Review: Remember Me by Mario Escobar

Review: Remember Me by Mario EscobarRemember Me: A Spanish Civil War Novel by Mario Escobar
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From international bestseller Mario Escobar comes a 20th-century historical novel of tragedy and resilience inspired by Spain’s famed Children of Morelia and the true events that shaped their lives.
Historians refer to the Spanish Civil War as one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century. In 1937, at Mexico’s request and offer, nearly 500 children from Spain—remembered as Los Niños de Morelia—were relocated via ship to Mexico to escape the war’s violence. These children traveled across the sea without their families and were expected to return at the war’s end. No one could have foreseen another world war was on the way—or that that Franco’s regime would prevent the children from coming home. These enduring conflicts trapped the children in a country far from their homeland, and many never made it back.
Remember Me is Mario Escobar’s novelization of these events, as told by a fictional survivor—one of the children of Morelia—who looks back upon his life after making the long and devastating journey across the Atlantic. This story explores the endurance of the human spirit as well as the quandary of a parent’s impossible decision, asking: At what cost do you protect your child in the face of uncertainty?

My Review:

I picked this book up because I was moved by Children of the Stars and was hoping for something similar. And it is that, a fictionalized account of real history, and real history of roughly the same period.

In other words, I was expecting a story where fiction is the lie that tells the truth – in this case the truth about the very real children of Morelia, the nearly 500 children who were sent out of the Spanish Civil War to Mexico in the hopes that they would be safe.

There are all kinds of versions of safe, however. They were safe from the direct effects of the war – and its immediate aftermath. Many of the children were the sons and daughters of the left-leaning Popular Front government. Which was defeated by Franco and his right-leaning Nazi supported Nationalists. Who brutally suppressed the left after their victory. Which meant that their parents weren’t safe either during or after the war. The children weren’t exactly safe either – but neither were they being shelled.

The Spanish Civil War is often referred to as a dress rehearsal for World War II, as the countries who became the Allies supported the Republican government of the Popular Front, while the Axis supported the Nationalists.

And just as happened elsewhere before and even during that war, parents tried their best to keep their children safe – or at least as safe as possible. That meant that parents faced a terrible choice – to keep their children with them, to do their own best to keep them safe in a country that was the front for war, or to send them away in the hopes that they would be safer far from the battlefield.

The story in Remember Me is the story of those children sent to Mexico under the sponsorship of the Mexican government. And while the experiences of the children of Morelia were not as brutal as the Stein brothers endured in Children of the Stars as young Jewish orphans trekking across a Nazi-dominated Europe that hunted them in order to exterminate them, it was far indeed from the safety and security that their parents had hoped for.

Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book. It’s hard because what happens to the children of Morelia is both all too horrible and all too familiar. On the one hand, this was a history that I wasn’t familiar with in its particulars, although the outline of it is part of many stories that happened during the war, from the children of London shipped to the countryside to escape the Blitz to the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other countries in the months prior to World War II to the Danish resistance movement’s evacuation of over 90% of the country’s Jewish population to Sweden.

But the rescue itself is only part of this particular story, which is wrapped in the particular circumstances in Spain during and after the Civil War, and of the conditions that the children faced in Mexico.

And quite probably elsewhere, because the story of what the children went through reads like a combination of Lord of the Flies with all the old sayings about power corrupting. Much of what happened read like it could be attributed to people who had power over the children while they were in Mexico either being venal or neglectful or having their own axe to grind. Or multiple axes, as Spanish colonial oppression was not that far in Mexico’s past that there weren’t people who wanted to punish the children for the sins of their figurative grandparents. There was also conflict with the Catholic Church that just added to the issues. Many of the children were secular, having been raised in left-leaning revolutionary families. The Catholic Church in Mexico was very powerful, and there was a fair amount of pious skullduggery involved, with children who still had parents being assigned as orphans to the Church.

The money that was intended to support the children was siphoned into multiple pockets, the people put in charge of the children had no idea how to take care of them, and the facility ended up being run by the bullies. Parts of that story, awful as they are – and they are awful – felt both sad and predictable.

Human beings often suck. While wartime may make some rise to the occasion, it also makes the sucky even suckier.

This is reading like a downer, and that feels appropriate. While it ends on a hopeful note, that didn’t feel like the tone for much of the story. And I’ll admit that I am not in a hopeful mood this week, and this was probably not the right book at the right time, as compellingly readable as it is. And it certainly is.

In the end, the book this reminded me of more than any other was not the author’s Children of the Stars but rather The Brothers of Auschwitz. While a bit of that is the period setting, it is mostly due to the way that both stories are unflinching in their look at a terrible history, and in their emphasis on the ongoing cost of that history to its surviving victims.

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Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda James

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda JamesCat Me If You Can (Cat in the Stacks Mystery #13) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #13
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlie Harris and his feline companion Diesel take a bookish vacation but discover that murder never takes a holiday, in this all-new installment of the New York Times bestselling series. Charlie and Diesel along with Charlie's fiance, Helen Louise Brady, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week at a boutique hotel and participate in a gathering of a mystery reader's club composed of patrons of the Athena Public Library. In addition to seeing the local sights, the members will take turns giving talks on their favorite authors.
The always spry Ducote sisters, friends of the hotel's owners, are helping underwrite the expenses, and they've insisted that Charlie, Helen, and Diesel join them. Anxious to get Helen Louise away from her bistro for a vacation, Charlie readily agrees. While Charlie is looking forward to relaxing with Helen Louise and Diesel, other members of the group have ulterior motives including a long-standing score to settle.
When an intrusive, uninvited guest turns up dead, only one mystery club member with a connection to the deceased appears to have a motive to kill. But could the answer really be that simple? Charlie and Diesel, along with the detecting Ducote sisters, know that every murder plot has an unexpected twist.

My Review:

This is my second cozy mystery this month where a significant part of the plot wraps itself around a literary genre and runs away with it. Earlier this month, Peachy Scream was set at a Shakespeare festival, involved a troupe of actors, and used Shakespearean plot devices in both the crime and especially its solution.

