Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan

Review: The Sorority Murder by Allison BrennanThe Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 448
Published by Mira Books on December 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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"The 10 Best New Mystery and Thriller Books of December are Giving Us Literal Chills"--E! Online
"10 Books to Cozy Up With This December"--PopSugar
A popular sorority girl. An unsolved murder. A campus podcast with chilling repercussions.
Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found after two weeks, but the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the medical examiner's, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.
Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle. He just isn't sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace's last hours. Then he encourages listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer Regan Merritt, a former US marshal, to come on and share her expertise.
New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace's secret life, a much darker picture than Lucas imagined--and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own secret. The pressure is on to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast--before the killer silences him forever.
"Fans of Jeff Abbott and Karin Slaughter will find this crime novel hard to put down." --
Publishers Weekly
on The Third to Die
"Downright spectacular... [A] riveting page turner as prescient as it is purposeful." --Providence Journal on Tell No Lies

My Review:

In order for a book to be a mystery, it has to include a dead body and a detective – or so I was once told.

The Sorority Murder begins as a cold case, with a dead body three years in the grave, and one determined college student raking up the mystery as part of his capstone project for his degree in criminal justice.

By the end, there are two detectives and a whole slew of dead bodies – pun most certainly intended.

For young Lucas Vega, the case is not about the same victim as the podcast. That’s his secret. He’s attempting to get closure on one young woman’s mysterious disappearance by focusing on another’s equally mysterious death.

Not because he has any inkling that the more recent death is linked to the earlier disappearance. Just that they knew each other. And that someone might know something about what happened to both of them.

For former U.S. Marshal Regan Merritt, the case begins as a way of figuring out what to do with herself in the wake of the death of her 11-year-old son. A boy who was killed not for himself, but as a way to punish Regan for helping to put a criminal behind bars. In the aftermath of such a profound personal loss, she couldn’t focus on a job where a lack of focus could easily get someone else killed. That her husband blamed their son’s death on her, and divorced her as fast as humanly possible in the wake of the tragedy, doesn’t register nearly as high on her scale of loss. But lost she is.

She’s back in Flagstaff, living with her father, the retired county sheriff, because she’s hit emotional bottom and has nowhere else she needs to be or wants to go. She’s in a holding pattern when her former mentor at Northern Arizona University puts her in touch with Lucas Vega.

Her experience and his enthusiasm turn out to be a motivating combination for both of them. Because he’s learned just enough about the inconsistencies in the investigation of Candace Swain’s death to intrigue Regan, and she’s more than enough of a professional investigator to get him started asking questions that should have been asked – and just plain weren’t.

But the problem with reopening the proverbial can of worms is that you can never get the worms back in the same size can.

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make sure that the investigation of Candace Swain’s death went cold and stayed that way. Someone has a lifestyle they want to protect – at all costs. They don’t want anyone to stir this hornet’s nest. But Lucas’ podcast series has that nest well stirred.

Now that the case is no longer cold, someone has to make sure that all the investigative trails lead to dead ends. Threatening to turn Lucas Vega’s capstone into an early grave.

Escape Rating B+: What I loved about The Sorority Murder was the way that the story delved deeply into the painstaking process of the investigation. The case is cold, mistakes were made, and no one wants to dig this mess back up and expose those mistakes to the light of day.

But Lucas can’t let go, for reasons that neither we nor Regan discover until very late in the investigation. His motives are complex but not in the least sinister, and the case he really wants to reopen turns out to be more relevant than even he imagined when he began.

This isn’t a case of miscarriage of justice – rather it’s a case where justice wasn’t done at all. There’s a mystery. At first, the mystery is where Candace Swain spent the week before her death, because she wasn’t held prisoner, she wasn’t ill, she wasn’t on drugs, she wasn’t seen – and she wasn’t found where she was killed.

Something doesn’t add up. The police blamed her death on a missing homeless alcoholic – but they haven’t found him, either.

What’s strange is that Candace’s friends and most especially her sorority sisters, with whom she was reported to be very close, don’t seem to want the case reopened. They don’t have closure and seem to be adamantly opposed to getting it. All of them. Collectively.

In spite of the roadblocks put in his path, Lucas knows he has too much to let go of. Someone must have seen Candace during that week she was missing but not yet dead. Once people start remembering the little details that no one ever asked about, a picture starts to form.

The biggest part of this story, and the most fascinating one for this reader, was the dogged pursuit of the whole of that picture. Even as one person who provides a bit of a clue after another ends up dead either just before or just after their piece is revealed.

