Review: Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

Review: Empress of Forever by Max GladstoneEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone, Natalie Naudus
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Pages: 480
Published by Audible Audio, Tor Books on June 18, 2019
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A wildly successful innovator to rival Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, Vivian Liao is prone to radical thinking, quick decision-making, and reckless action. On the eve of her greatest achievement, she tries to outrun people who are trying to steal her success. In the chilly darkness of a Boston server farm, she sets her ultimate plan into motion. A terrifying instant later, she is catapulted through space and time to a far future where she confronts a destiny stranger and more deadly than she could ever imagine. The end of time is ruled by an ancient, powerful Empress who blesses or blasts entire planets with a single thought. Rebellion is literally impossible to consider--until Vivian Liao arrives. Trapped between the Pride—a ravening horde of sentient machines—and a fanatical sect of warrior monks who call themselves the Mirrorfaith, Viv must rally a strange group of allies to confront the Empress and find a way back to the world and life she left behind.

My Review:

Empress of Forever is an intergalactic space romp with a lot of interesting things to say – and a whole lot of fun to read.

Part of that fun is in the person of its heroine, Vivian Liao. In the story’s near-future opening, Vivian reads like a combination of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all rolled into one hard-driving steamroller of a ball. Vivian is a rich and successful tech genius who may be distant from her friends but puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to her political viewpoints.

She’s made a lot of enemies, showing up the forces of the status quo for the greedy scumbags that they are. As the story begins, Vivian is on the verge of her greatest triumph. But she knows that it’s all just part of the show, to set her up for her greatest fall.

Vivian has a plan. Vivian always has a plan. She plans to wipe herself out of all the all-seeing eyes and all-knowing databases that her companies have created – and start again. In a new place, under a new name, building a new fortune.

Until her desperate raid of a Boston super-server farm brings her to the attention of the Empress of a galaxy-spanning empire that Vivian had no idea was even out there. A crystal jade goddess who literally plucks Vivian’s heart out of her chest and extracts her from the world she knows.

Vivian wakes up inside a viscous bubble, trapped in a world that might be the future. Or might be parallel. But is certainly deadly – and she has no way out except through the Empress who grabbed her in the first place.

So Vivian Liao does what she always does – she goes forward. Even when she has no idea where that forward will lead. She’ll figure it out. She always does. No matter what it costs. Or already has.

Escape Rating A-: I had an absolute ball with this. This was one of those books that I picked up in audio and was extremely glad I did. The story is told from Vivian’s first-person perspective, so we’re inside her head the whole way. And what a wild way it is.

The reviews are comparing Empress of Forever to Guardians of the Galaxy – albeit with a feminist bent. I’m not sure that comparison does either work justice.

Vivian certainly does collect a “Scooby Gang” of her very own, and some of the gang are a bit – or in one case much, much more than a bit – outside the law. And there’s a lot of manic humor in both stories. But Guardians has way more light-heartedness at its core (at least in the first movie) than Empress ever does. The humor in Empress has much more of a gallows tinge to it.

After all, the fate of the universe is at stake – even if Vivian doesn’t know it at first.

Then again, there’s a whole lot that Vivian doesn’t know at first, at second, or sometimes even at all. She is very much a fish out of water in this story – and we’re right there with her. For most of the story, she’s not sure whether the universe she has been thrust into is the future of the world she knew – or exists parallel to it. Either is possible, and both are completely alien to her.

She finds herself at the head of her little gang of outlaws, rather like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, trying to find her way home. But this is not a dream – and home isn’t quite what she thought it was.

Vivian thinks she’s trying to find a way back, but what she really does is find her way to friendship, one misfit at a time – with herself the biggest misfit of them all. Along the way, she tours this strange new galaxy that she has been thrust into, discovering both wonders and terrors, and learning so many ways that things have gone wrong.The story of Vivian’s exploration is a tour de force of as many SF tropes as the author could squeeze into one madcap adventure. It worked for this reader, but you have to be of the persuasion that too much of a good thing is wonderful, and not every reader is.

Instead of Guardians of the Galaxy, the story that Empress of Forever reminds me of the most is the Doctor Who episode Turn Left. This is a story where we get to see what would happen if one character made one seemingly insignificant choice differently – and the universe goes to hell in a handbasket.

The Empress is searching for an alternative to her own future, because her present has creatures like the Reapers in the Mass Effect Universe eradicating every galactic civilization that reaches a certain level of technological achievement being absorbed by the rapacious aliens – and they’re coming for the Empress.

Vivian has met the enemy, and to paraphrase the immortal words of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, “we have met the enemy and she is us.” I figured this out relatively early on, but was happy to settle in for the wild ride. What made this story special is that the big reveal was not the ending – only a spur to Vivian to go onward to a conclusion that I did not expect.

Vivian has the possibility of success because she turned left. It’s not the technological solution that the Empress expected to find. Instead it’s the human solution that she rejected long, long ago.

Like the Joe Cocker song made famous by the Beatles, Vivian gets by with a little help from her friends, because she finally figures out that she needs somebody to love. That home is where the heart is, and that she has one after all.

Review: Spaceside by Michael Mammay

Review: Spaceside by Michael MammaySpaceside (Planetside #2) by Michael Mammay
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction, space opera
Series: Planetside #2
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A military legend is caught in the web between alien intrigue and human subterfuge…

Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack.

As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives.

If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant.

My Review:

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Unless they’ve become well-known but officially exonerated mass murderers. Then they become pointed-at pariahs.

Spaceside is set two years after the events in the totally awesome Planetside. Events that left Colonel Carl Butler forcibly retired, reluctantly divorced, and completely alone on Talca 4, with a cushy job at a mega-corporation that conducts corporate bonding retreats using one of their marquee products, Battlesim!

