Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

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

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse

Review: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna WaterhouseMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Anna Waterhouse
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 336
Published by Titan Books on September 22, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fresh out of Cambridge University, the young Mycroft Holmes is already making a name​ ​for himself in government, working for the Secretary of State for War. Yet this most British of civil servants has strong ties to the faraway island of Trinidad, the birthplace of his best friend, Cyrus Douglas, a man of African descent, and where his fiancée Georgiana Sutton was raised.

Mycroft’s comfortable existence is overturned when Douglas receives troubling reports​ from home. There are rumors of mysterious disappearances, strange footprints in the sand, and spirits enticing children to their deaths, their bodies found drained of blood. Upon hearing the news, Georgiana abruptly departs for Trinidad. Near panic, Mycroft convinces Douglas that they should follow her, drawing the two men into a web of dark secrets that grows more treacherous with each step they take...

Written by NBA superstar Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and screenwriter Anna Waterhouse, Mycroft Holmes reveals the untold story of Sherlock’s older brother. This harrowing adventure changed his life, and set the​ stage for the man Mycroft would become: founder of the famous Diogenes Club and the hidden power behind the British government.

My Review:

Because of the house closing tomorrow, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on all the books I’m supposed to be reading. Instead, I’m looking for books to sweep me away, mostly to places and people I’ve met before. Or at least am well acquainted with through the pages of my favorite books.

And that led me to this one. As I’ve said many times before, I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, particularly when they are done well and/or introduce me to new facets of characters that I think I know and certainly love.

Mycroft Holmes as depicted by Sidney Paget in the Strand Magazine

This book about Mycroft Holmes in his “salad days” does a bit of both. For those of us who are fond of the Holmes Brothers, this story about Mycroft’s early days as a government official, when he was young, in love, and his weight was definitely proportional to his height, is treat. And not just for its glimpses at an even younger Sherlock Holmes, still at school and a very indifferent student, trying to hone his gift for memory and observation into something that will keep him away from boredom, and see him intellectually if not always gainfully employed.

Even though this is a story about Mycroft rather than Sherlock Holmes, someone still needs to serve as “Watson’, chronicler, sounding-board, foil and occasionally backup gunman. In this story that role falls to Cyrus Douglas, a black man in his early 40s who is still a powerful street fighter as well as the secret owner of a successful tobacco shop in London.

The story begins when Douglas receives word from his home in Trinidad that someone or something is killing young children in a manner that strongly suggests supernatural origin. The children are dead, the adults are both grief-stricken and scared, and Douglas is tempted to sail home and look into the matter.

So is Georgiana Sutton, Mycroft Holmes fiancee, also a native of Trinidad – although from much different social and economic circles than Douglas.

Young Mycroft, deeply in love (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d be writing) decides to follow Georgiana to Trinidad, using his government position as cover and providing Douglas with cover for his own desire to head home.

Mycroft and Douglas, true friends masquerading as master and manservant, run into trouble from the moment they arrive on shipboard, and stay in various states of trouble from embarkation to disembarkation.

Only to arrive in Trinidad, battered, bruised and uncertain of what happened to Georgiana or just which of the two of them exactly what forces are after with such bone-breaking intent.

This journey that leads Mycroft Holmes into the heart of darkness, breaks the young man that he was. And takes him on his first steps into becoming the spider at the heart of the British government’s wide, wide web.

Escape Rating A-: As a portrait of the government functionary as a very young man, Mycroft Holmes is a treat. When the story begins in 1870, Mycroft is all of 23. That puts his birth year in 1847 – which would make Sherlock a young 16. We think of these characters based on the Sidney Paget drawings from The Strand Magazine, but if they must have been young once.

(I have a picture in my head of Mycroft as he’s described in this book, and he looks a lot like Simon Ward as Young Winston Churchill.)

Mycroft begins this story very young indeed, not just in years, but in naivete. (Another sentence I never expected to write.) A reviewer referred to this as being the story of Mycroft in his “salad days” and that feels right. The comment about “salad days” is from Shakespeare, as said by Cleopatra in the play Antony and Cleopatra, “my salad days, when I was green in judgment…” And so Mycroft is. So much of what sets Mycroft off on his quest is his complete misunderstanding of the character and nature of the woman he believes he loves. Even Sherlock points out his lack of clear sight when it comes to Georgiana, and he’s only 16. The more mature Douglas has doubts about the young lady from the very beginning. And they are both right.

This may be the last time that Mycroft is ever wrong about anything. He certainly learns his lesson – perhaps a bit too well.

The case that Mycroft and Douglas investigate is as much a part of its time and place as the Sherlock Holmes stories are of Victorian London. As Mycroft does what he does so well, pulling the threads of monetary exchanges, political double-dealing and government corruption, he and Douglas find themselves in the middle of a plot to enslave a new generation of black men and women in a nefarious enterprise where it seems that all the players are doing their best to pretend that they are not actually slavers.