Cat Me If You Can is set at an extra-special meeting of the Athena Mystery Book Club, one where the Ducote sisters, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce, take the entire club on a trip from Athena Mississippi to Asheville North Carolina, to a historic Bed and Breakfast near the famous Biltmore Estate, to get to know each other better, discuss their favorite Golden Age mystery writers, and get an insider tour of Biltmore.

But in the middle of this private little mystery convention, murder breaks out. When the ex-lover of not one but two members of the mystery club is murdered in the B&B, followed by the murder of one of the B&B’s staff, the mystery lovers are confined to the city by the local police.

It feels like they have found themselves in the middle of one of those Golden Age mysteries, and they’re all a bit worried that it might turn out to be Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Not a comfortable prospect for any mystery fan – or possibly any guest of the inn.

But Charlie Harris, professional librarian and very amateur sleuth, is in the midst of the action – as usual. And on the case, also as usual. But in this city far away from his usual haunts, it takes the assistance of both the formidable Miss An’gel and the surprise appearance of Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry straight from the Athens PD to keep Charlie out of the official soup and on the track of the killer.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was VERY comfortable reading this book. The cat on my lap was even apropos to the story!

But seriously, this is a series to read because you want to find out what’s up with the cast of characters – especially Diesel – and want to see what they’re up to since last you met. That was certainly true for me with Cat Me If You Can as it brought me up to date with all of the recent goings on in Athena. (If the sound of the series appeals, start with Murder Past Due. You don’t have to read them all to get into this one, but you do need to have read some in order to care enough about the characters for this latest entry to truly appeal.)

It also, at least temporarily, dealt with one of the major issues in ongoing, small town cozy mystery series. No one in their right mind would move to Athena, as the homicide rate must be well above the national average. In a small town like this one, that would have to be noticed.

I loved the shout-out to Cabot Cove and another series of small town mysteries that stretched this particular point of credulity. Charlie Harris and Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote would have a lot to talk about – including any possible stratagems for keeping their fellow townsfolk alive!

It was good to see Charlie – and the Ducote sisters, who also solve mysteries in the author’s Southern Ladies series – get away from their usual haunts while still bringing murder along for the ride.

It was also great fun to see the way that the group’s increasing confinement to their hotel began to resemble one of those cozy, small town Golden Age mysteries that they had come to discuss. A case of art imitating life imitating art – or something like that.

And while it was lovely to see Charlie and Helen Louise finally talking about getting married – I was a bit surprised that they didn’t just elope while in Asheville – it did strain credulity a bit that Charlie brought Diesel to Asheville.

Admittedly, I love the series FOR Diesel, but the logistics of dealing with a cat, even one as well-behaved as Diesel, often seemed intrusive. Although it was even more of a stretch when Athena’s Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry showed up. The point of getting the protagonist detective, whether amateur or professional, away from home in most stories is to take them out of their setting and away from their usual support group.

That the small, understaffed Athena Police Department was willing to second their only homicide detective to Asheville – a bigger city with more resources – was either a testament to the power of Miss An’gel Ducote, a bit too much of a stretch for the long arm of coincidence, or more than a bit of both.

The best part of this one wasn’t the mystery or its solution, but the book discussions that managed to take place between bodies, interviews, gossip and speculation. That part of the story was both a mystery reader’s and a librarian’s dream. I was particularly gratified to see a shout-out to two of my old favorites, Josephine Tey’s marvelous The Daughter of Time and it’s slightly more recent (1974 vs 1951) counterpoint, Elizabeth Peters’ The Murders of Richard III.

This is a book where I came for the comfort read. Conversely, I found the story even cozier than usual because they were able to travel where real life is still in the situation where it is just not advisable. I’m always happy to see how Diesel is doing, even if he was uncomfortable during a lot of this story and probably shouldn’t have been along for this ride. I wish there had been more of the book discussions, but that might not be most readers’ cup of tea.

And I’ll be looking forward, as always, to my next visit with Diesel and his human, in What the Cat Dragged In, just in time for my 10th Blogoversary next April!

Review: Better than People by Roan Parrish

Review: Better than People by Roan ParrishBetter Than People by Roan Parrish
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Pages: 336
Published by Carina Adores on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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It’s not long before their pet-centric arrangement sparks a person-centric desire…
Simon Burke has always preferred animals to people. When the countdown to adopting his own dog is unexpectedly put on hold, Simon turns to the PetShare app to find the fluffy TLC he’s been missing. Meeting a grumpy children’s book illustrator who needs a dog walker isn’t easy for the man whose persistent anxiety has colored his whole life, but Jack Matheson’s menagerie is just what Simon needs.
Four dogs, three cats and counting. Jack’s pack of rescue pets is the only company he needs. But when a bad fall leaves him with a broken leg, Jack is forced to admit he needs help. That the help comes in the form of the most beautiful man he’s ever seen is a complicated, glorious surprise.
Being with Jack—talking, waking, making out—is a game changer for Simon. And Simon’s company certainly…eases the pain of recovery for Jack. But making a real relationship work once Jack’s cast comes off will mean compromise, understanding and lots of love.

My Review:

It seems fair to say that most people who have companion animals have at least occasionally had the thought that animals are better than people. Or at least that most animals are better than most people. Or something along those lines.

It’s partly that when they love us, they love us unconditionally. And it’s especially that animals don’t judge and can’t talk back. Well, they can’t talk back in any language we understand. Also, cats, at least, certainly do judge, ALL THE TIME. But they mostly judge us for how we treat them and not for any of the frankly stupid shit that humans judge us for. Cats don’t care whether we are fashionable or not, whether we are tidy or not, whether we are neuroatypical or not. Or who we love – as long as we love them and treat them right. Treat the cats right, I mean. How we treat other humans in our lives isn’t their concern unless it leads to them getting more of what they want or less.

Both Jack Matheson and Simon Burke are of the opinion that animals are better than most people most of the time. They get to that point from different directions, but they are still both in that same kind of headspace when they meet, fittingly enough, literally over the heads of Jack’s mixed menagerie of cats and dogs. I put the cats first because there may be fewer of them but the cats clearly rule this house. Especially Pirate.

