Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + Giveaway

Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas + GiveawayThe Art of Theft (Lady Sherlock, #4) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #4
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, is back solving new cases in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of The Hollow of Fear.

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.   But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.   Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

My Review:

I am an absolute sucker for Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so I’ve been reading the Lady Sherlock series as each book comes out, beginning with A Study in Scarlet Women three years ago.

The twist in the Lady Sherlock series is, on the one hand, the change that is made obvious by the series title. In this series, Sherlock Holmes is the fictitious, invalid brother used by Charlotte Holmes to mask the fact that she is the deductive genius who finds missing objects and solves crimes – as well as, in the case of this story – committing them.

But Holmes isn’t the only gender-swapped character in the series. There is no Dr. Watson. Instead, there is the former actress Mrs. Watson. Her husband was the military doctor who served in the Afghan War, as the Dr. Watson of the original canon did.

Mrs. Watson is not, however, the chronicler of “Sherlock” Holmes’ adventures. That duty has been left to Olivia Holmes. Charlotte’s younger sister.

One of the things that makes this series stand out from many other variations on the Holmes theme is not just that many of the roles have been gender-swapped, but that the series does not ignore the many ways that life as a middle or upper-class woman in Victorian England was restricted.

Charlotte’s ruse about her bedridden brother is part and parcel of those restrictions, as is her choice to become a “scarlet woman” in the first book so as to get herself disowned and out from under her parents’ disapproving thumb. A thumb that has all the force of law to hem her life into a tiny straight-jacket of propriety and misery.

Mrs. Watson, as a former actress, was already a scarlet woman when this series began. The case that Holmes and Watson take up in this entry in the series has its roots in her past. Once upon a time, when she was younger and perhaps a bit more foolish, Mrs. Watson fell in love with another woman. A woman who is now the Dowager Maharani of Ajmer. A woman who comes to London to engage Sherlock Holmes’ services in order to thwart her blackmailer – only to discover that there is no Sherlock, only her former lover and a woman who may be a towering genius of deduction but has no experience in breaking and entering.

Because that’s what the job seems to require. Breaking into an invitation-only house party and art auction, with the sole purpose of stealing a valuable painting and the explosive secrets that are concealed within its frame.

But nothing about this case is as it seems. As Charlotte and her team of friends and confidants investigate the mess that the Maharani has gotten herself into, the more that Charlotte realizes that very little about this case is what it seems.

There is much more going on than meets the eye – whether the eye is quicker than the hand or not. This case contains plenty of misdirection – and more than a few magic tricks – on every side. But at its heart there’s danger that none of them ever expected to face – at least not again.

Escape Rating B+: Like the previous entries in this series, I have mixed feelings about The Art of Theft. I’m almost feeling as if there are two books combined into one slightly uneasy combination.

The first part of this one is wrapped up in all of the restrictions faced by genteel women in Victorian England. Even though Charlotte and her sister Olivia are both in their late 20s, both definitely adults, legally they are the property of their father until they marry and become the property of their husbands.

That Charlotte was bloody-minded enough to find a way out of the trap does not mean that she is not affected by the solution she chose – as is Olivia. Their parents have forbidden the sisters to see each other, and while Charlotte is out from under their thumb, Olivia is not. She has no way of making a living for herself, and no freedom except through subterfuge.

It is ironic that Charlotte, Olivia and Mrs. Watson do read as women of their time, but their very necessity of kowtowing to the restrictions of being a woman in their time makes this reader grit her teeth and want the story to just get on with it.

Once they have the bit of the case between their teeth, in spite of all of the insanity that is wrapped around that particular endeavor, the story moves much more quickly, to the point where the reader can’t turn pages fast enough because there’s so much going on. And so much of it seems like “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.

It’s also that once the case gets going, Charlotte’s constant worry about “Maximum Tolerable Chins” gives way to her cold-blooded analytical ability to take what few facts they have and wrestle those facts into a theory that allows them to proceed – and succeed – in their endeavor.

(It seems in this series that the original Sherlock’s drug addiction has been converted to Charlotte’s addiction to rich pastries. It is notable that Sherlock never worried one-tenth as much about his seven-percent solution as Charlotte does her cream buns.)

Back to the case. There were plenty of examples of cases solved by the original Holmes where it takes Holmes’ uncanny ability to pull together disparate and obscure facts with painstaking observations to learn that the case the detective was hired for is not the game that is actually afoot.

And so it proves here. The way that Charlotte Holmes puts together the bits and pieces of what they are hired to do in order to discover what actually needs to be done is what keeps this reader glued to this series in spite of my frustrations with the maneuvering that Charlotte and company often have to do in order to get to the point.

In the end, this case is nothing like it appeared to be. Their client covered up their truths, and the blackmailer used the entire thing as a way to misdirect every single person at the auction.