But they are. And Mycroft and Douglas, with the help of some surprising allies, set out to stop them at all costs. And it’s terrible and harrowing and marvelous and necessary and right. This is a story that introduces a marvelous and fascinating character in Douglas, and provides new insights into the familiar character of Mycroft while telling a cracking good story.

There’s a sequel coming out this fall. In fact, I was led to this book by a promo for the upcoming title, Mycroft and Sherlock. And I can’t wait.

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony HorowitzThe Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She planned her own funeral--but did she arrange her murder?

A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.

What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.

My Review:

This is a weird book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good and that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But it was not what I expected.

Not exactly what I expected, anyway. I was, after all, expecting a murder mystery. What I was not expecting was for the book the break the fourth wall as much as it does, or for the author to be a fictional character in his own book.

I’ll confess that I began looking up some of the people in the story, to see if they really were real. The degree to which the author inserts himself and his own history makes everyone in the story seem like they must be equally real.

Or if not real, then at least recognizable stand-ins for some true-life counterpart. But they are not. At least I don’t think they are. Or if they were I couldn’t figure out who they were standing in for.

What adds to the verisimilitude is the way that author Anthony Horowitz seems to include so many easily verifiable details of his own work, if not his own life. He is the creator of two of my favorite TV series, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. He is also the author of two excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiches, The House of Silk and Moriarty.

But in The Word is Murder he seems to find himself playing Watson, both as a sidekick and as a recorder of events, to an even more misanthropic Holmes than the original.

Daniel Hawthorne is not a likeable protagonist. As a detective he is every bit as brilliant as the ‘Great Detective’ he is so obviously modeled after, while at the same time so focused on whatever case he is following that he does not care who he pisses off or how much he ignores all of the social niceties that keep the wheels of society grinding.

He’s a man with zero friends, lots of enemies, and a nose for figuring out “whodunit”.

And even though Horowitz-the-author seems to draw the man in all of his misanthropic ‘glory’, we are drawn into the cases every bit as much as the author seems to be, and we understand why he follows along – because we are every bit as compelled as he is.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved both The House of Silk and Magpie Murders, although I admit that I enjoyed the historical portions of Magpie Murders more than the contemporary framing story.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Word is Murder, just that I was interested enough to give it a try. I had not read any of the reviews beforehand, so I was at a bit of a loss when the author himself appeared as a character in the book.

I knew the book was supposed to be fiction, but so many well-known details of the author’s career were introduced into the narrative that I’ll admit I started to wonder.

While the way that this book is written is meta (actually very, very meta), the story itself is a classic. A woman goes to a funeral home to plan her entire funeral. When she is murdered a few short hours later, it seems obvious that the long arm of coincidence just doesn’t stretch that long.

The police want the murder to be a burglary gone wrong. That’s a simple crime with a simple solution. But ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne is certain that it’s not that easy. He knows that when the Met calls him in as a consultant, it’s because someone at the top is certain it isn’t that easy – even if they can’t articulate exactly why.

Figuring it out is Hawthorne’s job. Annoying all of the investigating officers involved in the case seems to be part of the fun of it – at least for him. Dragging his narrator out of an important meeting with OMG Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson shows just how little Hawthorne can be bothered with anything outside his laser focus on the case.

In the end, the case is both simple and complex. The reasons for the murder are classic. The misdirection is epic. And even though I figured out who didn’t do it before the narrator, the reveal of just who did was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. Just like the narrator, I was too caught up in the story to follow the clues to their final destination.

There’s going to be a sequel. I’m more than curious enough to see what Daniel Hawthorne investigates next – as long as Anthony Horowitz is at his side.

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger

Review: Boardwalk Summer by Meredith JaegerBoardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this new novel from the author of The Dressmaker’s Dowry, two young women two generations apart discover the joy and heartbreak of following their dreams. Aspiring Hollywood actress Violet makes a shocking choice in 1940, and seventy years later, Mari sets out to discover what happened on that long ago summer.

Santa Cruz, Summer 1940: When auburn-haired Violet Harcourt is crowned Miss California on the boardwalk of her hometown, she knows she is one step closer to her cherished dream: a Hollywood screen test. But Violet’s victory comes with a price—discord in her seemingly perfect marriage—and she grapples with how much more she is willing to pay.

Summer 2007: Single mother Marisol Cruz lives with her parents in the charming beach cottage that belonged to her grandfather, Ricardo, once a famed performer on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Drawn to the town’s local history and the quaint gazebo where her grandparents danced beneath the stars, Mari sells raffle tickets at the Beach Boardwalk Centennial Celebration, and meets Jason, a California transplant from Chicago.

