Review: Cat Chase the Moon by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Chase the Moon by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Chase the Moon (Joe Grey #21) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: eARC
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Joe Grey #21
Pages: 288
Published by William Morrow on April 23, 2019
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Feline P. I. Joe Grey and his friends pounce on three investigations that may connect to one larger mystery—including one case that is very personal—in this hair-raising installment in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s beloved, award-winning series.

Joe Grey and his partner, Dulcie, are frantic when Courtney, their pretty teen-kitten goes missing. Aided by their two- and four-legged friends, they hit the streets of Molina Point in search of their calico girl. Has Joe Grey and Dulcie’s only daughter been lured away by someone and stolen? Is she lying somewhere hurt, or worse?

Courtney has no idea that everyone is desperately looking for her. Locked in an upstairs apartment above the local antiques shop, she’s enjoying her first solo adventure. When she first met Ulrich Seaver, the shop’s owner, Courtney was frightened. But the human has coddled and pampered her, winning her trust. Sheltered by her parents, her brothers, and her kind human companions, the innocent Courtney is unaware of how deceptive strangers can be. She doesn’t know that Ulrich is hiding a dangerous secret that could threaten her and everyone in this charming California coastal village.

With his focus on finding Courtney, Joe Grey has neglected his detective work with the Molina Point Police Department. Before his daughter disappeared, Joe found a viciously beaten woman lying near the beach. Now the police investigation has stalled, and the clever feline worries his human colleagues may have missed a vital clue. Joe is also concerned about a family of newcomers whose domestic battles are disturbing the town’s tranquility. Loud and abrasive, the Luthers’ angry arguing, shouting, and swearing in the early hours of the night have neighbors on edge and the cops on alert. One of the couple’s late-night shouting matches masked the sounds of a burglary, and now a criminal is on the loose.

Though the crimes are as crisscrossed as the strands of a ball of yarn, Joe Grey’s cat senses tell him they may somehow be linked. It’s up to the fleet-footed feline and his crime-solving coterie to untangle the mysteries before it’s too late.

My Review:

There is a sadness that permeates this tale  from the very beginning. While in the end good triumphs and evil gets its just desserts, the ending is bittersweet and something about that feels like it’s woven throughout the entire story.

It’s that all of the mysteries – which do, of course, get solved in the end – all have their roots in something not merely awful but also heartbreaking – and they all connect up at the end into one giant ball of wrong that brings a whole lot of grief in its wake – as well as the beginning of healing. And more adventure.

The story begins when a wandering Joe Grey discovers a half-dead woman half-buried in a shallow grave. He breaks into a nearby cottage, and the Molena Point PD receives a phone call from their favorite “snitch” letting them know where to get the body before it becomes a dead body.

As bad as that sounds, we don’t yet know (and neither does Joe Grey) just how that poor woman’s story is going to tangle into the others.

The family that has moved in across the street from Joe Grey’s humans, Clyde and Ryan, does not put the fun in dysfunctional. It’s more like the Luther family is one spark away from taking their regular domestic arguments over the line into the kind of domestic situation that gives police officers everywhere nightmares.

There’s plenty of sadness to be found in that mess, as the adults are at best neglectful and at worst borderline abusive of the pre-teen girl that they have dragged away from her beloved grandfather and equally cherished horse, leaving all three, the girl, the horse, and the grandfather in emotional distress.

A grandfather who not only misses his granddaughter, but one who has put the puzzle pieces together to figure out that his sons and his daughter-in-law are the ones behind the rash of robberies currently in progress in and around Molena Point.

His family is causing no end of trouble for everyone in town, but they are still his family. And he fears, rightly or wrongly, that getting them all locked up will see his granddaughter lost to him in the bowels of family services hell.

Just as it seems that nothing in town is going right, tragedy strikes directly at the heart of Joe Grey’s family when his daughter, the beautiful if occasionally silly half-grown kit Courtney, is kidnapped (catnapped?) by someone who promises her a life at the center of worshipful crowds IF she is willing to live that pampered life in a gilded cage.

Joe is frantic at the loss of Courtney, heartsore at the plight of Mindy, and worried at the situation of the woman he rescued. When it all comes together, it also falls apart. With deadly results.

Escape Rating B: With a cozy series like Joe Grey’s, the reader comes to expect a lighthearted tone to even some of the darkest investigations. And much of this series is pretty light and fluffy – as fluffy as the cats’ fur.

But this entry isn’t the least bit fluffy. It also ends on more of a fantasy note than has been seen in this series in a while, in spite of the series origins in the author’s contemporary fantasy novel The Catswold Portal. The speaking cats all have their origins in that realm beyond the portal, and it’s time again for one of them to make the journey into that Netherworld.

But not before we all work our way through everything current wrong in Molena Point.

So much is wrapped up in the dysfunction of the Luther family. Zebulon doesn’t seem like a bad sort, so one has to wonder what warped all of his kids – but his progeny are all seriously bad. That he doesn’t want to turn in his own kids while still needing to turn in his own kids is a dilemma that no parent wants to face no matter how criminal those kids turn out to be as adults. That he turns his depression over his granddaughter being forced to move out into a determination to discover just how wrong his sons have gone leads to nowhere but grief for all concerned.

It’s a sad situation that permeates the story. Readers will find themselves wondering why, when every adult for miles around knows that young Mindy is being neglected if not abused, no one can manage to rescue her. In the end, she has to rescue herself and her grandfather. And she’s not even a teenager yet!

The situation with Courtney felt a bit odd. It seemed like a very weird tangent of the main case, because her kidnappers have catnapped her not because they know she can talk, but because she resembles a lot of historical portraits of magical cats and they think they can wrap an expensive traveling exhibit around her and the art works. This seems more fantastical to me than the speaking cats. YMMV.

There are also a couple of serious notes among Joe Grey’s circle that add to the atmosphere. Joe Grey himself, with his feline instincts and human intelligence, seems to have more and deeper questions about who and what he is and what it all means as the series goes on. His attitude is maturing in ways that make him question the meaning of it all – and that scare him, if he would admit to being scared – out of at least a couple of his nine lives.

