2014’s utterly marvelous Lock In, and is part of the near-future post-Hadens world that is first introduced in the the novella Unlocked. And that’s a hint that if you are interested in Head On you really need to start with Unlocked, which introduces the worldbuilding and then read Lock In which introduces the main characters of Head On and the scenario in which they find themselves.

It’s also more than a hint that while this review of Head On will attempt to be spoiler-free for Head On, there will certainly be spoilers for Lock In.

It has been said that science fiction is a kind of universal recipient when it comes to genres, and that mystery is a universal donor. In the sense that SF is a setting that can contain any genre, while mystery as the “donor” can be injected into any setting.

That’s certainly the case here. Head On is not merely a mystery, but bears a significant resemblance to a specific kind of mystery, the police procedural. Our protagonists in this series, veteran Leslie Vann and her junior partner Chris Sloane are FBI agents investigating a series of deaths that at first appear to be mostly coincidental, but in are all fairly quickly discovered to be murders.

What makes Head On (and its predecessor Lock In) science fiction is the setting. These stories take place in a near-future, near enough that it is recognizable from here. But it is a near-future that is 25 years after the world-wide Hadens pandemic. Hadens Syndrome manifested mostly like a cross between the flu and meningitis. Nasty and serious, but generally not lethal. However, 1% of the world’s population developed a long-term side effect known as “lock in”, where their brains were still very much alive and reacting to stimuli, but had absolutely no way to communicate with the bodies that they were now locked into.

While 1% of the world’s population sounds small, using today’s population numbers (7.6 billion) that would mean that 76 million people were locked in. For a comparison, that’s more than the populations of California and Texas combined. In other words, it’s a LOT of people.

And that’s a lot of people to provide services for, which means there’s a lot of money involved. And a lot of government grants and tax breaks, and a lot of businesses that have grown up around providing for those needs and taking advantage of those government grants. There are lots and lots of lots and LOTS.

So while Head On is a murder mystery, it takes place in a world that could only exist in science fiction, the near-future post-Hadens world.

Chris and Leslie find themselves investigating a crime that could also only exist in this world. A player of the new “Hadens-only” sport, Hilketa, dies during an exhibition match that Chris is attending. It’s the very first player death in Hilketa, but initially it seems not dissimilar to player injuries and player deaths in any contact sport – even though in Hilketa the only contact is between the players’ threeps and not the players’ actual bodies. Still, the adrenaline spikes and emotional tolls of playing a big-money spectator sport are experienced by Hadens players, so it’s not completely surprising that one might suffer a stroke or a seizure while playing.

But the league’s actions after the death move the incident from tragic to highly suspicious in the beat of a heart. And that’s where Chris, and eventually Chris’ partner Leslie, step in. Pulling all the data on the dead player while the match is going on is highly questionable. When the league official who ordered that data pulled commits suicide immediately afterwards, it’s pretty obvious that something is up, even if Chris and Leslie don’t yet know what.

The rules of investigation in the near-future are surprisingly similar to those of the present-day. Or even the historic past. When all else fails – FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Escape Rating A: I read this on a plane ride from DC to Atlanta. And I read it early relative to its publication date, because I just couldn’t resist the treat any longer. No pun intended, it made the trip absolutely fly by. I’m just sorry that I can’t read it again for the first time – it was just that good.

Because Chris is a Haden, and his physical presence in the world is represented by a threep (really any threep as Chris borrows and wrecks several) his gender is actually indeterminate. Although he has a physical body, whether that body is male or female doesn’t really matter. What matters is how Chris sees himself and how he presents himself to the world, and not his threep, but his mental presence in the Hadens online universe, the Agora.

And I keep saying “him” and “his” even though Chris never does and it is deliberately kept ambiguous in the story. To the point where there were two audio recordings of Lock In and there will be two of Head On, one read by a female narrator, and one by a male narrator.

I finally figured out that my mental image of Chris is male because he/she/they does not have to think about or deal with any of the baggage that someone physically presenting in the meat-space world as female has to deal with. That Chris does not have all that baggage that women can’t help but pick him made Chris a “him” to me, even if Chris isn’t. (Chris is also mixed race, and as a Haden Chris doesn’t have to deal with any of THAT baggage either.)

The baggage that Chris does have to deal with are the prejudices that people have against threeps. Because they generally see them as robots or droids, and not as presentations for actual human beings. And it does cause problems, but a different set of problems than living/working while either black, female or both.

Part of what makes these books so good is that while this is recognizably a future and not the present, it is also recognizable as human space and human beings and human reactions. Whether meat or threeps, people are still people, for all the good and bad definitions of “people”. Human nature does not change based on the carrier it’s in. As a species we still clearly have a lot of work to do.