When Mari discovers the obituary of Violet Harcourt, a beauty queen who died too young, she and Jason are sent on a journey together that will uncover her grandfather’s lifelong secret—his connection to Violet—a story of tragedy and courage that will forever transform them.

My Review:

At times, Boardwalk Summer is as wild and rollicking a ride as the old wooden roller coaster that stands proudly on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

And at other times, it is the quietly beautiful story of two women who are connected across the years by their relationships with two extremely different men – but not in the way that the reader at first thinks.

And it’s about apples that both do and don’t fall far from one very twisted tree.

In 1940 Violet Harcourt is a 20-year-old woman married to an abusive husband. Her dreams may be dying but are not quite dead. In 2007, Marisol Cruz is a 25-year-old single mother who had to put her own dreams to sleep when she discovered she was pregnant after a drunken one-night stand.

Violet’s story seems like a tragedy. It is impossible not to feel for her plight, while at the same time her situation makes for hard reading. Her husband is an abuser, and she’s finally figured out that he’s only going to get worse. So she escapes, only to discover that her dreams of Hollywood glory are even more out of reach than her dreams of a happy marriage.

When her husband finds her and takes her back to Santa Cruz, we know that she’s done for – and so does she.

Marisol, on the other hand, is doing the best she can in a situation that she fully recognizes is of her own making. She had dreams of graduate school, only to bury those dreams completely when her celebratory one-night stand after her college graduation resulted in pregnancy. Little Lily is the light of Mari’s life. With the help of her parents, they are getting by. But as much as she loves her daughter, she misses the life of the mind she’d planned on having.

A new guy in town helps her see that her dreams don’t have to wait forever. While they tentatively explore a relationship, Mari jumps with both feet into the process to secure a small local history grant and hopefully save a local landmark from the wrecking ball.

Her quest to thwart the developers and uncover the mystery behind Violet Harcourt’s death uncovers a whole host of family secrets – and puts Mari squarely in opposition to the father of her little girl.

But the more she digs, the less she discovers that she truly knows. And that what everybody believes ain’t necessarily so.

Escape Rating A-: At first, I had a difficult time with this story. Violet’s marriage is so obviously a tragedy, and one that we’ve seen all too often in both fiction and real life. Her husband is an abuser who has systematically stripped her of her dreams and her friends. He wants her dependent and broken, and she’s on the way there – until she breaks out. It’s hard to read her story as her situation goes from bad to worse to desperately worse. The twist at the end is a surprise, a redemption and a delight.

Mari’s story is a lot more straightforward, and it’s fortunate that we follow Mari’s story more than Violet. The sperm donor of Mari’s baby is a douchecanoe, but he’s not, thank dog, actually her douchecanoe. They never had a relationship and Mari doesn’t want one. Her only real regret at the whole mess is that he refused to have any relationship with Lily.

Mari and Lily, with the help of her parents, are doing just fine. But Mari is ready to do more than just get by when Jacob comes to Santa Cruz and enters her life.

The heart of the story turns out to be Mari’s quest to save the historic but neglected gazebo at the end of the Boardward from the developer’s wrecking ball. That gazebo has history, and it’s Mari’s history. Not just that her beloved grandfather and grandmother were married under the gazebo, but that it was a center of cultural life and entertainment for the Latinx citizens of Santa Cruz back in the day when Mari’s people were not welcome at many venues in the community controlled by the wealthy white families.

Families like that of Violet Harcourt’s violent husband. And Mari’s little girl’s sperm donor. That Trevor Harcourt is behind the developers planning to tear down the gazebo and build expensive condos to block the waterfront is no surprise. That apple did not fall far from his grandfather’s twisted tree.

But it’s Mari’s research into the history of the gazebo and the way that her family’s own history is intertwined with it that brings the story full circle, solves the old mystery and gives the story its heart and soul.

And finally earns her that happy ending – and not just her own.

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Review: Unidentified by Anna Hackett

Review: Unidentified by Anna HackettUnidentified (Treasure Hunter Security, #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Treasure Hunter Security #7
Pages: 172
Published by Anna Hackett on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Finding undiscovered treasures is always daring, dangerous, and deadly. Unidentified contains two action-packed novellas starring sexy archeologists, feisty treasure hunters, and tough former Navy SEALs on the hunt for two priceless Incan emeralds.

The Emerald Tear: ambitious archeologist Oliver Ward leads a dig in the wild jungles of Ecuador and collides with feisty, independent treasure hunter Persephone.

Oliver Ward loves getting his boots dirty on fascinating digs, and investigating strange ruins in Ecuador is no exception. When bandits threaten his team, a small, tough treasure hunter bursts into his world to save the day. He finds himself captivated by the bright, vibrant woman and sucked into a wild and dangerous treasure hunt for a lost Incan emerald.

