Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak

Review: The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda NovakThe Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 448
Published by Mira on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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"A page-turner with a deep heart."—Nancy Thayer, New York Times bestselling author of
Girls of Summer

How do you start a new chapter of your life when you haven’t closed the book on the previous one?
Eighteen months ago, Autumn Divac’s husband went missing. Her desperate search has yielded no answers, and she can’t imagine moving forward without him. But for the sake of their two teenage children, she has to try.
Autumn takes her kids home for the summer to the charming beachside town where she was raised. She seeks comfort working alongside her mother and aunt at their bookshop, only to learn that her daughter is facing a huge life change and her mother has been hiding a terrible secret for years. And when she runs into the boy who stole her heart in high school, old feelings start to bubble up again. Is she free to love him, or should she hold out hope for her husband’s return? She can only trust her heart…and hope it won’t lead her astray.
"A heart-tugging romance. Readers are sure to be sucked in.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review  

My Review:

The bookstore on the beach in Sable Beach belongs to, let’s call them late-middle-aged sisters Mary and Lauren. As this tumultuous summer opens, Mary is waiting for her grown-up daughter Autumn to arrive for one last summer with her kids, her daughter Taylor and son Caden.

There’s more than a bit of bittersweetness in Mary’s anticipation, and in Autumn’s as well as she makes the drive up from her home in Tampa. Taylor will be a senior in high school in the fall, and Caden will be a junior. This is probably the last summer of their, not exactly childhood, but the last summer when they’ll all be together as a family before Taylor and Caden accelerate their inevitable pull away into adulthood, with jobs, college and relationships speeding up that separation.

But it’s also a first summer for Autumn. This is the first summer she’s come home to the beach without even the prospect of her husband dropping in for a week or two of vacation. Not because they are divorced, and not because he’s dead.

At least not as far as Autumn knows.

Autumn is stuck in a hellish limbo. Her husband went on a business trip to Ukraine, the country his family immigrated to the U.S. from. He left 18 months ago, without telling Autumn he was going. He seems to have gone at the behest, or under the aegis, or at least with the knowledge of, the CIA and/or the FBI or one (or possibly more) of the alphabet agencies.

Nick Divac disappeared somewhere in Ukraine. Or in Russia. Or into an unmarked grave. Or a prison. Or a cave. Autumn doesn’t know and hasn’t been able to get anyone at any of those alphabet agencies to give her much in the way of information. Even the private investigator she hired in Ukraine has found nothing but dead ends. But also no confirmation of Nick’s actual death.

But this isn’t just Autumn’s story. All of the women in her family, her mother Mary, her daughter Taylor, and certainly Autumn’s self, have something huge hanging over them this summer. Some of those things, most of those things, are secrets. All of them have the power to change their lives, when, and not if, they come crashing down.

They can’t go back to the way things used to be. The only question is how they go forward, and whether they can manage to hold on to each other and do it together.

Escape Rating B-: The Bookstore on the Beach is one of those stories where not a whole lot happens, while at the same time a whole lot that might happen or probably will happen is being worried over or anticipated – if not exactly eagerly. The eventual happenings are more of a relief – mostly – than the waiting.

Every woman in the family spends the entire book waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that the first shoe has actually dropped. They each have something HUGE hanging over their heads. I found myself looking for the collective noun for swords – like a murder of crows, a leap of leopards, an unkindness of ravens. Because this is story about a family walking around with their very own separate and individual Sword of Damocles hanging over their head and following them around.

A cache of Swords of Damocles? A store of Swords of Damocles? Perhaps even an Armory of Swords of Damocles?

Mary is on tenterhooks expecting someone to expose her past – a past she has never revealed to her daughter. Taylor is unsuccessfully pretending that she’s not avoiding even thinking about the secrets in her present. And Autumn lets herself start a new relationship with her biggest teenage crush, all the while caught between hoping and fearing that her missing husband will return – just when she’s given up and moved on.

All of their fears are very, very real, even if the situations that both Mary and Autumn are in stretch the bounds of credulity just a bit. Not that what happened to them doesn’t happen in real life, more that it’s a stretch that both things happened in the same family.

The size of the cria herd of drama llamas (yes, I looked it up, “cria herd” is the collective noun for llamas) is so large as to stretch the pasture that holds my willing suspension of disbelief.

Because this story begins with Autumn’s husband already missing, I felt a bit like I’d been dropped midway into a series. Like I should have read the earlier parts of Autumn’s story as background in someone else’s. But this is a standalone, so no.

Also, because Autumn’s husband has been gone for quite a while at the beginning, her memories of him and their life together have been overlaid or muted by time, confusion and grief. He’s not present enough even in memory for him to really be missed. And her descriptions of their life together, while they don’t paint him in exactly a bad light, don’t give the reader enough to really buy into the romance they are supposed to have had.

Unlike her romance in her present with Quinn, which is lovely and heartfelt and heartbreaking in all of its glory – of which there is quite a lot. The combination of these elements made the ending a bit abrupt. It’s the ending the reader wants, but it’s sharp and hard and doesn’t really feel earned. It’s a situation where a true HEA doesn’t feel quite right, because it’s they are caught up in a mess where someone is bound to end up very unhappy indeed.

But I really liked all three, Mary and Autumn and Taylor. I loved the town of Sable Beach, and felt very envious of the bookstore itself even though I know it’s a much harder and more precarious way to make a living than the book can or should get into. It’s a lovely place, a beautiful haven, and I wouldn’t mind visiting again.

Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa ColeWhen No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…
Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.
But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.
When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

My Review:

This is a bit of a three-legged race of a book. There are three threads to this story, all heading towards an ending, but one is going slow like a Model T, one is speeding along like it’s racing for NASCAR, and one is tootling along in a clown car.

Except that none of this story is funny.

But seriously, there are three separate plot threads to this story. While they are all heading towards the same finish, they are not racing at the same pace or with nearly the same amount of success.

When the story begins it looks kind of like we’re at the beginning of a (very) slow burn romance between Sydney and Theo, when Theo and his about-to-be-ex-girlfriend move in across the street from Sydney in the Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up.

Both of their lives are in turmoil. Theo because of the impending breakup, but Sydney because well, shit has happened to her and it just keeps happening. Her marriage failed, her ex was emotionally abusive and wrecked her self-esteem, she’s unemployed, her mother was scammed out of her house and Sydney’s trying to get it back AND she’s trying to pay off back taxes and huge medical bills for both of them.

In the middle of their intersecting and imploding lives – drops the second thread about the consequences of gentrification for the people who live in the area being gentrified. A euphemism that usually means moving the brown people and the marginalized people OUT by fair means or foul, mostly foul, so that the white people can move IN.

Sydney is creating a walking tour of the neighborhood for an upcoming holiday celebration, and Theo gets recruited as her research assistant. The history that they uncover is well and truly appalling and it’s hard not to see it happening all around them as they are watching and researching, because Theo’s soon-to-be-ex is right in the thick of it.

But then there’s the depth of the evil that is behind this particular wave of gentrification, and is hinted at having been behind many if not most of the previous waves. And there’s the clown car rolling in.

Not that they aren’t truly evil, because they are. But because once Sydney and Theo find their way to the center of this particular tentacle of the long-running conspiracy it seems to be run by folks who learned how to be evil from comic book villains.

They’ve been successful not because they’re intelligent, but because so many people are complicit and so few seem to have chosen to stand and fight. They represent both the mediocrity of evil and and a perfect example of the old adage about the only thing required for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing.

Which may make this book the perfect thing to encapsulate recent events in the U.S. but caused it to fall a bit flat at the end.

Escape Rating B-: The history that underpins this story is absolutely fascinating. And it was great to see a book that managed to give the evils of gentrification not just a human face, but to make it comprehensible without becoming either a history text, an info dump, or just a boring lecture.

The way that the gentrification subplot wove into both of the other parts of the story was the best part of this book.

The romance, on the other hand, was a slow burn that didn’t really need to burn at all. I’m not sure I bought the chemistry between Sydney and Theo, and both of them were rebounding from such shitty relationships – and somewhat the same kind of shitty – that I wasn’t left with any real hope of even much of a happy for now.

And both of them were such unreliable narrators of their own lives that I’m left wondering if there really was anything there but sex and desperation – and whether or not there should have been. The first 100 pages of the book are a complete downer as both of their lives just seem to be spiraling towards the drain at an increasing rate of speed.

The thriller part of this story, discovering that this particular act of replacement, removal and rebuilding, or break and build as the book puts it, was a mixed bag. On the one hand, once that part of the story finally gets going it really gets going. The final 50+ pages move along like gangbusters.

Or like a first-person shooter type of video game. The pace is fast, the bodies are falling, the discoveries are horrific and the heroes barely manage to survive the boss battle at the end.

The problem was that the bosses we saw, the people behind it all, read like comic book villains. It felt like they succeeded in spite of their incompetence and not because of their competence. They succeeded up until that point because “the system” is set up for them to succeed.

Which may be the most evil thing of all. But it didn’t make for the best story, which was a disappointment because this was a book I really wanted to love and just didn’t.

Reviewer’s Note: I think I read the books in the wrong order this week. Because the “happy, happy, joy, joy” reaction I’m having post-Inauguration makes it difficult to get into a thriller that gets pretty dark but doesn’t get there half as successfully as I expected. It’s definitely making me wonder how books written during the mess of the last four years and especially during the pandemic are going to fare once we get further down the road to normal.

Although that journey feels like it’s already begun, leading to my fit of exuberance.

Review: In League with Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King

Review: In League with Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. KingIn League with Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon by Laurie R. King, Leslie S. Klinger
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon #5
Pages: 368
Published by Pegasus Crime on December 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The latest entry in Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger’s popular Sherlock Holmes-inspired mystery series, featuring fifteen talented authors and a multitude of new cases for Arthur Conan Doyle’s most acclaimed detective.
Sherlock Holmes has not only captivated readers for more than a century and a quarter, he has fascinated writers as well. Almost immediately, the detective’s genius, mastery, and heroism became the standard by which other creators measured their creations, and the friendship between Holmes and Dr. Watson served as a brilliant model for those who followed Doyle. Not only did the Holmes tales influence the mystery genre but also tales of science-fiction, adventure, and the supernatural. It is little wonder, then, that when the renowned Sherlockians Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger invited their writer-friends and colleagues to be inspired by the Holmes canon, a cornucopia of stories sprang forth, with more than sixty of the greatest modern writers participating in four acclaimed anthologies.
Now, King and Klinger have invited another fifteen masters to become In League with Sherlock Holmes. The contributors to the pair’s next volume, due out in December 2020, include award-winning authors of horror, thrillers, mysteries, westerns, and science-fiction, all bound together in admiration and affection for the original stories. Past tales have spanned the Victorian era, World War I, World War II, the post-war era, and contemporary America and England. They have featured familiar figures from literature and history, children, master sleuths, official police, unassuming amateurs, unlikely protagonists, even ghosts and robots. Some were new tales about Holmes and Watson; others were about people from Holmes’s world or admirers of Holmes and his methods. The resulting stories are funny, haunting, thrilling, and surprising. All are unforgettable. The new collection promises more of the same!