I loved the fits and starts of the investigation. Watching them uncover the puzzle pieces bit by bit kept me glued to the book almost right up to the end. The whole picture, once it was uncovered, still took me by surprise.

I have to say that the reveal of the killer felt a bit flat – or the killer was so far over the top that I didn’t quite buy it. Or that we got to see inside the killer’s head at that point and I just didn’t want to be anywhere near there.

So I was at the edge of my seat with this story until the very end. I loved following the investigation even though I found the actual perpetrator to be off in “bwahaha” land a bit. I still felt utterly compelled to reach that end.

I picked this up because I loved the author’s Tell No Lies last year and hoped for more of the same. While this wasn’t quite that, it was still, most definitely a riveting and suspenseful read.

Review: Cry Wolf by Hans Rosenfeldt

Review: Cry Wolf by Hans RosenfeldtCry Wolf: A Novel by Hans Rosenfeldt
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, Nordic noir, suspense, thriller
Series: Hannah Webster #1
Pages: 400
Published by Hanover Square Press on December 28, 2021
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A DEAD WOLF
A DRUG DEAL GONE WRONG
A LETHAL FEMALE ASSASSIN

The first book in a new series by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of the TV series The Bridge as well as Netflix’s Emmy Award–winning Marcella.
Hannah Wester, a policewoman in the remote northern town of Haparanda, Sweden, finds herself on the precipice of chaos.
When human remains are found in the stomach of a dead wolf, Hannah knows that this summer won’t be like any other. The remains are linked to a bloody drug deal across the border in Finland. But how did the victim end up in the woods outside of Haparanda? And where have the drugs and money gone?
Hannah and her colleagues leave no stone unturned. But time is scarce and they aren’t the only ones looking. When the secretive and deadly Katja arrives, unexpected and brutal events start to pile up. In just a few days, life in Haparanda is turned upside down. Not least for Hannah, who is finally forced to confront her own past. 

My Review:

The mystery in Cry Wolf and the solving of it read like they sit at the crossroads between “For want of a nail” and “This is the house that Jack built.” The former being the first line of a quote from Benjamin Franklin, and the latter being an English nursery rhyme. Both are cumulative stories, where one thing leads to another and another. Not necessarily in a straightforward or even competent fashion.

No one comes out of this story exactly smelling of roses. There’s plenty of blame, misunderstanding, misdirection and downright incompetence involved along the way.

At the same time, Cry Wolf also reads like a non-superhero based origin story for Black Widow, one in which she continues to put more red in her ledger until the day she dies, still doing the work of the “Red Room” – or in the case of Katja in Cry Wolf, “The Academy”.

But those perspectives are long views of Cry Wolf, the latter of which seems most plausible at the ending. At the beginning there are two dead wolves with human remains in their bellies on the Swedish side of the border between Sweden and Finland outside the remote, fading town of Haparanda.

The local cops, including Hannah Wester and her boss – and illicit lover – Gordon, start out worrying about how the discovery of the man-eating wolves is going to exacerbate local, regional and even national tensions over whether wolves should be protected or hunted to elimination in the region.

But of course the case isn’t that simple. And this is where we get into the whole “For want of a nail” scenario. The wolves, a mother and cub, did not bring down human prey. They found a murder victim. It’s not that wolves are incapable of killing humans with enough motivation or desperation – it’s that wolves aren’t capable of shooting a gun.

That lets the wolves off the hook, but the situation only expands from there. The murder victim was the sole survivor of a drug deal that went wrong on the other side of the border in Finland. He left the half dozen victims behind riddled with gunshots while he walked away with bags of drugs and money – and with a bullet in his ass.

Only to be struck down by a hit and run driver who seems to have made off with the drugs and the money. Drugs and money that belong to the Russian mafia – who want their property back and intend to make an example of whoever got in their way.

And that’s the point at which everyone’s competence goes more than a bit out of whack. The local police are out of their depth. Their liaison from the Finnish side is on the take from the Russians. The hit and run driver and his accomplice are locals who desperately need the money but only have vague dreams about how to handle things. And the agent the Russians send to Haparanda, a graduate of the legendary Academy that trains abused children to become assassins, isn’t able to overcome her initial overestimation of just how capable her opposition might be. She’s left floundering in professionalism as she’s overcome by sheer, dumb luck.