That Moriarty emerges from the shadows at the end is more than enough to make me anticipate the next story in this series. There will be a solution to The Final Problem that is Moriarty. But hopefully not yet.

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

Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a copy of The Art of Theft to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate QuinnRibbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, Allison Pataki
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's history
Pages: 560
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

My Review:

Women have always fought. We have always lived in the castle. We have always defended the castle, and stormed the castle as well. We have always been there, on the front lines as well as behind the scenes, no matter how much we are written out of the supposedly official histories of “great men and great deeds” that try to pretend that we weren’t in the room where it happened – or on the ramparts defending that room.

The enduring images of the parts that women played in the French Revolution can (unfortunately) be reduced to three, not that there weren’t plenty of women involved, but history as written goes back to those “great men and great deeds” so that women’s contributions can be swept under the carpet – as sweeping was considered an appropriate activity for women.

When we think of women in relation to the French Revolution, the images that have stuck are poor, waifish Cosette from Les Misérables, the over-pampered and over-privileged Queen, Marie Antoinette crying, “Let them eat cake!” and the villainous Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, knitting and cackling as the guillotine falls.

I’m just realizing that those three women conveniently fall into the “maiden, mother, crone” triptych and wondering if that’s what has made those particular three so memorable. I digress.

Ribbons of Scarlet, fictional though it is, tries to go deeper into the roles that women played during the Revolution. I almost said “both sides” but that implies that the sides were MUCH more clearly defined than they actually were. The Revolution, as the saying went, ate its young.

Instead of straightforwardly proceeding through the story of the French Revolution, or even telling it as a braided novel like The Glass Ocean by “Team W”, Ribbons of Scarlet proceeds from the very beginnings of the Revolution to its exhausted ending at the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte through narratives that focus on the part that each woman played in her point in history – then she hands the story off to the next woman until it comes full circle back to the original narrator.

Each woman’s story is written by a different author, telling the story of the French Revolution almost as a relay race rather than a single story. Grouchette passes the baton to Louise who in her turn passes it to Elisabeth to Manon to Charlotte to Emilie and, at last, back to Grouchette.

All of these women, including, surprisingly, the revolutionary Louise Audu, were historical figures. Manon and Sophie were prolific authors, and the words and views ascribed to them in the story are documentably their own.

We have always fought. Sometimes with words – and sometimes with pikes.

Escape(ish) Rating: B+: To say that the French Revolution, for all its noble aims, turned out to be a clusterfuck implies a level of organization that doesn’t seem to have actually been present. After reading Ribbons of Scarlet, it feels more like the French Revolution was a goat rope. (Now there’s a term I never thought I’d have a use for, but my word the whole thing was completely fucked.) Reading this book makes me wonder how France managed to get itself organized back into a country – ever. So many histories focus on “great men” and “progress” that the level of sheer savagery gets reduced to something bearable. It probably has to, or history classes would need trigger warnings for this section – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

However, just because all of the women were real doesn’t make them all equally interesting, or at least written equally sympathetically. In some ways, Ribbons of Scarlet feels like a short story collection on a single theme, and like all collections some stories work better than others. That being said, Grouchette’s section coming at the beginning was a great way to get into the story. I liked her and I found her perspectives surprisingly easy to identify with.

At the same time, Elizabeth’s extreme piety and unassailable belief in the divine right of kings, as well as Louise’ and Manon’s internal dialog about their own sexuality, while they feel right for their time,  make hard reading in ours.

But they ALL advance the story, it’s just that some heads are more interesting to be inside of than others – whether or not those heads eventually got cut off or not. Most of their fates were tragic in one way or another. That their voices have been lost to history – that’s the real tragedy.

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Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Price of Grace (Black Ops Confidential, #2) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #2
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who can you trustWhen family, truth, and love are all on the line?

Gracie Parish knows the true cost of trust. Rescued as a child by the infamous Parish family, she became a member of their covert sisterhood of vigilantes. Gracie saw her most precious relationships destroyed by secrecy. She learned long ago to protect her heart as well as her family's secrets.

Special Agent Leif "Dusty" McAllister will do anything to uncover the truth about the Parish family's covert operations. Dusty knows Gracie is his ticket in. He'll use everything he's got—fair, unfair, and just plain wrong—to break through her defenses. But the more he gets to know Gracie and her family's mission, the harder he starts to fall. Neither one is sure they'll get out of this with their lives—or their hearts—intact.

Black Ops Confidential series:I Am Justice (Book 1)The Price of Grace (Book 2)The Cost of Honor (Book 3)

My Review:

Sometimes there’s justice, and sometimes there’s “just us”. This series is about a family that has decided where that line gets drawn, to be that “just us” for women all over the world who desperately need some of that justice. No matter who, or what, gets in the way.