My Review:

Because I’m a sucker for a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and in the right mood even for a bad one, I’ve eagerly anticipated each of these collections as they’ve appeared and I’ve read every single one of them, beginning with the very first, A Study in Sherlock back in 2011. This first entry in the series includes what is still my favorite story across the entire five volumes, The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman

It’s hard to believe that this current volume is the fifth in the series, after A Study in Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes and For the Sake of the Game.

Like most such collections, this one is just a bit uneven. The stories that work, really, really work. The ones that don’t fall flatter than the proverbial pancake.

I think I’ve read every single one of these collections as they have come out, and my favorite is still the very first one, A Study in Sherlock, although I have certainly discovered favorite stories in many of the later volumes.

I have to say that this entry in the series did not live up to its predecessors. As the series has gone on, the stories have ranged further and further from their original inspiration, in ways that, at least in this particular volume, feel like they owe more to cleverness than detection.

To put it another way, I like my Sherlock to more or less be a kind of Sherlock. It’s not necessary that the stories feel like the original canon – unless that’s done well it can be terribly off-putting. But when I hear the name Sherlock Holmes I expect a detective story of some kind, and too many of the stories in this entry in the series seemed to be showing off how ‘twee’ they could be rather than how well they could solve a case.

But I still have two favorites even in this somewhat motley crew.

James W. Ziskin’s The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement is a classic pastiche, featuring the original Holmes and Watson solving a case that was so old and so cold no one even knew it was a case. It’s not the first time, that the unexpected return of a person long-though deceased has provided new clues to an old murder for the Great Detective, and this one shows the deft hand of both the investigator and the writer in constructing – and solving – such a conundrum.

The Strange Juju Affair at the Gacy Mansion by Kwei Quartey was a classic of a completely different kind. It is the kind of Holmesian homage where, rather than Holmes himself serving as the detective, the investigator is someone who uses Holmes’ methods and applies them with Holmes’ genius at a time and place that Holmes never visited, in this particular case Kasoa, Ghana at an unspecified time period that feels like it is much later in the 20th century – if not the 21st – than Holmes would have lived to see. The detective is a retired police superintendent who never visits the crime scene, but with a few questions to his younger – and rather desperate – colleague still manages to solve a classic locked-room mystery.

Escape Rating B-: Too much of this entry in this long-running series went too far afield for this reader. But those two stories were right on the mark as lovely but totally different Holmes pastiches. Your reading mileage will, of course, vary. That is the point of these collections, that there is something for every reader looking for a taste, in this case a taste of Sherlock Holmes.

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasHouse of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance, paranormal, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Crescent City #1
Pages: 803
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Bound by blood.Tempted by desire.Unleashed by destiny.
Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.
Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.
As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.
With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

My Review:

In the beginning there is Bryce Quinlan and Danika Fendyr. And in the end, there is Bryce Quinlan and Danika Fendyr, linked together by their hearts and the translation of a tattoo on both of their backs, “Through love, all is possible.”

That’s the way it begins, and that’s the way it ends. In between, there’s a long walk through very dark places that Bryce is forced to take alone. Or so she thinks. Or so it seems.

Ultimately, House of Earth and Blood is a story about love. Not just romantic love, although there is a slow-burn romance at the heart of this story. But the romance at the true soul of this saga is not Eros, as the Ancient Greeks called sexual passion, but rather the deep friendship of the soul that they named Philia.

What seems like a star-crossed romance between the half-human, half-fae and barely magical Bryce Quinlan and the fallen angel Hunt Athalar is the stuff of which Romeo and Juliet tragedies are made. The deepening angst of their enemies into lovers story gives this saga both its biting wit and its too-frequent descents into over-the-top melodrama.

But it’s Bryce and Danika’s sisters-of-choice, bone-deep connection that gives this story its lowest depths of despair – and its wings.

Once upon a time, when my parents were still among the living and we used to play cards together, at the end of hand someone would frequently say, “Read ‘em and weep.” In a nutshell, that’s House of Earth and Blood.

Read it and weep.

Escape Rating B-: There were points during my reading/listening of this book that I just couldn’t stand not knowing what came next so I dove from the audio right into the ebook the minute I got home.

And there were times when I was ready to throw the thing against the wall and end the torture because there were so many things that just drove me crazy. That I was considering this course of behavior in the car, listening to my iPhone while I was driving shows just how tempted I was.

So I’m not remotely neutral about any of this. Not at all.

The short version of this review is that the first 100 pages were terrific and ended in a gut wrenching drop. The last 100 pages were so damn compelling that I couldn’t wait to finish in audio THEN couldn’t flip pages fast enough.

Much of that final 100 page compulsion was provided by a clichéd villain exposition to make the heroine see just how brilliant his villainy had been, but the reader – and every other character in the story – needed to hear it. But villain clichés are still villain clichés.

In the middle there were 600 pages that would have been better as 400 or 450 pages. A metric fuckton of stuff happened, a lot of it was stuff the reader really, really needed to know. But there was also an equally metric fuckton of over-the-top angst that may have needed to happen but didn’t need to happen with that many repeats or nearly that much overblown language and description.