The case that Chris and Leslie have to solve could only happen in this SFnal universe. At the same time, it very much follows the pattern of a police procedural mystery, even if some of those procedures have necessarily been altered.

The mystery is relatively easy to solve for the reader. It is considerably more difficult for Chris and Leslie to prove, but the villain is fairly obvious pretty early on. Which does not make the story one scintilla less fascinating to follow.

I had an absolute blast. If you like science fiction, or mysteries, or John Scalzi’s writing, or especially all of the above, you will too.

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

As the final act in my Blogo-Birthday Celebration Week, I’m doing the same thing I did last year – taking this opportunity to share one of my favorite authors with one lucky commenter. The winner of this giveaway will receive a copy of any book by John Scalzi, up to $20 in value, anywhere that the Book Depository ships. This will allow the winner to choose the hardcover of Head On if that’s what they want – the book comes out on 4/17, so the giveaway closes just in time to get a pre-order in. But the winner can choose ANY title they want, from his first book, the marvelous Old Man’s War, to the hilarious (and Hugo-Award-winning) Redshirts or anything between then and now. If the winner wants an ebook, and can get ebooks from Amazon (or audiobooks from Audible) that’s OK too.

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Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + Giveaway

Review: Cyborg by Anna Hackett + GiveawayCyborg (Galactic Gladiators #10) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators #10
Pages: 250
Published by Anna Hackett on April 1st 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Scientist Ever Haynes was shocked when she was abducted by alien slavers...but the last thing she expected was to find herself pregnant with a cyborg's baby.

Ever has been fighting for her life since her abduction, and the only good thing to happen to her was one heated night with a mysterious prisoner--a connection, a flash of light in the darkness. But then he was rescued and she was left behind. Now, weeks later, she's been saved by the House of Galen gladiators...and by the man she shared the hottest night of her life with. But cool, emotionless cyborg Magnus Rone has no memory of their night together and finding out that she's expecting his baby is a shock to everyone.

Created in a military program, Magnus is genetically and cybernetically enhanced--emotionless, ruthless, focused. He vows to protect Ever and the baby she carries, and despite his lack of memory, everything about tough, levelheaded Ever draws him in. All his life, his emotional dampeners and training have limited his ability to feel emotions...but one small Earth woman cuts through all that and leaves him feeling.

As they work together to hunt down the deadly desert arena of Zaabha and the final human woman trapped there, Ever and Magnus find a stunning passion neither can resist or ignore. But in the dangerous desert sands of Carthago, with the House of Galen gladiators by their sides, deadly enemies are closing in. Ever and Magnus will be dragged back into the darkness, and Magnus will do anything and sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

My Review:

As has been clear for many months, actually years at this point, I love Anna Hackett’s work, and have ever since she took me on her first journey with the Phoenix Brothers, back At Star’s End.

She’s also marvelously prolific, meaning that I get something new from her about every other month, and a good time is always had by all. Some books are a better time than others, but she always manages to sweep me somewhere fascinating and dangerous.

The Galactic Gladiators are currently my favorite series of hers. As always, she has taken a tried and true premise and turned it into something different and special.

This series feels like a take-off of the “Mars Needs Women” trope mixed with a sun-and-sandals gladiator story. In this science fiction romance series, a band of nasty, disgusting, evil slave traders (yes, I know that’s kind of redundant) took advantage of a temporary wormhole to raid Jupiter Station of its personnel and jump back to the far reaches of the galaxy before the wormhole closed.

All those Earthans that they captured are now stuck on the planet Carthago, far, far from home. Without another wormhole, it’s just plain too far to go back in one human life span – or even several.

But it isn’t too late for all those stranded Earthans to make a new life for themselves where they are right now – providing someone rescues them from slavery – or they rescue themselves.

And that’s what happens in the series. One by one, those humans are rescued by the heroes, the gladiators from the House of Galen as well as some of their allies. And each time one of those Earthans is rescued, they manage to fall in love with one of the gladiators, and very much vice versa.

Part of what makes this series so special is that it feels like the gladiators are the women’s reward and not the usual other way around – not even in the one book where the gladiator is female and the Earthan refugee is male. I love it when the women are the equal of the men, and even better when that equality is represented in different ways between each couple and in each relationship.

The story in Cyborg revolves around the relationship between, obviously, a cyborg and one of those rescued Earthan women. In this case, the cyborg is Magnus Rone, the Imperator of a gladiatorial House allied to the House of Galen. As a cyborg created and trained to be a soldier and only a soldier, even though Magnus left his people long ago he still believes that his training holds, that he’s better off without emotion and that relationships only cloud his focus.

