Review: Someone Perfect by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone Perfect by Mary BaloghSomeone Perfect (Westcott, #9) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Westcott #9
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Sometimes, just one person can pull a whole family apart. And sometimes, it just takes one person to pull it back together. For fans of Bridgerton, New York Times bestselling Regency Romance author Mary Balogh shows how love truly conquers all in this new Friends of the Westcotts novel.
As a young man, Justin Wiley was banished by his father for mysterious reasons, but now, his father is dead, and Justin has been Earl of Brandon for six years. A dark, dour man, he, nonetheless, takes it as his responsibility to care for his half-sister, Maria, when her mother dies. He travels to her home to fetch her back to the family seat at Everleigh Park.
Although she adored him, once, Maria now loathes Justin, and her friend, Lady Estelle Lamarr, can see, immediately, how his very name upsets her. When Justin arrives and invites Estelle and her brother to accompany Maria to Everleigh Park to help with her distress, she begrudgingly agrees, for Maria's sake.
As family secrets unravel in Maria's homecoming, Justin, too, uncovers his desire for a countess. And, while he may believe he's found an obvious candidate in the beautiful 25-year-old Lady Estelle, she is most certain that they could never make a match...

My Review:

Is there such a thing as historical relationship fiction? Or is that just what used to be called a family saga?

The reason I’m asking is that as the Westcott series has continued it has begun to feel more like relationship fiction (or women’s fiction to use the more popular but also more cringe-worthy name) and less like a romance. Not that romances don’t occur during each book including this one, but rather that the romance doesn’t feel like the central point of the story.

Particularly in this book, Someone Perfect, which feels like it’s more about the family relationships between and around Justin Wiley, the Earl of Brandon, and his estranged sister Maria. Who just so happens to be best friends with Lady Estelle Lamarr, who, through several twists and turns, is tangentially related to the Westcott family this series has followed through nine books now and hopefully counting.

But it feels like Estelle and her twin brother Bertrand are part of this story in order to provide that connection to the Westcotts. Even though Estelle eventually becomes the romantic heroine of this story. Which turned out to be lovely but just didn’t seem to stand at the center of it all.

Instead, that romance occurs in the midst of a story about collateral damage, which has been the central theme of the whole, overarching Westcott saga.

The Westcott series began back in Someone to Love when Humphrey Westcott, the Earl of Riverdale, shuffled off this mortal coil. While going through his papers in the wake of his death, his pernicious bastardy came to light.

Not that Humphrey’s parents weren’t married, but rather that Humphrey’s marriage to the woman who believed she was his countess lo these many years was bigamous – making their four children bastards and his not-exactly-countess a scarlet woman. (She eventually marries Estelle and Bertrand’s father in Someone to Care but that’s another story.)

Humphrey never suffered for his actions – unless he’s occupying a very hot place in hell. But the series as a whole has focused on his collateral damage – all the people whose lives were overturned when his perfidy was discovered.

Justin and Maria are also suffering from being collateral damage as a result of a parent’s unforgivable actions. In their case, the parent at the heart of the mess was Maria’s mother, Justin’s stepmother. Justin and Maria have been estranged for over a decade because of her mother’s actions. Maria has been cut off from her entire family on both sides, all her aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., because of her mother’s actions.

And it’s Maria’s and Justin’s journey that feels like the centerpiece of this book. Not just that Justin has to put his very real hurts and grievances into the past – because all the perpetrators are beyond Earthly justice.

Maria loves her mother, and accepted everything her mother said without question. But her mother is dead, and her entire gathered family is presenting her with an entirely different perspective on the life she thought she knew. If she can accept the love and support they offer – there are questions she needs to ask herself in order to be part of a family that has always loved her even though she never knew it.

Escape Rating B+: I hesitated a bit before starting this, because I was still getting over last week’s foray into historical romance. But I’m glad I picked this one up after all.

At the same time, I still have mixed feelings about this book. In this case, those mixed feelings are the result of being of two minds about what kind of book it is. If this is supposed to be a historical romance, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I enjoyed the story, and liked the characters, but if this is a romance then the romance needed to be the center of the story, and it just wasn’t. I didn’t really buy the romance between Justin and Estelle even though I liked them both. His first proposal to Estelle was rather lackluster and she rightfully rejected it. But it did sum up their relationship perhaps a little too well.

Maria’s and Justin’s journey towards being a family again and being welcomed into the rest of their family felt like it was a much bigger and better story. I felt their heartache and heartbreak and just how much they wanted to find their way back to each other even though on Maria’s part, at least, there was absolutely no trust to be found. The big family gathering that Justin arranged – that could absolutely have been a complete disaster on every level – turned out to be heartwarming and utterly lovely.

So the romance occurred and the family story won the day in this one. At the end, neither Justin’s sister Maria nor Estelle’s brother Bertrand had found even a hint of a future romantic partner, and there was nothing to indicate that they were looking at each other at all – which is probably a good thing. Both because it would be a bit TOO neat and tidy, and because it means that there will hopefully be at least two more books to look forward to in the Westcott series!

Review: The Powerbroker by Anna Hackett

Review: The Powerbroker by Anna HackettThe Powerbroker (Norcross Security #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #6
Pages: 302
Published by Anna Hackett on November 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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She’s undercover in a dangerous motorcycle club, and her unwanted protector is the city’s most lethal man.

Police Detective Brynn Sullivan is dedicated to her job and living up to the memory of her cop father. She’s out to prove herself on her biggest case yet—stopping a dangerous drug from flooding the streets of San Francisco. She needs to go undercover with the city’s wildest, most dangerous motorcycle club, and that means using any contact she can to get in there.

Even the dark, powerful ex-military man who rules the city’s streets from the shadows—Vander Norcross.

After years fighting for his country as commander of a covert Ghost Ops team, Vander Norcross has built Norcross Security into a thriving business to keep his family and friends safe. He’s a powerbroker in San Francisco, with his finger on the pulse of what’s happening—both legal and not so legal. When his friend asks a favor putting a detective—a female one—undercover with the Iron Wanderers MC, Vander is not on board.

It goes against every protective instinct he has, but Brynn proves to be tenacious, annoying, smart, and far too tempting.

Brynn and Vander strike enough sparks to start an inferno, but when dangerous players up the stakes, they find themselves with a bounty on their heads. On the run, with only each other to depend on, Brynn discovers she has an even bigger battle on her hands—capturing the heart of a man who thinks he’s too dangerous to ever fall in love.