Daughter of a con artist, Persephone Blake trusts no one and has a plan—find and sell artifacts until she can retire on a white-sand beach. But her plans are derailed when a handsome, smart, and stubborn archeologist pushes his way onto her hunt. She finds herself irresistibly tempted by Oliver, and as they trek deeper into the jungle, danger follows. And Persephone isn’t sure what is in more danger—her body or her heart.

The Emerald Butterfly: former Navy SEAL Diego Torres finds himself helping the one woman who drives him crazy—the DEA agent who boarded his ship and handcuffed him.

Injured and tortured on a mission, Diego Torres was ready to leave the SEALs and loves being captain of his salvage ship, the Storm Nymph. As he begins his vacation, he planned for solitude, late mornings, and drinking beers while watching the Florida sunsets, what he didn’t plan for was the gorgeous DEA agent who boarded his ship several months before. And he really didn’t plan for an underwater expedition in search of a shipwreck and a priceless Incan emerald.

Sloan McBride’s grandfather dreamed of finding the Emerald Butterfly his entire life. Now he’s dying and she vows to find it for him…even if she has to work with the hard-bodied ex-SEAL she got off to a very wrong start with. But as Sloan and Diego work side by side, dogged by dangerous black-market thieves Silk Road, they uncover a scorching hot passion. They will do anything to protect each other, including calling in their friends from Treasure Hunter Security, and they’ll risk everything to beat Silk Road to the emerald.

My Review:

The stories in the Unidentified duology are wrapped around a pair of matched emeralds that were discovered or rumored to be discovered in the jungles of Ecuador. These two beautiful stones sat on matched statues at the entrance to a lost Inca Temple.

Naturally, such priceless treasures draw the eyes of the infamous Silk Road gang. But, as always, the men and women of Treasure Hunter Security are there to stop them – even before there actually is a Treasure Hunter Security.

The first story takes place in the 1970s, and it’s all about the 20th century discovery of the temple and the Emerald Tear. It is also the story of how archeologist Oliver Ward and treasure hunter Persephone Blake, the parents of the THS team, found each other.

The Emerald Tear is a story where Indiana Jones is both Romancing the Stone and discovering The Lost City of the Monkey God. What’s even more fun is that the Lost City book is actually non-fiction, but the description still fits.

(For casting purposes, think of Oliver Ward as Indy, and Percy as a female version of the mercenary Jack Colton in Stone – not that Oliver is in the least bit as mousy as Joan Wilder – far from it!)

It feels like The Emerald Tear is the meatier of the two stories. We get Oliver and Percy meeting and falling in insta-lust if not insta-love. But they are just made for each other. Percy is scouting Oliver’s village dig and Silk Road – or its predecessor – is following her. She has clues to the location of the temple, and her clue (and Silk Road’s) is smack in the middle of Oliver’s dig.

Once they get together, the story, and their romance, are off to the races. Or at least off to the middle of the jungle on a dangerous and deadly quest to find the temple, the emerald, and the key to each other’s hearts.

Oliver and Percy’s story is a fast-paced adventure in a steamy jungle with just the right amount of equally steamy sex.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Tear: A-

On my other hand, the story when it picks up in The Emerald Butterfly isn’t nearly as compelling. In comparison to The Emerald Tear, The Emerald Butterfly is pretty but not nearly as riveting.

It’s not that the romance between THS operative Diego Torres and DEA agent Sloan McBride isn’t steamy and sexy, it’s the action that isn’t between the sheets feels a bit formulaic. Or at least obvious and predictable.

We know Silk Road are following, we know they’re going to do their level worst to take the Emerald Butterfly from our heroes, and we know that THS is going to swoop in and save the day, the stone and our heroes.

So this was fun but nearly as interesting or exciting as the first story. I wanted a bit more of The Emerald Tear but was more than content to finish The Emerald Butterfly.

Escape Rating for The Emerald Butterfly: B

Review: Tricked by Kevin Hearne

Review: Tricked by Kevin HearneTricked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #4
Pages: 368
Published by Random House Audio on April 24, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Druid Atticus O’Sullivan hasn’t stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they’ve chopped up his body in the Arizona desert.

But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he’s been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he’s got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won’t be fooled again. Famous last words.

My Review:

I wasn’t looking for something to link between Tony and Anne Hillerman’s Leaphorn, Chee and Maneulito series about the Navajo Tribal Police and Thor: Ragnarok, but I found it anyway. It’s Tricked, the 4th book in the Iron Druid Chronicles.

Hel is the daughter of Loki, not Odin, but just as in the movie, she does preside over the realm of the dead who do not qualify for Valhalla. As far as Atticus is concerned, the big problem is that she has possessed the body of his late friend, the Widow MacDonogh, in order to chase him down all that much more effectively.

