Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + Giveaway

Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + GiveawayRelative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Julia Kydd #1
Pages: 320
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

In 1924 Manhattan, women’s suffrage is old news. For sophisticated booklover Julia Kydd, life’s too short for politics. With her cropped hair and penchant for independent living, Julia wants only to launch her own new private press. But as a woman, Julia must fight for what’s hers—including the inheritance her estranged half brother, Philip, has challenged, putting her aspirations in jeopardy.

When her friend’s sister, Naomi Rankin, dies suddenly of an apparent suicide, Julia is shocked at the wealthy family’s indifference toward the ardent suffragist’s death. Naomi chose poverty and hardship over a submissive marriage and a husband’s control of her money. Now, her death suggests the struggle was more than she could bear.

Julia, however, is skeptical. Doubtful of her suspicions, Philip proposes a glib wager: if Julia can prove Naomi was in fact murdered, he’ll drop his claims to her wealth. Julia soon discovers Naomi’s life was as turbulent and enigmatic as her death. And as she gets closer to the truth, Julia sees there’s much more at stake than her inheritance…

My Review:

The title of this one is certainly a play on the words “relative” and “fortunes” and just how they relate to each other – with a heaping helping of the corruption of the old saying about where there’s a will, there’s a way – not that that doesn’t also apply.

But in the case of this story, the version of that cliche that I’m thinking of is the one that goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a relative” or even a bunch of relatives, all with their hands out for a piece of the estate – no matter how small.

The beginning of this story involves two different wills in two different families involving two very much alive female legatees. At least until things go completely pear-shaped.

And if you are reading this while female, the number of times that the males in this story control their female siblings’ money and their very lives, supposedly for their own good, will make you grit your teeth and want to scream.

Which doesn’t change the fact that there’s a dead body, an absolutely disgusting coverup, and a desperate need for Julia Kydd to solve the mystery – so she can protect her friend, so that she can wrest some of her own money from her half-brother’s oh-so-protective hands, and so that she can stake out her own claim on independence.

If she can just get past all the men trying to pat her on the head, tell her not to worry her pretty little self and just marry someone already so that she can become some other man’s burden. When all she really wants to do is determine her own life for her own self.

And who can blame her?

Escape Rating B-: This is a story with a lot to unpack in it. Some of which drove me absolutely bonkers.

I was expecting a historical mystery, with the emphasis on the mystery part of that equation. What I got instead was historical fiction, with the emphasis on the history, during which a murder happens to occur and get solved by the heroine.

This is also the first book in a series, and has to carry the weight of the set up of the series, the characters, and all of the worldbuilding to put it properly within its frame – the Roaring 20s in New York City – and mostly among the glitterati.

In the end, although the murder actually takes place before the story opens, the race to solve it doesn’t really kick into gear until ¾ of the way through the book. Discovering that solution is a race to the finish, but the setup is a very slow burn – and I certainly burned right along with Julia.

Julia’s reasons for being in New York, as well as the reason for Naomi Rankin’s death, are very much wrapped up in all of the ways that men can and often do subjugate women, and all the ways that the system of the patriarchy is set up to not merely allow them to do it, but actively encourages them to do so. For the women’s own good, of course.

And that particular theme is a drumbeat over that first ¾ of the book. That things really were that way isn’t up for debate. They were, it was awful, and things aren’t as much better now as we like to think they are. But I got tired of being beaten about the head with those facts over and over and over. As, no doubt, the women subject to them did.

There would have been plenty of other ways to make those same points while still getting on with the mystery, which was itself completely wrapped up in women’s rights and women’s issues. The situation was bad, and the death of Naomi Rankin and the reasons for it offered plenty of opportunities for highlighting just how bad it was without hitting the reader over the head with it at every turn in that long setup.

Particularly as there was so much setup and exposition that the identity of the murderer and at least some of their motives (although not all) became obviously fairly early on.