While policewomen Hannah Wester tries to put her best into the investigation as her entire life falls apart.

Escape Rating B+: Cry Wolf very much falls into the category of “Nordic noir”. In fact, the author of Cry Wolf is also the creative mind behind one of the more popular Nordic noir TV series, The Bridge. So readers who either like the series or like this branch of the mystery genre are going to feel right at home in Haparanda and Cry Wolf.

The setting of this story is bleak and the lives of the principal characters seem even bleaker. That’s not criticism, as the bleakness is a hallmark of the genre. But, and a huge but here, this probably isn’t a book to read if you’re already depressed unless you’re the kind of person who really gets off on schadenfreude.

There’s no one happy in this story. It’s not that kind of story. This also isn’t a story where anyone seems to display much in the way of competence, which is one of the things I often read mysteries for. In this particular case, it’s more like a series of accidents looking for places to happen – and then for someone to happen upon them.

But I have to say that it’s compelling to read. I was hooked from the very first page, even if I never did figure out where it was going until near the end. Which, come to think of it, isn’t a surprise as none of the perpetrators seemed to know where they were going, either. And the few who thought they did ended up being surprised by where they ended up – and usually dead shortly thereafter.

So the spooling and unspooling of this mystery reads more like a series of stumbles, rather than the usual breakneck race towards a finish.

The part that’s sticking with me is that mirror darkly reflection of Black Widow. At first, we’ve got a policewoman whose life is falling apart and a mafia assassin and no relationship between them. But as the story progresses, in its kaleidoscope of first person perspectives, we learn more about the mysterious Katja and her abusive childhood and miraculous rescue by her equally mysterious “Uncle”. The more of Katja’s history we see, the more it looks like her life was rigged. That it might – and still might not – intersect with Hannah’s own tragedy looks like it’s going to power the next book in the series, whenever that might be.

And I’m more than curious enough to want to see what happens next!

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda BouchetFire of the Frost: A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance, holiday romance, short stories
Pages: 368
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 22nd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, A Wynter Fyre a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won't stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who's suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

My Review:

This holiday treat dropped into my lap this week and I couldn’t resist starting it immediately! Isn’t that what holiday treats are for? Immediate consumption for the yes! Especially as I’ve received earlier versions of this confection of a collection (Under a Winter Sky, Seasons of Sorcery and Amid the Winter Snow) and they’ve all been wonderful reading treats.

For the most part, this year’s collection of winter fantasy romances was a very sweet treat indeed – with just enough naughty in the mix to give Santa a blush or four.

My absolute favorite story this year was Grace Draven’s The King of Hel, and not just because it’s a standalone story that isn’t set in one of her other worlds. It’s the kind of fantasy romance that didn’t really have to be a fantasy romance. In fact, its real world inspiration was not. Inspired by the real life romance between Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV of France, this is the story of Doranis, the magic-touched king of Helenrisia and his queen’s best friend, the modestly born Castil il Veras. What made this story so beautiful is the way that Castil’s deep, life-long friendship with Doranis’ queen is not broken by the romance. Rather, Castil is heartbroken when her best friend dies in childbirth yet still honors that friendship. But life goes on, and the queen’s death gives Doranis the freedom to marry the woman who is suited to him in all ways but birth, and lets Castil acknowledge her love for a man who was otherwise twice beyond her touch.

This was just a beautiful winter romance between two strong and surprisingly equal partners and I loved every page of it.

On the other hand, my least favorite story in this collection was Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s not that it’s not a good story, because it is, and it’s not that it’s not well done, because it is that as well. It’s that the protagonists of the story are fundamentally, by law and custom, absolutely powerless and their powerlessness gets rubbed like salt into their wounds and the reader’s psyche at every turn. This is just one of those cases where I know it’s good and I know there’s an audience for it and I’m just not it.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet was just plain fun, kind of in the way that the first Thor movie was fun. At points, literally in the way that the first Thor movie was fun, a fact that the heroine references more than once during the course of her whirlwind romance while running from bad guys story plays out. Although Piers of Thalyria, an exile from the world of the author’s Kingmaker Chronicles, has no godlike powers, it turns out that his heroine does and he’s been jerked across time and space in order to protect her while she figures out how to either use them or give them back. The story here is kind of a lighthearted romp – in spite of being chased down by evil entrepreneurs and their henchmen at every turn.