In Hammered, Atticus and his friends killed Thor and crippled Odin, along with a whole bunch of the Norse pantheon. Hel wants to thank him for making her victory at Ragnarok inevitable. When he spurns her thanks, she sets her dogs on him. Not just dogs, of course, but also beings native to the Four Corners Reservation where he is currently hiding out.

She sends skinwalkers. And gives them a compulsion to find and eat Atticus O’Sullivan.

Not that he wasn’t there to deal with them anyway, in a roundabout sort of way, but she’s just made it way too personal.

This story is just full of roundabout ways by roundabout people, because Atticus is on the rez to pay Coyote back for helping to stage his death. His recent raid on Asgard has left the denizens of several pantheons out for his blood. Not because he messed with the Norse, but because he has proven that he can successfully mess with any of the gods – and none of them want that to get around.

Atticus in in a big mess – as per usual. Coyote did him a big favor, and now he wants a big favor in return. Coyote died for him twice – not the he wasn’t absolutely certain he’d come back – both times. But in return, Coyote wants Atticus to create a gold mine in the middle of the rez, so that the gold can be used to fund a renewable energy empire.

Coyote is a trickster, so Atticus knows there has to be a catch, and a big one. But Coyote isn’t scamming the locals, who are, after all, his people. And he’s not exactly scamming Atticus. But he’s also not exactly not scamming Atticus. He’s just being Coyote.

As is usual with Atticus adventures, figuring out what is really going on is going to result in a lot of bloodshed – some if it even belonging to Atticus himself.

And there will be a butcher’s bill to pay. Whether the results will be worth it – only time will tell.

Escape Rating A-: This one had some absolutely hilarious moments. The sequence about the relative measurements of shitload, buttload and fuckton had me grinning for several miles on the treadmill – and laughing out loud. I know the other people at my gym think I’m crazy.

In spite of the trademark snark, in full abundance in Tricked, this story also had its darker elements. As I said in my review of Hammered, it feels as though the series has turned a corner, and that things are going to get darker from here. In Tricked, we saw several of the loose ends left over from Hammered try to wrap themselves like nooses around Atticus’ neck.

But the action in Tricked revolves around Atticus fulfilling his deal with Coyote. One of the problems of working with Coyote is that he just can’t stop himself from trying to get the better of every deal. He is, after all, one of the quintessential trickster avatars. So while Atticus is more than willing to pay his debts – he is unwilling to pay more than his fair share – particularly without being asked first. No one enjoys getting taken advantage of over and over again – which is always Coyote’s aim. He really can’t play it straight.

So Atticus finds himself saddled with one job that he can barely handle, and one that is way, way outside his skillset, while frequently wondering which is which. As usual, he’s making it up as he goes along.

Because Oberon is sidelined for much of Tricked, his outsider commentary and comic genius has to be picked up by someone else. In Tricked, those roles are taken by Frank Chischilly, the hatałii who is conducting the ceremonies to bless Coyote’s operation.

Frank is an old man, and a very powerful one. His Blessing Way ceremony is providing real magical protection. And while he doesn’t know exactly what either Atticus or Coyote are, he is aware that they are much more than they appear to be. He’s pretty sure about Coyote, and I believe that the only reason he can’t identity exactly what Atticus is that that what Atticus is is considerably outside his cultural magical framework.

Frank is not humorous in the same way that Oberon is. Frank mostly plays straight man to some of Atticus wilder moments. But his wry humor and outsider’s perspective often result in a chuckle rather than the guffaws that Oberon generates. But he does provide some of the story’s lighter moments – until he provides the darkest one of all.

As snarky as Atticus is, this story is still much darker in tone than the first two books in the series, Hounded and Hexed. Atticus’ actions continue to have mounting consequences. But as serious as things are, there are points where it might have been better to cut to the chase a bit. The repeated attacks of the skinwalkers, while always life-threatening and scary, began to have a sameness about them. The skinwalkers don’t have a lot in the way of imagination. Or strategy or tactics.

But Atticus’ snarky and irreverent point of view always carries the reader along. I’ll be continuing with Two Ravens One Crow, the novella that sits between Tricked and Trapped.

Review: By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

Review: By Fire Above by Robyn BennisBy Fire Above (Signal Airship, #2) by Robyn Bennis
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, steampunk
Series: Signal Airship #2
Pages: 368
Published by Tor Books on May 15, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"All's fair in love and war," according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, "Nothing's fair except bombing those Vins to high hell."

Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up the nation's military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.

Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum―only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.

My Review:

By Fire Above is the direct sequel to last year’s absolutely awesome The Guns Above. If you enjoy your SF with a hint of steampunk, really snappy dialog and fantastic kick-ass heroines, The Guns Above might just be your jam. It certainly was mine.

That this is a direct sequel to the first book is a zeppelin-sized hint that this book makes no sense whatsoever without having read the first book first. Not only is that where the situation is setup, but it’s also the foundation of all of the important relationships that power this particular series.