This particular entry in the series is all about the price that gets paid, on both sides of the equation. The Price of Grace is the second book in the Black Ops Confidential series, after last year’s terrific I Am Justice.

The series is very much romantic suspense, but it isn’t exactly like any other romantic suspense series. And that’s because of the Parish family. So often in romantic suspense, there’s a heroine in jeopardy being rescued by some lone wolf hero with a badge and a guarded heart of titanium.

That’s not the case here. The Parish family is a family of adoption rather than birth – and it’s a family of survivors, from its founding mother, Mukta Parish down to every cohort of her children. Survivors of brutality or abuse or trafficking or all of the above, every single one.

The Parish family is bound into a tribe – or a cult if you don’t like what they are doing – of nearly all women who have vowed to be that “just us” in countries all around the world where women’s and girls’ rights are trampled upon with legal impunity by governments and warlords alike.

In the United States, Mukta Parish uses her wealth and social standing to, let’s call it influence, legislation and politicians, all to further her agenda of making the world safer and fairer for women.

Of course, some people see her adopted children as brainwashed soldiers rather than clear-headed volunteers – or revolutionaries. And plenty of people at home and abroad want to keep on doing business as usual without her interference.

And, like any family, some children are less than willing to toe the family line, or just want to live an ordinary life rather than devote themselves to a cause, even a righteous one.

The Price of Grace is a story where those conflicting desires intersect in the person of Grace Parish, a woman who left a husband and child behind in order to keep them safe from her family’s retribution – or so she believes.

Grace’s need to carve out a bit of a life for herself conflicts with one FBI agent’s desire to rescue Grace and her siblings from what he perceives as their indoctrination into a cult of vigilantism. And it runs headlong into one woman’s insane need to preserve her position at the apex of privilege and self-indulgence – at any cost.

Escape Rating B+: In the first book in this series, whatever second thoughts Justice Parish may have had about deceiving Sandesh Ross about her mission – or her purpose on his mission – there are none about the mission itself, or her family’s determination to take on traffickers, slavers and abusers wherever they might be found.

But the location of that first story gives the Parish family’s vigilantism a bit of distance. Intellectually, we know that variations of the same crap that Justice Parish is fighting “over there” also happens right here at home, but the reader isn’t forced to confront the “outside the law” nature of the Parish’ activities in the same way.

(BTW I Am Justice is kickass awesome but it isn’t necessary to read it to get into The Price of Grace.)

All of the action in The Price of Grace – except for its explosive opening intro – takes place right here in the U.S. of A. In the light of Grace’s own desire to distance herself from her family’s field operations, and her semi-successful attempt to carve out a life of her that isn’t completely under her mother’s well-meaning but heavy-handed thumb, there’s a bit of uneasiness about the Parish family, not so much the mission itself but certainly the methodology.

And that’s reflected in the perspective of FBI Agent Dusty McAllister. His childhood was chock to the brim of first-hand experience with indoctrination into cult beliefs, and to his admittedly suspicious eyes, that’s exactly what it looks like Mukta Parrish is up to. Creating an army of child soldiers who are so indoctrinated into her way of thinking that they continue the dangerous and deadly mission into adulthood.

Dusty initially saw Grace’s attempts at independence as the weak link in the Parish family chain – he planned to use her to pry a way into the Parish family compound. But once he meets her he’s caught between his need to expose Mukta Parish and his need to explore every last inch of Grace Parish. A latter need  that is very much mutual.

But this story, partly through Dusty’s investigations and partly through the machinations of some very interested third parties gives the reader – and especially Grace – a view into some of the family’s operations that are not so savory as she, and the reader, have been led to believe. Giving the story some fascinating and slightly equivocal dimensions that add to the suspense as both Grace and the reader are forced to wonder just how much dirt is hiding under that righteous mission.

The reveal of who exactly is behind what, and why, gives this page-turner a surprising – and explosive, ending.

I think we’ll see more dimensions, and even more second thoughts, in the third book in this series, The Cost of Honor, later this year. And I’m all in for that!

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

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

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Review: Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawayComing Home for Christmas (Haven Point, #10) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #10
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on September 24, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hearts are lighter and wishes burn a little brighter at Christmas…

Elizabeth Hamilton has been lost. Trapped in a tangle of postpartum depression and grief after the death of her beloved parents, she couldn’t quite see the way back to her husband and their two beautiful kids…until a car accident stole away her memories and changed her life. And when she finally remembered the sound of little Cassie’s laugh, the baby powder smell of Bridger and the feel of her husband’s hand in hers, Elizabeth worried that they’d moved on without her. That she’d missed too much. That perhaps she wasn’t the right mother for her kids or wife for Luke, no matter how much she loved them.