Last but not least, my second favorite story in the collection, Darynda Jones’ A Wynter Fyre. The beginning had a bit of an “aliens made them do it” start – not that any of the characters in this story are actually alien to this world. But there’s a common fanfiction trope for series like Stargate and its spinoffs where the characters are compelled by unbridled libidos to have sex because of “alien sex pollen”. The way this story begins, with vampyres biting Wynter in order to infect her with the equivalent of “vampyre sex pollen” had a very similar feel. Particular when the hero fends off the bad vamps in order to woo her for himself, once he’s helped her take the edge off, so to speak.

After that hot, heavy, creepy and slightly rapey beginning the story itself takes a surprising turn. Wynter has been awakened from 70+ years as a statue because her mother the demon (yes, the being she believes is her mother is an actual demon) needs her to rescue a kidnapped vampyre princess.

But it’s all a setup. Not that the princess hasn’t been kidnapped, but it’s all part of the plot to give Wynter the chance to do her job of protecting the vampyres properly – by killing the greatest threat to their existence – her demon mother. That the setup also manages to change the romance from a sex into love story into a second chance at love story is all part of its charm – something this one had absolutely oodles of.

Escape Rating B+: This collection is always a lovely holiday treat. But like any collection, some stories hit the mark with this reader – or any other – while others aren’t quite as close to the bullseye.

If I were giving individual ratings, A Wynter Fyre would get an A; Of Fate and Fire would receive a B; The King of Hel hits the high spot at A+ while Familiar Winter Magic just didn’t work for me at all. Your reading mileage – even through the snowy landscape of these winter tales – will definitely vary.

No matter which stories in the collection tickle your holiday reading fancy, the collection is definitely worth curling up with some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket for a delicious holiday read!

Review: The Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman

Review: The Secret of Snow by Viola ShipmanThe Secret of Snow by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, holiday romance, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on October 26, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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As comforting and familiar as a favorite sweater, Viola Shipman's first holiday novel is a promise of heartfelt family traditions, humorously real experience, and the enduring power of love and friendship.
Sonny Dunes, a SoCal meteorologist who knows only sunshine and seventy-two-degree days, is being replaced by an AI meteorologist, which the youthful station manager reasons "will never age, gain weight or renegotiate its contract." The only station willing to give the fifty-year-old another shot is one in a famously nontropical place—her northern Michigan hometown.
Unearthing her carefully laid California roots, Sonny returns home and reacclimates to the painfully long, dark winters dominated by a Michigan phenomenon known as lake-effect snow. But beyond the complete physical shock to her system, she's also forced to confront her past: her new boss, a former journalism classmate and mortal frenemy; more keenly, the death of a younger sister who loved the snow; and the mother who caused Sonny to leave.
To distract herself from the unwelcome memories, Sonny decides to throw herself headfirst into all things winter to woo viewers and reclaim her success. From sledding and ice fishing to skiing and winter festivals, the merrymaking culminates with the town’s famed Winter Ice Sculpture Contest. Running the events is a widowed father and chamber of commerce director, whose genuine love of Michigan, winter and Sonny just might thaw her heart and restart her life in a way she never could have predicted.

My Review:

The Secret of Snow is an “all the feels” kind of story. As in, you will feel all the feels while you are reading it. A handy box of tissues might not be a bad idea, especially at the end.

But before you reach the slightly weepy, sadly fluffy ending, there’s a charming story about the holiday season, second chances, and finally recognizing that you’re going to get rain whether you want the rainbow or not, so you might as well reach for that rainbow since you’re already putting up with the rain.

Even if that rainbow is an icebow arching over a foot – or two or three – of snow.

As the story opens, Palm Beach meteorologist Sonny Dunes seems to have it all. Or at least have all that she wants. She’s at the peak of her career, she lives in beautiful Palm Beach California where the sun always shines, she’s content with her life and her work, has no interest in a romantic relationship – and is far, far away from the dark, frozen, snowy cold of Traverse City Michigan where she grew up.

There may not be any snow in Palm Beach, but into each life a little rain must fall. And Sonny Dunes is about to get deluged.

In what seems like a New York minute, Sonny finds herself out of work, having what appears to be a drunken breakdown on camera, as she’s replaced by an A.I. weatherbabe and she seems to have nowhere to go.

Until she’s rescued. Or tortured. Or both. By the frenemy she left behind in college, who is now the manager of a struggling TV station back home in Traverse City.

A frenemy who can’t wait to bring Sonny back to the brutal winters she left behind, just so that she can get a little payback and maybe rescue her job and her station in the process.