By that I mean the all-important frenemy relationship between Captain Josette Dupre and the foppish spy/supernumerary Lord Bernat Hinkal. If you don’t know how they began, you can’t really understand what happens between them here.

In this world where airships are not merely blimps but actual weapons of war not dissimilar to naval ships, Josette Dupre is an anomaly. Women are barely tolerated in the Garnian Signal Corps. She’s not supposed to be a “real” officer, and she’s certainly not supposed to command either ships or men. That she has turned out to be the best captain in the Signal Corps provides no end of embarrassment, consternation, annoyance and downright obstructionism at every turn.

Josette has no idea how the game is played, and she’s no good at playing it. She just wants her ship back in the air and back in the fight. But most of the first half of By Fire Above is tangled up in all the ways that the powers that be try to prevent that from happening.

So Josette spends the first half of the story on the ground playing politics badly and dealing with personal relationships she has no clue about. What makes this part of the situation so incredibly messy is that her hometown of Durum was captured by the enemy Vinz at the end of The Guns Above, with her mother trapped inside. She is desperate to persuade someone, anyone, that Durum can and should be retaken.

To make matters more confusing, Lord Bernat, usually called Bernie, seems to be in love with her mother. While on the ground, Bernie’s older brother Roland begins courting Josette. The relationship between Bernie and Josette was messy enough before their romantic lives became so weirdly intertwined.

The part of this story that focuses on the neverending war between the Garnians and the Vinz is way more compelling, and once the ship lifts, the story moves into high gear. And then it really flies, headlong into danger, trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and keeps pouring on more power until the absolutely wild conclusion.

And we’ll be back, and that’s the best thing of all.

Escape Rating A-: I absolutely adored The Guns Above. It was my first A+ review of 2017, and definitely made my Hugo ballot for the year – even if it wasn’t nominated.

So I had high hopes for By Fire Above. And those hopes turn out to have been a bit higher than the Mistral can actually fly. Which does not mean that I did not enjoy By Fire Above, or that it is not a good book and a great continuation to a marvelous story.

It just didn’t quite live up to its predecessor.

This story flies highest when the ship is off the ground, even when Josette isn’t actually aboard her. The first part of By Fire Above is all on the ground. The Mistral is in tatters, Josette has to battle the quartermaster to scrounge parts, and she has to spend a lot of time biting her tongue.

Her side is losing the war. It is obvious to all of those fighting it, but to none of the aristocrats and fops back in the capital. It is axiomatic that generals fight the last war, not the current one. Garnia has not lost a war in over 3 centuries. None of the ruling class are able to wrap their tiny minds around the idea that just because it hasn’t happened before does not mean it can’t happen now – especially if that reputation is not backed up by well-trained boots on the ground and strong ships and crews in both the air and the sea. Garnia has been resting on its laurels for far too long, while the Vinz have lost too many times and are determined to win this time – and have the trained soldiers and top-notch equipment to make it not just possible, but downright likely.

A lot of what makes this book interesting is the relationship between Bernie and Josette, and so far at least, that relationship is not a romance and is not veering into “will they, won’t they” territory. Bernie is in love with Josette’s mother, and Josette is falling for Bernie’s brother. Whether those relationships are at least partially about dealing with their feelings for people they can’t have is anyone’s guess.

But Josette’s romantic life is certainly a distraction from her true calling as an airship captain, and her continuing battles against the bureaucracy to retain her rank, ship and crew. I found those battles in The Guns Above much more riveting than any digressions into Josette’s love life in By Fire Above.

However, Bernie’s character arc continues to fascinate. He began as a self-absorbed and self-confessed spy for the government, determined to bring Josette down by fair means or foul. But by the end of this book, he has both changed and not changed. He is still a fop, and he is still self-absorbed, although it feels like some of that is an act. He has also discovered that he has found a place where he belongs, whether because or in spite of the violence it requires. Underneath that overdressed exterior lurks the heart of a warrior, and Bernie is just as surprised as anyone to discover it.

One of the things that ties Josette and Bernie together, particularly in By Fire Above, is the way that both of their identities are shaken, and in completely different directions. On the one hand, Josette discovers that everything she knows about herself has been a lie. Whether those revelations will shake her in the present or the future are yet to be determined.

On the other hand, Bernie has spent his life, at least until he first boarded the Mistral, as an example of the dangers of being a second son. He had no purpose, no ambition, and nothing to spend his time on except wasteful frivolity. He was in danger of dying of boredom. Now he isn’t certain of who he is or what he is becoming, not to mention whether he’ll live to see the next morning – but he’s alive for every second of it. It may be the making of him. We’ll see.