Obviously, I got into this book for the animals. But there is a story about the humans as well, both their human and the human who becomes theirs in the end. After all, the only reason the humans meet is because of them. It’s the dogs’ fault, after all.

Jack lives in a fairly remote cabin, and he’s fine with that. So is the menagerie. But when he falls while chasing after Puddles – the dog who is afraid of puddles – and breaks his leg, Jack has a major problem on his hands. Mostly his crutches. And the four dogs – plus Pirate the Cat – who need to be walked multiple times a day. In the admittedly slightly tamed wilderness that surrounds Jack’s cabin.

That’s where Simon comes in. Simon needs regular contact with animals to help manage his paralyzing anxiety – at least as much as it can be managed. He doesn’t have a menagerie of his own because he lives with his recently widowed and extremely allergic grandmother. So he volunteers for an organization that matches people who need animals with animals whose people need a bit of help.

The overwhelming nature of Simon’s social anxiety causes him an intense amount of difficulty when dealing with new people and/or stressful situations. Jack has been a bit of hermit after the person he thought was his friend and business partner stole Jack’s ideas for his own. So he’s not much thrilled with the human race at the moment. None too thrilled with himself either. He’s depressed and now miserable at feeling helpless to take care of the animals that are both his friends and his solace.

On a temporary basis, at least, Jack and Simon are made for each other. But neither are good at letting many people get close. And Simon fully expects that their relationship will only last as long as Jack needs help with the animals. Simon’s experience is that people get tired of dealing with his mental health challenges and that Jack will give up on him the way that most of his family has. Jack, initially afraid to trust himself, knows that it won’t be easy. But he’s in it for the long haul.

He just has to convince Simon that it really is possible for them to create their own version of normal – and be happy with it. Together.

Escape Rating B+: I really did pick this up because the animals, caring for them and being managed by them was such a big part of the story. And that felt real, the differences in their personalities and how their humans cope with them. (I have four cats and variations in personality and mannerism are very real – as is the amount that they are each individually indulged in their preferences!)

But of course it’s the humans and the relationship they build together who hold the story.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, one chapter from Jack’s side of the story and the other from Simon’s. Jack’s is the easier to identify with, while Simon’s is more painful. It’s also painfully clear that Simon is more articulate – as well as even more down on himself – inside his own head than he is able to voice or even text.

It’s also lovely that they both have people in their lives who call them on their respective shit when it needs doing. In Jack’s case his older brother, and for Simon his grandmother. Those relationships also help round out both characters. I wish we had a scene between the two of them comparing notes because that would have been a hoot!

While Jack isn’t exactly an extrovert, he does have more need for social interaction than Simon does. Jack’s the kind of introvert who is open in a limited circle – but he needs that circle. Except that as the story opens he’s withdrawn from his circle out of betrayal. If one person he believed was a friend could betray him that badly, so could others. However, it was good that the author did not fall down the oh-so-common rabbit hole of having that betrayer be not just a friend and a business partner but also an ex-lover. That would have been over-the-top in a way that this story just doesn’t need.

Simon’s severe social anxiety is a hard enough issue to deal with. And a big part of the way that their relationship develops revolves around Jack learning how to be with Simon. A part of me wants to use words like manage or cope with or assist or ameliorate and none of them work and all of them feel insulting and ableist. But a big part of the story is Jack finding his way through all those words so that they can have a relationship that works for both of them.

It’s not easy for either of them because they both have those trust issues. That they manage it, together, to become part of their animals’ pack forms the heart of the story.

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva LeighWould I Lie to the Duke (Union of the Rakes, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Union of the Rakes #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke...

Jessica McGale's family business desperately needs investors, and she's determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London's elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he'd have on her.
Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there's a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She's brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible...
As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel's expense breaks Jess' heart. He doesn't just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

My Review:

If the title is a question, then the answer is definitely “yes” for Jess McGale, as is her answer to the question “would I lie with the duke?”. The problem is that Jess is still lying TO him while she’s lying WITH him, and that’s very nearly too much for anyone to forgive. Particularly a duke.

Jess is doing her best to save her family’s business and her family’s home. After a disastrous fire wiped out most of McGale and McGale’s soap making and packaging equipment, that business, a manufacturer of very-high quality honey-based soaps, is in dire straits. Jess and her two siblings don’t have enough money to replace the equipment, and with replacing the equipment the business can’t make enough soap to stay afloat.

As the eldest, Jess feels like the whole mess was dumped on her shoulders when their parents died not long before the fire. Even though, as both her brother and sister remind her frequently, neither of them are exactly in leading strings. One gets the impression that they are all somewhere in their 30s, making them all well into adulthood.

But Jess, having taken all the responsibility – whether rightly or not – also takes on all the desperation of figuring out one last chance to get them back on their feet. Her initial idea is to bring in money by serving as a paid-companion to an eccentric but well-heeled widow.

While preparing said widow’s London house for her imminent arrival, Jess decides to wager everything on one grand throw of the dice. She uses her own business acumen as well as her employer’s extensive wardrobe to inveigle herself into entrance to the exclusive investment club known as the Bazaar. She captures the attention – and the sexual interest – of the Duke of Rotherby, the enabling “Pygmalion” figure of the previous book in this series, My Fake Rake.

Noel may play the rake and the debauched aristocrat, but there’s a shrewd mind and a compassionate heart behind that air of lazy insouciance. Noel participates in the Bazaar to find ethical companies in which to invest his vast holdings. In “Lady Whitfield”, the part that Jess is playing to the hilt, he finds a woman whose mind is every bit as penetrating as his own, attached to a body that seems made for sin. A sin that Jess is more than willing to explore with him.

But she knows that the lie she is living can come between them at any moment, considering that she entered the Bazaar with the intent of surreptitiously acquiring one or more investors for her family’s business.

She just didn’t count on losing her heart in the process.

Escape Rating B+: I liked the first book in this series, My Fake Rake, I enjoyed Would I Lie to the Duke quite a bit more. I think because this story doesn’t fall into the kind of romantic misunderstandammit that the first book did.