But when he was briefly captured, the human woman Ever Haynes somehow got under his skin. It may have helped that the events of his capture managed to knock out a chunk of his programming, but whatever the cause is – Ever makes him feel. And he’s not sure what to do about it.

Or about the baby that he and Ever managed to make during his brief captivity – in spite of the fact that his programming is supposed to have rendered him sterile. This is clearly yet another lie that he was told.

Magnus feels duty-bound to protect Ever and their baby at all costs – costs which become incredibly high when Ever is captured by the slavers yet again. But amidst all the chaos, Magnus discovers a universal truth – love doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things I love about this series is the way that it turns all the old tropes on their pointy little heads and spins them around. Not just that it feels like the women are the ones getting rewarded for their trials and suffering instead of (really in addition to) the men, but also that part of what these women fight tooth and nail for is to be part of a relationship of equals. There are no damsels in distress in this series – only strong women who sometimes need a little help from their friends.

I also like that this series doesn’t feel “thin and stretched” to me, the way that the Hell Squad series does. That one is pointing towards an inevitable ending, and I’d like it to get there already.

The Galactic Gladiators series doesn’t have to end. It probably will, and I think it’s heading there, but it doesn’t have to. Jupiter Station had to have had dozens of personnel, if not hundreds. Endless possibilities!

One of the things that this author does well is to point the end of each book in the direction of the next one, without giving the game away of how the next couple can possibly get out of whatever fix they are in to achieve their HEA.

It is clear from the ending of Cyborg that the next book will finally be Galen’s, and I can hardly wait. I always love seeing the leader fall – and this time will be especially fun. My husband’s name is also Galen, and I don’t often read his name as the hero a romance – except of course our own.

This will be grand!

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

Today is my birthday. And as a birthday present to me, Anna is letting me give away some marvelous prizes. The lucky winner(s) will receive a signed paperback from her Galactic Gladiators series, a signed paperback from the Hell Squad, and a pack of Hell Squad Trading Cards, pictured below. This is a real treat!

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Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The World Awakening by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe World Awakening by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #3
Pages: 448
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 3rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary. 

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

My Review:

Now that we are at the third book of the trilogy, I still see the Gateways to Alissia as a blend of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador with L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio. And as far as I’m concerned, those are marvelous places to start. I probably read Conquistador at least ten years ago, and it still sticks in my memory, while the Imager Portfolio is one of my favorite epic fantasy series and I’m happy to say that it is still ongoing and still fantastic.

Both Gateways to Alissia and Conquistador are a particular type of epic fantasy – the portal fantasy. In both cases, there is a literal portal that connects our world to the fantasy world, in this case, Alissia. And for those who are currently watching the TV series The Magicians, based on Lev Grossman’s book of the same title, let’s just say there’s more than a bit of a resemblance between Fillory and Alissia, even if there is no magical college on our side of the gate.

The two mega-corporations on Earth that are aware of the portal both see Alissia as an unspoiled and undeveloped world just waiting to be plundered by the oh-so-beneficent technocrats on Earth. And it might happen. It’s certainly in danger of happening.

But the story in The World Awakening is the story of Alissia fighting back – with more than a bit of help from a surprising number of people from our Earth who are not willing to stand idly by while Alissia gets raped and plundered. No matter what it takes to stop CASE Global and Raptor Tech from conquering Alissia with what they are certain are superior armaments.

But like all conquerors since time immemorial – the further the supply lines are stretched, the easier it is to break them.

And Alissia isn’t nearly as outmatched as they thought – with a little help from its friends – no matter what they might think of each other.

Escape Rating A-: The World Awakening is a marvelous conclusion to this trilogy, and as the concluding volume it is very much the wrong place to start. If you like portal fantasy, or stories of people from our Earth finding themselves in places where magic works, or even just want a rollicking good story, start with the first book, The Rogue Retrieval, where you can be introduced to our trouble-magnet anti-hero, the stage magician Quinn Bradley, as he comes to Alissia to discover that magic is real after all, and that he can perform it – and not merely perform.

By this point in the story, we have seen the team that Quinn originally trained with flung to the four corners of Alissia, and we have watched their perspectives change and their allegiances shift, particularly in the case of Quinn himself.

He’s come a long way from the reluctantly recruited stage magician. I’m still not totally sure he’s grown up, but his horizons have certainly expanded, as has is view of both Alissia and Earth. His transformation is a big chunk of what drives the story, and his expanding viewpoint pulls the reader along with him.