My Review:

Brynn’s words to Vander made the whole book for me, when she told him that she needed him to stand beside her, not in front of her. As a cop, Detective Brynn Sullivan brings every bit as much to the table of badassery as former Ghost Ops team leader Vander Norcross. Just as much skill, just as much fight, and just as much need to fight for those she protects and what she believes in.

That Brynn is a beautiful woman whom Vander wants to protect at all costs, even from himself, does not change Brynn’s perspective at all. She’ll stop being the woman who fascinates him if he lets him protect her. She’ll come to hate herself, and him into the bargain.

No matter how much it makes him clench his fists and grit his teeth whenever she throws herself into danger – usually head first and guns blazing. But then, he’s no different.

Both Brynn and Vander are people who have decided that they don’t have either the time or the inclination for a relationship. She’s too wrapped up in her career, and he’s still too tormented by the ghosts in his head.

He thinks it’s too dangerous for him to fall for someone, because if someone he loved were endangered, he’d burn the city down to save them and damn the consequences to anyone who got in his way – or his soul. Brynn can’t find anyone who can accept her as she is, that the cop part of her is every bit as important as the rest of the woman.

But when Brynn’s cousin Hunt, the detective who works with Norcross Security and helps to keep the police powers that be and Norcross from rubbing each other a bit too raw, asks Vander for a favor, Vander knows he owes Hunt big, even if he really, really hates the particular favor that the cop is asking for.

Hunt needs Vander to give Brynn an introduction to the Iron Wanderers Motorcycle Club, because someone in the club is bringing a deadly new designer drug into the city that Vander protects even if he doesn’t serve.

Brynn will be going undercover among some of the most dangerous people in the city to uncover the dealer and his supply chain in order to stop the drugs. Vander is all too aware that she’s walking into trouble – possibly more trouble than she can handle.

He can’t let her go. He can’t stop her, either. All he can do is step up and walk beside her, even if it breaks the heart he swears he doesn’t have.

Escape Rating B+: I loved Brynn, I adored Vander, but I definitely got a reminder of the things I don’t like about motorcycle club romances. Or perhaps that was just that the villainous dealer seems to have gotten entirely too many of his speeches out of the “Villains Handbook for Overdone Monologuing”. I didn’t like him – not that we were supposed to, but he was just a walking, talking, spouting cliché. At least Trucker, the leader of the Wanderers, had a tiny bit of nuance – or humanity – or both.

Obviously not my favorite setting.

But, but, BUT the romance between Brynn and Vander was smokin’ hot, and it had so many of the elements I really enjoy. Brynn was just awesome. I love a kickass heroine, especially one who makes sure that her love interest RESPECTS her at every turn. I particularly liked the way that Brynn was always an active participant in both the investigation and the romance, and NEVER played the damsel.

Also terrific was the way that Vander shied away from a relationship but not for any of the usual reasons. His logic was an excellent twist on the “I’m not worthy” trope that a lot of romantic heroes seem to fall into.

It’s never a question of whether he’s worthy – that doesn’t seem to enter his head. Instead, his concern is that he’ll go too far if something bad happens, because he lives in a world where things ALWAYS go wrong. He’s too well trained to let himself lose control out of a reasonable fear that he’ll leave a trail of bodies behind him and not care about the collateral damage. He has to prove to himself that he can keep a lid on it if Brynn is in danger – because he knows she will be. And that he not only can’t stop her, but that he shouldn’t.

I usually like the “leader’ romance in one of this author’s series even more than the rest of the series. There are issues with the conflict between leadership and vulnerability that often make that particular entry in a series a favorite. But Vander isn’t the leader of Norcross Security in the same way that Holmes was in Hell Squad or Galen was the Imperator of the Galactic Gladiators.

But I still liked this one a lot because of Brynn. A lot a lot because of Brynn. I just liked Brynn and her kickass and take no prisoners attitude, although my favorite in the series is still The Specialist.

It looks like Brynn’s story is going to pivot a bit more of the action of the Norcross Security series to the rest of the Sullivan family, with her cousin Camden joining Norcross at the end of this book. Cam’s brothers Hunt and Ryder need to find their HEAs as well.

I’m looking forward to watching them fall.

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva DevonThe Wedding Wager by Eva Devon
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 317
Published by Entangled: Amara on October 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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All Lady Victoria Kirby wants is to dig in the dirt, take notations, and record history, thank you very much. Bumbling through ballrooms and getting disdained by the ton for her less than ideal looks, on the other hand, is the last thing she wants. But her reckless father has a different idea for her future when he puts up the ultimate ante—her hand in marriage—and loses. Over her dead body.
The Duke of Chase cannot bear to see a woman misused. After all, he saw that often enough as a child. So when he’s witness to a marquess gambling away his daughter to a lecher of a man, he has no choice but to step in and rescue her. Lady Victoria has a reputation for being as tart as a lemon and as bitter as one, too. So, he may have just found the perfect wife to keep a promise he made to himself long ago--to never have an heir. With her, surely, he'll never be tempted to take her to bed and break that promise.
But when he meets the wild, witty intelligent young lady he’s bound to marry, he knows trouble is headed his way... And everything he ever swore to uphold may very well come undone, especially his heart.

My Review:

Once we get to know the Duke of Chase, it seems as if he’s a bit too good to be true. Even if at the beginning he seems a bit too bad to be trustworthy.

However, I loved Victoria from her very first appearance – as did Chase although he was much less willing to admit that even to himself.

But Chase is absolutely right about Victoria’s father. He is utterly irredeemable. There are no such thing as best intentions when one is wagering one’s daughter’s hand in marriage on a roll of the dice – even if it’s best two out of three and the dice are rigged.

That’s where we meet our hero, and our villain. Not that Victoria’s father turns out to be all that effective – or energetic – in that particular endeavor. The Marquess of Halford is determined to find his bluestocking daughter a husband before she’s permanently on the shelf – even though that’s exactly where his older daughter wants to be.

Victoria is a dedicated archaeologist, who has served as her father’s lead assistant ever since she was a child. She enjoys her work, and indeed pretty much any intellectual pursuits. She also hates the ton and the feeling is very, very mutual. She thought her father understood that, and he certainly encouraged her work.

Until the night he wagers her future, allowing her hand to be won by the scandalous rakehell otherwise known as Derek Kent, the Duke of Chase. A man whose reputation is hard-earned, hard-won, and utterly false.

Chase seems to have more than a bit of “white knight” syndrome, and Victoria is the latest in a long line of damsels he has rescued – generally by helping the world to think that they are not damsels at all.