Not that Noel and Jess don’t have an epic falling out before they reach their happy ever after, but the reason behind that falling out is one that is worth all the problems it causes. Jess has, after all, been lying to Noel for the entire story by that point. And while she should have told him the truth at least before they fell into bed together – or on any other flat surface that happened to be around – it’s understandable why she didn’t. She is, after all, protecting her family.

Another refreshing thing about this story is a trend that we’re seeing more and more of, and it’s one I really like. Jess isn’t herself part of the aristocracy. She’s not a titled lady. Jess is someone who works for her living, and works hard and professionally at that living.

Part of the reason I picked this book up this week was to see if it was in dialog with this week’s other historical romance, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows. And it is, a bit, in that both Agatha and Jess are women who have always worked, and are business owners or co-owners who make their own decisions and don’t conform to the aristocratic expectations of women not involving themselves in either the business or the politics of the day. And who have to grit their teeth and bear it every time a man talks over them or acts like they can’t possibly make the best decisions for themselves or understand the oh-so-terribly-complicated world in which they live and work.

At the same time, this is also a much more traditional romance, not just because Jess’ paramour is a man but also because he’s a duke, the traditional hero of historic romance.

And yet, Noel is not traditional at all in his probing interest in investments and in his search for ethical companies in which to invest. While this isn’t the first historical romance to feature lords who use their minds as well as their capital to nurture new companies (Christy Carlyle’s Duke’s Den in the marvelous A Duke Changes Everything also features an investment club) this one is still a bit different in that the Bazaar and its denizens, while fascinating in themselves, are not the same people as the hero’s group of childhood friends who form the backbone of the series.

All in all, this was a delightful historical romance that had a lot of fun with its disguised heroine in plain sight as well as a bit of deliciously naughty romantic role-reversal.

And speaking of the members of the Bazaar in conjunction with Noel’s childhood friends, there’s certainly going to be an explosive meeting of members of those two groups in the next book in the series, Waiting for a Scot Like You, which is scheduled to warm up a winter’s night or two this coming February.

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg

Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard GoldbergThe Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #3) by Leonard Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #3
Pages: 320
Published by Minotaur Books on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this critically-acclaimed series, Sherlock Holmes' daughter faces a new unsolvable mystery with spies and a threat to the crown. Joanna and the Watsons receive an unexpected visitor to 221b Baker Street during a nocturnal storm. A rain-drenched Dr. Alexander Verner arrives with a most harrowing tale.
Verner has just returned from an unsettling trip to see a patient who he believes is being held against his will. Joanna quickly realizes that Verner's patient is a high-ranking Englishman who the Germans have taken captive to pry vital information about England’s military strategies for the Great War. The man is revealed to be Alistair Ainsworth, a cryptographer involved in the highest level of national security.
The police are frantic to find Ainsworth before the Germans can use him to decode all of England’s undeciphered messages. Ainsworth must be found at all costs and Joanna and the Watsons might be the only ones who can connect the clues to find him.
USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg returns with another puzzling case for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes to unravel in this exciting mystery sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes.

My Review:

After yesterday’s book, I was looking, partly for comfort but mostly for something where I knew what I was letting myself in for before I started. (Also looking for NOT a 700 page doorstop!) Then I saw that the fourth book in this series, The Art of Deception, came out recently – but I hadn’t read the third one yet.

And I’m always a sucker for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, so I hunted this up in the virtually towering TBR pile, read the first chapter and BOOM the game was afoot!

Not that Joanna Blalock Watson ever utters her father’s favorite catchphrase during the course of this entry in the series. Although she certainly seems to have more than her fair share of her father’s attributes, talents and personal foibles.

As well as his partner and amanuensis, Dr. John H. Watson, Sr. But her father’s old partner isn’t hers. Rather, that role has fallen to his son, Dr. John H. Watson, Jr. The younger Watson fills multiple roles in Joanna’s life, as pathologist, partner in detection, chronicler and biographer, as well as husband and stepfather to her young son, who even as a teen is already a chip off the family block.

As, to some extent, is this case, reminiscent as it is of The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter and His Last Bow, encompassing as it does some of the plot elements of Greek Interpreter with the time period and circumstances of His Last Bow, which provides some information about Holmes’ service to the Crown during the Great War. In this series of his daughter’s adventures, Holmes has been deceased for some years, so those services to the Crown are provided by his daughter Joanna instead, with the able assistance of both of the Drs. Watson.

While the story begins with the kind of convoluted opening that Holmes’ cases were famous for, it quickly morphs into something that is both more so – and less at the same time. Initially, this is a case of a doctor treating a mysterious patient at the end of an equally mysterious journey, only to learn that his patient is not so much a patient as he is a captive trying to get out the message that he is in a great deal of trouble.

And that’s where the Crown steps into this narrative, as the captive is missing from his job as one of Britain’s top cryptanalysts. It is late in 1915, there is a war going on, and Alistair Ainsworth is a key figure in both deciphering coded enemy dispatches and encoding those of the British. German agents have kidnapped the man with the obvious intent of breaking him, getting him to work on their behalf both to tighten up their own codes and to break any codes that the British have used in the past, or will in the future.

The German agents are professionals; careful, cunning and seemingly always one step ahead of Joanna, the Watsons and the police. But there are three factors that they never seem to have accounted for in all of their careful planning. Their captive is a master chess player, always two or three steps ahead, attacking on multiple fronts and willing to play as long a game as necessary. His colleagues are, while not quite up to his level, geniuses at code breaking in their own rights and able to work from the tiniest of clues provided by their colleague. And last but not least, they clearly never reckoned on needing to keep several steps ahead of the daughter of Sherlock Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: I was looking for a book where I knew pretty much what I was letting myself in for and that is exactly what I got. And yet it still managed to make me think. I’ll get to that in a minute.

This series, at least so far, is part of a group of series that take the Holmes canon that we know and twist it in, not exactly a feminist direction – although that can be part of it – but in a direction that provides a thinking woman’s perspective on what was originally an all-male preserve.