But now, seven years later, Luke finds her in a nearby town and brings Elizabeth back home to the family she loves, just in time for Christmas. And being reunited with Luke and her children is better than anything Elizabeth could have imagined. As they all trim the tree and bake cookies, making new holiday memories, Elizabeth and Luke are drawn ever closer. Can the hurt of the past seven years be healed over the course of one Christmas season and bring the Hamiltons the gift of a new beginning?

My Review:

The holiday season has begun. Oh, not the official Xmas season, but the holiday romance season, definitely. It seems as if the first of the holiday romances start hitting the shelves right around the first official week of fall, and here we are.

As the year starts winding down, and the weather starts drawing in – or at least cooling off – it just starts to feel like it’s time to curl up under a cozyblanket, with a cup of hot cocoa or tea, a sleepy cat or two, and a heartwarming holiday romance.

Today’s book, Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne, is a great way to open this year’s holiday reading splurge.

Haven Point is one of those little towns that seem like great places to love. It’s a tight-knit community, people generally get along, and the economy has been looking up throughout the course of the series.

But life, and especially people, are not perfect. And not everyone’s life is going along swimmingly.

That’s where our hero, Luke Hamilton, comes in. Because seven years ago, his wife Elizabeth walked out into a snowstorm, leaving Luke and their two small children behind.

Along with a giant cloud over his head. Elizabeth never came back. Neither was her body ever found. No proof has ever been discovered to implicate Luke in either her disappearance or her presumed death.

But the court of public opinion convicted him long ago. And now the new District Attorney wants to make a name for herself by making it official. She plans to charge him with murder.

So Luke drives out in yet another snowstorm, making the 8 hour drive from Haven Point to the Oregon Coast, because he knows one thing that the DA doesn’t want to hear. Or believe.

His missing wife, Elizabeth Sinclair Hamilton, is living in Oregon under the name of Sonia Davis. And has been for years. She left him, she left their kids, and she never came back to them.

But he refuses to leave his children with no parent at all because his wife is too selfish to come back to them. There’s no way that he’s going to jail, or even on trial, for a murder that he not only didn’t commit, but particularly for the killing of a woman who isn’t even dead – even if she’s dead to him after years of betrayal. Or that’s what he believes.

The truth, well, that’s another matter entirely.

Escape Rating B+: Coming Home for Christmas is a quick read, and makes for a lovely second-chance-at-love holiday romance. Surprisingly so, considering the themes of the story and the underlying heartbreak behind Elizabeth’s actions.

It also reads like perfect fodder for one of those Hallmark Xmas movies – with more than a bit of a soap opera plot – complete with amnesia and reconstructive surgery. And the happy ending wraps up a bit quick and seems a touch contrived.

I’m not saying that this couple couldn’t find their way back to each other, in spite of the past, but it should have taken a bit more time and effort. No one needed to grovel in this one, it’s not that kind of story. But they have a LOT to get over, and doing it over the course of a single week after seven years of separation and justifiably hurt feelings seems like more than a bit of a holiday miracle.

At the same time, there’s a lot of “meat” to this one – and not just the traditional Xmas turkey.

The reason that Elizabeth stayed away from Haven may sound like a soap opera plot, but the reason she left was deadly serious. Suffering from clinical depression compounded by postpartum depression, overwhelmed by her grief, lost in a dark pit of despair, she couldn’t climb out on her own. No one could. And Luke, coping with a baby and a toddler, a business start up that required too much attention but had to succeed to support them all, tired and out of options or support of his own, still dealing with his own emotional issues, couldn’t handle it all.

Elizabeth got sicker and Luke became less able to cope and neither had a support network. Elizabeth left because she was lost in a spiral and was sure her family would be better off without her. And that part of her story happens more frequently than anyone wants to think.

So there is a bit of a holiday miracle in this one. It’s a miracle that would have felt more earned if it had taken a bit more time – but it’s more than enough for a lovely holiday read!

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

I am giving away a copy of Coming Home for Christmas to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: Lies in White Dresses by Sofia Grant

Review: Lies in White Dresses by Sofia GrantLies in White Dresses by Sofia Grant
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the 1940s and 50s, women who needed a fast divorce went to Nevada to live on a ranch with other women in the same boat. This historical novel was inspired by the true stories of those who “took the Reno cure.”

Francie Meeker and Vi Carothers were sold a bill of goods: find a man, marry him in a white wedding gown, and live happily ever after. These best friends never expected to be on the train to Reno, those “lies in white dresses” shattered, their marriages over.

On board the train they meet June Samples, who is fleeing an abusive husband with her daughter, and take the vulnerable young mother under their wing. The three decide to wait out the required six weeks together, and then they can toss their wedding bands into the Truckee River and start new lives as divorcees.

But as they settle in at the ranch, one shocking moment will change their lives forever. As it brings their deceptions and fears into focus, it will also demand a reckoning with the past, and the choices that a person in love can be driven to make.