The other thing I’m wondering about as a reader is the dilemma faced by Charlie Harper, the police chief’s wife. Charlie knows about the cats, her husband does not, in spite of the number of incredibly excellent tips the police have received from their elusive snitches. Max is suspicious of Joe Grey in particular, and Charlie is lying to her spouse. That’s a situation I expect to come to a nasty head in some future book in the series.

But speaking of future books, I love this series, and always look forward to my next trip to Molena Point for more adventures with Joe Grey, Dulcie and their clowder of speaking cats. This particular book was a bit darker than I expected, but I still enjoyed checking in with the gang and finding out how everyone is doing.

I’ll be back again next year to see how they’re all getting on, and whether the MPPD has figured out the identity of their favorite snitches yet!

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa EvansOld Baggage by Lissa Evans
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Harper Perennial on April 16, 2019
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The author of the acclaimed Crooked Heart returns with a comic, charming, and surprisingly timely portrait of a once pioneering suffragette trying to find her new passion in post-WWI era London.

1928. Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never given up the fight and the young women who are just discovering it.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that the title of this book is a bit of a pun. The main character, Mattie Simpkin, is referred to as an “old baggage”, meaning a cantankerous old woman. But the point of this story is that she is also carrying a lot of “old baggage”, as in emotional baggage. And that the old baggage actually isn’t carrying her old baggage terribly well, leading to the crisis point in the story.

Mattie is also fond of sprinkling her speech with quotations from authors, historians and philosophers. There’s one that’s used in the book, and is extremely appropriate to the story, even if there seems to be some debate on who originated it.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And so it proves for Mattie Simpkin.

At first, this seemed to be a simple story about someone whose glory days were long behind them – and that same person’s inability to cope with that fact. But it’s not nearly that simple.

As the story begins, it’s 1928. Mattie is in her late 50s, and while she may not think of herself as old, it’s clear that others around her do. (I found this poignant and ironic at the same time as I’m older than Mattie but don’t see myself that way at all. It’s true that “old” starts at least 15 years past one’s own age)

Once upon a time, Mattie was one of the celebrated (and frequently derided) suffragists that marched, agitated and were jailed to goad the powers-that-were to grant women in Britain the right to vote. (It wasn’t any better in the U.S.)

The right was granted, under rather stringent conditions, in 1918 in the exhausted aftermath of World War I. At which point the movement towards women’s equality collapsed. (If this sounds familiar, let’s just say the pattern repeats).

But Mattie has never given up the fight, and ten years later she is still on the lecture circuit, attempting to enlist a new generation of women into the cause. She’s failing, and her lectures are increasingly poorly attended.

The situation changes when an old frenemy comes back into her life, and Mattie is galvanized into bringing young girls of her present some of the same educational and recreational experiences that formed her character. The problem is that her frenemy is plumping for the nascent Nazi party.

And Mattie’s need to prove herself to someone who has never had any intention but to bring her down and keep her there has no end of bad consequences. For Mattie, for her best friend Florrie, and especially for the girls and young women they have taken under their wings.

Escape Rating B+: At first, it didn’t seem like a whole lot happened in this book. Looking back on it, not a whole lot does – at least not in the sense of groundbreaking or earthshaking adventure. But there is plenty of drama underneath the quiet surface.

Initially, Mattie seems like somewhat of a comic figure. She’s an old battle axe who doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s time to put the axe up on the wall. While her mannerisms can be amusing, and her stubbornness is plenty infuriating to her friends and neighbors, she’s also right. Those two things don’t cancel each other out.

The cause was not won, only placated a bit. The fight was not over. Women were not equal. (They still aren’t) But Mattie’s methods don’t do her any favors, and she alienates as many people as she convinces. Probably alienates more people than she convinces.

The quiet drama in the story is the way that Mattie gets led astray, not so much from her cause as from her bedrock straightforward way of going about it.

Because while Mattie may be an old baggage, there are also a couple of nasty pieces of baggage who are deliberately, or not so deliberately, undermining her efforts. And her sense of self is what suffers along the way.

It’s when she finally comes back to herself that she is finally offered that opportunity to be what she might have been. And it’s her redemption that she takes it.

In the end, Old Baggage was nothing like I expected. But it was a charming read every step of the way.

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. ColesWinds of Marque: Blackwood Virtue by Bennett R. Coles
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Blackwood & Virtue #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019
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"Bennett R. Coles ranks among my go-to list in SF. Entertaining and intelligent storytelling and terrific characters. In Winds of Marque, Coles may well have invented a whole new subgenre that has me scrambling for a description--Steam Space?  Whatever you call it, a blast to read. Here's hoping that many more adventures are in the offing for Blackwood and company."  Steven Erikson, New York Times bestselling author

The first novel in an exciting science fiction series—Master and Commander in space—a swashbuckling space adventure in which a crew of misfit individuals in the king’s navy are sent to dismantle a dangerous ring of pirate raiders.

In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing them to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring’s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base.

Posing as traders, Daring’s dashing second-in-command Liam Blackwood and brilliant quartermaster Amelia Virtue infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry.

But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring’s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from below decks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other.

Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Blackwood and Virtue must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander—and their mission—before Daring falls prey to the very pirates she’s meant to be tracking.

My Review:

The blurbs and the reviews for this book say the same two things fairly consistently. One, that it’s a whole lot of fun. Two, that it’s Aubrey and Maturin (Master and Commander) in space.

The first thing is definitely true. Winds of Marque is a whole lot of fun. I’m a bit less sure about the second thing – and I’m saying that as someone who read the entire Aubrey and Maturin series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is a romp of swashbuckling derring-do, but set in space in the distant future – on a Navy ship under letters of marque (government-licensed piracy) with a mission to find the real pirates and wipe them out before humans end up in a war with the insect-like Sectoids.

Our plucky heroes are Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Petty Officer Amelia Virtue. Fraternizing between the ranks is about to become the least of their problems.

Blackwood, second-son of the nobility and Executive Office (XO) of the HMSS Daring, has a reputation for coddling, chivying and generally outmaneuvering dunderheaded noble Captains so that they manage not to kill their entire crews in acts of noble idiocy. He’s unfortunately good at his job – because it’s bad for his career. Someone has to take the blame for the untouchable nobles’ disasters, and it’s generally their frustrated XO.