So there’s a kinship between Mary Russell (The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), Charlotte Holmes (A Study in Scarlet Women) and Joanna Blalock in that all of them use the canon as the way of telling another story entirely, a story that still works while eliminating the air of white male exclusivity and yes, privilege, that surrounds the original stories.

(The marvelous Mycroft and Sherlock series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse does the same kind of thing but in a different direction, by inserting into the narrative a young Mycroft’s friend and frequent detecting partner, the older, somewhat calmer and generally more dispassionate Cyrus Douglas, a black man from Trinidad.)

All of which means that if you enjoy Holmes well enough to like one of these series, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy some of the others. Without necessarily having to start at the beginning of any as the Holmes canon has permeated pop culture to the extent that we all know at least a tiny bit, even if only from The Great Mouse Detective.

But that change in perspective, as well as the change in time period both for the story and for the author writing it, makes us see some things in a new way. Particularly when reminded of the fact that Conan Doyle wrote the originals as contemporary stories. He was living the times he was writing about. The pastiches that have followed have become historical because the Victorian era that Holmes and Doyle lived in has retreated from us further every year.

So, as much as I enjoyed this foray into a variation of Holmes that tries its best to be both different and the same at the same time, I found myself thinking about some things that felt meta rather than about the book in my hand.

What struck me was the attitude towards the German agents who had kidnapped Ainsworth. There is a tendency in times of war to dehumanize the enemy in order to justify the war and all the things that happen within it. But the perspective of Germans as a race rather than a nationality, and the way that national characteristics had become easy stereotypes felt both logical for their time and place AND sat uneasily at the same time. It reminded me that in the original stories, Holmes and Watson are creatures of their time, with all of the racism and sexism and plenty of other terrible -isms that were part of that era. I was painfully aware that I wanted them to be better because they are characters that I love, but that they were not, no matter how much more recent adaptations have tried to ameliorate or eliminate those tendencies.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading this one, except for the above niggles. I found it to be – while not as utterly absorbing as the first book in the series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, considerably better and more original than the second, A Study in Treason. I’ll certain be back for The Art of Deception when I’m next in the mood for a taste of Sherlock.

Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

Review: Real Men Knit by Kwana JacksonReal Men Knit by Kwana Jackson, K.M. Jackson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on May 19, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem.
Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem. When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.
Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.

My Review:

Strong Knits is a mainstay in the small-town-in-a-big-city that is Harlem. And just like any small town, everybody knows everyone else’s business. But this is a community that has just lost one of its beloved pillars, Mama Joy, the owner of the knitting and yarn shop Strong Knits.

The community is reeling from their loss, but so, especially are her four officially adopted sons, Damian, Noah, Lucas and Jesse, as well as her unofficially adopted daughter Kerry. While they may all be technically adults, they all also relied on Mama Joy for love, stability, support (whether financial or emotional) and the occasionally necessary kick in the pants, administered lovingly, whenever she thought it was needed.

The neighborhood relied on her and her store as well. It was a place where a young person could find a piece of calm and support, learn a skill and some discipline, be safe and just be when needed. With cookies and milk. The women found in Mama Joy not just a sympathetic listener but a place where they could set burdens aside for a few minutes in an otherwise all too busy and all too tense life.

It was a haven. And now that Mama Joy is gone, suddenly, taken away by a heart attack, everyone wonders and worries whether and how and even if Strong Knits can continue.

Particularly the Strong brothers. Mama Joy saved them, and they want to save her store, the place where they – and so many other children in the neighborhood – grew up.

But they all have lives of their own now. They may still keep their rooms above the shop, but except for Jesse, they all mostly live elsewhere. Damian near his job on Wall Street, with his mysterious “partner”. Noah on the road as a Broadway dancer. Lucas at the firehouse, as he’s a member of the FDNY. Only Jesse, the youngest, still lives at home.

Because he can’t manage to settle on what he wants to be when he grows up. If that ever happens. So Jesse is mostly a player and only occasionally employed and seems least likely to keep the store going. But he’s surprisingly the one who wants it the most. And has the time to make the attempt.

It’s an attempt with a much closer deadline than he originally planned on. Mama Joy took out a second mortgage on the building. Now that she’s gone, the $100,000 loan has been called in. Not even the bank thinks they have a shot at making this work.

However, Jesse has an ace in the hole. Or at least a secret weapon in his corner. Kerry, the young woman their mother unofficially adopted, has been working part-time in the store since she was a little girl coming in for a refuge. Now Kerry is all grown up, working part-time at the community center and part-time in the store while she finishes her degree. She hoped to move up and out when she finished.

But with the death of Mama Joy, she steps in to help Jesse with the store. Between them, with the support of the community, they have the passion and the energy to make a go of it.

The only problem is that working in such close proximity has them wanting to make a go of each other. Even though Jesse and his brothers have all considered Kerry as untouchable. And especially because Kerry knows that Jesse is a player who loves ‘em and leaves ‘em and never leaves his heart behind. She knows that if she lets him into her heart, he’ll leave it on the floor in pieces.

Or will he?

Escape Rating B+: I mostly loved this book. Not just the way that the community rallies around the store and takes Jesse and Kerry’s attempt to make a go of it to their hearts – although that’s certainly a big plus. Even with just a bit of deus ex machina in the way that this part of the story ends.

It’s such a plus that in a lot of ways this felt more like relationship fiction than it does a romance. Because it feels like the story is all about the sometimes fractious relationships between the Strong brothers, the relationship that Mama Joy had with the community, the relationships that Kerry has with her friend and co-worker Val AND their work at the community center, and especially Kerry’s relationships with ALL of the Strongs. Including, especially, the late and very much lamented Mama Joy.

Because it’s not just about Kerry’s relationship with Jesse. Even though she and Jesse have been dancing around each other ever since they were teenagers. Kerry’s always known that Jesse was a player, and Kerry had no interest in being played – no matter how much interest she’s had in Jesse over the years.

But the brothers have always seen her as a bit of a little sister. They’re very protective of her, to the point where Kerry is a bit sick of the protectiveness and wants to be seen as the grown-ass woman she actually is.