Victoria doesn’t want the usual lot of high born women, marriage, motherhood and never allowed a thought in her head about anything serious, important or intellectual. Chase is caught on the horns of a dilemma, he needs a wife to keep the predatory mamas of the ton at bay, but he gave his word that he would never father an heir to the dukedom. Marrying Victoria, with her reputation as a plain-faced shrew should solve all of both their problems. He’ll give her the respectability of being his duchess, and the freedom to do whatever she likes. He’ll never desire her enough to bed her, so there will be no danger of an heir.

All’s fair in love and war, and the best laid plans of mice and men often go very far astray. While it’s true that Victoria’s caustic wit and sharp tongue are quite capable of disemboweling a man with a single phrase, she is beautiful. The ton’s narrow definition of beauty simply can’t encompass a woman who is meant to stride through the world like a goddess.

But by the time they’re each past admitting, at least to themselves if not each other, that they both want a marriage in full and not merely a platonic friendship, they’re both so deep in lies and misconceptions that they may not be able to wade across the chasm that they’ve dug between them.

Escape Rating B: The Wedding Wager is deliciously frothy and a quick and utterly lovely read. I liked Victoria so very much as a character, and I loved Chase’s response to her. He does think she’s beautiful, but the attraction between them is as much about her intellect as it is about her appearance. Nor does the story dwell on every detail of her appearance, and I really liked that. It felt like we got way more of the female gaze, Victoria’s appreciation of Chase’s charms, than we did the other way around.

And yet we still got that sense that she is beautiful and that the ton’s rules have become so narrow that they just can’t see it. Victoria doesn’t have to change anything about her physicality to become a “success” with the ton, she just has to own her authentic self.

One of the parts of this story that really sings is Victoria’s forthright nature and her unabashed cultivation and use of her own intellect. She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, she finds the restrictions of the ton unbearably frustrating, finds the entire thing a stupid but stupidly painful farce and does her best to ignore it as much as possible. I particularly enjoyed the scene at the theater where the older woman, Lady Gannet, enjoys Victoria and matches her in intelligence and agreed that the girls of the ton were generally forced to be stupid. Yes, Lady Gannet believed that Victoria’s prime duties as duchess were to take care of her husband and provide him with children, but she also used her brain and missed a time when other women did as well and wasn’t in the least bit shy about saying so.

I loved Victoria and Chase’s intelligent banter, although he seemed a bit too good to be true in his appreciation and support of her goals and ambitions. I wanted him to be, it makes the romance work, but at the same time it felt a bit too easy.

Speaking of easy, Chase’s secrets were too easy to figure out, so I’m glad that he revealed them to Victoria relatively early on. In the end, the conflict between them wasn’t about the secrets, it was about his clinging to the past that created those secrets.

And he gives very good grovel when he finally figures it out.

One final note. Something about the way the story was set up gave me the niggling feeling that this was part of a series. I think it was in the depth of Chase’s friendship with Brookhaven. It felt like there was prior history that was known but not present in this book. That might be true, but this is not – at least so far – part of a series. Howsomever, if it turned out to be, particularly if the next book were about Brookhaven himself, I’d be EXTREMELY interested!

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Review: Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner

Review: Fan Fiction by Brent SpinerFan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner, Jeanne Darst
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, humor, mystery, noir
Pages: 256
Published by Macmillan Audio on October 5, 2021
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From Brent Spiner, who played the beloved Lieutenant Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, comes an explosive and hilarious autobiographical novel.
Brent Spiner’s explosive and hilarious novel is a personal look at the slightly askew relationship between a celebrity and his fans. If the Coen Brothers were to make a Star Trek movie, involving the complexity of fan obsession and sci-fi, this noir comedy might just be the one.
Set in 1991, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation has rocketed the cast to global fame, the young and impressionable actor Brent Spiner receives a mysterious package and a series of disturbing letters, that take him on a terrifying and bizarre journey that enlists Paramount Security, the LAPD, and even the FBI in putting a stop to the danger that has his life and career hanging in the balance.
Featuring a cast of characters from Patrick Stewart to Levar Burton to Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, to some completely imagined, this is the fictional autobiography that takes readers into the life of Brent Spiner and tells an amazing tale about the trappings of celebrity and the fear he has carried with him his entire life.
Fan Fiction is a zany love letter to a world in which we all participate, the phenomenon of “Fandom.”

My Review:

There’s a fine line between parody and farce, and it feels like Brent Spiner tap-danced over it in both directions, multiple times, during the course of this story. If that dance turned out to be set to one of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits, or something else from the “Great American Songbook” I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.

It might be best to go into this story not really thinking of it as, well, a story. It’s more of a combination of homage and love letter. The “mystery” part of the story reads like an homage to the noir films of the Golden Age of Hollywood, complete with a reference to that classic image of noir, the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

It’s also a love letter, to his friends and fellow crew members of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and to all of us who vicariously voyaged with them aboard the Enterprise-D.

But as a story, it goes over the top so much and so often that it pratfalls down the other side. At the same time, it mixes events from his real life in a way that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction to the point where the reader just has to hang on for the ride without attempting to figure out which is which.

So the story is grounded in what feels like the real, the real traumas of Spiner’s childhood with his abusive stepfather, the real grief over the death of Gene Roddenberry which occurs during the course of the story. But the picture that hangs within that real framing is the story of a crazed fan stalking the actor and making his life his misery, while his attempts to find help to keep him safe and find his stalker send the story way over the top into the land of make believe.

At least I hope they do, because some of what happens can’t possibly be real. Can it?

Escape Rating B: I’ll confess that as much as I’m still a Star Trek fan, particularly the original series and Next Generation, I had no intentions of reading this book, until I saw the audio. The full cast audio with appearances by several of the Next Gen cast playing themselves – albeit a slightly exaggerated version thereof. And that’s what got me to pick up the audio – and eventually the book because I needed to doublecheck more than a few things.

There is still plenty of animosity among the remaining members of the original series cast, even after 50+ years, but there were no such rumors about the Next Gen cast, and the idea that they would get together and do this for one of their members after all these years says a lot about the group dynamic. A dynamic that was on full display in this recording.

So the audiobook is both a blast and a blast from the past and I was all in for that. Fan Fiction is a tremendously fun listening experience, and hearing everyone play themselves made the whole thing a real treat even when the story itself doesn’t quite hold up to examination.

I also have to say that, as weird as it is in yesterday’s book where the author is a character in his own fictional story, it’s even weirder when the author is a real-life character in a story that is basically fan fiction about his own life. Particularly in the bits where he alludes to his own romantic escapades. (He’s married now, but he hadn’t even met his wife in 1991 when this story takes place. So it’s weird and meta but not quite THAT weird and meta.)