The twists and turns of the battle to retake Durum kept me on the edge of my seat. It wasn’t just about war and fighting – so much of that story had a surprising amount of depth and resonance, and definitely set the stage for book 3. This series is clearly not over.

Amazingly, By Fire Above ends on both a bang and a whimper – even if that whimper is coming from the reader. I can’t wait for the next chapter in this saga, hopefully this time next year!

Review: Obscura by Joe Hart

Review: Obscura by Joe HartObscura by Joe Hart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 340
Published by Thomas & Mercer on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

She’s felt it before…the fear of losing control. And it’s happening again.

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

Crippled by a secret addiction and suffering from creeping paranoia, Gillian finds her journey becoming a nightmare as unexplainable and violent events plague the mission. With her grip weakening on reality, she starts to doubt her own innocence. And she’s beginning to question so much more—like the true nature of the mission, the motivations of the crew, and every deadly new secret space has to offer.

Merging thrilling science-fiction adventure with mind-bending psychological suspense, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Joe Hart explores both the vast mysteries of outer space and the even darker unknown that lies within ourselves.

My Review:

Obscura was, in the end, unexpectedly marvelous.

At first, the book reminded me of Lock In by John Scalzi. There’s a disease that seems to have come out of nowhere, but is rising in incidence throughout the population, and so far, there’s no cure. Losian’s Syndrome in its way is even scarier than Hadens – because Hadens preserves the person while leaving the body behind (sorta/kinda) while Losian’s resembles Alzheimer’s in that it preserves the body while stealing away the person by separating them from the memories that make them who they are.

Unlike the scenario in Lock In, however, Losian’s is not yet widespread enough to force governments to inject massive amounts of research funding. Dr. Gillian Ryan is all alone, with only her lab assistant for company, as she studies the disease that took her husband and is now taking her daughter. As the story begins, she feels as if she is on the threshold of a breakthrough, but her funding has been eliminated.

She feels like she has nowhere to turn, except to the opioids that she is addicted to, when an old frenemy contacts her seemingly out of the blue. NASA needs her help, and they are willing to give her unlimited funding to study Losian’s – in exchange for six months of her life aboard the space station.

This is not, of course, out of the goodness of their hearts. If they have any. NASA has a problem, and Gillian is the only researcher who is working on anything that might possibly offer a solution.

Of course, all is not as it seems. The disease may be, but nothing that surrounds NASA’s offer to Gillian bears a whole lot of resemblance to the truth – or even has a nodding acquaintance with it.

In the end, this is a story about secrets. NASA lies to Gillian, Gillian lies to NASA, and everyone is lying to everyone else. And while Gillian’s research into the cure for Losian’s bears fruit, it is not remotely related to the problem that NASA hired her to solve.

Not because she’s not a good scientist, but because NASA doesn’t know what the problem really is. Once Gillian finally sees the truth for herself, she realizes that she is, after all, NASA’s best hope of solving it – not because of her scientific strengths, but because of her human weaknesses.

Escape Rating A-: The beginning of the story moves a bit slowly. There is a lot of set-up involved before the story gets off the ground, both literally and figuratively.

This is one of the other points where the story reminds me of Lock In, as in Obscura the author needs to take some time and a fair number of pages to introduce the world as it is in this near-future, as well as the issue of Losian’s and Gillian’s reasons for attempting to cure it as well as her setbacks in working on that cure.

Lock In solved this problem by introducing Hadens in the prequel, Unlocked. It meant that Lock In could start rolling immediately, but that readers who had not picked up Unlocked first could be, and often were, lost.

Part of what kept me going at the beginning of Obscura was just how many stories it reminded me of. When we finally hear a truth about what has gone wrong at the space station, it sounded a lot like two interlinked Star Trek episodes, the Original Series episode The Naked Time, and the Next Generation episode The Naked Now. In those stories a virus runs rampant through the crew, causing people to lose all their inhibitions, expose their innermost selves, and, if left unchecked, eventually results in death by extreme stupidity.

That resemblance turns out to be a red herring, but it kept me going for quite a while. And it may be a pink herring. The results are very similar to the virus in Trek, but the cause turns out to be something different all together.

There are also elements of both The Martian and The Retrieval Artist series. Just as in The Martian, Gillian spends an incredible amount of time completely isolated. The circumstances are not dissimilar in a number of ways. She is, in the end, equally as productive as the hero of Andy Weir’s book – but her reaction also feels more human in that she keeps focus in some directions but loses it in others – going more than a bit crazy and hitting absolute bottom – while still continuing to work.

The Retrieval Artist series is a detective series set on in a lunar colony, and in the end, Gillian is accused of a crime she did not commit and is forced to become a detective in order to set herself free.

But in spite of, or in some cases, because of the resemblances, the second half of this book kept me on the edge of my seat. I had to see what happened next, and whether Gillian managed to get herself out of the huge mess she found herself in. The actual ending contained both a surprise and a delight as well as a dose of reality.