So a lot of this story felt like it was about Kerry getting her act together, doing her best for the memory of Mama Joy, and figuring out what she wants to do next. She decides that while she’s helping Jesse get the store back on its feet, she’s going to do Jesse. Whatever her heart may want, she knows it’s a short term thing – because Jesse never sticks around.

That he eventually figures out that he wants to, stick around that is, this time is what sets up the actual romance. He’s finally growing up. And that’s a terrific part of the story. But, as much as I wanted this to end in an HEA, I’m not sure that either Kerry or Jesse is ready for that commitment. It felt like we didn’t quite see him do enough of the work to get there. And that Kerry still has plenty of work to do on her own-self as well.

So that HEA that ends the story, while it definitely feels like an HEA for the store and its future, feels a bit more like either a slightly shaky HFN for Kerry and Jesse, or the beginning of working towards an HEA that isn’t quite there yet.

But this was still a fun story and I had a great time with these characters. I found myself wishing that this was the first in a series, and that we’d see all of the Strong brothers find their own HEAs, one romance at a time. I’m REALLY curious about Damian’s mystery person!

Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton

Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. DentonThe Summer House by Lauren K. Denton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on June 2, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.
Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.
Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.
Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.
Neither Lily nor Rose is where she expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve experienced so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren K. Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.
“The perfect summer read! You’ll feel the sun, taste the salt, and linger with new friends—you won’t want to leave.” —Katherine Reay, bestselling author of The Printed Letter Bookshop and Dear Mr. Knightley

My Review:

I grabbed The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton because a couple of years ago I picked up The Hideaway basically on a whim, loved it, and then read Glory Road and pretty much loved that too. The only book by this author I haven’t read – YET – is Hurricane Season, but in this year where everyone seems to need all the comfort reads they can get I expect to pick it up in the not too distant future.

Like the author’s previous books, The Summer House is relationship fiction, which often gets labeled and more often than not denigrated, as “women’s fiction”, but the relationship fiction label is much nearer the mark. Because it’s always about the relationships between people, often but not always family or found family, and frequently including the relationships between people in a small town.

And if women are the only ones who care about all the different kinds of relationships that people can have, whether in families or groups or communities, doesn’t that explain a whole lot about what’s wrong with the world these days?

The relationships that are on display, or perhaps under the microscope, or a bit of both, in this particular story are centered around two people, Lily Bishop and Rose Carrigan. As the story opens, both are at crossroads in their lives, and the route they each take leads them directly into each other’s path.

A path that runs straight through the retirement village so aptly named Safe Harbor. The place where Rose has been pretty much standing still for the past 40 years or so. Rose is known around town as the “Ice Queen” because she freezes out anyone who tries to get close to her, except for her nephew Rawlins and his daughter Hazel. She’s certainly not looking to shelter anyone under her wing.

But, when Lily Bishop calls Rose asking for a job as the resident hairdresser of Safe Harbor, that’s exactly what she does. Not just because Lily desperately needs the harbor of Safe Harbor, but because Rose is finally starting to scrabble at the walls of her self-isolation. And because she sees in Lily’s lonely aloneness something of herself that she hasn’t let herself see in a long time.

In letting Safe Harbor shelter them both, Lily and Rose both find the space they need to stand up and live.

Escape Rating B+:The blurb makes it seem as if Lily and Rose form an instant, albeit unlikely, friendship, but that’s not exactly what happens. In fact, it seems like this one tries to build its relationships in all kinds of slightly unconventional ways, and that the book is the better for its off-beat notes.

Lily’s desperate straits have to do with the husband who moved her to a place where neither of them knew a soul and then woke up one morning and left her divorce papers on the kitchen table as he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. But Lily’s not desperately lovesick trying to get him back. She doesn’t even want him back after that – and who can blame her? (Besides her overbearing mother-in-law, that is.) Rather, she’s left with a mess and is just digging her way out, with no support network, no job and about to be evicted from a rental house that came with his job – which he has also fled.

It’s unusual for this kind of story that he wasn’t abusive, she’s not pregnant and she’s not a suddenly single mother. She’s just temporarily adrift and very much alone. She knows she can get back on her feet, she just needs a bit of time and space in which to do that, which is what makes her call Rose about the job doing the one thing she’s always loved, using the gift she inherited from her late mother – cutting hair and providing a place for people to set down their burdens for a bit and come out feeling better. (I’m not saying that a story like this one can’t be excellent with some of those usual starting points, but it is terrific to see one that does it just a bit differently for a change!)

But in giving Lily a chance to recover, Rose also manages to give herself a chance to take a new look at the world around her, and set down some of the burdens that she’s been carrying entirely too long. Since she was Lily’s age. And the story of Rose’s re-awakening is every bit as lovely as that of Lily’s awakening.

That both of them manage to find happiness, community and love in the place where they have found themselves planted is the icing on a very heartwarming cake, and makes for an absolutely delightful story.

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Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson

Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail WilsonMasquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 26, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.
Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

My Review:

Historical romantic suspense really needs to become its own thing, because that’s what this book really is. It’s straddling a line between historical romance, mystery and something that I want to call “heroine in jeopardy” because it’s all of those things at the same time.

Even though “heroine in jeopardy” isn’t actually a genre – although it probably ought to be.

As this story opens, our heroine is very definitely in jeopardy, just not the jeopardy she thought she was in when a masked man appeared in front of her coach telling the coachman to “Stand and deliver!” The traditional “battle cry” of the highwayman.

Not that Elizabeth has anything to deliver, at least not in the usual sense. She’s an unwed mother, abandoned by both her own family and the father of her little boy, on her way to take up a post as companion and governess to a friend and her children, in the hopes of, if not salvaging her reputation, at least being labeled as respectable enough to make a living to support them both.

In other words, she’s flat broke and relying on the kindness of, not exactly strangers, but certainly on the kindness of others. She doesn’t have anything that a highway robber could possibly want – or so she believes.

But that highwayman is not a real highwayman. And her coach and its contents are not exactly as innocent as she believed.