There’s a saying about the past being another country, that they do things differently there. Fan Fiction, in addition to its bloody animal parts in the mail, bombshell twin detectives who BOTH have romantic designs on the author AND the stalker who gets stalked by yet another stalker, is also a trip down memory lane back to 1991.

That’s 30 years ago, and we, along with the world, were a bit different then. Next Generation was in its 5th season, and still not all that popular in the wider world of TV no matter how huge a hit it was among science fiction fans. Next Gen was in syndication only at a time before the streaming juggernauts were even a gleam of a thing in a producer’s eye. It was the author’s really big break as an actor, and that was true for all of the cast except Patrick Stewart and LeVar Burton.

So we were all a lot younger then, childhood traumas were a lot closer in the rearview mirror and still being worked on and worked out, and no one knew then that Star Trek would become a multimedia colossus to rival Star Wars. None of us knew then what we know now, and that’s true of the author and his attitudes towards his own celebrity.

Back to this story. The mystery/thriller aspects push the willing suspension of disbelief well past the breaking point. I half expected this to turn out to have all been a dream like The Wizard of Oz. But the full cast recording turns the whole thing into a delightful trip down memory lane as well as a hilarious send-up of acting and fame and celebrity and fandom. .

If you’re a Star Trek fan, get the audio and settle in to hear some of your favorite characters tell you just one more story. Bits of it might even be true!

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzA Line To Kill (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #3) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on October 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The New York Times bestselling author of the brilliantly inventive The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death returns with his third literary whodunit featuring intrepid detectives Hawthorne and Horowitz.
When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.
Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.
When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?
Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

My Review:

Think of this story, in fact, think of this entire series, as taking place surrounded by the rubble of the “fourth wall” that author Anthony Horowitz continually demolishes by making himself a character in his own series.

And not even the hero of it. He’s the narrator, but he’s definitely not the star of this show. That position is reserved for – really taken over by – detective Daniel Hawthorne, formerly of the London Metropolitan Police and currently working for himself and whoever is willing to pay him to figure out whodunnit when the Met is stumped.

Or when he’s way, way off their patch, as he and “Tony” are in this story.

After the previous books in this series, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, where Hawthorne barges in, completely disrupts “Tony’s” life, drags him along on a case and never lets the man catch his breath, this case begins when Tony reluctantly agrees with his agent’s notion to send both himself and Hawthorne to a literary festival in the Channel Islands. Tony hopes that this will finally be the first time in their contentious acquaintance that Tony will be in his element and Hawthorne will need at least a little bit of his help and guidance.

But Hawthorne has an agenda of his own on Alderney and is just going along with this literary festival idea for the ride to a place he wants to get to anyway. And, as much as this might not be the mostly anti-social Hawthorne’s natural setting – he’s VERY good at playing whatever part is necessary to get him who and what he needs to achieve whatever he’s set out to do.

Whatever Hawthorne’s private agenda, and Tony’s anger and disappointment when he figures it out, their entire reason for being on Alderney ends up taking a back seat to murder. Specifically the murder of the man responsible for funding the literary festival, and coincidentally – or perhaps not – responsible for the current controversy that is tearing tiny Alderney apart.

Considering that Alderney has a population of around 2,000, it’s not much of a surprise that they have a police force of 3. That none of the three are actually available to work this case is a bit of an issue, but considering that no one can remember the last time there was a murder on Alderney, they’re not much missed. But the police force on the nearby islands isn’t much bigger – or much more experienced with murder. (If anyone remembers the TV series Bergerac, there’s no one like him anywhere in evidence – and this was a case that could certainly have used an experienced detective with local knowledge and no axe to grind.)

Naturally they ask for Hawthorne’s help. And just as naturally, Hawthorne assumes that Tony will tag along as chronicler, occasional foil, and, just as important from Hawthorne’s perspective, the person who will pay all the bills.

So Tony finds himself in the exact position he had no desire to be in again, serving as Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock – and one of the less ept Watsons into the bargain. Meanwhile Hawthorne is on the track of a murderer that Tony is certain no one will feel an ounce of sympathy for, making any book coming out of this case a nonstarter.

However, as their previous cases have proven, in the end Hawthorne is always right, and Tony is inevitably barking up the wrong tree when it comes to figuring out whodunnit. There might be a book in this mess after all.

Escape Rating B+: Both of the author’s current series, the Susan Ryeland series that starts with Magpie Murders and the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, take the concepts of a classic murder mystery and wrap them up in ways that the authors of those classics never would have thought of.

In the Susan Ryeland series, that’s literal, as the classic-style mysteries of Atticus Pünd, which are included in their entirety in each book, provide clues to the more recent murder that Susan Ryeland is bumbling her way towards solving.

In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series it’s a bit more of a stretch, but still definitely there, and not just because the main characters are so obviously avatars for Holmes and Watson, albeit a Holmes who is even more sociopathic and self-absorbed than the original, leading around a Watson who is even more bumbling. Not that saying any of that doesn’t feel slightly weird, as it’s the author of the book inserting himself into the narrative as a character, which gets more than a bit meta.

But the mystery that Hawthorne is presented with in this case begins as something that Dame Agatha Christie – at least in the person of Hercule Poirot – would have had a great time solving. The victim is wealthy – and he’s an absolute bastard. The line of people wanting to murder him is long, to the point where the title of the book is a pun on the concept. Alderney is a relatively remote location, an island that can be closed so that the potential suspects are forced to remain, while the murder itself begins as a locked room murder in the victim’s own mansion.

All of those are plot elements that Christie played with more than once, and quite successfully. It’s not a surprise that another mystery writer would take those same ingredients and make something quite a bit different from them. Because, of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Except the victim’s bastardy. That was most definitely real. And the point of quite a lot.

The case is even more complicated than it initially appeared to be. At first, it just seems difficult, but as Hawthorne digs into the lives and motives of the potential suspects, it gets deeper as well. And puts at least some of his own motives for coming to Alderney on display. A bit. As much as Hawthorne ever displays much of any part of his internal life.

Or to put it another way, once the body was discovered, the story got really fascinating really quickly. It was much more fun following Horowitz following Hawthorne as he investigated than it was hanging around as Tony groused – mostly to himself – about getting there and being there and dealing with Hawthorne and the other authors at the festival.

The other stories in this series started with murder. This one takes a while to work itself up to that sticking point. Once it does, it’s off to the races, while throwing out plenty of red herrings for the reader, along with Tony, to chew on.

The thing is, Tony doesn’t actually like Hawthorne, which is fair, because Hawthorne is not at all likeable. It makes the early part of this book awkward because all of their interactions are frustrating, and Tony is clearly frustrated by pretty much everything involved in his odd relationship with Hawthorne. Absent a case, their conversations seem rather forced – only because they are. But it makes for a bit of a slow read until they have a case in hand.