Virtue is the newly promoted quartermaster of the Daring. She’s relatively young, hyper-competent, and has the combined duty of making sure the Daring is fully supplied without resorting to Naval stores while instructing Blackwood in just how different the life of a commoner ranking sailor is from that of even a second-born noble son.

It’s probably going to be the making of him, if they survive the mess they are currently in.

Because nothing about their mission is exactly what it seems. Not the inexperienced but not unintelligent Captain Lady Sophia Riverton, not the pirates and certainly not the Sectoids.

That there’s a noble fop on board who is just dead certain that he can do everything better than his Naval superiors but social inferiors is nearly the deadly icing on a very explosive cake.

And it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B+: I had a great time while I was reading this. The verve and drive of the narrative really sweeps the reader along. But, I’m not sure how well it holds up upon further reflection. Not that I won’t pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. I did have a great time.

Part of the problem for this reader may be in all those comparisons to the Aubrey and Maturin series. Which was marvelous and excellent and terrific and if you enjoy naval stories or Napoleonic war stories is highly recommended. The audio is particularly good.

One issue, at least so far, is that Blackwood is not analogous to Aubrey (neither is Riverton) and there is no Maturin, at least so far. And that one aspect of the story, the Napoleonic wars in space, has been done before by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series. (It’s also been done in fantasy in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik!)

Where it is similar to the Aubrey and Maturin series is in its detailed descriptions of the working of the ship. That the Daring is a ship powered by “solar sails” makes that resemblance more pronounced, but also a bit out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s that we’ve become so used to FTL (Faster Than Light) ships being sleek and powered internally that solar sails feel less possible (not that FTL drives in general are possible at the present) or that the whole “sailing” aspect feels like an artificial way for the author to insert sailing jargon and terminology that would not otherwise be present.

One aspect of the story, although not the primary aspect, is the developing romance between Blackwood and Virtue. As much as I like both characters, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to sell the romance. While it does take a reasonable amount of time for them to fall in love, because the story is told from Blackwood’s perspective we don’t see enough of Virtue’s thought processes to “feel” their romance. It’s a not nearly enough significant glances and conversations about ship’s business that fall into bed – or rather office floor at a crisis point.

Although this is a navy that has given up on anti-fraternization regulations, these are people from two different worlds that don’t mix. If they are going to be together, there need to be a whole lot more conversations about how that’s going to work. Because what Virtue tells Blackwood is correct – as a noble he can do anything at all to her, up to and possibly including murder but certainly including rape and assault – and he will never be punished because he’s a member of the aristocracy and she’s a commoner. That power imbalance is going to require one hell of a reckoning at some point.

The book this reminds me of the most is The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. That book incorporates its equivalent ship jargon much more smoothly. Transferring the terminology of sailing vessels to an airship that sails the air felt smoother even if the war they are flying in is just as deadly. That story also includes a noble fop, but that one manages to get better – if not less foppish – as the adventure goes along.

The situation that the Daring finds herself in is a well-worn and well-loved trope. The ship of misfit naval personnel go rogue with official sanction but no official backing to do a job that desperately needs to be done – but that no one in the official navy wants to be caught dirtying their hands to actually get done. If they complete their mission someone else will get the glory, but if they fail the survivors will take all the blame.

And it’s so much fun that none of them can resist signing up for another mission. Readers won’t be resisting either!

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda JamesArsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #6
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on February 15, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In Athena, Mississippi, librarian Charlie Harris is known for his good nature—and for his Maine coon cat, Diesel, that he walks on a leash. Charlie returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but taking the plunge into a recent acquisition will have him in over his head…   Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. The books were recently discovered among the personal effects of an ancestor of Mrs. Long’s husband. The mayor would like Charlie to preserve and to substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Andrew, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.   Andrew’s rival for his party’s nomination is Jasper Singletary. His Southern roots are as deep as Andrew’s, and his family has been bitter enemies with the Longs since the Civil War. Jasper claims the Long clan has a history of underhanded behavior at the expense of the Singletarys. His allegations draw the interest of a local reporter who soon asks to see the diaries. But she mysteriously vanishes before Charlie has a chance to show them to her…   Now Charlie is left with a catalog of questions. Even if the diaries turn out to be fakes, they could still be worth killing for. One thing is certain: Charlie will need to be careful, because the more he reads, the closer he could be coming to his final chapter…

My Review:

I picked this to read this week because this is National Library Week. I was looking for something that related to libraries in some way, and I was in the mood for a little bit of comfort reading. Any entry in the Cat in the Stacks series always fills both of those requirements!

I think that my friend Attila the Archivist would have a field day with this one. Not only does she love cats (Diesel is always a sweetie) but the mystery revolves around some Civil War diaries that are donated to the local university archives, and there’s a lot in here about proper handling of fragile material, the necessity of preservation, and just how much time and effort goes into preparing material for the collection and ultimate use by scholars.

And all of that mostly factual (I think, I’m not an archivist) information serves as the raisins in what turns out to be this very tasty Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie of a case.

(Diesel the cat always tries to get the cookies, but raisins aren’t good for cats. His human, Charlie Harris, seems to love Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and gets tempted by them fairly often in the story.)

The archival parts of this story begin when one of the prominent local families in tiny Athena Mississippi donates four volumes of Civil War-era diaries to the university archives. The Long family has been prominent in Athena since its founding in the early 1800s, and there will be plenty of history students at the university who will look to those diaries for research papers once they are available for use.

But archivist/librarian Charlie Harris is besieged from the moment the diaries are placed in his care. A local reporter demands access before the diaries have even been properly evaluated. And one of the history professors demands exclusive access to those same diaries – even more loudly and rudely – the moment they arrive in Charlie’s hands.

Things get crazier from there, as they often do when Charlie gets involved. He seems to be a magnet for trouble – and murder. Or he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. (Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending upon one’s perspective. The local police detective seems to be of two minds about this. As one might imagine!)

The diaries are stolen. Then they’re mysteriously returned. And then, that loud and rude professor gets murdered. Charlie and those diaries find themselves in the thick of the case – and caught in the middle of a local political race that shouldn’t relate to 150-year-old diaries but somehow does just the same.