My feelings about this book are absolutely in the category of splinters up the ass fence sitting. The parts I loved, I really, really loved. The parts that I hated, I hated just about as much. There’s no middle ground here that isn’t a quagmire of blood, sweat, tears and angst.

Initially, what dragged me into this story was the sheer complexity of the worldbuilding. This is not a place I’d EVER want to live, because it is seriously fucked up – especially for the original recipe humans – but the mixture of 21st century technology with high-powered magic and authoritarian rule by powerful immortals blends into a world that is both easy to envision and fascinating to explore.

The vibe of Crescent City and its world feels very much like the heady aura of the organized menace of power and magic that permeates Fonda Lee’s marvelous Jade City, the first book in her Green Bone Saga.

As much as the way this world works reminded me of Jade City, in the end it read like a whole bunch of recent SF/Fantasy worlds thrown into a gigantic blender set on high. The resulting mélange is generally pretty tasty, and I found the depth of the worldbuilding to be the strongest part of the book.

Especially considering that, as much as this reads like an urban fantasy in a high fantasy setting for much of the story – rather like the Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara (start with Cast in Shadow), technically this is science fiction of the “walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but isn’t a duck,” variety. Like A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons, where it turns out that the gods aren’t really gods, but rather immortals who came from another planet. Although Lyons sends the world of her series careening off its tracks in an entirely different way. Still, if you like The House of Earth and Blood and can’t wait for the next book, check out The Ruin of Kings.

As much as I loved the beginning of this book, and found the ending to be utterly riveting, the middle sagged and bagged.

Some of that was language. It felt like all of the physical descriptions of people were repeated whenever they appeared, over and over and over. And it was very obvious that all of the people in this story were all extremely conventionally attractive. But all of the descriptions were overblown, something that was particularly obvious in audio.

There was also a lot of wordy, emo, angsty, over-the-top emotionalism, particularly on Bryce’s part that I found teeth-gnashing. It made it very clear that she still had a tremendous amount of growing up to do, to the point of really making me wonder about the developing relationship between Bryce and Athalar with its 200 year age gap.

But the entire middle section felt like it had three purposes. Build that romantic relationship – only to cockblock it at every turn, watch Bryce get beaten down and run around at every single turn, and follow Bryce and Athalar as they conduct an investigation that is doomed to fail because there’s a villain they don’t know about hiding behind the metaphorical curtain. Leading right back to that clichéd villain exposition.

All of those things needed to happen, but the runaround was long and repetitive. It also drove home that this is a “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” story, as it seems that every single system and authority is determined to remind Bryce that she is the lowest of the low – and so is nearly everyone else.

There was a hateful sameness to all of the powerful people in this story. While power does corrupt, it doesn’t necessarily corrupt every villain with exactly the same blend of total inability to see anyone else – even their own families – as having any value whatsoever AND utter sadism. Some powerful people would be savvy enough to at least hide their ugly a bit better and at least a few would manage to be slightly enlightened even if that enlightenment is because it’s ultimately in their own self interest to at least seem benevolent.

And we don’t know why they are ALL this way. Villains never think they are the villain, after all. So what’s their story? The sheer number of times that one of the many, many villains reveled in their ability to mentally and/or physically torture others was initially sickening and then it just got old.

Before this review – or rant – goes on as long as the book it covers, one final thought. I loved, and hated, and loved this book by turns. But I never stopped thinking about it – even when I wanted to. It’s compelling when it’s good and it’s compelling when it’s crazy.

But it ended on an incredible high note, to the point where, as much as it drove me round the twist, I know that I’ll be compelled to pick up the second book in the series when it comes out (hopefully) next year. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a story where things get darkest just before they turn completely black – BUT I HAVE TO KNOW!

Review; The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky

Review; The Seventh Perfection by Daniel PolanskyThe Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on September 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Daniel Polansky returns with The Seventh Perfection, an innovative, mind-bending fantasy mystery
When a woman with perfect memory sets out to solve a riddle, the threads she tugs on could bring a whole city crashing down. The God-King who made her is at risk, and his other servants will do anything to stop her.
To become the God-King's Amanuensis, Manet had to master all seven perfections, developing her body and mind to the peak of human performance. She remembers everything that has happened to her, in absolute clarity, a gift that will surely drive her mad. But before she goes, Manet must unravel a secret which threatens not only the carefully prepared myths of the God-King's ascent, but her own identity and the nature of truth itself.

My Review:

I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up this book, but I don’t believe this was it. Actually I don’t believe I would ever have expected this – particularly as I’m still not exactly sure what this was.

Somewhere in the middle I thought it was a story about history being written by the victors. In the middle, it certainly seems that way.

As Manet searches the country for the secret of the holographic locket she mysteriously received, we observe that her country seems to have deliberately expunged its past in favor of the present moment. And that her search digs into a past that few remember and fewer even want to.

The act of remembering the time before the Revolution that overthrew the Divine Empress – now referred to as the Anathema – and raised up the God-King Ba’l Melqart – seems to have become an act of defiance. Even for Ba’l Melqart himself.

Which led me to my second thought about what this story is, a story about the circle of life turning into a cycle of death, as the entire country embodies the saying about those who don’t remember the past being condemned to repeat it.

Ba’l Melqart doesn’t remember his own past, not even why he had the locket sent to Manet.