Also utterly bored, majorly depressed, and drinking way, way too much. He searching for oblivion, but after everything he’s done, it’s not merely elusive, it’s downright non-existent.

Then his boss gives him a mission. He’s supposed to investigate a security breach. Someone hacked their biggest rival, and stole data about a project so secret that no one is willing to admit the hack even happened, let alone what got hacked.

Butler’s no computer whiz, but one of his former soldiers certainly is. And she’s working in the bowels of the same place that he is. Calling in some favors from a former subordinate is easy. Finding a friend of a friend working at that rival company isn’t even that difficult.

Until his source ends up dead. The cops want to pin it on Butler, not because he did it, but because they know he’s hiding something – and they want to know what that something is.

Butler’s hiding a lot, including the fact that he’s started seeing ghosts of the people he killed on Cappa following him around Talca. Where there aren’t supposed to be any Cappans. There aren’t supposed to be any Cappans anywhere off Cappa. After all, his mission in Planetside ended with him bombing Cappa back to the stone age – or so he thought. The events that resulted in his current status as retired, mass-murdering pariah.

It turns out that nothing is as he thought. Not that the old soldier expected anything different. Or better.

After all, he’s gone into every mission he’s ever done knowing that it might be his last. And more than a few where he thought he might get stabbed in the back.

He just never figured on a shot at redemption before the end. Maybe even his end.

Escape Rating A-: The dry, wry, universe-weary voice of Carl Butler carries this story from its mundane beginning to its mic drop end. Told from Butler’s first-person perspective, we are inside his head every step of the way. His internal dialog around and about just how he ended up in this mess, his doubts and fears, makes the reader feel for him as well as with him.

Which makes it easy to get wrapped up in his stubborn refusal to drop an investigation that takes him into dark and deep places – and circles back around to everything that went wrong on Cappa. His ghosts come back to life, but this time they want his help rather than his death. At least some of them do.

It’s his corporate bosses who are in up to their greedy necks in shenanigans that they are willing to kill to keep from seeing the light of day. And they have no problems setting Butler up for the fall – after all, he’s done it before.

It’s Butler’s dogged perseverance that keeps the investigation – and the story – rattling along. Saber-rattling, that is, both figurative and literal.

What makes Butler such a marvelous protagonist is that the old soldier has no intention of being a hero – because he knows that’s mostly bunk even though it’s what people want to believe. What he’s doing is what he did on Cappa, trying to make the best of a terrible job and limit the collateral damage. If he can. Whether he becomes part of it or not.

Spaceside is a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a year. I was over the moon for Planetside last year. It was the right book at the right time and resonated with one of my all-time favorites, Old Man’s War. I’d still like to be a fly on the wall if Carl Butler and John Perry ever get together for drinks.

I enjoyed Spaceside a lot, but it took a bit longer to get into gear, or perhaps into the proper military cadence, than Planetside. We don’t get into the thick of things nearly as fast, but once we do, the race is certainly on.

This could be the end of Carl Butler’s story. Or it might not be. Even if I don’t get to take another trip into Butler’s head, I hope to see much more from the mind of his author.

Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie Reus

Guest Review: Sentinel of Darkness by Katie ReusSentinel of Darkness (Darkness Series) (Volume 8) by Katie Reus
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Darkness #8
Pages: 152
Published by KR Press on October 16, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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She thought she’d put her past behind her…

Local artist Keva might be human, but she knows about the things that go bump in the night. Years ago, a dragon shifter saved her from certain death. Ever since, she’s lived in his clan’s territory and put her life back together. But the feeling of security is only an illusion, because her past has come back to haunt her. A past with claws and fangs, demanding blood.

He’ll do whatever it takes to defend his mate…

Dagen has finally met his mate—except he insults her the first time they meet. He’s not too proud to grovel to get back into her good graces. But when a threat from her past emerges, he realizes that he’ll do anything to keep her safe. Even if it means dying—or losing her forever.

Length: 30,000 words

Author note: This is a stand-alone story in the Darkness series complete with an HEA and no cliffhanger.

Darkness series: 1. Darkness Awakened 2. Taste of Darkness 3. Beyond the Darkness 4. Hunted by Darkness 5. Into the Darkness 6. Saved by Darkness 7. Guardian of Darkness 8. Sentinel of Darkness

Guest review by Amy:

Here’s a note from the Fair Warnings Department: Right up front, in the prologue’s third paragraph, we’re told that our heroine had been raped by her ex-boyfriend, a wolf shifter who was at that very moment chasing her down for further violence. I almost put the book down on the spot, and I’m fairly certain that there will be some readers who may find that triggering, and should therefore give this one a miss. Those events are not depicted, but they are mentioned by Keva later in the book, as a past-tense event in her life. Caveat emptor.

The messiness four years ago has turned out pretty okay for Keva. Randall’s dead, and she’s found a place to be, and do her art, where she feels pretty safe. The local dragon clan has her (literally) under their wing, and while she’s not closely integrated with them, she knows them, and knows that their Alpha is looking out for her well-being. New clan member Dagen (a distant relative of the Alpha, Conall) has moved into town, and discovers Keva – and knows almost at once that she’s the mate for him.

Escape Rating: A-: I’ve said in the past that I’m not a huge paranormal-romance fan; it’s got to be well-done, and the paranormal aspects sanely presented, or I’m just not having it. When you throw in the terroristic aspects of the first few paragraphs, this one started on a slightly-off note for me. But that moment is brief, and passes quickly as Randall gets his comeuppance. Keva was rescued by the local dragon clan, and Connall and his family keep an eye on things. Dagen comes to town, a businessman in his human form, and tries to buy her shop away from her at an insultingly low price. Connall, when made aware of this, made it clear she wasn’t to be messed with in that way, so Dagen goes to apologize – and falls for her.