So Sonny finds herself back where she once belonged, facing all the bitter winter memories she left behind. And facing her mother who has been waiting, somewhat impatiently, for her remaining daughter to finally move forward from the loss that froze both their hearts.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this up because I loved the author’s previous book, Clover Girls. I was hoping for more of the same second chances, sad fluff, and utter charm. But I loved that book really hard, and this one didn’t quite reach that same height.

Could have something to do with my own escape from the frozen Midwest to Atlanta. I don’t like winter either, don’t want to live in it again, and wasn’t able to get into Sonny’s eventual paeans to the season of ice and snow.

Although I certainly liked the story of her finally unthawing her heart after living with so much trauma and loss for so very long.

Sonny’s whole adulthood has been about running from and burying her emotions to protect herself from being hurt, while not recognizing the collateral damage she’s inflicting on everyone around her. It made for a bit of a hard read, both in that Sonny’s is resistant to everything for a very long time, and possibly a bit of “pot, meet kettle”.

But I enjoyed the story of Sonny’s second chance, and all the more for her mentoring of Icicle. One of the best parts of the story was the way that Sonny finally embracing her own personal renaissance gives him the inspiration and the confidence to reinvent himself as the person he’s almost ready to be and not as the sad sack we first met.

Although a romance does occur in this story, it’s a bit understated, and that worked. The most important relationship in the story is Sonny’s relationship with her mother. They’ve both loved and lost – and the same people at that. Sonny’s younger sister died in a unfortunate accident when she was just starting her teens. Her father died relatively young of cancer. Sonny was never able to move on from those frozen moments in her life, while her mother became a hospice nurse in order to help others through the grief and loss that she herself experienced.

Sonny has kept life and love at a distance, trying to protect herself. Her mother has embraced life, all too aware that none of us get out of this life alive and that joy and purpose can be found in every moment.

Sonny’s forced reinvention of herself, yet again, lets them finally have the relationship that they’ve been hoping for all along. And that’s the part that had me reaching for the tissues.

You will too.

Review: Boundaries edited by Mercedes Lackey

Review: Boundaries edited by Mercedes LackeyBoundaries (Tales of Valdemar #15) by Mercedes Lackey
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Valdemar (Publication order) #53, Tales of Valdemar #15
Pages: 368
Published by DAW Books on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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This fifteenth anthology of short stories set in the beloved Valdemar universe features tales by debut and established authors and a brand-new story from Lackey herself.
The Heralds of Valdemar are the kingdom's ancient order of protectors. They are drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages--and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. These inborn talents--combined with training as emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, warriors, and more--make them indispensable to their monarch and realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. The Heralds of Valdemar and their Companions ride circuit throughout the kingdom, protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

My Review:

After reading – and loving – Beyond, the opening book in the Founding of Valdemar prequel series, I was reminded of just how much I loved this world, and how many stories it still had to tell. So when Boundaries popped up, it seemed like a good time to see if that good feeling about Valdemar still held up.

Because there are so many stories yet to tell in this world, and Boundaries is the fifteenth book of a long-standing series of Tales of Valdemar told by writers who have fallen in love with this well-developed world and have been given the opportunity to explore a bit of it that has piqued their love and interest.

Some collections I dip into and out of in various places within the collection, looking for stories with certain features or certain characters. And not that I don’t love the Firecats, because cats. There’s a long, long ago Valdemar story where two Firecats, at the end of an adventure, have a taste for “field mice on toast” and are planning to go out and hunt for their field mice, admonishing their human on the way out the door that “Toast will be provided!” And isn’t that just cats all over?

The theme of this collection is, just like it says on the label, boundaries, particularly the boundary between Valdemar and Karse. A border that has been a tense place where two countries with conflicting views on just about everything – magic, religion, freedom and opportunity – observe an uneasy peace that is all too often neither easy or peaceful.

Borders are always interesting places, as they are where unlike things and people rub up against each other with interesting, and occasionally even incendiary, results. As it proves in several of the stories in this collection.

Escape Rating B+: Like all collections, some entries are stronger than others. And some work for more people than others. But it was still wonderful to visit Valdemar and its neighbors again, so I’m happy I picked it up.