Your mileage may vary, particularly as the historical detail is excellent. As a reader, I would have been happier with a bit less setup and a bit more mystery. But what I did get was interesting enough that I’ll be back for the next book in the series, Passing Fancies.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Relative Fortunes to one US/CAN commenter on this tour. And I’ll be extremely interested to discover what that reader thinks of the story!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2WQzECI

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Review: Shadowblade by Anna KashinaShadowblade by Anna Kashina
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 432
Published by Angry Robot on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A young sword prodigy must impersonate a lost princess and throw her life into a deadly political game, in this kinetic epic fantasy novel by the author of the award-winning Majat Code series

Naia dreams of becoming a Jaihar Blademaster, but after assaulting a teacher, her future seems ruined. The timely intervention of a powerful stranger suddenly elevates her into elite Upper Grounds training. She has no idea that the stranger is Dal Gassan, head of the Daljeer Circle. Seventeen years ago he witnessed the massacre of Challimar's court and rescued its sole survivor, a baby girl. Gassan plans to thrust a blade into the machinations of imperial succession: Naia. Disguised as the legendary Princess Xarimet of Challimar, Naia must challenge the imperial family, and win. Naia is no princess, but with her desert-kissed eyes and sword skills she might be close enough...

My Review:

This was another book that I read at least a couple of weeks before I wrote this review, and for the same reason as the last time – because I was a bit disappointed.

(I’ve discovered that this happens for one of two reasons – either because the book disappointed me and I don’t want to write about it – or that I loved it so much that I need a few days to let the urge to squee tone down a bit. I’ve also discovered that the disappointment generally lingers while the squeeing does not tone down very much at all – but I try.)

The reason that I expected to love Shadowblade was that I absolutely adored the author’s previous series, the Majat Code. The books in that series, Blades of the Old Empire, The Guild of Assassins and Assassin Queen, were among my very favorite books in the years they were published.

But I didn’t love Shadowblade. I did like it, but I just didn’t love it. And the why of that feels like it’s in direct consequence to both that previous epic series and to another book with a somewhat similar storyline, Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.

And the key difference is that the previous epic series was just that, an epic SERIES. And that Kill the Queen, while it hits many of the same plot beats as Shadowblade (or the other way around) is the first book in a SERIES, emphasis on series if that wasn’t obvious by the ALL CAPS.

Shadowblade has an epic story to tell. It begins with the death of one entire ruling house at the hands of a rival, and one baby brought miraculously out of the slaughter. It picks up years later, with that baby now a young woman, a young trainee swordswoman who is about to be ejected from her training, her guild, and any possibility of a halfway decent life.

That’s the point where the political machinations that maneuvered her escape so long ago come back into her life and begin meddling. Not, of course, for her own good, but for theirs.

And possibly everyone else’s. But there’s a secret puppetmaster hiding in the shadows, determined to wrench the future into a pattern of their choosing – no matter what – or who – it costs.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating here so I can continue talking about the story and my disappointment with it.

Shadowblade is a standalone epic fantasy, but the story it has to tell is too big and too, well, epic. In order to fit into a single volume it feels like too much worldbuilding and too much story ended up on the virtual cutting room floor.

This should have been at least a duology. It feels like there might have been more than enough story for the author to have even committed trilogy – and I’d have happily signed up for all of it!

Instead, Naia’s training years, which should have had plenty of drama, are reduced to a few brief scenes at long intervals. There was so much to explore even at the point where she is introduced to readers as a near-adult. There seems to have been an awful lot wrong at the Blademaster “Academy”, Naia seems to have been at the heart of it, and yet we don’t know how she got into the fix she’s in. While information supplied later gives us the gist of the immediate issue it feels like Naia’s difficulties with her trainers have much deeper roots that we don’t get to see.

Another place where the story gets very short shrift is the romance. Because there is one. But we’re supposed to accept Naia’s HEA without seeing the relationship building that leads to it. That part of the story felt rushed, but then so did a lot of it.

There was just so much fascinating story lurking in the background that just didn’t seem to make it onto the page. I wish it had. That trilogy would have been epically awesome, while the single-volume we got is just OK.

Shadowblade should have been a truly epic story – but whatever caused it to be a single-volume rather than the longer work it needed to be means that the epicness fell short.

As always, your reading mileage may vary.

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
Goodreads

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: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann KrentzUntouchable (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, #3) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A man's quest to find answers for those who are haunted by the past leads him deeper into the shadows in this electrifying novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell.

Quinton Zane is back.

Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace.

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

My Review:

“They say you can buy anything online these days.” In this case, the “they” in question are the two protagonists in Untouchable. Certainly one of the “anything” you can buy is a good book.

Unfortunately, while Untouchable isn’t a bad read at all, it just doesn’t quite live up to the thrill-a-minute pace of its predecessors, When All the Girls Have Gone and Promise Not to Tell. But anyone who has read the first two really needs to read this one as well. Because Untouchable is where we finally get the closure that we’ve (along with Max Cutler, Caleb Sutter and Anson Salinas) have been waiting for.