What began as a journey to what she hoped would be a new life for herself and her son, turns out, in the end, to be exactly that. But in absolutely NONE of the ways that she originally thought.

She never expected to marry. She never expected to be accepted back into the ton. And she certainly never expected to help her new husband bring down a nest of spies and saboteurs.

Or that the father of her little boy would be found right in the middle of the entire mess.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say this was a surprising amount of fun, but calling it fun doesn’t convey the spirit of the story. Because while it’s going on Elizabeth really isn’t having a whole lot of fun a lot of the time. At the same time, calling it a lovely read isn’t quite right either, because there’s a whole lot going on and not all of it is good for the protagonists.

But I had a grand time reading it. Howsomever, calling it fun implies a level of fluff that isn’t here – nor should it be.

It does, however, remind me more than a bit of the Bastion Club series by Stephanie Laurens, in both its historical setting and in the clandestine occupation of the hero – and eventually the heroine.

The era of the Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815 is ripe for all sorts of historical drama – and occasionally melodrama, as Britain was at war with France. There was plenty of opportunity for spying and general skullduggery, including smuggling illicit but expensive French goods. The period also overlapped with the Regency period (1811-1820) made literarily famous by Georgette Heyer. This particular story is right in the “sweet spot” where the Regency was still in full sway and Napoleon had not yet met his Waterloo.

Elizabeth and Torrington are caught very much on the horns of multiple dilemmas, not all of which either of them are aware of even at the beginning. Torrington is looking for a spy – and for secret correspondence from that spy that is supposed to be in a carriage that looks just like Elizabeth’s. When he waylays her carriage and discovers that it is hers and not the spy’s, circumstances conspire to bind them in a marriage of convenience, so that he can maintain his cover and she can maintain what’s left of her reputation.

It’s really just an excuse to drag them together, but it works for the purposes of opening the possibility of their romance of convenience turning real. It also works to provide an opportunity for the real spy to continue with their illegal activities and make Elizabeth’s life hell into the bargain. Which is where those “heroine in jeopardy” elements come very much into the picture.

And that’s where things get really interesting. On the one hand, her former lover, her son’s father, very much qualifies as the “EVILEX” who must appear before the story and the romance can be finally resolved. On the other hand, that evil ex-lover is also the hero’s brother. I’m still on the fence about whether the multiple parts said villain plays in this story are a fascinating twist or a bit too much of the long arm of coincidence.

On my third hand, the invisible one that isn’t normally seen, while one part of the mystery seemed obvious fairly early on, the other part took me completely by surprise – and that’s always a good thing in a story that relies on suspense and dramatic tension to sweep the reader into the story. Which this one certainly has – and does.

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Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayMousse and Murder (Alaskan Diner Mystery #1) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young chef might bite off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents' diner in this charming first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in an Alaskan tourist town.

When Chef Charlie Cooke is offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, to take over her mother's diner, she doesn't even consider saying no. After all--her love life has recently become a Love Life Crumble, and a chance to reconnect with her roots may be just what she needs.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head cook Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie's ideas--leaving Charlie as the only suspect in the case.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it's too late.

My Review:

It is more likely that the Elkview Bugle would win a Pulitzer – after all, the Anchorage Daily News just did – than it is that Charlene Cooke attended her first – and only – year of law school in Anchorage. There are no law schools in Anchorage or anywhere in Alaska.

Not that Elkview actually exists, but there are places just like it along the Glenn Highway. And in spite of some small but mostly necessary changes (I’m still niggled about the law school thing), the Alaska of Mousse and Murder reads like the place I lived in – in all of its cold, wintry “glory”.

But it was great to be back in the “Great State”, even vicariously, for a few hours, to meet the residents of Elkview and solve a perplexing mystery.

The mystery is plenty perplexing, and the red herrings it offers up are as tasty as the offerings at the Bear Claw Diner. Or perhaps that should be the other way around.

Our primary amateur detective in this one is chef and diner owner/operator Charlene Cooke. The Bear Claw is the diner that her mother owned and operated while Charlie was growing up. Charlie herself was practically raised at the counter. Now that Charlie is an accredited chef, her mother can leave the diner in Charlie’s capable hands while traveling “Outside” (that’s Alaskan for anyplace away from the state) with Charlie’s dad.

Charlie’s hands don’t feel all that capable when she and her head chef have one of their epic arguments in the middle of the diner, resulting in Chef Oliver stomping out in a huff. A fact that Charlie doesn’t reveal to her mother in their daily phone call, as mom is half a world away on a Danube cruise and Charlie doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

When Oliver turns up dead, and Charlie is briefly considered a suspect, ruining mom’s vacation is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Considering the state of bush policing in Alaska (the statistics Charlie cites are all too real) clearing her name and figuring out exactly who did kill Oliver – and why – shoots right to the top of Charlie’s to do list.

Charlie is determined to leave no stone unturned, and with the help of local reporter and fellow informally sworn-in deputy Chris, she uncovers a web of secrets that shows that absolutely no one really knew Oliver in spite of his decades-long tenure at the Bear Claw.

And that Oliver’s secretive past – and present – provide plenty of motives for his murder.

Escape Rating B+: If you enjoy quirky small-town mysteries, and/or mysteries featuring felines as companion animals, sounding boards and occasional sleuthing assistants, Mousse and Murder is an absolute delight. Oops, I forgot to tell you about Benny.

Benny is the feline who holds Charlie’s heart. He’s a big, fluffy orange cat whose full name is Eggs Benedict. He’s smart enough to answer to either name. He is also clearly the light of Charlie’s life, and he’s adorable. The cat he resembles most closely is Diesel in the Cat in the Stacks series, although he’s not nearly as large. Few domestic cats are.

But Diesel and Benny are both friends and companions for their humans who are the actual amateur sleuths. They are both intelligent, but on the cat scale of intelligence. (As much as I love Joe Grey, one clowder of speaking cats solving crimes is probably enough.) Part of the delight of this story is the way that Charlie loves and cares for Benny, and how much fun they have together. Benny serves as Charlie’s comforter-in-chief and best sounding board. One of the marvelous things about companion animals is that we can tell them anything and they never judge – while humans, of course, pretty much always do.