But Gateways to Alissia is a big story with a lot of players and a lot going on. I envy those of you who will begin the story now, when it is complete. It has been a year since I read the second book in the saga, The Island Deception, and it takes a bit for the reader to get back up to speed. It’s certainly well worth that effort. The World Awakening is a terrific story, and it brings the saga of Alissia to a fantastic, resounding and satisfying conclusion. And I enjoyed every step of the journey – although I’m happy not to have had to trudge through the snow myself!

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

In honor of my Blogo-Birthday celebration, and because I’ve enjoyed this series so very much, the author, Dan Koboldt is sponsoring today’s giveaway. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice of book in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Newcomers should choose The Rogue Retrieval, but if you have already begun your journey, please pick up where you left off, with either The Island Deception or this final volume, The World Awakening.

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Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Queen of the Flowers by Kerry GreenwoodQueen of the Flowers (Phryne Fisher Mystery #14) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #14
Pages: 256
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

St. Kildas streets hang with fairy lights. Tea dances, tango competitions, lifesaving demonstrations, lantern shows, and picnics on the beach are all part of the towns first Flower Parade. And who should be Queen of the Flowers but the Honourable Phryne Fisher? It seems that the lovely Phryne has nothing to do but buy dresses, drink cocktails, and dine in lavish restaurants. Unfortunately, disappearances during this joyous festival aren t limited to the magic shows. One of Phryne s flower maidens has simply vanished. And so, Phryne is off to investigate aided by Bert and Cec and her trusty little Beretta. When her darling adopted daughter Ruth goes missing, Phryne is determined that nothing will stand in the way of her investigation. Phryne must confront elephants, brothel-life, and perhaps worst of all an old lover in an effort to save Ruth and her flower maiden before it is too late. Queen of the Flowers is the fourteenth book in the Phryne Fisher series, with no sign of Ms. Fisher hanging up her pearl-handled pistol yet."

My Review:

The more of this series that I read, the more amazed I am that they managed to film it at all, let alone that it is still possible to recognize the original in the changes – and vice versa.

I turn to Phryne when I need a comfort read, because she is guaranteed to whisk me away to Melbourne in the 1920s, whether the particular adventure is one of the better ones or merely a visit with old friends.

Queen of the Flowers is one of the better ones, and it is one of the occasions where the book is much better than the TV show – not that there haven’t been plenty of cases the other way around.

One reason why I marvel that the series was ever filmed at all is just how frank both the author and Phryne were about the seamy underbelly of life in general and life in Melbourne in the 1920s in particular. This story is one that pulls absolute no punches whatsoever.

But the way that it links back to both Phryne’s past and her adopted daughter Ruth’s certainly does tug at the heart.

The mystery, and the story, in Queen of the Flowers revolves around a series of abused young women. Not just the school of hard knocks that Phryne certainly graduated from, but also the house of ill-repute that her adopted daughters Ruth and Jane survived. And most important for this particular story, the house of horrors that young Rose Weston is so desperate to escape from, and the reasons for that desperation.

Once Phryne is on the case, there is no question that all of the young women in desperate trouble in this story, not just Ruth and Rose but also all of the young female servants in the place Rose escaped from, will all find safe harbor after Phryne finishes the case.

The only question, in the end, is just how much justice Phryne will mete out herself before she lets the police clean up the garbage. And the elephant poop.

Escape Rating A-: Queen of the Flowers is definitely one of the better stories in the series, at least so far. I’ll confess that I had a bit of a hard time getting into it at the very beginning, much as Phryne was having a difficult time at her luncheon with the young ladies who will form her “court” when she does her charitable duty as “Queen of the Flowers” in the upcoming parade.

But once she is woken up in the wee hours because Rose Weston is missing and her mother has gone mental, the story is off to the races, and just gets more and more fascinating as it goes.

While Phryne’s life often seems like a circus, the real circus has come to town for the fete and the parade, and has brought with it one of Phryne’s old friends, her friend’s three elephants, and one of Phryne’s old lovers – as well as a plot to ensnare her daughter Ruth and attempt to bilk some money out of Phryne.

The circus just adds to the confusion, as well as to the number of potential suspects and hiding places, once Rose and Ruth have both gone missing. However, the parallel cases provide ample opportunity for all of the regulars in the series to get plenty of chances to shine in a bit of the spotlight.

But as much as Ruth’s disappearance and/or abduction worries Phryne and her whole household, the real drama in this story is provided by Rose Weston’s plight. Because once Phryne begins her investigation, she keeps digging right to the bottom of every terrible thing that has happened to Rose to put her in this fix. And the lengths that Phryne is willing to go to in order to see right finally done take her to some very low places – where she always holds her own.