Also, and very much the point, Tony may not like Hawthorne, but he is utterly fascinated by him. And so are we. So once Hawthorne is in his element, solving a mystery, the relationship between them falls into a place from which we can watch the master at his work – even if, or especially because, we can’t see where he’s heading with it until the end. Or somebody’s end. Or both.

“Tony” may not want to work with Hawthorne again. Ever. But I really hope he does.

Review: The Hacker by Anna Hackett

Review: The Hacker by Anna HackettThe Hacker (Norcross Security #5) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Norcross Security #5
Pages: 252
Published by Anna Hackett on October 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s accidentally pregnant and someone is trying to kill her…and now her one-night-stand is her fierce protector.

Helicopter pilot Maggie Lopez is focused on building her helicopter and drone photography business—and she has the loans to prove it. She takes one night off to trade her jeans for a designer dress, and attend a fancy gala…and ends up spending a very steamy night with her panty-melting crush—Ace Oliveira. He’s tall, sexy, and the guru of all things tech at Norcross Security.

She wasn’t supposed to fall in lust, or fall in love, and she really wasn’t supposed to fall pregnant.

Ace Oliveira’s life is just how he likes it. After years protecting his country at the NSA, he now puts his special computer and hacking skills to good use at Norcross Security. He gets paid well. Has good friends. Enjoys the hell out of his carefree bachelor lifestyle. Relationships and kids are not on the cards for him—ever. He has his reasons.

But then feisty, saucy Maggie—who snuck out of his bed like a thief—drops a bombshell.

Before they can even process the surprise pregnancy, it becomes clear someone is trying to kill Maggie. A series of deadly accidents are all centered on her, and Ace will do whatever it takes to keep her safe. With the men of Norcross at his side, he’ll track down a killer, fight his own demons, and convince skittish, independent Maggie to fall in love with her baby’s daddy.

My Review:

One of the things I love about this author’s series (serieses?) is the way that each book in the series previews the coming attractions of the romance in the next book. So the genesis of The Hacker was foreshadowed at the end of The Bodyguard in the one-night-stand between Norcross Security’s ace hacker Ace Oliveira and Maggie Lopez, a helicopter pilot that Norcross Security regularly contracts with for some of their hairier jobs – especially the desperate rescues therefrom.

Genesis is certainly the right word to describe how this particular story starts, because that one-night-stand included some hot, up against the wall, unprotected sex. The result of which is that Maggie is avoiding the really awkward conversation she needs to have with Oliveira. A conversation that needs to include Maggie’s unintended pregnancy.

Maggie wants the baby. What she doesn’t want is to get her life tangled up with Ace’s love-’em-and-leave-’em lifestyle. Because there’s no love involved. Being a notch on his bedpost is bad enough, but there were two enthusiastically consenting adults involved in that particular scenario. Watching as an endless series of other women drape themselves all over him is not something that Maggie plans to sign up for.

They need to have a civilized, rational, adult conversation about the baby they’ve unexpectedly made. A dispassionate conversation they can’t seem to manage to have with all the passion that is still stirring between them.

And that’s before someone tries to kill Maggie and the “Peanut”, or whatever size fruit or vegetable is the current equivalent of the growing embryo.

As much as Maggie is afraid to get involved with Ace out of fear that he will break her heart, Ace is equally afraid to fall for Maggie because he’s afraid that once she gets to know the real him, she’ll run fast and far and not look back. He’s certain that he’s not good enough for either her or the Peanut, and that once she learns the truth she’ll agree.

But as the attempts on Maggie’s life escalate, Ace can’t stop himself from setting aside his nebulous fears for the future in order to deal with the very real fears that have intruded on the present. Fears that are filled with armed drones chasing Maggie down dark alleys leading to snatch and grab kidnap attempts that are barely thwarted by the efforts of the entire Norcross Security team.

In order to keep Maggie safe, Ace needs to let her all the way in, to his life and to his heart. And in order to let him help her, Maggie has to set aside all the lessons her father drummed into her about never letting lean on anyone no matter how much she hurts.

Escape Rating B: The Hacker is a solidly entertaining entry in the Norcross Security series. It’s not my favorite in the series (at the moment that would be The Specialist, but I have high hopes for Vander’s upcoming book) but a good reading time was definitely had by this reader.

Even though obvious villain was very obvious, and every bit as over-the-top as most of the baddies in this series. And the unplanned pregnancy trope is far from my favorite.

What I liked about this story was that Maggie has made a life for herself and that it’s a life she’s satisfied and happy with. And that while she does need help and protection in this entry in the series, she’s not stupid about it. She makes adjustments to keep herself and the Peanut as safe as possible, and doesn’t run around meeting mobsters and robbing estates on the sly. At the same time, she stands firm on needing to continue working and maintaining her independence.

That, in the end she doesn’t merely participate in but plays a key, professional role in her own rescue was a great antidote to some of the earlier books in the series where the heroines were all reactive rather than active.

At the same time, this book reads like the series is starting to wind down, which it is. There were lots of scenes where the entire Norcross Security team as well as their friends among the police were active participants in the investigation, the interrogations, and the rescue. Almost like a second-to-last-hurrah before the big finale that’s coming in the next and final book in the series, The Powerbroker, coming next month. (YAY!)

They say that the bigger they stand, the harder they fall. Throughout the Norcross Security series, Vander Norcross has always stood the biggest – literally – and been the biggest badass of all his brothers and of the security agency he founded. We’re finally going to see just how hard he falls – and I can’t wait.

Review: Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker

Review: Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah BakerAlong the Saltwise Sea (The Up-and-Under, #2) by A. Deborah Baker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy, young adult
Series: Up-and-Under #2
Pages: 208
Published by Tordotcom on October 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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For readers of Kelly Barnhill and Cat Valente's Fairyland books, adventure and danger lurk Along the Saltwise Sea in this new book by Seanan McGuire's latest open pseudonym, A. Deborah Baker.
Be sure to explore the myriad wonders that can be found Along the Saltwise Sea.
After climbing Over the Woodward Wall and making their way across the forest, Avery and Zib found themselves acquiring some extraordinary friends in their journey through the Up-and-Under.
After staying the night, uninvited, at a pirate queen’s cottage in the woods, the companions find themselves accountable to its owner, and reluctantly agree to work off their debt as her ship sets sail, bound for lands unknown. But the queen and her crew are not the only ones on board, and the monsters at sea aren’t all underwater.
The friends will need to navigate the stormy seas of obligation and honor on their continuing journey along the improbable road
Writing as A. Deborah Baker, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Seanan McGuire takes our heroes Avery and Zib (and their friends Niamh and the Crow Girl) on a high seas adventure, with pirates and queens and all the dangers of the deep as they continue their journey through the Up-and-Under on their quest for the road that will lead them home....
Welcome to a world of talking trees and sarcastic owls, of dangerous mermaids and captivating queens in this exceptional tale for readers who are young at heart in this companion book to McGuire's critically-acclaimed Middlegame and the sequel to Over the Woodward Wall.