One final thought – as a Star Trek fan, I couldn’t help but be struck by one revelation of the story – Bones was right.

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Four Hundred #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

My Review:

The business deal between Eva Hyde and Phillip Mansfield may be scandalous, but the story about it is delightful.

And the reason that it is so delightful is that the hero and heroine, especially the heroine, are so different from what is expected, particularly what is expected for their time and place, New York City in 1890.

Phillip Mansfield is a scion of the “Four Hundred”, the extreme upper-crust of New York society. But he’s also a hard man who exorcises the demons in his soul by boxing. He’s serious about the sport, but not a professional. Not that he isn’t good at taking on all comers. He’s very serious about it – also seriously ripped.

And that’s what Lady Eva Hyde notices under his bespoke suit and pristine white shirt – that the body underneath is deliciously well-muscled. Not that she has much experience in that regard. She’s been betrothed three times, but never married. All of her erstwhile fiances have died – and not only not at her hand but far from wherever she happened to be at the moment. But even though she’s completely blameless, three dead fiances does give a girl a nickname, and in her case it’s Lady Unlucky.

Eva doesn’t really care about the name, and she didn’t care a whole lot about the men, either. Not that she wished them dead. But her father arranged her betrothals for business purposes of his own, and she wasn’t sorry to see any of the betrothals end, even if she felt any grief at the reason for the endings.

But her father is now well past arranging anything. Lady Eva’s father, the celebrated architect E.M. Hyde, has gone senile. Today we’d recognize his condition as Alzheimer’s Disease, but in Eva’s day all that is understood is that her father is incapable of working, no longer recognizes her, and is sliding downhill fast.

And that while he may have been an absolute genius of an architect, he was consistently an idiot when it came to his personal finances. He should be wealthy, but instead he is nearly penniless.

To keep them financially afloat, Eva has been pretending to be her father, at least as far as architecture and design is concerned. She has taken commissions in his name, done all the design and drawings herself, and supervised the work, multiple times, pretending that her father is merely ill and will get better.

He won’t, but she will. While the lies gall her, Eva is every bit as great an architect as her father ever was, if not more so. But no one will recognize it, not just because she is forced into this masquerade, but purely because in 1890 no one believed that a woman could be an architect at all, great or otherwise.

One night aboard ship on her way from England to New York to take up the commission that she and her father both need to pay their bills and finance his medial care, Eva lets herself be herself for just one night with a perfect stranger.

Only to discover that her “perfect stranger” is the man she needs to convince that she can oversee his legacy hotel in place of her ailing father. He’s already seen her at her least polished and most vulnerable, and now she has to convince him that she is not merely capable, but twice as capable as any man he might hire in her place.

It’s much easier to sell Phillip Mansfield on her architectural talents than it is to pretend that what happened on board ship can never happen again. And as much as she eventually succeeds at the first, she completely fails at the second.

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to either of them – even if neither of them is willing to recognize it.

Escape Rating A-: The first book in the Four Hundred series, A Daring Arrangement, was certainly a treat, and A Scandalous Deal is even better. It’s also a bit less predictable, which for this reader is always a good thing.

What makes A Scandalous Deal so delicious is the character of Lady Eva Hyde, because she is nothing like the expected heroine for this time or place, nor is she anything like the hero or anyone she deals with thinks she ought to be. But her differences are what make her such a wonderful heroine for 21st century readers.

Lady Eva is an architect. While this seems anachronistic, it turns out that it’s only by a hair. The architect of Hearst Castle in California, begun in 1919, was also a woman. It’s easy to imagine Eva as a role model for Julia Morgan.

But the difficulties that Eva faces feel very real. No one believes she can possibly be an architect, not even once the truth is revealed and it becomes obvious that she IS an architect. She is also very career minded, and is unwilling to marry because marriage in the 1890s (and considerably thereafter) subsumed the woman’s identity under her husband’s. She needed her work to be HER work, and to receive commissions based on her efforts and not who her husband might be – and she didn’t want to put anyone in a position where they could force her to stop.

While the sexual tension between Eva and Phillip is palpable, the dramatic tension in the story revolves around Eva’s insistence on being treated as an equal, and Phillip’s inability to understand that even his protectiveness is ultimately condescending – no matter how right and proper he thinks it is.

So while the romance is the central core of this story, it is Eva, her work and her need to do that work at any price that give it both its heart and its stand up and cheer resolution. Especially when Phillip performs a very good and very, very necessary grovel.

After this terrific story, which I read in a single day because I just couldn’t put it down, I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series, A Notorious Vow.

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

 

Link: https://goo.gl/5V8ncm

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of A DARING ARRANGEMENT by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/14/2017 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

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
Goodreads

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.