Manet, on the other hand, can do nothing but remember. Everything. Always. Forever. It’s what the seventh perfection has trained her to do. She’s been trained to be both slave and memory for the God-King who can no longer remember much of anything.

Because that’s what the ascension to the throne costs. The loss of who he once was.

He was once Manet’s father, even if his memories of her mother, their legendary romance, and Manet’s own birth are just a hazy dream. When he remembers at all.

Manet was set on a search for a truth that costs her dear, and that no one seems to want her to find. But what is truth in a land where everyone but Manet herself, seems to be trained to forget?

Escape Rating B-: In the end, The Seventh Perfection reads more like an experiment than a story. The problem for this reader is that I read for the story, and in this book the story is more teased than realized.

Part of that is due to the nature of the experiment itself. This is an experiment in voice, specifically that the entire thing is written in the second person. Manet is never “I”, we never hear her words or delve into her thoughts.

Manet is a vessel of memory. She remembers every single thing she sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels. Someday it will drive her mad. If she survives – which is questionable at many points in the story.

The story, such as it is, is Manet conducting a series of interviews with people – and occasionally not-exactly-people – who are supposed to know something about the image in the locket and the person it might represent. The legendary revolutionary Amata. The God-King’s one true love. And seemingly Manet’s mother.

But we don’t hear Manet ask questions. Or know what she thinks about what she hears. Instead, we read the responses that people make to her questions, and are left to assume what Manet must have asked and said. We could be wrong.

In the end, I’m left with the feeling that I was looking for a tiny epic (it’s a short book) but am left with hints of a tragedy. Not necessarily Manet’s tragedy, as she embarked on her quixotic quest willingly. Or at least her quest wasn’t a tragedy, although its result may turn out to be one.

But Manet might not think so. We’ll never know. But I wish I knew more about Manet’s world. The hints that I got were tantalizing.

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass

Review: Queen of the Unwanted by Jenna GlassQueen of the Unwanted by Jenna Glass
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Women's War #2
Pages: 592
Published by Del Rey Books on May 12, 2020
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In this feminist fantasy series, the ability to do magic has given women control over their own bodies. But as the patriarchy starts to fall, they must now learn to rule as women, not men.
Alys may be the acknowledged queen of Women's Well—the fledgling colony where women hold equal status with men—but she cares little for politics in the wake of an appalling personal tragedy. It is grief that rules her now. But the world continues to turn.
In a distant realm unused to female rulers, Ellin struggles to maintain control. Meanwhile, the king of the island nation of Khalpar recruits an abbess whom he thinks holds the key to reversing the spell that Alys's mother gave her life to create. And back in Women's Well, Alys's own half-brother is determined to bring her to heel. Unless these women can all come together and embrace the true nature of female power, everything they have struggled to achieve may be at risk.

My Review:

I picked up this book because for the most part I enjoyed the starting book in this series, The Women’s War. But I have to say that I found the message of that first book to sometimes be heavy-handed. Not enough to spoil my enjoyment, but more than enough to make me wonder what would happen next.

Queen of the Unwanted certainly carries on directly from the events in The Women’s War, making it impossible for any reader to start here and make any sense of current events. Or, honestly, to care about what happens to the characters.

This is definitely a middle book, with all the inherent problems therein. Which means not only that you can’t start here, but that it fulfills the sense at the end of the first book, that the situation our heroines, Princess Alysoon of Women’s Well and Queen Ellinsoltah of Rhozinolm are at a point in both of their stories where things are dark and turning darker – quite possibly as a prelude to turning completely black.

So this is a story where more gets revealed but little gets resolved, setting the stage for the third book in the series at some future date. Hopefully not too far in our future, as this is a complicated series which makes picking up the action after a long hiatus a rather daunting affair for the reader.

Although I’ll certainly be back, if only to find out what happens next!

Escape Rating B-: I have to say that this book drove me absolutely bananas – and not always in a good way. I really did want to find out what happened after the earth-shaking events of the first book. But that means I wanted things to actually happen. This entry in the series, being a middle book, means that lots of people are maneuvering, and there is tons of political wrangling and shenanigans, but that in the end, not much happens.

Or at least, not until the very end, when the action suddenly proceeds apace, only to leave readers with multiple terrible book hangovers as they wait for the next book. Whenever it appears. I listened to 80% of this and then read the rest. The audio was interesting enough to keep me occupied while driving, but when things picked up I couldn’t stand to continue at that slow pace.

So, the story is slow going for a lot of its length. Of which there is rather a lot. And there are oodles of political machinations, but they don’t seem to go anywhere for much of the story.

The big message in this one is that old saw about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The history of this place is that men have had all the power, all the time, and now that women have carved out their own, tiny piece of it the men will do anything to get their absolute domination back.

The message is extremely heavy handed, to the point where it gets overdone. The reader feels a bit bludgeoned by it – as many of the female characters are beaten and degraded on a frequent basis. The treatment of women in this entire world is utterly appalling.

At the same time, the stakes are so high, and yet, particularly in Women’s Well, the behavior of both Princess Alys and her brother Tynthanal feels so petty and selfish. Neither of them seems to be thinking of the greater good of their beleaguered kingdom, but rather railing against all the things that are just not going their way in their personal lives.

And the major villain of the piece does tip into over-the-top-ness and reaches villain fail. Not just that he is so inept he can’t possibly succeed at anything, but that it is amazing that his own country doesn’t depose him early on. He’s not just evil, he’s a bad king and it’s OBVIOUS. He is neither respected nor feared and that should be a short trip to a headsman’s axe.