This is a case where words matter. Even words written over a century and a half ago. Or perhaps especially over those words.

Escape Rating B: I had a terrific time with this story – a terrific time that was certainly enhanced by the inclusion of a short story at the end that finally tells the tale of when Charlie met Diesel.

There are two things that I really love about this series. One is that the author is very clearly “one of us” librarians. Charlie Harris didn’t necessarily have to be a librarian, but since he is, it is important, at least to me, that he seem realistic. If he weren’t it would throw me (and probably most librarians) totally out of the story. The series is popular and ongoing, so it’s clear that the author managed to straddle the line between satisfying those of us “in the know” while still entertaining general readers.

Charlie Harris is a librarian that I’d love to have coffee with at any conference. And he’d fit right in.

The other thing is that while Diesel is most definitely large and in charge and utterly adorable, he’s just a cat. An extremely large cat – although not unrealistically so – but just a cat. He’s good at the things that cats are good at, bad at – and in the same manner – the things that cats are bad at. But he’s not more than felinely intelligent – if a bit high on the feline intelligence scale. But then, I’ve had cats of my own who were high on that scale – and also one who was extremely dim. There’s a range and Diesel fits within it.

This is my way of saying that series like The Cat Who and Sneaky Pie Brown and my personal favorite Joe Grey may be a lot of fun, but most cats should be cats and not detectives.

The case in this book turned out to be fascinating in a number of ways. One part of it was the application of the old saw about “academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small.” The corner of this mess that revolves around the tenure chase and the emotions engendered feels very realistic – even though that part of the case gets a bit far-fetched.

There’s also a lot about family history and family reputations and long-held grudges and resentments and how all of that plays out in the political arena. As well as more than a bit about the corruption of politics and just how the need to protect both a legacy and a reputation in that field can lead many people astray.

And at the heart of it all is the diary of a sometimes flighty young woman who matured at a time when the world was falling down around her. As well as the havoc she inadvertently wrecked and the strength she found to endure.

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat SebastianA Duke in Disguise (Regency Imposters, #2) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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One reluctant heir

If anyone else had asked for his help publishing a naughty novel, Ash would have had the sense to say no. But he’s never been able to deny Verity Plum. Now he has his hands full illustrating a book and trying his damnedest not to fall in love with his best friend. The last thing he needs is to discover he’s a duke’s lost heir. Without a family or a proper education, he’s had to fight for his place in the world, and the idea of it—and Verity—being taken away from him chills him to the bone.

One radical bookseller

All Verity wants is to keep her brother out of prison, her business afloat, and her hands off Ash. Lately it seems she’s not getting anything she wants. She knows from bitter experience that she isn’t cut out for romance, but the more time she spends with Ash, the more she wonders if maybe she’s been wrong about herself.

One disaster waiting to happen

Ash has a month before his identity is exposed, and he plans to spend it with Verity. As they explore their long-buried passion, it becomes harder for Ash to face the music. Can Verity accept who Ash must become or will he turn away the only woman he’s ever loved?

My Review:

I finished this a week or so ago, but unlike my usual habit, I did not immediately write up the review. It took me a few days to figure out why I didn’t want to revisit the book.

I think it’s that I was disappointed.

I expected to love this book. The first book in the series, Unmasked by the Marquess, was filled with light and verve and was just amazeballs. The author had managed to take a genre that has been done to death and took it into an entirely new direction with its genderqueer heroine (Robin thinks of herself as “she”, so she is the heroine, after all) and its unashamedly bisexual hero.

That they don’t just find each other, but fall in love and marry, and that the titular Marquess loves Robin exactly as she is, male clothing, behavior and ALL, was remarkably refreshing. And a whole lot of fun.

After that, and after her two highly regarded male/male Regency series, The Turners and Seducing the Sedgwicks, I was expecting something other than the rather traditional male/female romance I got in A Duke in Disguise.

This is an author whose Twitter bio proclaims her as “writer of Marxist tracts with boning…” In A Duke in Disguise, we got plenty of the Marxist tracts, as heroine Verity Plum heads a publishing house that publishes radical political tracts – and is branching out into publishing very dirty books with plenty of boning.

That Verity is politically active, and that she very definitely works for her living, makes her a bit different from the standard Regency heroine. Verity isn’t just part of the radical political movement, she’s also unashamedly bisexual and is completely unwilling to marry – because marriage will cost her the independence she both needs and prizes.

But the hero of this tale feels like he’s a bit too much cut from the standard Regency hero mold. In fact, he reminds me a teensy bit of the hero of A Most Unlikely Duke (although I liked that book considerably more), in that he has no clue that he is a duke until a series of fortunate (actually unfortunate from his perspective) coincidences returns him to the family who gave him away for adoption when he was a toddler.

Before he discovers he’s a duke, James Ashby makes his living as a highly skilled engraver. He’s the artist who is designing the plates for that dirty book that Verity plans to publish.

Ash, as he’s called, Verity and her brother Roger, have been friends for years, forming a family-of-choice for the seemingly orphaned Ash. However, Ash has been in love with Verity for years – merely too afraid to risk the friendship he needs for a romantic relationship that he’s sure has very little chance of working out.

His angsty pining over Verity gets to be a bit much after awhile – and feels very traditional at the same time – albeit with the proverbial shoe on the other foot. He pines after her, while she is aware of the sexual tension and the risk that it might be more – or might explode in their faces – but it doesn’t break her heart or interfere with her rational processes in quite the same way – at least not for a considerable while into the story.

When Ash discovers he’s the heir to a dukedom, he finally decides to risk a relationship with Verity – because he believes it will be brief. He assumes that once she discovers that he is part of the aristocracy they both loathe, she will leave him behind without a second thought.

And he will have some beautiful but bittersweet memories to keep him warm in the cold company he must keep in order to rescue his aunt and all of his family’s dependents from the murderous impulses of the man who will otherwise inherit the title and the power that goes with it.

In the end, Ash gives up love for duty, and Verity, surprising to both of them, gives up independence for love. It does all tie up neatly with a bow.

I expected more fun and much less tradition.