My Review:

Childhood is not nearly so safe as we like to imagine. Safety, after all, is a bit of an illusion, and there are entirely too many children in situations that make it unsafe to be a child. Whatever the adults around them might think.

In their own ways, at the beginning of the first book in The Up-and-Under series, Over the Woodward Wall, Avery and Zib both believed they were more or less safe, although their beliefs about exactly what constituted safety were as opposite as opposite could be.

But then, so were they. Avery loved rules and order while Zib loved adventure. Avery was polite and well-behaved. Zib was a force of nature. Avery’s parents were all about a place for everything and everything in its place. Zib’s parents were either indulgent or neglectful, depending on one’s perspective. Avery’s parents would say that Zib’s parents were extremely neglectful, and would never have let Avery associate with a girl they would see as wild and untamed.

When Avery and Zib went Over the Woodward Wall into the Up-and-Under, their adventures cemented this unlikely pair into a solid unit against a world that seemed determined to swallow them up and NOT spit them out. Ever.

At least, not as they were. Although time will do that anyway, whether or not one travels the Improbable Road through the Up-and-Under in search of a way home.

Escape Rating B: If you loved Over the Woodward Wall, and I very much did, it is just lovely to be back in the Up-and-Under, this less safe and even less logical amalgam of Wonderland and Narnia and every other world opened up by a child’s portal, with Avery and Zib and their friends Niamh and the Crow Girl.

As much as I loved being with them again, this feels like not so much a new adventure in their journey on the Improbable Road to find the Queen of Wands as it does a bit of a stop along the way.

Their sojourn on the pirate ship is interesting but the ship isn’t going anywhere and as long as they are aboard her, neither are they. It’s a bit of a rest stop, with a roof over their heads, somewhat comfortable beds to sleep in and no worries about regular -and delicious – meals.

But very little happens – at least until the very end when suddenly a lot happens all at once, a bit of how the world works gets explained, and the Improbable Road finds them again and whisks them off to more adventure.

So if you’re already into this world, this is a lovely little trip back. If you’ve not yet been, start with Over the Woodward Wall. If you love the author’s Wayward Children series, or if you got fascinated with the bits of The Up-and-Under that were revealed in Middlegame, you’re in for a treat.

I’ll be looking forward to Avery and Zib’s next adventure. After all, they haven’t found the Queen of Wands yet – or the road that will lead them home.

Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda James

Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda JamesFixing to Die (Southern Ladies Mystery, #4) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #4
Pages: 294
Published by Berkley Books on October 3, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and Digging Up the Dirt returns with the latest Southern Ladies Mystery...
It's autumn down south, and An'gel and Dickce Ducote are in Natchez, Mississippi, at the request of Mary Turner Catlin, the granddaughter of an old friend. Mary and her husband, Henry Howard, live in Cliffwood, one of the beautiful antebellum homes for which Natchez is famous.
Odd things have been happening in the house for years, and the French Room in particular has become the focal point for spooky sensations. The Ducotes suspect the ghostly goings-on are caused by the living, but when a relative of the Catlins is found dead in the room, An'gel and Dickce must sift through a haunted family history to catch a killer.

My Review:

What is it that makes cozy mysteries just so cozy and so much of a comfort to read? You’d think that the fact that they all start with a dead body would act against that, but it doesn’t. At all.

I’m caught up in this question because so many of my “comfort reads” are cozy mysteries. Because this has been a week where the weather has been so wet and gloomy that it makes a person want to curl up with a good book, a hot cup of tea and a cat and just wait for it all to go away – which won’t be until Saturday at the earliest and it’s been raining since Sunday. I couldn’t focus on any of the things I planned to read and ended up looking for a cozy mystery to sink into.

And here we are, Fixing to Die. Because this is the last book in the author’s Southern Ladies mystery series, although the adventures of the Cat in the Stacks seem to be continuing. Thank goodness.

So, on a damp and chilly autumn evening, when I couldn’t get into anything else, I found myself, along with sisters An’gel and Dickce Ducote, traveling from their home in Athena Mississippi to Natchez to help the granddaughter of an old friend out with her haunted antebellum bed and breakfast.

Only to find themselves in the midst of an acrimonious family drama – although thankfully one not even remotely their own this time, unlike the events in Dead with the Wind.

The practical-minded An’gel is certain that the ghostly happenings at Cliffwood are the result of a worldly rather than an otherworldly agent. Dickce is a bit more open-minded about the whole thing. After all, their own antebellum home has its share of inexplicable door-closings and perambulating knick-knacks.

But the humans who have gathered at Cliffwood make both the sisters more than a bit suspicious. Mary and Henry, the owners of the house, are fighting over just how much of their lives should be devoted to the care and feeding of the house and the guests they need to keep on keeping the house up to the standards of the Historical Society.

Mary’s cousin Nathan believes he’s entitled to the contents of one of the rooms in the house – based on an old will that he can’t find. That the room contains priceless antiques just adds to his motivations to make his cousin Mary and her husband Henry’s lives even more miserable. Nathan’s sister invites herself and her lawyer to the house in the hopes of loosening her brother’s grip on her trust fund.

Then a psychic medium knocks on the door, claiming that the spirits in the house have called to her to give them peace, and it’s clear that some kind of fix is in. If not multiple fixes.

When Nathan’s dead body is found in the morning in the room he claimed he owned, it’s more of a relief than it is a surprise. One of the lovely things about this series is that the person you most want to end up dead usually does in short order.

But with a corpse on their hands – again – the Ducote sisters can’t resist playing Nancy Drew in order to figure out how the murderer got into and out of the locked room containing the victim. So they can figure out whodunnit, and why, and how.

Because that’s what they do. They help the police solve murders – even when the police would much, much rather NOT be helped!

Escape Rating B: And we’re back to what makes cozy mysteries cozy, and why this particular series – and this particular author – have turned out to be such a cozy and comforting read for me.