Instead, he becomes a figure of ridicule, not just to his court but to the reader. He has no self-control; neither over his temper nor his overindulgence in food and drink. His steadily increasing girth is meant to evoke the figure of Henry VIII, but Henry, for all his petulance, was an effective king which Delnamal NEVER is. Instead, the villain’s increasing weight becomes a vehicle for mockery and it just feels wrong.

Speaking of things that feel wrong, one of the points I mentioned in my review of The Women’s War was the utter lack of same-sex relationships. This feels like a world where such relationships would have been frowned upon if not banned, but human nature happens. There’s a whole spectrum of it that isn’t happening here in circumstances like the all-male army barracks and the all-female abbeys for unwanted women where it feels like it would have.

I know I’m complaining a lot about a book that I gave a B- rating to. I liked this story. I liked the first book better but I’m still very interested in seeing what happens. Even if it drives me crazy yet again.

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey Yates

Review: The Hero of Hope Springs by Maisey YatesThe Hero of Hope Springs (Gold Valley, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Gold Valley #10
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Will Gold Valley’s most honorable cowboy finally claim the woman he’s always wanted?
For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…
Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…

My Review:

There’s a big part of me that wants to call this a “friends to lovers” romance. And that’s kind of true. As the story opens – actually, as the entire Gold Valley series opens, Ryder Daniels and Sammy Marshall have been friends, but never lovers. Not for the 17 years that they’ve known each other. And not that Ryder, at least, hasn’t had thoughts in that direction.

Thoughts that he has ruthlessly if not completely suppressed, every time they’ve, well, come up.

That’s something Ryder has had lots of practice with. By that I mean suppressing any thoughts he doesn’t think he can afford to let fester inside his skull – and that he can’t let out of his mouth, either.

But Sammy and Ryder are more than just friends. They’re best friends. They are deep inside each other’s lives, and occupy a whole lot of space inside each other’s hearts. So it feels more like this is a story about two people finally acknowledging a relationship that’s been there all along.

There are, however, a few problems with changing what they are to each other. As it turns out, more than a few. Lots and bunches.

The biggest one being that any attempt to change what they are to each other has the strong possibility of wrecking everything that they are to each other. A risk that neither of them is willing to take.

Until there’s no choice at all.

Escape Rating B-: This is a mixed feelings review in multiple directions. So let’s get right to it.

One of the reasons that I love this author is that she creates tension in romantic situations that feels REAL. The problems between Ryder and Sammy, and there are lots of them, feel organic to their lives and aren’t silly misunderstandammits that could be resolved with a single conversation.

The problem for the reader, or at least this reader, is that a huge chunk of their mutual problem, as much as they are definitely a case of opposites attracting, is that for entirely different reasons both of these people live a lot of their lives inside their own heads.

Ryder’s stuck inside his head because his parents died when he was 18 and about to go off to college on a football scholarship. He had big plans far away from the family ranch. But Ryder was the oldest of several children, and the only way for them all to stay together and keep the ranch was for Ryder to give up his dreams and become a surrogate father to his siblings and his cousins who also lived with them.

So Ryder’s always had LOTS of thoughts about what might have been, what he wished was, and just getting through being a parent when he wasn’t quite done with being a child himself.

Sammy lives inside her own head because it was the only place she could be free. She learned to distance herself emotionally when she couldn’t do it physically while her angry and violent father was taking out all of his disappointments on Sammy – with his fists. While her mother looked on. She left her parents and moved into a tiny camper on the grounds of Ryder’s ranch when she was 16 and he was 18, because he made her feel safe.

He still does.

While the reasons that both Ryder and Sammy live inside their own heads a lot – and with a lot of internal angst – feels like an entirely real response to the situations in their lives. It makes for hard reading. Because they also have their heads inside their own asses a lot, unable to get out of their own ways.

So this is a story where it reads like there’s more internal dialog than external dialog – or action. And that’s right for these characters but drove this reader a bit bananas. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

As I said, I finished this book with mixed feelings. While there was more internal angst than worked for me in a romance, the reason for that angst felt real and true to life. I liked these characters and wanted them to achieve their HEA, but admit to being kind of surprised that they actually managed to do it! But I do enjoy the Gold Valley series so I’m looking forward to seeing Ryder and Sammy again as secondary characters in later books. Especially as it looks like some of Ryder’s siblings are up next!

Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter SwansonEight Perfect Murders (Malcolm Kershaw, #1) by Peter Swanson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 270
Published by William Morrow on March 3, 2020
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A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.
Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne's Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox's Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald's The Drowner, and Donna Tartt's A Secret History.
But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookshop in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.
To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects—and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

My Review:

There are reliable narrators, there are unreliable narrators, and then there’s Malcolm Kershaw, who is such an unreliable narrator that by the end of the story it feels like the only thing he told us at the beginning that is still true at the end is that Nero the store cat is a cat.

After all, even the CAT’S role in the story changes at least twice over the course of the narrative. But at least he’s still the same species. It’s hard to be sure that anything else we thought we knew at the beginning is true at the end.

The story begins, or at least we think it begins, when an FBI agent visits bookseller Malcolm Kershaw at his mystery-specializing bookstore, Old Devils, on a snowy Boston winter’s day.

She’s following a thin lead that’s really more of a hunch. Actually, calling it a hunch may even be dignifying it slightly. She’s grasping at straws in a series of unsolved murders that may not even be a series – as much as she wants it to be.