This book is novella-length, so things move fast. Randall’s brother shows up with blood in his eye, and, well, wolf-shifters appear to be mostly insane. Dagen really, really wants to protect her, as she’s the mate he wants. So he sets himself as guard over her home, and when she wakes in the morning and sees him in his dragon form, she’s even more enamored with him. Things proceed as they should, with both of them revealing past traumas which help to equalize their relationship more than Keva thought possible at first.

I’ve said in the past that our paranormals must be “normal” people to me, and as much as that’s possible for dragon shifters, author Katie Reus gives us that. Besides the dragons, we have wolves and mention is made of bears as well, though we do not meet one directly. But our paranormal beings here don’t deny their nature, they embrace it, while working around the strictures of a life in the early 21st century.

This book is a quick, tidy read, with a straightforward story that ends right where a fairy-tale story must. Once it was clear that these two people were our protagonists, I had to wonder if a dragon shifter can or would allow themselves to be ridden (yes, I’m an Anne McCaffrey fan, from way, way back, and the dragons may have saved this book for me). Can Dagen take her flying? Is it as wondrous a thing as it absolutely must be for this tale to work? You’ll have to read Sentinel of Darkness to find out – and if shifter romance is one of your preferences, I recommend that you do so.

Review: American Magic by Zach Fehst

Review: American Magic by Zach FehstAmerican Magic: A Thriller by Zach Fehst
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Pages: 320
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Alloy Entertainment on August 20, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this fast-paced, international thriller, chaos erupts after a shadowy figure with ties to an elite and ancient society posts incantations on the dark web that allow people to perform real magic.

When an enigmatic message uploaded to the dark web turns out to contain an ancient secret giving regular people the power to do impossible things, like levitate cars or make themselves invisible, American government officials panic. They know the demo videos on YouTube and instructions for incantations could turn from fantastical amusement to dangerous weapon at the drop of the hat, and they scramble to keep the information out of the wrong hands.

They tap Ben Zolstra, an ex-CIA field operative whose history with the Agency is conflicted at best, to lead the team that’s racing to contain the dangerous knowledge—and track down the mysterious figure behind the leak who threatens that even more dangerous spells will be released one by one until the world as we know it no longer exists.

This sweeping, globe-spanning thriller explores the dark consequences of a question mankind has been asking for centuries: What if magic were real?

My Review:

American Magic is a spy-thriller for everyone who ever wondered what would happen if someone deliberately broke the Statute of Secrecy in Harry Potter – in other words, how would the world react if magic suddenly turned out to be real – and the entire world wanted to weaponize it.

Of course they would.

It’s like a crossover story where Jack Reacher or Jack Ryan don’t so much meet Harry himself as run into some disaffected muggleborn who ran away from magic with their memory intact and decided to stick it to everyone who ever looked down upon them for not being pureblood. Or powerful. Or, really, sane.

In this version of our world, someone uses the dark side of the internet to release a video that provides complete instructions on how to perform one big piece of magic – telekinesis. That’s basically the ability to move sh*t with your mind. (A book came out earlier this year with that in the title, and I want to read it for the title alone!)

Not everyone can do magic. Just like any other talent. Not everyone can paint a masterpiece – or even draw a straight line. Not everyone can be an Olympic swimmer or gymnast. Not everyone can be Einstein or Da Vinci. Not everyone can even carry a tune in a bucket, let alone sing opera.

The CIA has found a video, also on the internet (isn’t everything, sooner or later?) of a woman who can move a car with her mind. They haven’t found anyone within their own ranks who can move more than pencil – and they want her.

It doesn’t matter what she wants. It never does. And it doesn’t matter what the agent they bring in from the cold of Vermont wants, either. Nor does it matter to them what they did to said agent to force him into that cold and out of the bureau.

It does, of course, matter to him. And to her. So Ben Zolstra, who is supposed to bring Eila Mack over to the CIA’s side – takes her side instead. And takes her out of the “safe house” where the CIA has her imprisoned.

From that point it’s off to the races on this thrill-a-minute ride, as the supposed “good” guys, the actual “bad” guys, and some even more terrible guys, for loose definitions of good, bad and guys, all chase after Ben and Mack.

In either the hope or the fear of putting the “magic” genie back in its magic bottle before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: For readers looking for a spy thriller with an interesting twist, American Magic is a hell of a lot of fun. Anyone expecting the emphasis to be on the “magic” in the title is probably going to be disappointed – because this is not a fantasy.

American Magic is very much in the spy thriller tradition. Magic in this story is treated as if it were a weapon of mass destruction. It the reader substitutes a bioterrorism weapon for “magic” the story works just as well.

And that’s part of its charm. What would happen if the secret of magic were suddenly revealed, and some people discovered that they suddenly had the power to move things with their minds. Or teleport. Or throw fireballs.

First the secret wouldn’t remain secret. Second, chaos. With the internet, no information can be kept completely secret for very long. And once something is known, it can’t (usually) become unknown – at least not overnight.

Would it be weaponized? Of course. Would some people and organizations want to use it for nefarious purposes? It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t. Would governments try to restrict the use of this new power to only their own side? History has the answer for that and it’s yes. If you don’t think so, look at the history of the ability to build an atomic bomb.

It’s from that spy thriller genre, however, that we get most of the actual plot of this story. Ben Zolstra is the epitome of the “rogue agent” who wants to serve his country but refuses to kowtow to the idiots in charge of it. He’s a quintessential lone wolf who is willing to do what needs to be done – but only if his bosses are willing to get out of his way.