Jack Lancaster is the “fourth Musketeer” of the private investigations firm of Cutler, Sutter and Salinas. He’s one of the children that retired police officer Anson Salinas rescued from the fire that was intended to tie up all of the loose ends at Quinton Zane’s cult headquarters. It almost worked. The fire covered Zane’s tracks and killed all the adults in the compound, including the mothers of all three boys.

And it left those boys, along with their foster father, with a burning desire to bring Quinton Zane to justice – no matter how many times Zane managed to fake his own death, or how long it might take.

The cases that Max Cutler (When All the Girls Have Gone) and Caleb Sutter (Promise Not to Tell) have solved have led the team to the conclusion that Quinton Zane isn’t just alive, but that he’s back in the U.S. after years abroad.

Now it’s Jack’s turn to do what he does best – put all the nebulous pieces together and solve the ice cold case that began in so much fire.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating in early in the review so that I can talk about the story in a bit more detail.

I’m in a bit of a quandary, because the closure provided by this story is really necessary after the first two books in the series. But in the end, it just doesn’t live up to them. I’m not sure that’s a big problem, because it also can’t be read as a standalone. So much of the tension in this story revolves around Jack’s (and his foster father and brothers’) lifelong obsession with Quinton Zane. If you weren’t there for the first books you’re not going be interested in this one.

This book also has a feel that reminds me a lot more of the author’s Arcane Society books. Jack’s talent for lucid dreaming, and the way that it is expressed, reads a lot like the way that Arcane talents manifest in the Dreamlight trilogy, and Jack himself reads a lot like one of the hunters from Harmony.

Winter Meadows’ master of hypnotism also fits right into the Arcane Society. As does the conspiracy theorist Arizona Snow. Both Snow and the little town of Eclipse Bay feature in Running Hot, a story in the Arcane Society series. There’s also a nod to Burning Cove – the location of her currently in-progress historical romantic suspense series under her Amanda Quick pen name.

So this story contains a lot of nods to other places and scenarios that this author has created. Not enough to pull readers unfamiliar out of this story, but certainly enough to put a smile of recognition on the face of those who ARE familiar.

As romantic suspense, Untouchable needs both a mystery/thriller plot and a romantic element. The mystery is provided by the cat and mouse game between Jack and Quinton Zane. The romance is provided by the relationship that springs up between Jack and Winter Meadows.

And while their love scenes are plenty hot, there’s not enough emotional build-up to “sell” the romance. Not that we don’t want them to find their HEA, but we don’t feel with them enough. Or at least I didn’t. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

In the end the wrap up of the series was satisfactory, but the individual entry in it was not. I usually love this author and wish that I’d liked this book better. I’m now very curious to see how her next book, Tightrope, third in the Burning Cove series written as Amanda Quick, works for me – and everyone else.

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan Mallery

Review: Not Quite Over You by Susan MalleryNot Quite Over You (Happily Inc., #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #4
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Susan Mallery, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool’s Gold romances, proves there’s nowhere better than Happily Inc to rekindle first love.

Silver Tesdal has a head for business and a mouth made for kissing, and banker Drew Lovato has his eye on both. But ever since he was dumb enough to let her go, she’s kept him at a distance. When the bank turns her down for a loan, Drew sees a double opportunity—he can finance her brilliant, unique idea to rock Happily Inc’s wedding industry and win back her trust.

Despite her reputation, Silver’s not as tough as she seems. Losing Drew nearly destroyed her. Still, his kisses are as tempting as his offer to invest in her business. If she can’t quite get over him, maybe she should get under him and knock him out of her system once and for all.

But her best laid plans begin to unravel as Silver finds herself falling even harder than when they were high school sweethearts. Which means that she’ll have to come clean about the secret she’s been hiding from him for years—and risk losing him forever.

My Review:

This isn’t exactly a second chance at love romance. It’s more like an “unfinished business” romance. Well, it’s also a second chance at love romance, it’s just that it feels more like they picked up where they left off because they just never got it out of their systems the first time. As the title implies, Silver and Drew never got over each other.

All the way back in high school, Silver and Drew were head over heels for each other. For three whole months. One glorious summer. The summer before Drew left for college. And when he left town, Silver let him go.

I don’t mean let him go to college, her permission was not required. I mean let him go as in broke up with him. She knew that time and distance was going to do that anyway, and that it was better to make a clean break.