My Review:

This is a story about secrets, and lies. The lies we live with, and the lies we discover that we can’t. It’s also a story about female friendship and paying it forward and figuring out who we are when we have to stand on our own.

And it’s a slice of a tiny but important portion of women’s history, when divorce, while still not commonplace, and still stigmatized, was at least possible – if you had enough time and enough money – or enough moxie to carry you through.

The “Reno cure” could be thought of as the hidden shadow behind the post-war late 1940s and the 1950s – that era of supposed normalcy and happy nuclear families – between the war years and the swinging 60s. Not all marriages were happy, and not all women were thrilled to give up the jobs and the freedom that they’d experienced during the war.

But this isn’t exactly that story either, although it is the same era, and probably owes inspiration to those circumstances. Or, the Reno Cure itself is the product of those circumstances.

Frannie and Vi, middle-aged best friends from San Francisco, have come to Reno to get divorced from their cheating husbands. It seems as though they have finally both had enough, and that their well-to-do husbands are more than willing to pay for their six-week stay in Reno so that they can get divorced and live happily-ever-after, with other people.

Or that’s what the husbands’ want, and the wives have finally acquiesced.

Along the way, Frannie and Vi rescue young June Samples and her little daughter Patty, on their own way to Reno to endure those same six weeks at the cheapest and most down-at-heel hotel June could find, in the hopes that June can stay hidden long enough to get her own divorce.

The three women, a generation apart, bond together over their shared and secret truths. None of which turn out to be quite what the others thought as their journey began.

But in the end, they are all the better for it – no matter where that future leads them.

Escape Rating B+: The “lies in white dresses” that the title refers to are all those dreams that little girls have about so-called “perfect” weddings, a dream that is force-fed to those girls long before they are old enough to understand that their “dream” wedding is not the important part.

It’s a lesson that we’re still learning.

In their own ways, Frannie, Vi and June each bought into that “lie”, only to have discovered that they hadn’t looked nearly carefully enough at the hazy figure putting the ring on their fingers before it was far too late. Or is it?

June’s husband is an abuser. Frannie’s husband is gay – not that Frannie didn’t know. Vi’s is a narcissist who is constitutionally incapable of keeping his pants zipped.

June wants to be safe. Frannie wants to be free. And Vi wants it to be over.

In the wake of that “over” she gives her friends, both new and old, the gift of a fresh start. If they can manage to reach out and grasp it.

What makes this story work is the slow reveal, not of the secrets which are mostly obvious fairly early on – although Vi’s is a doozy that remains hidden the longest, and appropriately so. It works because we witness the events in the wake of Vi’s departure, and watch as her friends, her family, and their families move forward together, drawing closer ties between them every step of the way.

The story switches first-person perspective through every one of its major players, from the three women at its center, to the woman who plans to take Vi’s place, both her adult children and Frannie’s, and the hidden witness to the whole drama, the young wannabe detective whose mother runs the divorce ranch.

They all have their own secrets, they all tell their own lies, and they are all trying to make their way as best they can. Readers will identify and empathize with them each differently, depending on where we are and our experiencea in relation to theirs. I’ll admit that I found the pre-teen “Nancy Drew” crossed the line between precocious and “too precious”, and not in a good way. At the same time, the way that she redeemed herself at the end was a terrific moment.

In the end Lies in White Satin is a surprisingly involving story about just how supportive and empowering true women’s friendship can be. I do not envy them the times they lived in or the circumstances in which they found themselves, but the depth of their love for each other was wonderful to read.

P.S. One of last week’s books gave me a terrible earworm, as its title was a popular song in the 1980s. Lies in White Dresses also gave me an earworm, as its title scans exactly like Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues, a song I remember being popular in the 1970s. The lyrics also fit in a peculiar way. But now both songs are endlessly repeating in my poor head!

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Guest Review: H2O by Irving Belateche

Guest Review: H2O by Irving BelatecheH2O by Irving Belateche
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, thriller
Pages: 198
Published by Laurel Canyon Press on November 8, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

Roy Walker is curious. But in a world where knowledge has disappeared, curiosity will get you killed.

Generations ago, the Passim Virus wiped out most of humanity. The survivors banded together to form the Territory and, now, decades later, no one questions why knowledge has disappeared. Why should they? They're lucky to be alive.

But Roy doesn't feel so lucky. He's haunted by the murder of his father and he's ostracized by everyone in town. He asks way too many questions, especially about the water pumped out by the town's desalination plant.

Then Roy finds a tantalizing clue that leads him down the coast of what used to be the state of Oregon. He's stunned at what he discovers. Everything in the Territory is a lie and everything around him is a front. But to uncover the dark secret behind this front, Roy must venture deeper into the wilderness where marauders and the deadly Passim Virus wait to kill.