And they don’t, because those same idiots can never let go of the illusion of control. And thereby hangs one thread of the story, as what should be the side of good chases down their own agent because he isn’t playing by their rules.

The most interesting characters in the story are Eila Mack, the young woman trying to claw her way back to a decent life who suddenly discovers she has magic, and Desdemona Heaton, an elderly and disgraced scholar who discovers that the myths and legends she has always believed in, the research in those legends that has destroyed her academic career – was right all along.

There is magic in the world, and there are people determined to keep that secret at all costs. Including the lives of anyone who gets in their way.

The fun in this one is watching this unconventional trio, the agent, the scholar and the mage, find a way to get that genie back in its bottle – and get everyone, both good and bad, off their backs. All the want is to put the world back together – even if none of them are quite together themselves.

Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + Giveaway

Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + GiveawayThe Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Series: Physick Book #2
Pages: 338
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe returns to the world of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with a bewitching story of a New England history professor who must race against time to free her family from a curseConnie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America—especially women’s home recipes and medicines—and by exposing society's threats against women fluent in those skills. But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows.

When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a hundreds’-years-long deadly curse.

Flashing back through American history to the lives of certain supernaturally gifted women, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs affectingly reveals not only the special bond that unites one particular matriarchal line, but also explores the many challenges to women’s survival across the decades—and the risks some women are forced to take to protect what they love most.

My Review:

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because those are the words written on James and Lily Potter’s tombstone. Or, if your reading trends in an entirely different direction, it’s a line in the 15th chapter of the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Considering the story in The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, the Harry Potter reference is more appropriate. Because Temperance Hobbs and all of her mothers and daughters in every generation up to and including Connie Goodwin in the here and now, were all “cunning women”. In other words, they were witches. Sorta/kinda. More or less.

Howsomever, Connie doesn’t actually want to defeat death, she just wants to postpone the bout with him until a much later date. Because Connie is caught on the horns of a familial dilemma that she wasn’t prepared for in any way, shape, or form.

In all the generations of her family, all the way back to Deliverance Dane in the 1690s, there has been one constant in their lives. They can have a husband – or they can have a child – but they can’t have both at the same time. Or at least not for very long.

Whether it’s really terrible luck or a truly horrific curse, in each generation, as soon as they have a child, their husbands die. Of accidents. Natural causes. War. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One after another after another.

But Connie Goodwin is more than just an occasional practitioner. She is also an academic specializing in American History of the Colonial Period, with a particular emphasis on the belief in, practice of, and suppression of witchcraft.

She did her Ph.D. thesis on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and her adventures in producing that thesis and exploring the world and practices of her ancestress are detailed in the novel of the same name.

She’s already pregnant. She just doesn’t want to lose her lover, the father of her child, to any force other than the hands of time – a long, long time from now.

Connie is sure that somewhere or somewhen in her family tree, at least one woman found a way around the curse. Connie just has to discover that secret for herself, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I did read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, back when it came out ten years ago. I remember it being a terrific time slip book, but I do not remember the details. I didn’t need to in order to enjoy The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs – but enjoy it I certainly did.

The events of that first book are 10 years in Connie’s past as well as ours. I want to say that her life has moved on, but technically I’m not sure that’s true. She is every bit as driven and tunnel-visioned as an Assistant Professor seeking tenure as she was as a grad student seeking a Ph.D.

She’s still a hamster on her wheel, unable to see anything except what’s right in front of her. And what’s right in front of her is always more work. The description of the paper chase of academic life rings true – and makes the reader wonder how Sam has managed to be so tolerant and so supportive for so long.

We’re not surprised that he’s reaching the end of his rope.

But Connie’s discovery that she is pregnant changes her focus in ways well beyond the obvious. She’s worried about the effect it will have on her still-fledgling career – but she fears that their child means Sam’s imminent death – and history bears her out. And she finally figures out that she doesn’t want to lose Sam, and that she needs to find some balance between her work and her life – because they are not, and should not be, the same thing all the time.

Connie begins researching at a furious and desperate pace, hoping to discover that at least one of her ancestresses beat the curse – and how she did it. The portrayal of how the research is conducted, the long hours of fruitless searching, the despair of reaching dead ends and the joy of discovery, sucks the reader right in – as do the interlude chapters told from the perspective of the women that Connie finds in her search.

Connie’s race against time, her race to save her soon-to-be-husband Sam, provides all the tension this story needs. There was an attempt to add a more human villain to the mix, but it didn’t quite work for me. This person wasn’t present enough or woven into the narrative enough to make that concept gel for me – and the story didn’t need it.

Connie’s race against time and death – just like Temperance Hobbs’ before her – provided all the drama needed – along with plenty of compulsion to keep the reader in a race to get to the very last page.

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Review: The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

Review: The Wedding Party by Jasmine GuilloryThe Wedding Party (The Wedding Date, #3) by Jasmine Guillory
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Wedding Date #3
Pages: 320
Published by Berkley on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend

2. They hate each other

After an “Oops, we made a mistake” kiss, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

My Review:

The Wedding Party is the third book in the Wedding Date series, after last year’s marvelous debut, that actual Wedding Date itself, and the followup, The Proposal.

The books in this series have interesting commonalities, as well as surprisingly different opening, but they are all a whole lot of fun.

So far, at least, all of our couples have begun their romances not thinking that they were romances at all. Rather, every single couple starts out as a fling with a time limit, only to discover at a much later date that they have drifted into a real relationship without intending to. Generally without being willing to reveal to their secret significant other that that’s what they have become. And misunderstandings, heartbreak and hilarity ensue in equal measure.

But this series also serves as a kind of lovely introduction to the various romantic tropes, not in a way that is ever cliche, but more as an exploration of the many different ways that people can meet, fall in love, and eventually find their happy.