When she discovered she was pregnant, that option almost went off the table. But again, Silver made the mature decision. She did go to tell him about the baby, and when his reaction was to offer to marry her, but seemingly not out of love, she handed him the paperwork for her to give the baby up for adoption. And he signed.

Twelve years later Silver is still in Happily and Drew has been back for almost a decade, an officer in his family’s bank. A bank that has just turned Silver down for a business loan to expand her AlcoHaul business.

The town of Happily is a destination wedding town, and Silver’s burgeoning business creates signature drinks for the many (many, many) themed weddings and brings her customized trailer filled with drinks and a full bar to venues all over town. Hence the catch name, AlcoHaul. Because that’s what she does, haul alcohol all over Happily.

Silver is also part of the “brain trust” that helps Pallas design and put together her “Weddings Out of the Box”. The details of how that came about are in the first book in this series, You Say It First.

Drew has seen Silver’s business plan, and he wants to help. Yes, he does have hopes of getting back together, but he’s also a savvy businessman with a heart. First, her plan is solid, and so is her business. She’s a good investment. Second, he believes the bank should be using its resources to help the town, and one way to do that is to help local businesses. He’s not a bleeding heart, he just wants the local bank to invest in the town that supports it for the betterment of both.

His family, or at least his aunt Libby, currently has a hate-on for Silver, for no reason that is ever made clear, and makes sure Silver’s loan application is turned down. It’s fairly obvious that Libby just wanted to watch Silver jump through the hoops so she could shoot her down at the end.

So Drew offers to buy a minority share of Silver’s business so that she can expand. But their unfinished business with each other makes her wary of accepting his help. It takes a few days for her to come to the conclusion that it is good business for both of them, whatever else happens.

What happens, of course, is that working together leads them right back to where they were all those years ago – but with a bit more maturity and a lot more baggage. The spark is certainly still there, and blazes back into life all too easily.

But all the factors that pushed them apart in the past are still unresolved in the present. They may be older and a bit wiser, but Silver is still from the wrong side of the tracks and Drew is the scion of one of Happily’s most prominent families. A family that has plans for him that definitely don’t include a woman who owns a bar. Or even three bars.

The first time around, Silver and Drew were too young to fight for each other. It would be easy to give up again. Neither of them has any experience fighting for what they want when it comes to matters of the heart.

They’ll have to learn this time – and fast.

Escape Rating B-: On the one hand, I liked the relationship between Silver and Drew, because they were both really neat people. Silver was right back in high school. They did need to break up – not because they didn’t love each other, but because they weren’t mature enough to deal with a long-distance relationship. Silver knew that she wanted to stay in Happily, and Drew needed to leave – at least long enough to appreciate what he’d left behind.

It was also great that they weren’t angsty about both living in town. They didn’t interact, but they didn’t seem to go out of their way to avoid each other. They’d had what they’d had, and it was over. At least it was mostly over.

Drew wants to try again – even if he isn’t quite ready to admit that to himself at the beginning – but Silver is afraid to trust him. She’s also afraid to trust herself, which is much more the crux of her journey in this story. She’s so afraid of being like her mother that she almost succeeds in turning herself off completely – and gets a bit too over the top angst when she finally realizes that Drew is already back inside her defenses. She’s afraid to fall in love again, only to eventually figure out that she never fell out of love with Drew in the first place – and to have several panic attacks about it.

The difficult part of this story for me, and the reason why it’s only a B- story, is the involvement of Drew’s family – or at least the involvement of two particular members of it. The two villains of this piece, and they definitely are villains, are Drew’s Aunt Libby and his mother Irene. The rest of his family is pretty terrific, especially his Grandpa Frank, but his mother and her sister are a pair of Cruella de Villes.

And we’re never sure why.

Libby was also the villain in the first book, You Say It First. She’s Pallas’ mother, and the woman never, ever, ever has a decent thing to say about her daughter. She spends that entire book cutting Pallas down at every single turn, and Pallas just takes it for entirely too much of the story.

Libby continues her evil ways in Not Quite Over You, blocking Silver’s loan application, undermining Drew at the bank, and generally attempting to score off against her sister Irene at every turn using Drew as a proxy.

Drew’s mother Irene is just as bad, in her own way. Irene, along with Drew’s father, left Happily to open a high-powered lobbying firm in Washington DC. She has determined what Drew’s life course will be and simply doesn’t listen to anything he says about what he wants. He wants to stay in Happily and eventually run the bank. He does not want to come to DC and join the family firm. Her inability to accept that Drew has plans of his own for his life – after all, he’s pushing 30 and his plans are quite good plans – gets to the point where she is not merely manipulative to the max, but also lying to Drew’s father and everyone else as well as using Drew’s phone to get Silver into places where she can lie to her and cut her down as well.