It’s possible, just barely, that someone is following a template accidentally laid out by Kershaw many years ago in a blog post he called “Eight Perfect Murders”. It was a list of books – well, that’s not a surprise. But it’s a list of books that he thought at the time, rather pretentiously, narrated tales of murders that should have managed to fool the police. In other words, perfect murders where the murder is never even suspected, let alone caught.

Kershaw agrees to help her investigate her hunch. He’s a bit flattered to be contacted by the FBI, and a bit worried that it’s going to bring up his wife’s death five years before. His wife died on another winter’s night, on a remote and snowy road, on her way back from her lover’s house, while drunk or high on cocaine or a bit of both. Her death, and the death of her lover a year or so later, were both suspicious. But Malcolm just-so-happened to be out of town at bookseller conventions at the time of both deaths, so he’s in the clear.

And he’s intrigued by the possibilities of someone using his old list as a template for serial killing. Or so we believe.

As the story unravels, we get a tour through some of the classics of the murder mystery genre as seen through the eyes of an aficionado of that genre. Only to discover, in the end, that we’ve been reading one all along.

Escape Rating B-: There have been a few complaints that the story in Eight Perfect Murders, in addition to being told by the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, spoils the plots of the eight stories that might be what the murderer uses to carry out his or her murder spree. While on the one hand that’s true, very much on the other the most recent book of the bunch was published in 1992 and the others are much older. There has GOT TO BE a limit on spoiler warnings somewhere, and 28 years is definitely past it.

The story is being told from inside Malcolm Kershaw’s head. He’s our narrator, he’s our point of view of the action, and he’s also telling the story from a perspective that ALSO mimics a classic in the genre, but we don’t discover that until the end. So I’m not saying what or which one.

But the thing about unreliable narrators, and it is clear very early on that Kershaw is at least somewhat unreliable about his own past, is that they lie. They lie to everyone around them. And in the very best/worst of cases, meaning the very epitome of unreliability, they lie to themselves. So even though he seems to be relating events as he really sees them, he’s still filtering everything through a lens of the lies he’s told himself and the lies he’s told the world.

It’s only as he gets deeper into the puzzle that we begin to realize that either we never had all the pieces or that the picture we think we’re solving doesn’t match the box. It doesn’t, in the end, even match the picture on the box that Kershaw thought he was working on.

In the end, Eight Perfect Murders as a story feels more like a thought experiment than an actual murder mystery. The problem for me as a reader is that I didn’t find Kershaw all that sympathetic as a character. He starts out bland and boring, and while the things that happen in the story are anything but, he’s still bland and boring at the end.

This is in sharp contrast to another mystery thriller with an unreliable narrator that I read this year, This is How I Lied. Even though she both lied and was lied to, as Kershaw is, I felt for her and felt like I understood where she was coming from and how she got that way. She felt for herself in a way that Kershaw does not. So her story kept me glued to it until the end, while his just made me want to find out whodunnit and what it was they’d actually done so I could close the book.

One final comment. The Goodreads entry leads the reader to believe that this is the first of a series. Admittedly the ending could just be another piece of misdirection on Kershaw’s part. But if it ends the way it seems to, the way that the mystery it’s mimicking does, then a sequel is impossible. Or Kershaw is lying again. He could very well be THAT unreliable.

We’ll see.

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Review: Flyaway by Kathleen JenningsFlyaway by Kathleen Jennings
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, horror
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on July 28, 2020
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In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.
A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles.
In these pages Jennings assures you that gothic delights, uncanny family horror, and strange, unsettling prose can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun.
Holly Black describes as “half mystery, half fairy tale, all exquisitely rendered and full of teeth.” Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own.

My Review:

Flyaway is seriously creepy and extremely weird. It also proves that a place doesn’t need to be dark, gloomy and cold in order to generate plenty of shivers and chills. There’s plenty to be scared of in the hot, dry and sun parched, and there are just as many lonely places in the Australian Bush as there are in the dark castles of Europe or the ghost towns of the American West.

And family is everywhere. If most people are killed by someone they know, and most accidents occur in or near the home, it makes entirely too much creeptastic sense that your relatives are the ones you need to be afraid of the most, especially in an isolated place like Inglewell. Because Bettina Scott has more reasons to be afraid of her entire family than any one young woman ever should.

At first I thought Inglewell was going to turn out to be a kind of Brigadoon. Was I ever wrong!

Also at first, I thought the problem was that Bettina Scott was being drugged by her mother. There was certainly something wrong with Bettina and that relationship. And in the end there definitely was – just not exactly what I thought at the beginning.

Actually nothing about this story was exactly what I thought. Flyaway is as grim as any of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the original versions, without the moralizing lesson at the end.

There’s a saying that the world is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we CAN imagine. But the world this author has imagined is way stranger than anywhere I’d ever want to be. Maybe that’s the point of that saying after all.

Escape Rating B-: This was weird. I know, I’ve said that already. But it was – very creepy and extremely weird. It’s also the darkest of dark fantasy, the kind that falls right over the border into horror.

It’s also the kind of horror that sort of, I think spirals out might be the best phrase, from a beginning that doesn’t seem too outre. Not that Bettina’s relationship with her mother doesn’t feel wrong from the very beginning, but at first it’s the kind of wrong that could have a logical explanation – or at least as logical as brainwashing, or drugs, or Munchausen syndrome by proxy. All horrible but not supernatural.