The first book, The Wedding Date, worked with the “fake date” trope, along with a “trapped in a stuck elevator” start. The stories in the series since that introduction, at least so far, are wrapped around the preparations for the actually wedding of the couple who began as each other’s fake Wedding Date.

The Proposal featured his best friend as well as the woman he rescues from extreme public embarrassment by pretending to be her bestie. The opening of that one is a lesson in “how not to do it” – a lesson that the hero eventually manages to take to heart. The romance in this one is the “rebound turned real”.

And now we’re up to The Wedding Party, and the romance is between two of the people in that party, the bride’s two best friends – who hate each other. So this one is an enemies into lovers story, and a terrific example of the trope.

All three of these stories take place somewhat simultaneously. The Wedding Date kicks things off, but The Proposal and The Wedding Party take place during some of the “offscreen” moments in that first book. In other words, this probably isn’t the place to start. I think you could, but I’m not really sure why you’d want to – you’d miss a lot about the circle of friends that is wrapped up in this wedding.

Those two members of the wedding party are Maddie and Theo, who have both agreed to be the bride’s attendants at the wedding; Maddie as a bridesmaid and Theo as a bridesman. The bride, Alexa, had to make up a title for him, but she doesn’t care as long as he’s part of her party – and he’s happy to be there for her.

Except that he’ll have to spend an awful lot of time with Maddie – and vice versa.

Alexa may be their best friend, but they can’t stand each other. He’s all buttoned down and standoffish, and she’s all fashion and flair. They get along like oil and water. They don’t mix, they don’t want to mix, but they both mostly hold their peace for Alexa’s sake.

It’s going to be awful for both of them, until the wedding. When they can stop pretending to make nice and go back to sniping at each other every chance they get.

Unless all that animosity is a great big cover up for something a whole lot more explosive.

Escape Rating A-: The thing about the enemies to lovers trope that underpins The Wedding Party is that, of course, somewhere along the way the enemies have to turn into lovers. That does not mean they have to love each other, especially at first. But it does mean that at some point they have to fall into bed – or against the wall – or get drunk and horny – or all of the above.

Which leads Maddie and Theo to fall into another classic romance trope. They both figure that the chemistry between them will cool if they just explore it to death. Which never works. They both expect to get the other out of their systems in time for Alexa’s wedding – if not well before then.

Instead, the lack of expectations in their non-relationship relationship allows them to be their truest selves with each other – selves that are not much like the self-protective worst that they both fell into when they first met.

The tension in this story comes not from the “will they/won’t they” because they do. Frequently and often. Instead, it comes from Maddie’s desire to keep their whatever-it-is secret. She doesn’t want Alexa to know – not because their mutual best friend will hate it, but because she’ll love it a bit too much and then be unhappy when it fizzles out.

But it doesn’t fizzle. It keeps on sizzling. By the time they’re both all in, neither is willing to admit it to the other, and the secrecy becomes a monster of it’s very own. And it’s really then that the tension ratchets up to the boiling point – and explodes.

One of the terrific things about this author is that she makes her characters, and their romance, feel real and not contrived – whatever the situation turns out to be. We see Theo and Maddie get real with each other, and we understand why it happens. And then, they do what humans do. They get scared. They react. They overreact.

And it feels like stuff that would happen to real people who have fallen in love and are admittedly being real stupid about the whole thing. They’ve gotten to know the real person hiding behind the others mask, and they like that person and want to be with them.

And so do we.

Next up in the Wedding Date series is Royal Holiday, later this year. Maddie’s mother Vivian gets her chance to find her happy ever after – and I can’t wait.

Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly Noble

Review: A Beach Wish by Shelly NobleA Beach Wish by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Pages: 371
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble returns to the beach in her latest summer read about the family we create and the wishes we make that can shape us.

Zoe Bascombe has never said no to her family. When she blew her Juilliard audition, she caved to their wishes and went to business school. But when her mother dies and leaves instructions for Zoe to spread her ashes at a place called Wind Chime Beach, she defies her brothers and starts out for a New England town none of them has ever heard of and discovers a side of her garden club mother that her wildest dreams hadn’t imagined.

Zoe has another family.

Her first instinct is to run home. Instead she is caught in the middle of her feuding new relatives. With one family fighting among themselves and the other not speaking to her, Zoe must somehow find a way to bridge her new life with her old.

For the first time in her life, Zoe must make a stand for her family—both of them. If only she can only figure out how.

Her answer lies at Wind Chime Beach where for generations people have come to add their chimes to the ones already left among the trees. And when the wind blows and the air fills with music, their secrets, dreams, and hopes are sent into the world. There’s a message for Zoe here—if she has the courage to open her heart.

My Review:

A Beach Wish is purely delightful women’s fiction. Or chick lit. Some of the women who move forward with their lives in the course of this story are young enough to be figuring their lives out for the first time. And some are on their way to second, third or even fourth inventions of self. And one who might be on fifth or sixth – except that she fails, again.

That’s only part of the story.

As so many stories begin, to paraphrase Charles Dickens in his immortal Christmas Carol, Jenny Bascombe was dead, to begin with. But the mess she left behind is very much alive, and plenty of people are getting kicked in the process of resolving that mess.

Jenny left instructions upon her death. Detailed instructions. She was just that kind of organized. Buttoned-up. Controlled. Definitely controlled – at least for all of the life that her three sons and one daughter ever saw.

So her last request makes no sense whatsoever. For her daughter Zoe, and just her daughter Zoe, to take her ashes to a place called Wind Chime Beach and scatter them there.

Her two older brothers are up in arms. Her closest brother, Chris, wants to help her however he can.

But Zoe does what she has always done – she listens to her mother, one last time, and drives north from New Jersey to that beach.