Escape Rating B-: I was disappointed in comparison with the previous book in the series, but that doesn’t mean that A Duke in Disguise was not a fun read – because it mostly was. I’ll also confess that I thought that Verity was a much more interesting character than Ash – in spite of his sudden and unexpected elevation.

She was different from the usual run of Regency heroines, while still being plausible. Ash, in spite of the illness that caused his family to send him away, felt too much like he was cut from the standard cloth.

The story reminds me rather a lot of Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh, in a couple of important ways. Ash, like the hero of that story, conceals his heritage in order to spend time with the woman he loves – a woman he believes that he will have to give up because of their relative positions in society – and a woman who he believes will not want to be part of that society with the restrictions that it places on the women in it.

Unfortunately, the two books also resemble each other in the way that both were good reads in themselves but slightly disappointing compared to their predecessors in their respective series. Your reading mileage may vary.

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat RamboIf This Goes On by Cat Rambo, E. Lily Yu, Aimee Ogden, Rachel Chimits, Cyd Athens, Scott Edelman, Jack Lothian, Gregory Jeffers, Conor Powers-Smith, Priya Sridhar, Andy Duncan, Lynette Mejía, Hal Y. Zhang, Nick Mamatas, Steven Barnes, Kitty-Lydia Dye, Tiffany E. Wilson, Nisi Shawl, Kathy Schilbach, Zandra Renwick, Chris Kluwe, Sarah Pinsker, Calie Voorhis, Marie Vibbert, James Wood, Jamie Lackey, Paul Crenshaw, Langley Hyde, Judy Helfrich, Beth Dawkins, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Parvus Press LLC on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A bold new anthology born of rage and sorrow and hope. 30 writers look at what today's politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Some of today's most visionary writers of science fiction project us forward to the world of the future; a world shaped by nationalism, isolationism, and a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This anthology sits at the intersection of politics, speculative fiction, and American identity. The choices we make today, the policies of our governments and the values that we, as people, embrace are going to shape our world for decades to come. Or break it. Edited by Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the stories of If This Goes On invite you to worlds very like this one-- but just a little different.

Table of contents:Green Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily YuTwelve Histories Scrawled in the Sky by Aimee OgdenDead Wings by Rachel ChimitsWelcome to Gray by Cyd AthensThe Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable by Scott EdelmanGood Pupils by Jack LothianAll the Good Dogs Have Been Eaten by Gregory JeffersThe Sinking Tide by Conor Powers-SmithMustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya SridharMr. Percy’s Shortcut by Andy DuncanA Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Lynette MejíaBut for Grace by Hal Y. ZhangHurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness by Nick MamatasThe Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit by Steven BarnesThree Data Units by Kitty-Lydia DyeOne Shot by Tiffany E. WilsonKing Harvest (Will Surely Come) by Nisi ShawlCounting the Days by Kathy SchilbachMaking Happy by Zandra RenwickThe Machine by Chris KluweThat Our Flag Was Still There by Sarah PinskerThe Editor’s Eyes by Calie VoorhisFree WiFi by Marie VibbertDiscobolos by James WoodFine by Jamie LackeyBulletproof Tattoos by Paul CrenshawCall and Answer by Langley HydeA Pocketful of Dolphins by Judy HelfrichTasting Bleach and Decay in the City of Dust by Beth DawkinsThe Choices You Make by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

My Review:

I picked this up around the same time I received Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized to review for Library Journal. Just from the descriptions, it seemed that these two books either springboarded off the same event, were in dialog with each other, or both. (This is also a giant hint that if this book interests you that one will too!)

They’re not exactly in dialog with each other, but they certainly arose out of the same event – the 2016 election. Both are wrapped around the question about what the state of the US – and by extension the world – will be in the future if the hateful politics and policies that were given voice and force by the election of 45 continue into the future relatively unchecked.

That premise is explicit in If This Goes On, and implicit in Radicalized, but it is definitely there in both books.

They are very different collections, however. Radicalized consists of four novellas by a single author, where If This Goes On is a collection in the broader sense, of relatively short stories by 30+ authors around the single theme.

A theme that the collection is screaming about – loudly and with metaphorical expletives. As far as the authors and editor are concerned (and this reader) the policies of those elected in that mess are undoing much of the good that the US has done and are making both the country and the world into a worse place than it was.

None of the writers want the situation to continue – and have done science fiction’s usual excellent job of extending the present out into the possible, even plausible, end point of the contemporary mess in order to show just how awful things can be.

In the hopes that we will band together and do something about it before it is too late.

Escape Rating B+: My feels are all over the place on this one.

First, because it bothered the hell out of me and presumably will other people, the title of the collection sounds familiar because it is. If This Goes On— is the title of a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, a novella which would itself feel at home in this collection.

Whether the title of the collection is in homage or not, there is still plenty of resonance between the two.

This is not a collection to be read late at night, particularly with only the light of one’s screen to push back the darkness. Because there’s plenty of darkness in these stories. While some of them border on horror in the traditional sense, most of the stories give the reader the sense that they are looking at something horrible. And I was appropriately – and shudderingly – horrified.

There is some humor in some of the stories, but it is primarily humor of the “gallows” persuasion. These futures are all bleak in one way or another. While the stories themselves are excellent, the overall tone is fairly dark.

Each story is followed by an editor’s note that tends to hit that dark tone over the head with a baseball bat. The stories generally speak for themselves so that repeated emphasis felt a bit like being bludgeoned with the point of the collection – over and over again. I was already metaphorically bleeding so this was a case where the beatings didn’t need to continue until morale improved because it wasn’t going to happen. But there’s something about the reference to that t-shirt saying that seems appropriate just the same – possibly because hearing the news these days does feel a bit like that proverbial beating.

As much as I agreed with the authors’ and the editor’s perspectives, I’ll admit to getting tired of having it beaten into my head over and over again. YMMV.

These stories stand on their own. Sometimes swaying in the wind from the apocalypse, but they do stand. And the collection is well worth reading. If you read nothing else from this collection, look for Mustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya Sridhar – it’s lovely.

As the saying goes, in reference to the collection as a whole, “Read ‘em and weep.”

Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Infamous Duchess (Diamonds in the Rough, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #4
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A woman with a shocking past…

Branded a money-hungry con artist for marrying the elderly Duke of Tremaine days before his death, Viola Cartwright has found refuge in her work at St. Agatha’s Hospital. No one must know the painful reason behind her marriage. She steers clear of attachments—until Henry Lowell, heir to the Viscount Armswell, lands on her operating table after a duel. Charming and wickedly handsome, Lowell is one of London’s most inveterate scoundrels. Yet he may not be all that he appears.


And the man who can promise a future filled with love…

Posing as an unrepentant rake has helped Lowell avoid women pursuing him only for his title. But now that duty has finally called on him to marry, he finds himself entranced by the mysterious, independent-minded Viola. Then her late husband’s son returns from overseas, contesting Viola’s inheritance. Lowell longs to help her and sets out to convince Viola that a strategic union may be the best way to save all she holds dear. But can he also persuade her to take a chance on love…?

My Review:

The longer this series goes on, the more it reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. Considering how excellent and popular that series was, that’s a terrific thing!

What has made this series so interesting has been the way that either the hero, the heroine, or both, are definitely unconventional for their time while still seeming to be at least plausible. That unconventionality has made the characters more readily identifiable with for 21st readers while not feeling so far out of the realm of the possible as to whiplash the reader out of the story.

In the case of both Viola, Dowager Duchess of Tremaine and Henry Lowell, a viscount’s heir, there is plenty that draws them out of the ordinary while not shifting them into the impossible.

Viola has been a part of the series from relatively early on. Her business partner is Dr. Florian Lowell, an excellent physician AND the heir to a dukedom. Florian’s story was told in the previous book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke.

Viola was trained as a surgeon by her late father, and often works with Florian in the operating theater as well as running the hospital where they work. Viola’s late husband left her a small fortune, and she used that inheritance to start the hospital.

But her late husband was an elderly man when she married him, and society sees her as a conniving gold-digger. So she shuns society in return. Running the hospital is her work, her duty and her fulfillment. She doesn’t care about society – except in so far as she can use her notoriety to raise funds to further develop the hospital.

Henry Lowell is Florian’s brother. He’s also a rake of the first order and seems to find himself in more than his fair share of duels.

That’s how Viola and Henry meet – in the wake of yet another duel. Florian has to patch up his brother. One wonders if at least some of Florian’s original interest in medicine might have been born out of necessity – as Henry gets into more than his fair share of trouble.

But the near-brush with death has Henry re-examining his life. It’s time for him to settle down and start a family, to provide an heir for the title he hopes not to inherit for a long time. He obviously loves his grandparents very much and has no desire to inherit anytime soon.

Henry and Viola have a lot in common. They are both on the outs with society and they both have acquired undeserved and undesirable reputations. They are also both practical-minded people and both are in business for themselves and are successful at and responsible to those businesses.

And they have an intense chemistry that neither wants to deny, although perhaps they both should.

When Viola’s past returns to not merely haunt her, but to strive to take all she has earned away from her, it is her relationship with Henry that provides her with strength – along with even greater vulnerability.

But it is her unconventionality that finally saves the day.

Escape Rating B: Like all of the books in this series, The Infamous Duchess is a lot of frothy fun with just a bit of an unconventional bite to keep things interesting.

(It is not necessary to read the entire series to get into the action in this fourth entry, but they are delicious. Start with A Most Unlikely Duke to see exactly what I mean.

A couple of things about this story that I’m still thinking about.

One is that the portrayal of the cruelty and vindictiveness of Regency society does make one wonder what made it such a fruitful period for romance in general, and why anyone would aspire to be part of that society in particular. While there are some likeable individuals and even families, overall the ton seems petty and venal and just plain nasty. But then again, isn’t that just people?

While both the heroine and the hero of this story are, as is usual, extremely pretty and or handsome, they are both surprisingly deep characters in a lot of very unusual ways. Even more surprising is the way that their unconventionality dovetails together so neatly.

Part of what I enjoyed about Viola was the depth of her character, but also the unusual breadth of her experience. Like many of the protagonists in this series, Viola did not come from the upper classes. Her father was a physician, making her solidly a member of the small middle class. That her marriage raised her to the peerage is not surprising – and neither is the amount of gossip and downright disgust it engendered. That she’s made so very much good out of her circumstances shows a great deal of strength of character. And it is wonderful that it is that strength that draws the hero to her – as much as if not more so than her looks.

It’s also marvelous that he believes from the very beginning that she is the most beautiful woman in any room – even though she does not see herself that way and that objectively she probably would not have been considered a “diamond of the first water”.

Another part of her experience that is out of the ordinary is that while Viola’s marriage was never consummated because of her elderly husband’s illness, she is not a virgin. And the cause of that particular “lack” was the result of her being taken advantage of by her husband’s son – before she married. That the consequences of that act, while in their way shameful and heartbreaking did not lead to either pregnancy, poverty, prostitution or all of the above is refreshing.

And it leads to the dramatic tension of the story – but not in any of the ways that one might expect. It certainly made for a very interesting twist as well as a lingering sense of creeping menace.

There is (obviously as shown above) a villain in this piece, and he’s extremely villainous – almost to the point of caricature. A part of me wants to think of him as a “Snidely Whiplash”, complete with evil cackle, twirling mustache, and tying the heroine to the metaphorical tracks, but the disgusting pustule in this book is so horrible that even Snidely would be rightfully insulted to be considered as part of his company.

Evil does mostly get its just desserts, after a truly frightening climactic scene, but one of his henchmen manages to miss being properly punished, so that part of the story feels a bit unfinished. Perhaps in a later book in the series we’ll see him get his.

Speaking of later books, the series clearly continues. We watched the hero and heroine of the next story meet as The Infamous Duchess concluded, and their entry in the series looks like a real treat!

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

To celebrate the release of THE INFAMOUS DUCHESS by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke!

Link:   http://bit.ly/2SXHs2Y

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 4/5/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayThe Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Three women—two sisters and their aunt—and the cliff house on the northern California coast that served as a beacon to them all…

After the death of their mother, sisters Daisy and Beatriz Davenport found a home with their aunt Stella in the beautiful and welcoming town of Cape Sanctuary. They never knew all the dreams that Stella sacrificed to ensure they had everything they’d ever need. Now, with Daisy and Bea grown, it’s time for Stella to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from them—a secret that will change their family forever.