Which does not make Phryne’s foray into the criminal underworld of Melbourne any less daunting – or any less fascinating.

In the end, as always, evil gets its just desserts and good in the person of Phryne Fisher definitely triumphs – in this case even more spectacularly than is usual even for Phryne. It’s not every heroine that gets to ride to glory on the back of an elephant!

Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline WinspearTo Die but Once (Maisie Dobbs #14) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #14
Pages: 336
Published by Harper on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Spring 1940. With Britons facing what has become known as "the Bore War"—nothing much seems to have happened yet—Maisie Dobbs is asked to investigate the disappearance of a local lad, a young apprentice craftsman working on a "hush-hush" government contract. As Maisie’s inquiry reveals a possible link to the London underworld, another mother is worried about a missing son—but this time the boy in question is one beloved by Maisie.

My Review:

In the earlier books in this series, Maisie reminded me a lot of Bess Crawford, from Charles Todd’s series, or even Mary Russell from Laurie R. King’s Holmes/Russell series. Bess, Mary and Maisie are all contemporaries, and had similar experiences.

But Maisie’s series has moved on, from World War I through the between-the-wars period and now she has reached World War II. And now Maisie, 20 years older and hopefully wiser than she was in her earlier cases, reminds me all too much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War.

While the scenario behind To Die But Once is straight from the movies. One movie in particular, Dunkirk.

The movie was set on the beaches as the men waited desperately for rescue. To Die But Once takes place on the other side of the Channel, on the home front, where Maisie’s friends, and therefore Maisie herself, worry about their hostages to a fortune that they desperately hoped never to see again in their lifetimes. A hope that has been miserably dashed on the rocky shore at Dunkirk.

As with Foyle’s War, while the background of war is ever present, the story revolves around events on the home front. Just because there’s a war on, even if in 1940 it was the “Bore War”, does not mean that human beings have refrained from their usual patterns of crime if not punishment.

The impending war merely provides yet more opportunities for nefarious activity, unfortunately not limited to graft, cheating on government contracts, selling secrets, and that age-old wartime pastime, the black market.

War makes very strange bedfellows, especially when there’s money to be made.

Maisie begins by investigating the disappearance of a young man. She, as well as the entire neighborhood, watched Joe Coombes grow up in his family’s pub. He’s a sweet young man, and at 16 he’s away from home for the first time, apprentice to a painter’s crew doing government work at RAF bases all over Britain.

While Maisie hopes to discover a boy out on a lark, she is prepared for what she does find – Joe’s unidentified body in a morgue. For Maisie, that is never the end of a case – only the beginning.

Maisie isn’t satisfied with the coroner’s ruling of death by misadventure. It is possible that this was the case – but it just doesn’t feel likely. And the more that Maisie looks into Joe’s life, the less likely it seems.

All she has to do is find the one thread to pull that will unravel this case – if the mysterious gentlemen in the black sedan don’t unravel her first.

Escape Rating A: This series is, from beginning to end, marvelous. It is a comfort read for me, having now read the first four books and the last five. I plan to meet myself in the middle sometime soon.

But this is a dense series. While the case in each book is generally singular, or at least all the cases that Maisie turns up are all completed within the volume, each entry requires at least some previous knowledge of Maisie’s background, her professional history, and an acquaintance with Maisie’s friends and associates.

In other words, don’t start here. Particularly as the series has been building towards the war for several books, since A Dangerous Place, if not before. Maisie’s adventures begin in the first book in the series, named for its protagonist, Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie is both a thorough and a thoughtful detective. She is also, as she describes her associate Billy Beale, a terrier. Once she has a case between her teeth, she doesn’t let it go until she has poked her nose into every single one of its dark alleys.

That’s certainly the case here. Joe is dead, but his death was caused as much by the tentacles of corruption that surround his family as it was by the sharp blow to the head that snuffed out his life. And Maisie uncovers a net that reaches from a small-time contractor to a big-time hoodlum to the halls of power and everywhere in between.

The case is twisting and convoluted, and keeps both Maisie and the reader captivated as she follows its turns to the very end.

There is so much going on here, with Maisie, with the case, and with the war. Maisie is often pushed to her limit, and in more than one direction. In the end, it is her willingness to confront the difficult, and her ability to see inside the human heart, that provides the answers – even if those are answers that no one wants to hear.

The Maisie Dobbs series is one of my favorite historical mystery series. I enjoy every entry, to the point where it is difficult to review the book. When I read Maisie, it feels like I am there. And I can’t wait to travel with her again. Even into war.