Where she discovers that she never really knew her mother after all – but that there are a whole lot of people who did. And that they have all been waiting for Jenny to finally come home. One last time.

Escape Rating A-: I expected to like this, but I really, really liked this. Finishing at 2 am in the morning liked.

This is one of those stories where the family is hella complicated, and only gets crazier as it goes. Zoe’s two oldest brothers seem to be chips off the old block, meaning dear old (left mom for his secretary) dad. Not that they seem likely to bail on their wives, just that they’ve bought into the whole corporate, suit and tie, climbing the ladder of success, living their lives based on other people’s judgments, kind of thing.

Zoe and Chris are the rebels. Chris is an actor who is out of work as often as he’s in. He’s also gay, but that seems not to be much of an issue for the family (times definitely have changed, at least in fiction). But he’s not ever planning on doing the 9-to-5 routine that his brothers do, and it drives said brothers a bit crazy.

Zoe tried the 9-to-5 – more like the 7-to-whenever, but her job as an events manager to the stars has just dried up. She got into events managing the music business because she wanted to BE in the music business, but now she’s neither. And at more than enough loose ends to be willing to carry out her mother’s last request – no matter how little sense it makes.

Until it does. What makes this story so interesting and so much fun is what Zoe discovers at Wind Chime Beach. Once upon a time, her mother was someone entirely different from the uber-organized uber-planner who raised Zoe and her brothers.

And there are a whole lot of people who remember that Jenny. The Jenny who might have been her best self. Those people are ready and willing to welcome Zoe into their midst. Some with open arms, some with a clenched fist.

Figuring out the who and why of that past, and why Zoe’s strong resemblance to her mother evokes such strong reactions, is the heart and soul of this book. It’s Zoe’s journey of discovery, but that’s not all it is. It’s also a story of grief and reconciliation.

In the end, Zoe and the people Jenny left behind at Wind Chime Beach have a chance to finally say their goodbyes and move on with their lives. It makes for a fascinating contrast that one of them doesn’t. Some people don’t want closure, they want to clutch their hurts like pearls – and isn’t that all too human.

I enjoyed Zoe’s journey of discovery. I also found it refreshing that while Zoe opens her heart and lets plenty of new people into her life, there is no romance here – nor should there be. This is not intended to be a story about finding an HEA. It is appropriately, and wonderfully, a story about finding oneself. A Beach Wish is a terrific beach read – or a lovely read for any time at all.

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Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeach Clobbered: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B Mystery #1
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What’s black and white and dead all over? Georgia bed and breakfast proprietor Nina Fleet finds out when she comes across a corpse in a penguin costume.

Nina Fleet’s life ought to be as sweet as a Georgia peach. Awarded a tidy sum in her divorce, Nina retired at 41 to a historic Queen Anne house in quaint Cymbeline, GA. But Nina’s barely settled into her new B&B-to-be when a penguin shows up on her porch. Or, at least, a man wearing a penguin suit.

Harry Westcott is making ends meet as an ice cream shop’s mascot and has a letter from his great-aunt, pledging to leave him the house. Too bad that’s not what her will says. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Perpetual Poverty have lost their lease. Real estate developer Gregory Bainbridge intends to turn the convent into a golfing community, so Cymbeline’s mayor persuades Nina to take in the elderly nuns. And then Nina finds the “penguin” again, this time lying in an alley with a kitchen knife in his chest.

A peek under the beak tells Nina it’s not Harry inside the costume, but Bainbridge. What was he doing in Harry’s penguin suit? Was the developer really the intended victim, or did the culprit mean to kill Harry? Whoever is out to stop Harry from contesting the sale of his great-aunt’s house may also be after Nina, so she teams up with him to cage the killer before someone clips her wings in Peach Clobbered, Anna Gerard’s charming first Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

I want to know where Cymbeline is – because it sounds like a great place to visit that would only be a hop, skip and a jump from my home in the Atlanta exurbs. And we all need a quiet place to escape to every once in a while.

Not that things are really quiet in tiny Cymbeline – especially not for Nina Fleet.

Nina would love to open a B&B in her newly acquired Victorian house, but there are roadblocks a-plenty in her way, including plenty of B&Bs that beat her to the punch. As much of a tourist mecca as Cymbeline has become, no place needs an infinite number of inns – until a sudden influx of displaced nuns gives the mayor a reason to fast-track Nina’s application.

Opening an instant B&B isn’t the only problem that Nina has to contend with. She bought her house legally, fair-and-square, cash on the barrel-head, etc., etc., etc. And she absolutely loves it. But Harry Westcott, the nephew of the late owner of Nina’s house, believes that he is the rightful owner of the property – and he’ll see her in court.

The worst part for Nina is that he might be. He probably isn’t, but there’s an off chance. Not that Nina did anything wrong in her purchase, but that the seller might not have had the right to sell in the first place. She’d get all her money back, but she really, really, really just wants the house. In a few short months, it’s become home.

Between Harry and the nuns, Nina seems to have her hands full. They only get fuller when a local property developer is killed while wearing Harry’s penguin suit. How that translates to Harry becoming a suspect in his murder is anybody’s guess, considering that Harry may be one of the few people in town who didn’t have a motive.

Including the nuns.

Nina can’t resist poking her curious nose into the affairs of her neighbors, and the murder of the least liked among them. And she can’t help but band together with Harry and the nuns when they are all under threat.

When they set a trap to catch the killer, the tables get turned. It’s up to the nuns to save the day!

Escape Rating A-: This was just a load of fun from beginning to end, from Harry’s first appearance in the penguin suit right up to his driving off into the sunset at the end, with the murder resolved but the ownership of the B&B still very much up in the air – along with Nina and Harry’s completely unresolved potentially romantic and currently contentious relationship.