It's there, outside the Territory, where he discovers the truth about his father's murder and where he meets his unexpected destiny -- To free humanity from the bondage of a powerful enemy.

Guest review by Amy:

Curiosity killed the cat, the old saying goes, though Roy Walker probably never has known that, since quite a lot of the vast body of human knowledge has been lost. Once the Passim Virus wiped out vast swaths of humanity, the survivors didn’t have time to… wait.

They didn’t have time to keep up a lot of the tools and technology that actually would have made surviving easier? Something doesn’t add up here.

Escape Rating: B+: I’m normally excited about post-apocalyptic adventure/thrillers; to me, it’s interesting to see how the author constructs their world. Does it look kind of like ours? What technologies develop in the ad hoc world after whatever-it-was-that-happened? What technology and culture falls by the wayside? Action, adventure, romance, all those things being in there are all a big plus to the central theme of “modern” humans trying to survive.

Author Irving Belateche has given us a slice of our own world, on the US West Coast, and quite a lot of it looks familiar. Houses, people, vehicles, even the desalination plant that our protagonist maintains, all look more-or-less normal. There are just lots of empty houses, and no one knows, really, what’s outside “the Territory,” and everyone’s scared to find out, because of the Virus.

To me, right from that point, this story has a problem for me. Humankind likes to connect, to explore, to get out there in the wild blue yonder and find things out. It’s what we do, and it’s made us the apex life form on this planet over the last several thousand years, and even gotten us into space.

To see a huge area of the United States cut itself off and be content with that strikes me as odd, right out of the gate. And a question in my mind from the get-go was “what happened to the libraries?” There are quite a few great big ‘uns along the Washington-Oregon-California coast; surely someone would have thought to go look for a computer repair manual in one of them? Or a copy of Programming Perl? Instead, we’re led to believe that writing software and maintaining computers are some magical voodoo that few can do–and, indeed, people are punished for doing so. As a software developer on my day job, and having worked with developers for thirty years, I’m just not buying this. Life, and software, always finds a way, to borrow loosely from Jurassic Park, but Belateche somehow wants us to believe that that’s not the case. Humanity’s vast banks of knowledge – libraries – are thoroughly ignored, not even mentioned once in the book.

I’ll let that go, for a moment, and suspend the big disbelief that threw me off-kilter here. The story itself has a lot of interesting points. There’s the worry about catching the Virus, the traveling without the “Fibs” (law enforcement) finding them, even a whiff of what could have eventually turned into some kind of love interest. Roy Walker is curious where all the water goes, naturally, since he maintains the water plant, and he knows it makes more than his local community could be using. That drives him to do something he shouldn’t (“finally! Someone acting like a real human,” Amy says to herself) and he goes to find out where all the water is going. At first, he thinks it’s corruption or some other criminal activity, but of course we’re given a deeper reason, and that is, in fact, why the Virus happened in the first place. There’s a decent adventure story under the hood here, and once Roy figures out what’s really going on, a straightforward redeem-humanity plot emerges from the earlier confusion. Our accidental hero is quite heroic, our villain suitably nasty, and the final confrontation satisfying.

Other people have liked this book a lot more than I did, from the reviews. My problem, as I noted above, is that it required a little more suspension of disbelief a little more than I was willing to give it. If that doesn’t present a problem for you, and you like post-apocalyptic stories, this one might be one you’d enjoy. It wasn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t a stinker, either.

Review: Defender by Anna Hackett

Review: Defender by Anna HackettDefender (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #2
Pages: 211
Published by Anna Hackett on August 18, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Rescued from alien slavers, the only place she feels safe is in the brawny arms of a big, gruff cyborg.

Astrophysicist Dr. Jayna Lennox’s life imploded the day her ship was attacked by aliens. Through months of captivity, she’s survived by shutting down and not feeling. Then she’s freed by the House of Rone cyborgs and finds herself in the arms of huge, tough Mace. Struggling to heal, Mace is the only thing that makes her feel safe. The only person who makes her feel like she isn’t broken. But there are more of her crew members imprisoned in Carthago’s desert, and Jayna will have to delve into her darkest memories to help save them.

Born to fight and bred for rage, Mace barely survived his gang-ridden homeworld. Thanks to Imperator Magnus Rone, he’s found a place at the House of Rone. Unlike the other cyborgs, he feels, but only anger and annoyance. When a small, wounded human woman works her way under his skin, Mace finds himself feeling things he’s never felt before…along with a powerful need to keep her safe.

Jayna vows to help find her fellow humans, even if it means revisiting her nightmares and being part of a dangerous mission into the desert. But as the passion between her and Mace explodes, she finds herself with two battles on her hands: the battle to free the humans from their captors, and the war to win Mace’s scarred heart.