Mousse and Murder also has shades – or should that be flavors and aromas? – of Diane Mott Davidson and other wonderful culinary mysteries, including a couple of yummy looking recipes tucked into the back. In between investigations, Charlie spends plenty of time at the diner, providing readers with plenty of virtual goodies to salivate over. Remember, there are no calories in the desserts that you only read about – but you’ll be tempted to make some of these!

One of the things that is so fascinating about Alaska is that it is one of the few places where a person can still completely hide in plain sight. In our 24/7 connected world there are very few places where a person can still be part of a community AND be relatively isolated at the same time. That Oliver came to Elkview to live and work in a place where he can both be known and keep his secrets is still possible – and would have been even more so when Oliver started working at the Bear Claw when Charlie was a little girl.

What makes the story so much fun is the cast of characters who frequent the Bear Claw, both the residents of Elkview and the frequent regulars, like the truckers Manny, Moe and Joe, who stop by so often that they have their own booth. I have a feeling we’ll be meeting more of the regulars as the series continues. Based on the ones we’ve met so far, it’s going to be fun getting to know them.

But this first story is all wrapped around Charlie. Hers is the perspective we follow, and she’s an interesting and likeable protagonist, and not just because of Benny. She’s easy to relate to, her fears and insecurities make sense under the circumstances, her mistakes feel real and we want her to succeed.

We also want her to succeed in her potential romance with reporter Chris, but not too soon!

Mousse and Murder is a fun cozy mystery in an unusual setting with a great cast of characters. I did figure who probably “dunnit” fairly early on, but the why was not remotely apparent until very near the end, so that’s also a win.

I’m looking forward to more of Charlie’s adventures, and another visit to Elkview, when Charlie and Benny go Fishing for Trouble later this year.

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

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Review: Close Up by Amanda Quick

Review: Close Up by Amanda QuickClose Up (Burning Cove #4) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #4
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Burning Cove, California where 1930s Hollywood glamour conceals a ruthless killer…

Vivian Brazier never thought life as an art photographer would include nightly wake-up calls to snap photos of grisly crime scenes or headshots for aspiring male actors. Although she is set on a career of transforming photography into a new art form, she knows her current work is what’s paying the bills.

After shooting crime scene photos of a famous actress, the latest victim of the murderer the press has dubbed the “Dagger Killer,” Vivian notices eerie similarities to the crime scenes of previous victims—details that only another photographer would have noticed—details that put Vivian at the top of the killer’s target list.

Nick Sundridge has always been able to “see” things that others don’t, coping with disturbing dreams and visions. His talent, or as he puts it—his curse—along with his dark past makes him a recluse, but a brilliant investigator. As the only one with the ability to help, Nick is sent to protect Vivian. Together, they discover the Dagger Killer has ties to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood royalty and high society. It is a cutthroat world of allure and deception that Vivian and Nick must traverse—all in order to uncover the killer who will stop at nothing to add them to their gallery of murders.

My Review:

Close Up is the enchanting follow up to Tightrope, making it book 4 in the Burning Cove series. But don’t let that stop you from picking up this terrific historical romance, as there is very little that ties this book into the earlier books in the series, beginning with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

Come to think of it, the entire series features women who know entirely too much, and who use that knowledge to solve murder sprees that they find themselves at the hearts of through absolutely no fault of their own.

Not that it’s remotely coincidental that bad things happen to them, just as it is far from coincidental that photographer Vivian Brazier becomes the target of not one but two murder attempts. The long arm of coincidence is seldom that long, and it certainly isn’t here – no matter how much it seems that the two plots are not related to each other – except in their choice of victim.

It’s up to Vivian, along with her temporary bodyguard, private investigator Nick Sundridge, to figure out who is after her and why – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: The fun in this entry in the series is twofold. Of course there’s figuring out who is doing it. Not to mention, why are they doing it? Well not directly why. The murderer is planning to do Vivian in because he’s being paid to do it. The question is why would someone want to eliminate her?

Her family may be wealthy, but she’s been disowned. She’s a freelance crime photographer and hopeful art photographer, neither of which brought in “big bucks” during the Depression. She’s young and hopeful at the art photography, using the freelance crime photography to pay the rent. So no one is after the money she doesn’t have.

She’s still at the bottom rung of the ladder in her chosen profession, so she’s not in anyone’s way.

At least the first murder attempt was the direct result of her actions. She figured out, not who the “Dagger Killer” was, not exactly, but she narrowed the field enough for the police to hone in on their killer. Who tried to kill her first and failed.

The second plot seems to make no sense. But through investigating it we get to visit the point in history when the question of whether photography could possibly ever be considered “Art” was still the subject of considerable debate. (Man Ray, the famous artist and photographer, was working in Paris at this time, along with one of the characters of yesterday’s book, Salvador Dali)

Times when the world is in flux make fascinating backgrounds for stories and characters. Vivian is at the crux of this particular change, and it makes her compelling to follow. She’s a woman attempting to make a career in a man’s world, and that’s always a challenge. But she’s also a proponent of a new way of doing things at a time when the old way still holds sway. And she’s working at the juncture between commercialism and art, yet another turning point.

She’s right, she knows she’s right, but there’s a question of whether she will live to see her vision proven correct. Not just because she’s in the crosshairs of a murderer, but because pioneers in any field always wonder if they will make it during their own lifetimes.

And on top of it all, there’s a romance. I’ll admit that, like an earlier book in this series, The Other Lady Vanishes, I didn’t quite buy the romance. I expected it as part of the pattern for this series, but there wasn’t quite enough romantic tension between Vivian and Nick to really sell it, at least not for me.

But I still had a great time watching Vivian take on the establishment and help to save herself from being the murderer’s next victim. A murderer that, like both Vivian and Nick, I didn’t suss out until the very end.

Amanda Quick is an author that I love under all of her names, Quick for historical, Jayne Castle for futuristic and Jayne Ann Krentz for contemporary. I look forward to reading her next venture into romantic suspense, no matter when it is set or which name she publishes it under!