Their “relationship” begins with a fairly twisted meet cute. Harry arrives on Nina’s doorstep, suffering from heat stroke (all too plausible with our hot, muggy Georgia summers) while wearing a penguin costume. Which isn’t helping with the heat stroke. Clutching an envelope in his hand that he believes proves his rights to own Nina’s house.

Watching the ebbs and flows of their always just-one-tick-away-from-mutually-assured-destruction relationship is always fun. They want to like each other. They want to trust each other. It’s entirely possible that they have the hots for each other. And they want to destroy each other’s claim to the house they both love.

And they need each other to solve the murder, just adding to the fraught possibilities.

The nuns, on the other hand, are surprisingly delightful from beginning to end. They are the perfect opening guests for Nina’s B&B, even if their reason for landing in her lap (so to speak) is pretty awful. And directly relates to their possible motive for killing that hateful real estate developer.

He’s the one who evicted them from their home and business. Most of the nuns have been together, making excellent cheese and saying their prayers, for 50 years together. With the loss of their convent and fromagerie, the archdiocese plans to retire them to separate communities. They are broken-hearted at the thought of losing their family-of-choice.

And absolutely perfect guests. Also surprisingly with the 21st century for a group of elderly semi-cloistered nuns. Their customers have kept them firmly rooted in the now – to Nina’s surprise, and to the detriment of the killer stalking Cymbeline.

This is definitely a cozy mystery, as it’s wonderfully light-hearted – even if it does feature a dead body – albeit a dead body in a borrowed penguin suit.

Nina’s exploration of the town in her process of eliminating would-be suspects introduces readers to all of the residents of this quirky little place. Even if she does go off the track of whodunnit on more than one occasion. Or perhaps especially because. And I went right there with her. I didn’t guess this one at all.

As Peach Clobbered reads like the first book in a series, I’m looking forward to reading Nina’s (and hopefully Harry’s) future adventures. And definitely getting to know the denizens of Cymbeline a whole lot better.

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Review: Never Look Back by Alison Gaylin

Review: Never Look Back by Alison GaylinNever Look Back by Alison Gaylin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Reminiscent of the bestsellers of Laura Lippman and Harlan Coben—with a Serial-esque podcast twist—an absorbing, addictive tale of psychological suspense from the author of the highly acclaimed and Edgar Award-nominated What Remains of Me and the USA Today bestselling and Shamus Award-winning Brenna Spector series.

When website columnist Robin Diamond is contacted by true crime podcast producer Quentin Garrison, she assumes it's a business matter. It's not. Quentin's podcast, Closure, focuses on a series of murders in the 1970s, committed by teen couple April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy. It seems that Quentin has reason to believe Robin's own mother may be intimately connected with the killings.

Robin thinks Quentin’s claim is absolutely absurd. But is it? The more she researches the Cooper/LeRoy murders herself, the more disturbed she becomes by what she finds. Living just a few blocks from her, Robin’s beloved parents are the one absolute she’s always been able to rely upon, especially now amid rising doubts about her husband and frequent threats from internet trolls. She knows her mother better than anyone—or so she believes. But all that changes when, in an apparent home invasion, Robin's father is killed and her mother's life hangs in the balance.

Told through the eyes of Robin, podcaster Quentin, and a series of letters written by fifteen-year-old April Cooper at the time of the killings, Never Look Back asks the question:

How well do we really know our parents, our partners—and ourselves?

My Review:

There are all sorts of sayings about not being able to know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from. At the same time, there are plenty of sayings about looking forward and not looking back.

This is a book about when happens when you look back a little too hard and a little too deeply. Because when you undermine the foundations of your life, pretty much everything gets washed away in the resulting flood.

It’s also a story about just how small the world, especially the world of a small town, can be. No matter how long its been since you lived there or how far away you managed to escape.

Or how many bodies you buried along the way. Particularly when there are actual corpses involved.

Once upon a time in the 1970s, a couple of teenagers went on a killing spree, until they were themselves killed in a fire that wiped out an entire cult/hippie compound.

But it’s over 40 years later, and one of the many, many people whose lives were impacted by that crime spree is looking for closure. He thinks the case about the killers is open and shut, and that it’s only the mess it made of his own life – even though he hadn’t been born yet – that needs to be resolved.

It’s not that simple. Closure is hard to come by, especially in a case that might still be open after all.

Escape Rating A-: I can’t really talk about this book without giving much too much away. So I’ll get into what I thought and especially what I felt.

This was a book that I really didn’t expect to get into nearly as much as I did. While I like the occasional thriller, that isn’t usually my jam. Too many heroines in jeopardy for my taste. But this isn’t one of those, not at all.

It’s actually kind of debatable whether there’s either a hero (or heroine) of any kind in this one. This is a story about a lot of confused people who are tied to each other in ways that no one expects or even knows at the beginning.

And no one is a reliable narrator of their own life. Not even while its happening. Perhaps especially while it’s happening.

What wrapped me up into this story were the questions that it asked about all the characters, and about how the past is viewed and how much interpretation, both at the time and later, influences what we think.

It seems indubitable that April Cooper and Gabriel LeRoy killed the people they killed back in the 1970s. Certainly those people are all dead, and equally certainly some of the witnesses are still alive. But, and it turns out to be a very big but, we see from the very beginning that even the witnesses interpreted events and motivations in ways that smack of hindsight and putting the pieces together more than they do what was actually seen – and done.

Eyewitnesses are infamously not reliable, after all. And humans want to ascribe causation to events in ways that can’t be verified, because we want things to make sense, even when they don’t. Perhaps especially when they don’t.

The story is about lives unravelling, April and Gabriel’s in the past, and Robin’s and Quentin’s in the present. Not that Quentin’s life seems to have ever been all that ravelled in the first place.