It’s not well-meaning parenting gone astray, it’s vicious and cruel and needs to be both explained and then resolved. She’s so evil that she, along with her sister Libby, need to get some just desserts delivered and it doesn’t happen, which left me feeling like the story isn’t done. Call it a bit of unfinished business. Hopefully both Libby and Irene get what’s coming to them in a future book in the series.

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt

Review: Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth HoytNot the Duke’s Darling (Greycourt, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Greycourt #1
Pages: 496
Published by Forever on December 18, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she's attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he'd much rather forget. But she's also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can't resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he'll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya's trust-by whatever means necessary.

Features a bonus novella from New York Times bestselling author Grace Burrowes!

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review. I’m all over the map about this one – and I didn’t expect to be. While I haven’t read ALL of the author’s Maiden Lane series, I’ve generally liked the ones I have read quite a bit.

But this one, well, yes and no.

On the one hand, it starts out with a bang, with Freya helping a desperate woman and her child escape from the man who wants to abuse them both. This particular escape isn’t about sex, it’s about money. The child is the rightful earl, her husband is dead, and his cousin plans to basically imprison the little boy and ransack the estate during his minority while keeping the boy’s mother away from him so she can’t support or protect him.

Women and young children were chattel, this chilling scenario was entirely possible – and legal. Freya has rescued both the mother and child, and is spiriting them away to a ship bound for America. But her pursuers are relentless, so she jumps into a nobleman’s carriage – only to discover that the nobleman in question is someone she knows – and loathes.

It should have been the start of a wild adventure, but the tension kind of fizzles out. Or at least it did for me.

While we do eventually find out why Freya hates the Duke of Harlowe so much (and those issues do reach resolution) what we really don’t get nearly enough information about is why Freya is participating in the rescue in the first place.

Not that the woman and her baby don’t need rescue, and not that someone shouldn’t do it. But how Freya got involved in the situation is murky. She’s a “Wise Woman”, a member of an order of independent women that has existed since the Roman occupation, if not before. She’s the “Macha” of the Wise Women, a title that seems to mean covert agent and spy as the situation requires.

But the Wise Women, while potentially interesting, never seem to get enough explanatory background, or at least not for this reader. What it felt like was simply a quick and dirty way of providing the 19th century heroine with the education, attitudes and perspectives that would appeal to 21st century readers. She’s so close to us that she feels anachronistic for her time.

That also seems to make her perfect for Christopher Renshaw, the aforementioned Duke of Harlowe, if they can get past the gigantic amount of baggage that stands between them.

Because the real backstory of this series seems to be the long-ago Greycourt scandal. Fifteen years ago, Harlowe, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and Julian Greycourt were the best of friends. Until one night when Julian’s sister tried to run off with Ranulf de Moray, and somehow she got herself killed and Ran got the blame. As well as a beating that cost him his dominant hand and his family’s place in society.

Freya has blamed Harlowe all these years, but as he eventually explains to her, he never believed that her brother was guilty of murder. And all three of the young men were, in fact, very, very young, only 18, and none of them had the position or the maturity to prevent the ensuing mess. Now he does, but the damage has already been done.

Personally, I believe that the overarching story in this series will be the eventual discovery of what happened that night, and that the individual books in the series are going to focus on all of the people who were affected by the scandal. Not just Harlowe and Freya, but eventually Julian Greycourt, the Greycourt sisters who were Freya’s friends once upon a time, Freya’s brother Ranulf, and whoever the hell the guilty party or parties turn out to be.

But we are not there yet. Much of this particular entry instead focuses on Freya’s activities with the Wise Women and their foes the Dunkelders, who believe that the Wise Women are witches who should be burned at the stake. They aren’t witches, but then, the great majority of those who were the victims of the witch hunts weren’t either.

Along with yet another rescue of another woman who desperately needs it.

The problems I have with the story all come back to the Wise Women. We don’t know enough for that piece of the story to really work. The Greycourt scandal grabbed my interest, as did the eventual romance between Harlowe and Freya, but it always felt like there was a hole in the back of the story – like a tooth cavity that you can’t stop sticking your tongue into – even though it hurts every time.