Bea thought she’d sown all her wild oats when she got pregnant far too young. The marriage that followed was rocky and not destined to last, but it gave Bea her wonderful, mature, now eleven-year-old daughter, Marisol. But just as she’s beginning to pursue a new love with an old friend, Bea’s ex-husband resurfaces and turns their lives completely upside down.

Then there’s Daisy—sensible, rational, financially prudent Daisy. She’s never taken a risk in her life—until she meets a man who makes her question everything she thought she knew about life, love and the power of taking chances.

In this heartwarming story, Stella, Bea and Daisy will discover that the path to true happiness is filled with twists and turns, but love always leads them back home.

My Review:

I had kind of an interesting reaction to The Cliff House. First of all, RaeAnne Thayne is an author I usually enjoy, so I was expecting to be charmed by this story. And it is, like yesterday’s book, very charming.

In some ways, the story reminded me more than a bit of several of Susan Mallery’s standalone books. Just as in her recent California Girls, and particularly in her Daughters of the Bride, The Cliff House is the story of three closely related women. In today’s story, those women are sisters Daisy and Bea, and their aunt, Stella, who raised them after the death of their mother, Stella’s older sister Jewel.

In The Cliff House, each of the Davenport women finds love, fulfillment, and a closer relationship with the other two. But the road to getting there is rocky in many, many ways.

On the romantic front, those romances are very different. The man who Stella left behind in order to get custody of her nieces returns to her life with a pre-teen daughter in tow. His advent in Cape Sanctuary occurs just as Stella discovers that the “turkey baster” did the trick. She’s 40 and has just that moment learned that she is pregnant by artificial insemination with a baby she plans to raise on her own.

Bea finally figures out that she is in love with the man who has been her best friend since 5th grade. Her timing, however, is equally off, as her great revelation occurs just when her rock star ex-husband comes back to town. And while Bea is certain she is no longer in love with the man, he’s putting on a full-court press to get her back – and she can’t help but wonder if getting back together with the father of her pre-teen daughter might not be the best thing for Marisol – if not for herself.

Last but not least, practical, sensible Daisy makes the mistake of falling for both a man and a dog whose presence in Cape Sanctuary is only ever going to be temporary. Daisy learned the lesson a long time ago not to ever depend on anyone because they might be taken away. It’s what’s happened to her before, with disastrous consequences. Why risk her heart when she is certain that it will all happen again?

And the heartbreak certain does come, but not in the way that any of them had imagined. And not in any way that can’t be gotten past if not over, but only if they each learn to rely on the people around them – and on each other.

Escape Rating B: As I said, I had an interesting reaction to this story. The town of Cape Sanctuary is a lovely place, and we get more than a glimpse of what draws people to the little town on the California coast.

The events of the story are wrapped around Cape Sanctuary’s annual Hearts and Arts Festival. The Festival benefits the non-profit association that Stella founded to raise awareness of the difficulties of finding Foster Parents and to provide financial support for some of the people willing to take on that necessary work.

Stella started the Foundation after raising not just her nieces, but after opening her home and her heart to other children in need of fostering. It’s a worthy cause and seems to be a terrific event.

All of the romantic and relationship entanglements are intertwined with the planning for the event and the execution of it, giving readers a chance to see the town work and see this family of women work so well together.

I really liked Daisy’s story and her romance with an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Who also happens to be the man who saved her ex-brother-in-law’s life after a knife attack by the jealous husband of one of his many, many groupies. But Daisy’s life is firmly tied to Cape Sanctuary and Gabe’s life and work are always on the road.

Daisy’s story was interesting to me in part because Daisy had so many interesting secrets that she kept so close. And keeping those secrets kept her from opening herself up, not just to romantic love but also to the love of her sister and her aunt. Daisy is the person who does the most growing as part of her arc of the story.

Daisy’s story was also the only one of the three that did not somehow revolve around motherhood. As someone who is childless by very definite choice, both Stella’s desire to become a mother at any cost and Bea’s unwillingness to tell her cheating ex to go fly a kite because it might be better for their daughter if they got back together didn’t work for me – although I fully recognize that most readers will have more understanding of Stella’s situation than I did.

Bea’s story drove me a bit batty, because her daughter would not be better off watching her father disrespect her mother by cheating on her over and over (and over) again. When they split she might have been too young for it to really register, but at 11 she’s more than old enough to understand, if not infidelity, at least that her father made her mother miserable and would be doing it again.

So, of the three romances, Daisy’s worked really well for me (and the secret she was keeping from everyone was absolutely delicious!). I recognize that Stella’s plight was well-written but just wasn’t my cuppa, and that I wanted Bea to get hit by a clue-by-four.

It is a lovely, well-written story, and one or more of the romances, as well as the deep, abiding love between the three women, is bound to appeal to lots of readers. Hopefully you!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cliff House to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + Giveaway

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + GiveawayThe Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime in the delightful new novel from the international bestselling author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

What is lost and finally found at this library is the heart and spirit of volunteer library worker Martha Storm. The story of how she was “lost”, is told in flashbacks, but the story of what she found and how she found it is part of the present.

And it’s completely charming.

I found myself caught up in Martha’s initially self-restricted life and eventual flowering almost in spite of myself. To the point where I started and finished the book in a single day.

Not a lot happens in this story. There aren’t any great adventures or major events. Well, not exactly. Except that there are – mostly in the sense of a journey of the spirit, with signposts provided by the events of her life along the way.

Martha Storm volunteers at her local public library in tiny little Sandshift – a small town on the coast of England. She’s the person who does everything for everybody, always going above and beyond on every side, with no hope of compensation and nary a word of thanks.

She’s a woman who seems constitutionally incapable of saying “No” to anyone. And no one seems to appreciate her for it – not her boss, not her co-workers, not the villagers she helps and certainly not her sister. Not until she finally, suddenly, almost inexplicably manages to say that one word – and both her world and that world’s view of her, begins to shift.

So does she. And as Martha starts to find herself, she also finds what she lost long ago – her grandmother.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story about family secrets, their power to harm, and their power to destroy. And it’s about the freedom that comes with setting those secrets free.