The person I felt for most was Robin. She begins the story believing that her life is a certain way, and that the foundation of it is strong. When it all falls apart, she almost drowns in it, but the truth does set her free.

And I had no idea what that truth would be until it arrived. Which was marvelous!

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Review: Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Honor by Mary BaloghSomeone to Honor (Westcott, #6) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #6
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on July 2, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

First appearances deceive in the newest charming and heartwarming Regency romance in the Westcott series from beloved New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.

Abigail Westcott's dreams for her future were lost when her father died, and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. Indeed, she's grown confident enough to scold the careless servant chopping wood outside without his shirt on in the proximity of ladies.

But the man is not a servant. He is Gilbert Bennington, the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon. Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover, and he doesn't take lightly to being condescended to—secretly because of his own humble beginnings.

If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

My Review:

The entire Westcott series is the story of one family making lemonade out of what initially were some rather bitter lemons – with no sugar at all.

Humphrey Westcott is dead, to begin with. And that’s a good thing for him, because if he hadn’t died before the series opened, the line to kill him would stretch for miles. The late and totally unlamented Humphrey was a bigamist, a fact that was only discovered after his unexpected death.

The series is the story of all of the applecarts that were upset by that discovery learning, one way or another, and sometimes quite painfully, that the overturning of the lives they thought they had was actually the best thing that ever happened to them.

Someone to Honor is Abigail Westcott’s turn. Abigail was the youngest child and second daughter of Humphrey-the-arsehole and the woman everyone believed was his wife, Viola Kingsley. Abigail, as the daughter of the Earl of Riverdale, as Humphrey the figurative bastard was, expected to have her Season on the Marriage Mart, find a wealthy and titled husband, and be married. It was not necessarily what she wanted, but it was her duty and she seems to have had no objections to fulfilling it.

(I never have anything nice to say about the late, unlamented Humphrey. NO ONE in any of the stories has anything nice to say. If divorce had been possible, his family would have kept Viola and abandoned Humphrey – and he deserves every bit of opprobrium heaped on his coffin. But it is amazing just how present he still is, in spite of his death.)

Abby has spent the last six years trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. After all that time, the one thing that she is certain of is that the upending of the life she expected was a gift. She still has her family – all of it including her late father’s family – she still has all the friends who matter – and she knows who her true friends are. She has enough money that she doesn’t have to marry in order to put a roof over her head.

And she has the opportunity to be who she wants to be without having to deal with the expectations of the ton and its perpetual search for any character flaw that allows it to tear down her life, her character, her standing and her prospects.

She’s free.

But she’s not free of her well-meaning family’s desire to make a place for her on the fringes of the society that has rejected her for the so-called stain of her illegitimate birth. She loves them, they love her, she doesn’t want to anger or disappoint them – but she doesn’t want to be begrudged a place in the shadows. That life is over for her – and she knows she’s the better for it.

So when the opportunity arises to stay in her childhood home with her brother Harry, a wounded veteran of Waterloo, she jumps at it. Harry needs someone around who won’t coddle him, and Abby needs the quiet to figure out her next steps in life.

What she does not count on is Harry’s friend Gil, the fellow officer who rescued Harry from a convalescent hospital in Paris and brought him home.

In some ways, Gil and Abby are opposites. Where Abby was raised as a lady only to discover she is a bastard, Gil was raised as a bastard only to rise to the officer ranks, and therefore become a gentleman-by-courtesy, in the Army. The illegitimate son of a washerwoman and a nobleman, Gil raised himself up mostly by his own efforts, while Abby fell through no fault of her own.

In their little household of three, Harry, Abby and Gil, Abby and Gil draw closer to each other in fits and starts. Both over their shared concern about Harry, and in their surprising commonalities with each other.

When Gil’s secrets are finally laid bare, Abby is ready to stand up – and stand beside him – come what may. That the entire Westcott family stands with them guarantees that love will triumph, no matter who stands in the way.

Escape Rating A-: I have loved this series from beginning to end. (There was one half-exception, but even that was good – just not great). A big part of what I love about this series is that they are romances but are not frivolous. Or perhaps I should say that the heroines are not frivolous. The heroines of this series, to a woman, both have agency and remain a part of their times. Their situations are not pulled out of whack in anachronistic ways in order to give them the kind of choices that make them relatable for 21st century readers.

It helps that, with the exception of Anna Snow in Someone to Love, the women are no longer members of the aristocracy. Humphrey’s asshattery pulls them down into the upper middle class, removing them from the absurd expectations of the ton while giving them obstacles to overcome and lives to make of their own choosing.

Abigail can be who and what she wants to be and her family will still love her and support her in the emotional sense. Her finances give her freedom to be anything a woman of her times could be – including a spinster if that’s what she decides.

Her decision to marry Gil is not initially a love match – nor is it an arranged one. They have become friends, more or less. They like and respect each other – and they desire each other. She would like to marry, and Gil needs to marry. They enter their marriage with eyes wide open to everything except their true feelings towards each other. Because the seeds of love are certainly there, even if neither of them has the experience to see them.

Plenty of happy marriages begin with much shakier foundations.

In the end, this is a series about a fascinating group of people dealing with unexpected adversity. Life has thrown a monkey wrench into their expectations, and with each book we see the Westcott’s make lemonade out of that crop of lemons. And we see them rise together and support each other, which is certainly a treat.

The Westcotts seem to be the exception that proves the rule about all happy families being alike – they have become a happy family, and a stronger one, by moving forward from something that should have divided them by behaving in a manner that no one expected. It’s what makes them so much fun to read.

So I’m very happy to say that they’ll be back in Someone to Remember, late in the fall. I can’t wait!