Escape Rating B-: I keep harping on the problem with the Wise Women, or rather the lack of enough information about the Wise Women. That’s because Freya’s participation in the group provides her with too many 21st century attitudes for too little data. One of the issues with historical romance is the difficulty of giving readers a heroine who has enough agency that we can identify with her while still having her fit into her time and place. And Freya doesn’t manage to walk that tightrope, at least not for this reader.

Your mileage may vary, or your version of the tightrope may be a bit wider than mine.

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + Giveaway

Review: The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin + GiveawayThe Frame-Up (The Golden Arrow #1) by Meghan Scott Molin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Golden Arrow #1
Pages: 287
Published by 47North on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

By day she writes comic books. By night, she lives them.

MG Martin lives and breathes geek culture. She even works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page.

But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. The thing is…superheroes aren’t real. Are they?

When the too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules. And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble.

Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks…

My Review:

First of all, think of Batman. Not because he appears in this story, except by mention. As does every geeky/nerdy movie, TV show, book, comic and game that you can think of. And a few you probably can’t. (Not just because a few of the geek references are made up for the purposes of this story, but because no geek, no matter how dedicated, is into absolutely every geekish everything on every geekish axis. I say this as someone who is fairly geeky, and recognized most but not quite all of the references and in-jokes.)

And I’m not sure if someone without at least a passing knowledge of geekdom will enjoy this story, because there are a LOT of in-jokes. And while the point of the romance part of the plot is that MG finally realizes that she doesn’t need to find someone who knows the ins and outs of geek culture in order to find her happily ever after, it does help the reader to know what at least some of what the flying references refer to.

Back to Batman. Among all of the famous superheroes, Batman is the one who is just “original recipe” human. He may be incredibly rich, and probably has a heaping helping of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but underneath the batsuit is just a (usually really, really buff) man. No extra-terrestrial origin, no mythic ancestors, no science experiment gone wrong. Just as Batman responds in Justice League to the question, “What are your superpowers again?”. His answer, “I’m rich.”. And that’s all.

The “caped crusader” who turns out to be at the heart of the mystery in The Frame-Up, the Hooded Falcon, is just like Batman. Not nearly as rich, but just as human. And only human. Excessively trained, and with a desire to see justice done, but merely human.

As a comic book, the original Hooded Falcon died decades before the opening of the events in this story, but MG Martin is a writer for Genius Comics, the company founded on the popularity of the Hooded Falcon. And even though the Falcon’s original creator is long since dead, his son still publishes a comic under the Hooded Falcon name – admittedly without any of his father’s, or his father’s creation’s spirit.

But someone in LA is committing crimes that recreate panels from the classic Hooded Falcon adventures. This person seems to have taken up either the banner of the Falcon himself, or perhaps that of the Falcon’s creator. Either way, there’s a vigilante on the streets of LA who has put himself (or possibly herself) in the sights of LA’s current generation of drug kingpins.

The police want to stop the crime spree before it’s too late. After a chance encounter, Detective Matteo Kildaire recruits MG as a police consultant expert on all things geek in general, and on her hero the Hooded Falcon in particular.

But all the clues point much, much too close to home, both for MG and Matteo. When his creator died, the Hooded Falcon was on the trail of both the drug kingpins AND the dirty cop who was covering for them.

History seems to be repeating, with both MG and Matteo caught in the crossfire. This time it’s not a crossfire of BAM and KAPOW, but real guns firing real bullets and dealing real death. They have to find the faces behind the masks, before it’s too late for our heroes.

After all, in real life there’s no possibility of a failure saving reboot if they get it wrong.

Escape Rating B-: The Frame-Up felt a bit like two books in one. One book that I really liked, and one that I really didn’t.

The first third or so of the story is the setup. We get introduced to MG, her coworkers at Genius Comics, and the opening frames of her relationship with Matteo. That relationship begins by being intimately tied to the case – not that it doesn’t take on a life of its own.

But the introduction to MG’s world is hard to take. MG is the lone female at Genius Comics. We see things entirely from her perspective, and that’s a realistically scary place to be. Geekdom in general, and geekdom-creation spaces in particular, are rightfully notorious for their misogynistic dudebro culture. Women are made to feel unwelcome, and it’s deliberate. MG is correct in her belief that she has to be “more badass” than any of the guys just to be taken half as seriously  – no matter how unfair it is or how much it hurts to be that defensive all the time.

Matteo, with his need to find an “in” so that he can surreptitiously scope out the company, absolutely DOES undermine MG’s position. That she falls for him rather than boot him to the curb at the first opportunity rankles quite a lot.