My Review:

When it seemed like the Galactic Gladiators series was coming to an end, back with Imperator, I said that this was a series that could potentially go on forever. By the end of Imperator, all of the human refugees that were kidnapped through the temporary wormhole had been rescued from the Thraxian slavers, and the slavers, or at least that group of them, had been broken.

But that didn’t mean that there couldn’t have been other groups of humans kidnapped from Jupiter Station or the surrounding space that had also been kidnapped, whether by the Thraxians or by some other group of evil, space-vacuum-sucking scum.

And so it proves with the House of Rone spinoff of the Galactic Gladiators series, beginning with Sentinel and now followed by Defender.

Cyborg romance is one of the more interesting, and potentially challenging, spinoffs of science fiction romance. The House of Rone is a gladiatorial house on Kor Magna, founded by the cyborgs that their imperator, Magnus, rescued from the experimental program that produced him and his inner circle of trusted operators.

(BTW, Magnus found his own HEA in Cyborg with one of those rescued from Jupiter Station.)

One of those challenges when it comes to cyborg romance is in the way that cyborgs can embody the tough, supposedly unfeeling alpha male stereotype – and the ways that they subvert that stereotype – and their own programming.

The cyborgs produced by the program that Magnus and his friends Jaxon (Sentinel), Acton and this story’s own hero, Mace, escaped were programmed not to have emotions. In fact, one of the factors that forced them to escape was that their programming was either failing or imperfect – and that they felt at least some emotions in spite of it – to varying degrees. With Jaxon (hero of Sentinel) having the most and Acton (clearly intended as the hero of the next book in the series) having the least.

Mace seems to fall in the middle of that emotional spectrum, which seems fitting as his cyborg enhancements, just like his emotions, are hidden on the inside.

He doesn’t expect to feel anything for Jayna, the human woman he helped to rescue from the Edull. (The Edull seem like much, much nastier and disgusting cousins of the Jawa traders in the first Star Wars movie – the ones who captured C3PO and R2-D2 at the beginning of the film.)

But of course she just gets under his skin. And very much vice versa.

As is the case with many of the books in both the House of Rone and the Galactic Gladiators series that spawned it, these two people with scars on both the outside and the inside discover that they make each other strong in their broken places.

And that even a cyborg who isn’t supposed to feel anything at all is capable of falling in love – even if it takes someone from halfway across the galaxy to help him finally figure it out.

Escape Rating B+: As is often the case with this author’s series, there is both an individual romance in this short novel and progress on an overarching story for the series.

In Defender, the romance is between Mace and Jayna, a cyborg defender – hence the title – and the woman he comes to defend – and love.

The story is both Jayna’s journey of healing after being captured, enslaved and experimented upon, and Mace’s journey to become more than just a battle-scarred warrior with some serious anger-management issues.

That they have to grope towards a relationship before they get to seriously groping each other is part of the journey – and part of the fun.

At the same time, Defender also links to the previous books in the combined series and provides hints of where the story goes from here. While it isn’t necessary to read the whole series to enjoy this entry in it, reading a couple, particularly Gladiator (the original kickoff) and Cyborg (Magnus Rone’s own story) should provide enough background to get the worldbuilding. But the series as a whole is a whole lot of fun, so why wouldn’t you read the whole thing?

The overarching story for the House of Rone revolves around the search for survivors from the ship Helios, the supply ship that was operating near Jupiter Station when the wormhole opened. That search has led the allied forces of the House of Galen and the House of Rone to the Edull, a race of sand-sucking tinkers, engineers and scientists who usually spend their time salvaging mechanical scrap. They do, however, keep slaves, which is how they seem to have acquired the Helios survivors. The Edull seem to find the humans interesting – to the point of buying them to experiment on. Jayna was rescued, but there are more humans hidden in the Edull’s secret capital city – and it’s the mission of this series to find that city and rescue all of them.

I can’t wait to see them finally succeed!

Review: Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest + Giveaway

Review: Bursts of Fire by Susan Forest + GiveawayBursts of Fire (Addicted to Heaven, #1) by Susan Forest
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: coming of age, epic fantasy
Series: Addicted to Heaven #1
Pages: 394
Published by Laksa Media Groups Inc. on August 6, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To survive. To fight. To restore balance.

The Falkyn sisters bear a burden and a legacy. Their mother, the imperial magiel of the kingdom of Orumon, protects her people from the horrors of the afterlife by calling upon the Gods with a precious Prayer Stone. But war among the kingdoms has brought fire and destruction to their sheltered world. When a mad king's desire to destroy the Prayer Stones shatters their family, the three girls are scattered to the wilderness, relying on their wits and powers they don't yet master.