I think what makes cozy mysteries cozy is a combination of two factors. A big one is the gang or group or family (found or birth or a combination) that surrounds the detectives, whether amateur or professional. An’gel and Dickce have each other of course, but they also have their 19-year-old ward, Benjy, and their companion animals, the Labradoodle Peanut who thinks An’gel hung the moon, and the Abyssinian cat Endora, who is certain that Dickce provides the best lap in the universe.

The sisters know everyone in Athena, and their friends and friends of friends, especially Athena’s chief homicide detective Kanesha Berry, extend their reach far and wide. And make everyone they come into contact with feel familiar – only because in a way they are.

There’s also the element of cozy mystery that’s sometimes referred to as the “romance of justice”. The reader knows going in that someone who might deserve it is going to die, and that whoever murdered them is going to get what’s coming to them. And that the murder will happen safely off-screen and that the murderer will receive their just desserts legally as well as righteously. No vigilantes, very little blood and gore, and everybody walks away, with the perpetrator walking away in handcuffs in police custody.

All’s well that ends well. And cozy mysteries invariably end well. It’s part of their charm, and it’s part of the comfort they provide, that the world can be rational, that good triumphs and evil gets an appropriate punishment.

Fixing to Die turned out to be exactly what I was looking for on a very rainy autumn night. The cast of characters is a lot of fun, the family shenanigans are interesting and are somebody else’s, the murder victim needed to be taken out of the gene pool and his murderer got their just desserts. The sisters saved the day – as they always do – and their animals are along to provide just the right touch of comic relief.

This series has just the right amount of sass mixed in with the sweet, and I’m sorry that it seems to have ended with this story. Although I wouldn’t mind visiting with the Ducote sisters again, either in a future book of their own or whenever Athena’s amateur detective and professional librarian, Charlie Harris and his big Cat in the Stacks Diesel need a bit of the Ducote’s local knowledge or wide span of influence around town.

I’ll be back to visit Charlie and Diesel in Athena early next spring with Hiss Me Deadly, and I’m definitely looking forward to the trip!

Review: The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

Review: The Collector’s Daughter by Gill PaulThe Collector's Daughter: A Novel of the Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb by Gill Paul
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A Paperback Original
Bestselling author Gill Paul returns with a brilliant novel about Lady Evelyn Herbert, the woman who took the very first step into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and who lived in the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, and the long after-effects of the Curse of Pharaohs. 
Lady Evelyn Herbert was the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, brought up in stunning Highclere Castle. Popular and pretty, she seemed destined for a prestigious marriage, but she had other ideas. Instead, she left behind the world of society balls and chaperones to travel to the Egyptian desert, where she hoped to become a lady archaeologist, working alongside her father and Howard Carter in the hunt for an undisturbed tomb.
In November 1922, their dreams came true when they discovered the burial place of Tutankhamun, packed full of gold and unimaginable riches, and she was the first person to crawl inside for three thousand years. She called it the “greatest moment” of her life—but soon afterwards everything changed, with a string of tragedies that left her world a darker, sadder place.
Newspapers claimed it was “the curse of Tutankhamun,” but Howard Carter said no rational person would entertain such nonsense. Yet fifty years later, when an Egyptian academic came asking questions about what really happened in the tomb, it unleashed a new chain of events that seemed to threaten the happiness Eve had finally found.

My Review:

Once upon a time, there was a crocodile on a sandbank. While that particular crocodile doesn’t make an appearance in this book (although there is A crocodile), it’s still the reason I picked this book up. I’m referring to the first Amelia Peabody book by Elizabeth Peters, Crocodile on the Sandbank, published only three years after the more modern parts of The Collector’s Daughter take place. I still miss Amelia, and I still look for books that remind me of her. I hoped that this book, wrapped around famous ( or infamous) events in Egyptology featuring people that Amelia would have known and had firm opinions about – as she always did – would scratch my itch to hear Amelia’s rather forthright voice in my head one more time.

Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn Herbert and Howard Carter at the top of the steps leading to the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun, November 1922.

The lovely thing about this particular story, however, is that at least the bare bones of it are true. Lady Evelyn Leonora Almina Beauchamp (née Herbert) was the daughter of Lord Carnarvon. THE Lord Carnarvon who sponsored Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Evelyn, along with her father and Howard Carter, was truly one of the first people to see the inside of the famous tomb in modern times. Even if those modern times were nearly a century ago.

Howsomever, the way that the story split its timelines between the 1920s and the 1970s meant that it wasn’t exactly the book that the blurb would lead one to expect. Because that blurb, along with the book’s subtitle, gives every impression that the more significant part of the story revolves around the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. And unfortunately it doesn’t.

Instead, the larger part of the story takes place in the 1970s, just after the latest in a series of strokes that Eve suffered throughout her real life, after a severe automobile accident in 1935. Whether this particular stroke mirrors reality or not, it is true that the threat of another stroke hung over her life very much like the curse of Tutankhamun – even if that curse was entirely a creation of the press looking for sensationalism.

So most of the book takes place in the 1970s, and much of its time, its mystery and its pathos are wrapped around Eve’s months of recovery, her flashbacks of memory during that recovery, her husband’s love for her and his fears about the future as they are both in their 70s, and the attempts by an unscrupulous archaeologist to get a compromised Eve to reveal secrets that she has been keeping for 50 long and tumultuous years.

Escape Rating B+: The issue with this book is that it is a much quieter and gentler book than the reader has been led to expect from the blurb and the subtitle. I was expecting, honestly, a bit of Amelia. A woman perhaps a bit ahead of her time who overcame obstacles and had adventures. Because, let’s face it, being one of the very first people to see the inside of Tutankhamun’s tomb in thousands of years should have been a great adventure. The adventure of a lifetime. I was expecting to read a story about that adventure.

But that’s not what this story is about. Partially that’s because it is wrapped around Eve’s real life, and Eve is, as her Wikipedia entry puts it, “known for (being) present at the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb. She didn’t discover it. She didn’t work on the team that made the discovery. She was not an archeologist – and neither was her father Lord Carnarvon. Eve was present because her father provided the funding for Howard Carter’s expedition, and she was the first in the tomb because she was able to fit through a much smaller hole than either her father or Carter.

Then her father died, the lurid story of the curse was born, and Eve left Egypt for home, never to return, although she and Howard Carter remained friends for the rest of Carter’s life.

This story isn’t really about the discovery. It’s really about the way that the discovery has haunted her life and the way that the secrets she kept hidden loomed in the background. The secrets really existed, as revealed in her uncle’s diary many years after she returned to England. There had always been rumors that she, her father and Howard Carter had made a surreptitious visit to the inside of the tomb before the officials came down from Cairo to certify the find. And that while they were inside the tomb, a few small items made their way into all of their pockets. In a way, this is a story about the way that the thing that Eve stuck in her pocket has hung over her life rather like a bad smell. Still it seems to have been a good life, a comfortable life, and even if it was visited by tragedy, it seems like no more than any other – curses notwithstanding.