And the whole setup makes for very hard reading.

Once things are significantly setup, the story kicks into a higher gear and becomes a lot of fun.

The mystery is definitely a wild and crazy ride, only missing a few scattered BAMs and KAPOWs to make it completely part of the comic hero genre. I really liked MG’s nerdiness and felt for her desire to be her authentic best self. I particularly liked the way that Matteo, while he is a “virgin” when it comes to geek culture, is open minded about everything he experiences. It’s easy to see that he accepts MG for who she is, loves her as she is, and doesn’t feel any need to cram her into a box that won’t fit – as her parents and so many people in her life have previously tried to do.

The case has a lot of heart to it. It’s about children taking care of, writing wrongs for, or attempting to get past the legacies of their parents. It’s about superheroes and supervillains, and how real people come to fit into those places – whether they intend to or not.

And in the best superhero tradition, good triumphs, evil gets its just deserts, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after. At least until the next supervillain comes along…

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Frame-Up to one lucky US commenter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #3
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on November 11th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
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When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like. But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

My Review:

I’ve always said that this series reminded me of Stargate. I had to laugh out loud when they headed to Denver, the home of the Cheyenne Mountain Base. There may not be a Stargate in the mountain, but as many artifacts as Team 52 has turned up so far, you never know!

This story begins when Team 52’s logistics expert, Kinsey Beck, is kidnapped from their in-town “Bunker” in Las Vegas. Her kidnapping sets off several chain reactions, reactions of all different kinds.

One is the chain reaction her kidnapping sets off in Smith Creed, one of the loners in Team 52. He’s interested in Kinsey, but as has been the case with the other heroes in this series, Smith believes that he’s too damaged to be good for Kinsey. Kinsey has more than few emotional scars of her own, and has assumed that her own interest in Smith is one-sided. Wondering whether or not you’re going to live another day has a way of focusing one’s priorities.

Although Smith tries to keep Kinsey at more than arm’s length, when the first snatch and grab turns into the second and eventually the third, he gives in to the inevitable – and Kinsey is more than willing to give in to him. She just doesn’t think it will last.

There are also some subterranean chain reactions, set off by the ancient artifact that Team 52 is forced to trade for Kinsey’s life. Someone seems to think that setting off earthquakes is the perfect way to get attention – and remake the world.

Of course Team 52, with more than a little help from Treasure Hunter Security, is going to stop the villains from carrying out their nefarious plans – once they manage to stop everyone from kidnapping Kinsey!

Escape Rating B-: My favorite scene was when Team 52 meets up with Treasure Hunter Security in the THS offices, and Darcy Ward (co-owner of THS and heroine of Undetected) tell them, “THS badasses meet the Team 52 badasses.” What a hoot!

However, I also found myself thinking that for all the prep that the badasses of Team 52 do for their missions, they did a really lousy job of taking care of the security for their logistics manager. So much of what happens to Kinsey in this story happens because she wasn’t prepared. Not that she didn’t do fairly well with the hand that she was dealt, but she gets kidnapped so damn often because she wasn’t nearly well trained enough for a situation that seemed inevitable.

Some evildoer was bound to figure out that Kinsey was the weak link in Team 52’s security sooner or later – and they really should have bet on sooner. After all, it’s what they do.

As with all of this author’s work, I found the story to be a lot of fun, but it also felt like the cheesy factor lived up to the title. I’ve always found the titles of this series to be particularly cheesy, and this entry lives up to the cheese.

First, Kinsey gets kidnapped way too often. One of the things I like about this author is that she usually doesn’t resort to the stereotypical “heroine in jeopardy” plot devices. This outing got way too close to falling into that trope trap.

That being said, I still had a good time with Mission: Her Security – even if poor Kinsey wasn’t very secure for a good chunk of the book. But then, that’s why it needed to be a mission!

I’m looking forward to Anna Hackett’s return to science fiction romance in Edge of Eon, coming in December. OMG that’s next month! YAY!

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder in the Dark by Kerry GreenwoodMurder in the Dark (Phryne Fisher Mystery #16) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #16
Pages: 274
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on May 2, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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It s Christmas, and Phryne has an invitation to the Last Best party of 1928, a four-day extravaganza being held at Werribee Manor house and grounds by the Golden Twins, Isabella and Gerald Templar. She knew them in Paris, where they caused a sensation. Phryne is in two minds about going. But when threats begin arriving in the mail, she promptly decides to accept the invitation. No one tells Phryne Fisher what to do. At the Manor House, she is accommodated in the Iris room, and at the party dallies with two polo-playing women, a Goat lady (and goat), a large number of glamorous young men, and a very rude child called Tarquin. The acolytes of the golden twins are smoking hashish and dreaming. The jazz is as hot as the drinks are cold. Heaven. It all seems like good clean fun until three people are kidnapped, one of them the abominable child, and Phryne must puzzle her way through the cryptic clues of the scavenger hunt to retrieve the hostages and save the party from further disaster."