My favorite story in the collection is “A Time for Prayer” by Kristin Schwengel as it manages to tell a story that both displays the fear in which the hierarchy of the Sunpriests of Karse is held by most people while at the same time showing the service of the priests at the local level to their communities and the surprising flexibility of how that service is performed. Priests are supposed to be men – and only men – in Karse. And yet this is the story of a woman who has been trained by the previous priest in this little village as his acolyte and who, in spite of all the laws and strictures against it, steps fully into his place upon his death. Who, in spite of her fears is not found wanting by her god, no matter what those who believe they speak in his name might believe.

There are also two lovely stories about healers, “Tides of War” by Dylan Birtolo and “Final Consequences” by Elizabeth Vaughan. The first is about a young soldier during and after his first battle (against Karse, of course!) discovering that in spite of what everyone else thinks, both he and his country would be best served if he became a battlefield medic rather than one of their patients.

While “Final Consequences” takes place far from a battlefield, it tells a lovely story about the life of a healer, the demands on their time, the joy of their work, and the way that their service leads to both a full life and just occasionally, a happy ever after. In a setting where not all battles involve obvious bloodshed.

And of course, last but not least for this reader, there’s a cat story. Not a Firecat story, but a cat story. “A Clutter of Cat” by Elisabeth Waters is just an adorable story, not entirely filled with kitten fluff, about a community centered around the ability to Mindspeak animals – and some of the resistance to that gift. Along with some resistance to the cats who are, after all, just being cats.

Review: Someone Perfect by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone Perfect by Mary BaloghSomeone Perfect (Westcott, #9) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Westcott #9
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes, just one person can pull a whole family apart. And sometimes, it just takes one person to pull it back together. For fans of Bridgerton, New York Times bestselling Regency Romance author Mary Balogh shows how love truly conquers all in this new Friends of the Westcotts novel.
As a young man, Justin Wiley was banished by his father for mysterious reasons, but now, his father is dead, and Justin has been Earl of Brandon for six years. A dark, dour man, he, nonetheless, takes it as his responsibility to care for his half-sister, Maria, when her mother dies. He travels to her home to fetch her back to the family seat at Everleigh Park.
Although she adored him, once, Maria now loathes Justin, and her friend, Lady Estelle Lamarr, can see, immediately, how his very name upsets her. When Justin arrives and invites Estelle and her brother to accompany Maria to Everleigh Park to help with her distress, she begrudgingly agrees, for Maria's sake.
As family secrets unravel in Maria's homecoming, Justin, too, uncovers his desire for a countess. And, while he may believe he's found an obvious candidate in the beautiful 25-year-old Lady Estelle, she is most certain that they could never make a match...

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Powerbroker by Anna Hackett

Review: The Powerbroker by Anna HackettThe Powerbroker (Norcross Security #6) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Norcross Security #6
Pages: 302
Published by Anna Hackett on November 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s undercover in a dangerous motorcycle club, and her unwanted protector is the city’s most lethal man.

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously not my favorite setting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m looking forward to watching them fall.

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: King of Eon by Anna Hackett

Review: King of Eon by Anna HackettKing of Eon (Eon Warriors #9) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Eon Warriors #9
Pages: 284
Published by Anna Hackett on September 5th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

The King of the Eon Warriors has decided to take a Terran as his bride…but finds himself shockingly attracted to the tough, beautiful Space Corps officer in charge of his potential brides’ security.

King Gayel Solann-Eon is dedicated to his people and empire. His father was a hard man and a rigid king, but Gayel is doing things his own way. That includes working with his allies to defeat the ravenous insectoid Kantos. To strengthen the alliance with Earth, he’ll put his own wants and needs aside and take a Terran bride. But as the group of bridal candidates arrive on the Eon homeworld, he’s shocked by a stunning attraction to the Space Corps officer in charge of their security.
Captain Alea Rodriguez has worked hard to escape her awful childhood and make something of herself. Space Corps is her family and her work is her life. Escorting a group of women to an alien planet so a king can pick a bride has left her feeling like she’s on a reality television show. But she takes her job seriously and will keep them safe. What she never expected was her own powerful reaction to the alien warrior king.

Stealth attacks by the Kantos make it clear that no one is safe. Alea is sure that the aliens want to assassinate Gayel, and she’ll do anything to protect him, even as she fights to safeguard her heart. But Gayel is a king and a warrior, and as the two of them fight side by side, he will also convince Alea to risk everything: for their people, for their hearts, and for a bond that won’t be denied.

My Review:

The story in King of Eon reminded me very much of the immortal words of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. You know the quote, even if you don’t remember who said it. It’s that old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men going oft astray – or variations thereof. The original words went as follows, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” A truism that applies every bit as much to kings and Kantos as it does to mice and men.