But as the story goes on, the story of Bettina breaking away from her mother, it’s interspersed with stories of supernatural horror that all take place in Inglewell, in the not too distant past. At first those stories don’t seem related, but as those stories catch up to Bettina’s “now’ we learn just how isolated, insular and downright creepy the area really is.

It’s like the isolation distilled the creep factor into something that really, really shouldn’t be running around in this world – but is. A something that every once in a while sucks in a new victim, and that entirely too many residents seem to accept as just part of life there.

But I left this book extremely glad that I don’t have to. I’m still creeped out. I really need a cocoa and a lie down after this one. This is not a way I ever want to pass again.

Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda James

Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda JamesCareless Whiskers (Cat in the Stacks #12) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #12
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on January 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When librarian Charlie Harris' daughter is falsely accused of murder, he and his faithful feline Diesel must leap forward to crack the case in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has sworn off investigating murder and mayhem after a recent close call. Instead, he's delighted to cheer on his daughter, Laura, who's starring in a production of Careless Whispers. The theater department at Athena College is debuting the play written by a fledgling playwright with local connections and Charlie's son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, will be calling the directorial shots.

Laura is upset to learn that Luke Lombardi, an overbearing actor she knew from her time in Hollywood will also be taking part in the production as a guest artist. Lombardi arrives with an entourage in tow and promptly proceeds to annoy everyone involved with the production. When he collapses and dies on stage, after drinking from a glass Laura handed him, she becomes the chief suspect in his murder.

Charlie knows his daughter is innocent, and he's not going to let anyone railroad his little girl. So, despite his intentions to put his amateur sleuthing days behind him, Charlie has to take center stage, and with Diesel's help, shine a spotlight on the real killer.

My Review:

I’ve generally enjoyed the whole Cat in the Stacks series, starting with Murder Past Due. And I’ve always felt that the amateur detective around whom this series is based, Charlie Harris, is very much, “one of us” librarians. Which seems totally right, because his creator is also a real-life librarian.

So it seemed particularly appropriate to pick up Careless Whiskers while I was attending the recent American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, as I’ve also always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to catch a drink or a cup of coffee with at a conference.

I also picked this book because of Charlie’s “large and in charge” sidekick, his 35-pound Maine Coon cat named Diesel. I always miss our kitties when we are away, so I felt the urge to settle in with a feline book baby as my own were too far away too snuggle.

There are plenty of hints dropped at the end of the previous book in this series, The Pawful Truth, to let the reader know that this story would be focused on Charlie’s daughter Laura and son-in-law Frank and the next production of the college’s theater department.

And so it proves, with Frank directing and Laura co-starring in Careless Whispers by Finnegan Zwake. This particular production is a big part of the department’s annual fundraiser, an event where they get a relatively big name star to come to tiny Athena Mississippi for a couple of weeks to star in a play in the usually correct assumption that the big name star will draw big donor fans.

This year is not going to be their best year. Possibly their most dramatic, but even though some of that drama does occur onstage it is not of the type that contributes to a long run of any play.

Not that either Frank or Laura is all that eager to see once-upon-a-time Tony nominee Luke Lombardi “grace” their stage or their town. Laura has worked with the overacting thespian before and has no real desire to deal with him again – ever.

But as much as she can’t wait to see the back of him – she doesn’t want to see him dead. For real. On stage. On opening night.

Especially not when it looks like she’s either the prime suspect – or the next victim.

Escape Rating B-: I really, really, really wanted to get into this and love it because this series is such a comfort read for me. I adore Diesel, especially because he’s so himself and so cat at the same time – and he’s just a sweet boy and a smart cat at the cat level of smart. Not that I don’t love Joe Grey in his series, but Joe is human-smart and sometimes human-confused and human-conflicted and it’s a different experience.

Diesel is just big and perfectly cat. He’s not ordinary, but he’s not extraordinary in any way that is outside his species norms. And he’s adorable with it.

And, as I said at the top, Charlie just seems like “one of us” librarians in ways that writers don’t always get right. So when I settled in to read I thought I’d be all in – and I just wasn’t.

This entry in the series fell a bit flat for me. As I look back I’m not quite sure why, either, but it just didn’t zing or gel or any of the things that usually happen when I visit Athena.

I think that a lot of that was the theater setting. If I wanted a murder mystery crossed with Noises Off, I’d have found one. I wanted Athena and got locked in a playhouse instead. Another way I keep looking at it is that there was too much show business and not enough murder business. Or it went too far over the top in more than one direction.

First there was the business with Lombardi’s dresser and his mistress, who happened to be married to each other. And were both French and seemed more like characters from one of Moliere’s farces than even half-real people.

Especially when combined with the two men pretending to be the playwright Finnegan Zwake – accompanied by the equally farcical goings-on surrounding that red herring. Their rivalry, at least, made more sense than the French farce, but it added more comic relief than this particular story needed.

Although, now that I think about it, the real reason this didn’t work for me was its lack of dramatic tension. The blurb lures you in, as I did above, with the idea that Charlie’s daughter Laura is going to be the prime suspect in the murder. But she never really is. Even the police detective admits that she doesn’t actually suspect Laura – just that she has to investigate her enough to cross her off her list. And, while Charlie torments himself with the possibility that Laura could have been the next victim, by the time his brain starts going down that path the possibility is already over.

So color me disappointed with this entry in the series. But I’ll still be back for Diesel’s next adventure, Cat Me if You Can. I just hope that 13 turns out to be a luckier number for the series!