My Review:

I have been having a hankering to visit with Phryne Fisher again, and this seemed like the time to do it. This is even a Christmas story – well technically a post-Xmas story, so it even seemed to fit with some of my other recent books. Even if late October does seems too early to talk about – or read about, the Christmas holidays.

When I finished this one, I tried to describe the story to someone, and got absolutely lost for words. I’ll have to do better here. One thing I will say for sure, when I finished I couldn’t imagine that this one had ever been filmed for the series. Wikipedia says that it WAS filmed, but the only thing that the filmed version and the book version have in common in the title.

This is not the same story – not at all.

Which doesn’t mean the book version isn’t interesting, and doesn’t make for a hell of a read. Bits of it occasionally read like an opium dream of Coleridge’s, but that does make sense. There are a LOT of drugs of all types in this story – and ALL of them were perfectly legal at the time.

Not that the police don’t involved in the end, and certainly not that Phryne doesn’t have sometimes to investigate from the very beginning, because both are certainly true. Drugs may not have been illegal in 1928 in Australia – but blackmail and murder certainly were.

The plot, and the subplots, and the counterplots, all take place at the “Last Best Party of 1928” – at least all the parts that take place after Ember the cat kills the poisonous coral snake who was all wrapped up as a Christmas present for Phryne.

Telling Phryne to stay away from something is probably the best way to get her to do the exact opposite – and so she does. That “Last Best” party is a country house party being thrown by the Templars, a famous, and infamous brother and sister who have an amazing amount of charisma, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money, and a desire to surround themselves with beautiful people and over-the-top experiences.

Someone wants to kill Gerald, the brother of the pair. Gerald wants Phryne to figure out who is threatening him. It all sounds like rather a lark at first – spending a long weekend with the over indulged rich and the famous for being famous.

The Templars seem to be a lot like the Kardashians – but with more class – and much more style.

And it is a lark, until not one but two children go missing under very mysterious circumstances. And before Phryne learns that the person who plans to kill Gerald is a well-known, well-paid, and extremely well-trained assassin. One who seems to believe that toying with Phryne is all fun and games until she starts to win the game. And then she’s just one more bit of prey on his list.

But he’s also on hers – just as soon as she figures out who he is.

Escape Rating B-: I admit that I was hoping for something a bit lighter and brighter than this from Phryne. I should have taken the title as a clue that this wasn’t going to be as much of a romp as this series usually is.

There was something ineffably sad about this story. Not just because we’re watching a crazed serial killer plot in the background, although that’s part of it. A lot of songs and epigrams are used to introduce the chapters, and many of them invoked death, grief or both. This story is also set at the dying of not just a year, but of an era, even though the participants don’t know it.

And not just, as seems inevitable at the end of the story, the last of the Templars’ largesse, but also that this is set at the end of 1928. This really is, not just the “Last Best Party of 1928” but also the last, best holiday party of the “Roaring 20s”. The crash is coming, and it’s going to be a big one.

Part of why I think this story would be impossible to film is the sheer number of subplots. It makes me think of what a real country house party might have been like. There are so many events going on all the time, and so very many people who have small parts to play in some but not all of them.

Of course there are the acolytes surrounding the Templars, and all of the petty jealousies that crop up with large groups of people are vying for the attention of just two – while they are competing mostly with each other.

But there’s so much else going on. The themed party nights, the jazz players, the polo players, and the games. Oh the games. There are more parlor games being played at any point in this story than there are parlors in the biggest country house imagined.

It’s a portrait of a world that is gone. But the overabundance of activities means that the story doesn’t pay equal attention to every single one, and doesn’t wrap up all of its many loose ends.

And yet, when the story is over and Phryne returns to town in her beautiful Hispano-Suiza, it still feels like the whole farrago has come to a proper ending, complete for the overall picture if not the tiny details.

I still want to visit Phryne again, the next time I’m in the mood to hear Phryne’s very singular voice. A voice that is every bit as heady as the drinks she so lovingly describes – and imbibes.