Readers have been watching the growth of the alliance between the Eon Warriors and Earth, against the swarming, insectoid Kantos since its rocky beginning in the first book in this series, Edge of Eon. (That’s a big hint to start there at the beginning and not here at the end.)

The Eon Warriors and the Terran Space Corps have united against their common enemy, the Kantos. The big bug-like creatures who are nipping at both species’ heels – along with any other body parts they can reach. The Kantos want to swarm, consume and destroy, while the Eons and the Terrans are hoping to live and let live once the threat is eliminated.

As long as the threat doesn’t eliminate them first.

Gayel, the king of the Eon Warriors, has observed as the ties between his people and the Terrans have gotten stronger – and more intimate – as the series has progressed. Several of his warriors have found their mates among the Terrans. Gayel sees the future of his people going from strength to strength as part of this alliance, and decides, for the future of his own people, that he should set an example by finding his future queen among the Terrans.

It’s not actually a bad idea, but his plan for accomplishing that goal is doomed to fall prey to the old saying about mice and men. Gayel determines that he will find his bride through a process that sounds a bit too much like the reality TV series The Bachelor. And with the same odds of long-term happiness as the show.

That Gayel falls for the Space Corps officer assigned as security for his prospective brides instead of one of the actual prospective brides isn’t much of a surprise – not even to his friends and family. He was never going to fall for, or make a successful match with, a pampered princess – and he didn’t.

But Captain Alea Rodriguez, as much as she may want the man who occupies the throne, has no interest in becoming a queen – as well as zero belief that she might be worthy of the honor.

While the course of true love is running far from smoothly, the Kantos are hatching plans of their own. They need to break the alliance between Eon and Earth before the alliance wrecks their plans to destroy both their enemies and gobble up the remains.

Literally.

Escape Rating B+: King of Eon is a fittingly epic wrap-up to this series, and there is plenty that needs wrapping up to get all of the previous relationships – along with the people of both races – to move from “happy for now but still seriously worried about the future” to happy ever after.

It’s a wild ride and a thrilling read from beginning to end – especially because there is so much left to get wrapped up when this final entry in the series begins!

Gayel’s idea to cement the alliance with Earth by marrying a Terran woman is a solid political decision. It’s been done for centuries on Earth, marrying for alliance instead of love. The problems with the execution of said idea are obvious from the start, because Gayel also wants some kind of real marriage, if not of love than at least of mutual respect and duty. He does not want to marry someone whose ambition is to be queen. He needs someone who will see it as the duty and responsibility that it is and share that duty with him.

And that’s not the scenario he’s set up, as everyone around him realizes long before he does.

At the same time, he’s the linchpin for the alliance with Earth, not because he’s planning to marry a Terran but because Eon is much the stronger partner in the alliance. If he falls, especially if it can be made to seem as if his death is somehow the fault of the Terrans, the alliance will fall apart and the separated allies will be easier to pick off one by one.

So in between the various events that are scheduled for Gayel to choose a bride, the Kantos have scheduled a series of assassination attempts and stealth attacks that get more desperate, more dangerous and more relentless each time they are thwarted.

In the end, the Eon Warriors and the Terrans are going to have to bring the fight to the Kantos – who have already brought the fight to Eon territory with devastating results. The climactic battle is, of course, climactic in more ways than one as the Terran Captain and the Eon King make one final push – with more than a little help from all their friends – to end the conflict once and for all.

The romance in this story, with its backdrop of the bachelor king seeking a bride, was a lot of fun. While it’s obvious early on that Gayel and Alea belong together, their reasons for resisting the attraction feel right for the story. That they can’t resist is what puts the icing on the romantic part of this particular book-cake.

The war with the Kantos felt like it needed a bit of help, not just from all their friends but from more than a touch of deus ex machina. For a species that has been such a big and long-running threat, the denouement of their people as a conquering race was exciting but felt a little too fast and the moral dilemmas of their potential genocide dealt with a bit too easily.

Not that I wasn’t glad to see that problem resolved!

In summary, I loved the romance, thought the Kantos got eliminated a bit too easily, and saw plenty of possibilities for a followup to this series at some not-so-far-future date! Meanwhile I’m looking forward to more science fiction romance from this author when the first book in her Galactic Kings series (loosely linked to the awesome Galactic Gladiators) arrives at the end of the year!