In my own family, there was a secret. At my grandfather’s funeral my aunt revealed that my grandmother was not her mother – that my grandfather had been married before. It wasn’t a big secret – nor was it destructive in the way that the secrets in this story were. But it told me a vital piece of information that explained a great deal about my childhood – I was my grandmother’s only grandchild. She was already deceased, so it had no effect on my relationship with her – but it colored my memories of her differently.

The secrets that have been kept from Martha Storm all of her life, while they don’t change the past, definitely put it into a much different light. A light that illuminates so many events and relationships that defined her – and not always for her benefit.

When she was in her early teens, her parents told her that her charismatic, beloved grandmother Zelda was dead. They refused to let her go to the funeral, and she never found the grave.

When a local bookseller gives her a worn-out copy of a book, written by her grandmother, made up of stories that Martha wrote and told to her grandmother and stories that her grandmother wrote and told to her, she’s flabbergasted. When she reads the dedication at the front of the book, a dedication to her, written three years after her grandmother’s “death”, Martha’s world starts to unravel.

But what unravels are all the accretions and protections, all the shoulds and don’ts, all the negging that her uber-controlling father wrapped around Martha, her mother, and her sister. All the things that kept Martha from venturing out into the world, and letting the world venture into her.

All the things that would have challenged her father’s control of her. Like her grandmother.

In her search for her grandmother, Martha rediscovers herself and her childhood joy of the world around her.

She gets a second chance at life. At love. And with her beloved Zelda. The truth sets her free to be her best self.

And it makes an absolutely charming story.

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Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe KennedyLonen's Reign (Sorcerous Moons #6) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #6
Pages: 160
Published by Brightlynx on March 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A Looming Threat
The sorceress Oria has finally come into her own—able to wield the power of her birthright and secure in the marriage she once believed would bring her only misery. But the past she escaped still chases her, and the certainty of war promises to destroy everything she’s fought to have.

An Impossible War
Once before Lonen led an army in a desperate attempt to stop the powerfully murderous sorcerers of Bára—and he nearly lost everything. Now he must return to the battlefield that took the lives of so many of his people. Only this time he has more to risk than ever.

The Final Conflict
With guile, determination—and unexpected allies—Oria and Lonen return to the place where it all began… and only hope that it won’t also be the end of them.

My Review:

This was a lovely wrap up to the series. Or, to put it another way that feels much more accurate, Lonen’s Reign provides the concluding chapters to this lovely fantasy romance.

That’s a hint, by the way. The Sorcerous Moons series reads way more like a single book split into chunks than it does a series of individual books. It only works if you read from the beginning. Every time I get a new “chapter” I find myself reading the synopses and my reviews of the previous books to catch myself up – even if it hasn’t been all that long since the previous book.

All the action in this book rests on what came before. Which is fitting for the concluding “chapter” of an epic (in scope if not in length) saga.

This is also the point where the story comes full circle. We began, in Lonen’s War, with then-Prince Lonen and his Destrye attacking the stronghold of their enemies, the Bara. Where Lonen discovers a disregarded Princess Oria imprisoned in her tower by her own weaknesses.

Oria finds herself the only functioning member of the Baran royal house, and brokers a peace treaty between her people and the Destrye – only to have that well-thought out and surprisingly well-working peace broken the moment her brother wakes up and forcibly takes the crown.

From that point forward, the story moves back and forth between Destrye and Bara, as Oria discovers the depths to which her own people have sunk – and the desperation that has forced Lonen’s people to rise and strike back.

Along the way, Oria discovers that all of the prohibitions, weaknesses and fears that have held her back are a tissue of lies and misdirections. And Oria and Lonen make a marriage of state and convenience that turns into so much more.

This is the point where the finally undisputed King of the Destrye, and his newly anointed Queen Oria risk everything they have on one final gamble against the heavily fortified and magically defended Bara – in the hopes of saving both their peoples.

All of their people. On both sides.

Escape Rating B+: I’m kind of reviewing the whole series at this concluding point. Because this book really doesn’t make much sense on its own, it feels necessary to look at the series as a whole.

At the same time, I have to say that Lonen’s Reign feels like a fitting conclusion to the saga begun in Lonen’s War – and it feels equally fitting that both the first and the last book are titled after him. He began the action at the outset, followed by Oria’s reaction in Oria’s Gambit, followed by two middle books, then Oria’s finally coming into her own power in Oria’s Enchantment and now we sit at the conclusion.

The two sides began at war, not that the Barans would have considered their actions warlike. Bara used to be a lush paradise, but the climate changed and their city turned into a desert. Instead of adapting, they used magic as well as engineering to steal water from the lands that surrounded them, making even more desert. Eventually they reached the lands of the distant Destrye, absolutely certain that their magical might gave them the right to strip those lands of their water and kill anyone who fought back.

Lonen brought the war home to them. And left with the prize and pride of Bara, Princess Oria. As they fell in love, it gave her strength of will, and the desperate determination to reach beyond everything that she had been taught. She had to in order to survive – and to be able to do the right thing.

Oria grounded Lonen, giving him the wisdom to become the king his people needed, in spite of the betrayals he suffered at home.

Their union, which does indeed become the love story for the ages as I said in my review of Lonen’s War, provides a path forward for both of their peoples, who have now become one.

In some ways, the story in Lonen’s Reign feels as if it is missing a few bits – almost all of the backstory is in their earlier books.

Because I really enjoy worldbuilding, it also felt as if Oria’s final revelations – the climate change, the resulting subjugation and despoiling of a wider and wider swath of territory, and, most of all, the way that magic as practiced in Bara became ossified in a way that almost literally set their people, and particularly the women, into stone that preserved the predatory status quo – got a bit of a short shrift. I’d love to know more about how it happened.

Maybe that’s another book sometime in the future.

Lonen’s Reign turned out to be a quick and mostly satisfying wrap-up to a fascinating fantasy romance series. I’m looking forward to both the author’s eventual return to the awesome Twelve Kingdoms series – because that is edging towards its final confrontation – and to her new fantasy romance series, beginning with The Orchid Throne later this year.