But readers expecting something like the 1999 film The Mummy, where Rachel Weisz plays a character named Evelyn Carnahan who is based on Eve Herbert, are going to be a bit  disappointed. As I was in Eve’s lack of resemblance to the redoubtable Amelia Peabody. Or even to amateur detective Jane Wunderly in Murder at the Mena House. But if you’re looking for a quiet, lovely book about a woman who did not transcend her time but lived in the shadow of her one great adventure, there’s plenty of charm and a great deal to enjoy in The Collector’s Daughter.

It just wasn’t quite the book I was looking for.

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie BarnesThe Dishonored Viscount (Diamonds in the Rough, #8) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #8
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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He knows he doesn’t deserve her, yet he can’t get her out of his mind...
Stripped of his title because of a crime his father committed, Marcus Berkly has struggled to find a new place for himself in the world. Now, as London’s most skilled eye-surgeon, he dedicates his time to his patients while steering clear of Society. Until a chance encounter with a determined young woman upends his life.
When Lady Louise discovers that Mr. Berkly’s surgical method could save her from permanent blindness, she decides to enlist his help. Against her father’s direct orders, she takes charge of her fate, and falls desperately in love in the process. But can a proper lady and an ill-reputed scoundrel have a future together? Or are the odds against them simply too great?

My Review:

I picked this up because I thought I’d read the entire Diamonds in the Rough series so far, and I always look forward to the latest installment. Although it turns out I managed to miss one (The Forgotten Duke), and obviously I’ll have to go back.

While I haven’t loved any of the series quite as much as I did the very first book, A Most Unlikely Duke, I’ve certainly enjoyed them more than well enough to keep coming back for more. So I’m actually kind of glad I missed one because it will give me an opportunity to catch up between now and the next. Especially as it looks like the story in that book leads directly to this one – not that plenty of other things haven’t as well.

All of the stories in this series start with the premise that either the hero or the heroine – and usually it’s the hero – is not worthy of the love of the heroine, nor her hand in marriage. At least unworthy according to the strict – and strictly hypocritical – rules of Regency high society.

Marcus Berkly used to be the heir of the Earl of Hedgewick. From a certain perspective, he still is. But where he was once the heir to the Earldom, now he’s heir to nothing but the scandal and opprobrium rightfully attached to his father’s name. The title, the estate, and everything Marcus expected to inherit were forfeit to the Crown when his father’s crimes were revealed.

Society can no longer sneer at his dead father, but they can certainly administer the cut direct to Marcus at every opportunity. So he does his best to give them as few opportunities as possible. After all, with the loss of his estate, Marcus has been forced to work for his living. And he does. After long years of training, Marcus Berkly has become an inventive, esteemed and highly-respected eye surgeon.

Which is where the rest of the story comes in. Lady Louise, the daughter of the Earl of Grasmere, has cataracts, and has since she was a girl. The usual treatment for her condition is to “couch” her eyes, inserting a needle into the eye and moving the occluded lens aside. It works, at least for a little while, and is just as painful as you might expect.

Berkly is pioneering a new and permanent treatment for the condition, and has a high success rate for the operation. Which is to remove the occluded lens completely through a tiny cut. It’s even more painful than couching, the recovery time is longer, and without a lens in the eye the patient will have to wear eyeglasses for the rest of their life. But it’s permanent.

Louise wants the treatment. Desperately. Every time the couching fails, as it inevitably does, she’s blind until the next painful treatment. Once and done – no matter the pain – seems like an extremely worthwhile trade to her.

But not to her father. Who is stubborn, a stick in the mud, a dictator in Louise’s life and a stickler for the rules. He refuses to consider the new treatment, because he’s hidebound, because her current eye doctor is a long-term friend, and especially and mostly because of the scandal attached to Marcus’ name.

Louise is not supposed to have any agency in this situation. Her father certainly believes that she does not. So she takes it – and herself – out of his clutches and concocts a plan to get the treatment she needs and should be entitled to.

That she and Marcus will have to stay in the country – properly chaperoned of course – for an entire month has no bearing on her plans when the scheme takes flight. But by the time her father finds her and returns her to London, her view of the world and her future in it has changed.

And not just because she can finally see.

Escape Rating B: One of the things that is glaringly obvious in Regency romances written today is the way that the hypocrisy of the ton is set out in such sharp relief. Marcus Berkly has done absolutely nothing wrong. Not by any standards whatsoever. He has not committed any crimes, he hasn’t cheated at cards, he’s just a reasonably decent man who is suffering from a huge case of guilt by association. As one of the characters in the story put it, how was he supposed to disassociate himself from his own father? Not that he didn’t want to, but seriously, how does one do that?

The story also exposes the way that everything in high society functions is all about the appearance of obeying the rules, which seems to be the biggest rule of all. So it’s not that all of the offers for Lady Louise’s hand are from fortune hunters, it’s that the obviousness of that issue is not exposed to society in a way that can’t be ignored.

On the one hand, the sheer, intended and intentional helplessness of Louise’s situation grates like rough sandpaper. And on the other, that she grasps the nettle by the thorns and gets herself the treatment she needs in spite of her father’s threats is very well done. She wants more from her life than a miserable existence as some man’s decorative object and broodmare, and she’s willing to be exiled from society to get it.

Her father is such a jackass about the whole thing that he becomes a caricature. There were plenty of legitimate reasons for not approving the new treatment but he went the high-handed dictator route instead. He actually did have reasonably good intentions for his daughter, even if he went about them in the worst and most tyrannical way. Maybe he does make sense, but I found him even more of a trial than Louise did.

Marcus also falls prey to the “I’m not worthy” syndrome because society has forced it upon him, along with a heaping helping of “she doesn’t know her own mind” which made me want to strangle him at points. At the same time, it’s so clear that he’s a very good man and might possibly be good enough for Louise. Maybe. If he works very, very hard.

She’s the one I wanted to see get her HEA. After all, she’s blackmailing her father, which takes some serious gonads. She earned every good thing that finally comes to her, because she’s the one who gets tried the most, and she’s not found wanting.

The men in her life, not so much.

Still, I had a good time reading this latest book in the series, which, according to the author, is the last full-length novel in it. But I still have The Forgotten Duke to go back to when I want to take a quick trip to the Regency, and a new novella in the series, The Roguish Baron, to look forward to this holiday season, when it will be included in The Rogue Who Stole Christmas anthology.