Assassin. Battle tactician. Magic wielder. Driven by different ambitions, Meg, Janat, and Rennika are destined to become all these and more. To reclaim their birth right, they must overcome doubtful loyalties within a rising rebellion; more, they must challenge a dogma-driven chancellor's influence on the prince raised to inherit his father's war: a prince struggling to unravel the mystery of his brother's addiction to Heaven.

My Review:

I signed up for this tour because, well, epic fantasy has always been one of my loves, and this book looked interesting. I’ll admit that the series title, Addicted to Heaven, gave me more than a bit of pause, but as it turns out, the heaven that people are addicted to is nothing like contemporary Western versions of heaven.

Bursts of Fire is very much a part of the epic fantasy tradition. There were times, in fact, when it felt like specific epic fantasies. But it does such a good job of exploring both its new facets and riffing on the stories from which it sprang that it made for a darn good read.

And I was on an airplane and this book was next in my queue. Bursts of Fire turned out to be a terrific book to transition from Worldcon back to “real life” as I traveled from a place where everyone was talking about SF and Fantasy and back to the so-called real world where those discussions are not quite so commonplace.

The story of Bursts of Fire begins in the way that quite a few epic fantasies begin – where the kingdom is under siege and the heir to the throne gets smuggled out of town ahead of the rampaging horde.

And that’s where the differences begin.

The heir isn’t the heir to the throne. And the heir isn’t an heir. Instead, the heiresses to the king’s magical advisor, all three of them, sneak out of the capital with the help of their nanny. Who they still need, as the oldest girl is 17 and the youngest is 11. And none of them have the remotest clue about how to manage on their own – or how to manage period without people waiting on them hand and foot.

They’ll have to figure it out – and somehow manage to grow up, in the midst of a civil war where they are being hunted by both sides. The forces of the usurper believe that all magic is evil – and the rebels just want to use them for their powers.

Powers that they mostly aren’t trained to use. They’re alone, desperate, and on the run. But at least they have each other. Until they don’t.

Whether they can figure out the right course to save themselves, save each other, and save the people that they feel responsible for, is a race against desperation and despair.

And just when they think they might have a chance to right at least a few of the wrongs – they discover just how bad things really, really are.

Escape Rating B+: Bursts of Fire turned out to be a terrific airplane book. Anything that can keep me distracted for 3-4 hours of an 8 hour flight is very much appreciated. And this certainly did.

As has been a relatively recent but also extremely welcome trend in epic fantasy, Bursts of Fire is a heroine’s journey rather than a hero’s journey. Or in this particular case, three heroines’ journeys. At the same time, the story begins on a familiar note, as the chosen one – or in this case chosen ones – are thrown from their original setting to make lives for themselves, and oh-by-the-way save the world.

Part of what does make this a bit different is that there is no mentor character to provide guidance – or for them to rely upon. They lose Nanny almost immediately. She was the one their mother gave the plan to, so the girls are on their own, lost and desperate.

Also very, very young and completely out of their depth. Only the oldest, Meg, has a real clue about just how bad things are and just how much things have changed for them. Little Rennika is too young to understand, and middle-sister Janat is too self-absorbed.

Janat is a character that I never warmed up to, and her self-absorption and unwillingness to grasp their situation continues throughout the story, making this reader grateful that the relatively mature Meg is the primary point of view character.

Meg understands the stakes earliest. Rennika is young enough to adapt. Janat is a problem from beginning to end, a problem that it looks like is only going to get worse.

What’s gone wrong with the kingdom did not make much sense at first. The reader is dropped into the middle of the story, just as the girls escape – and no one seems to know why their ally has suddenly attacked. As the story progresses, it becomes clear – for select definitions of clear – that no one really does know why he went off the rails. They just see the effects – and those effects are gruesome.

War is hell, and civil war is particularly hellish. The rebels want peace and they want to go back to the way things were – as much as is possible after two years of war. The girls, who have become young women fired – or broken – in the crucible of that war want to save as many people as possible, want to reverse the sudden upwelling of prejudice against magic users fostered by the usurper and his advisors, and want to take up the purpose that their family has always undertaken – to visit heaven and intercede with the gods on their people’s behalf.

The magic system of this world is fascinating and different, and their gods are real and act upon their world in ways that can be seen and measured if not countered. The primary manifestation of that magic is the magic users’ uncontrolled shifting through time. Magic has a price, and becoming unmoored from the time you are living is part of that cost.

The glimpses that all three sisters receive of their past, present and future are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes heartening, and always confusing. It is as much of a curse as a gift, but their ability to intercede with the gods is both powerful and necessary in this cosmos.

That the usurper is determined to break that connection powers his mad campaign against his former allies – and the reasons for that determination are shattering for the kingdom, the reader, and his heir.

That the heroines are all very young leaves this book, and presumably the series it begins, balanced on the knife edge between young adult and adult fantasy.  The protagonists may be young adults, but the situations in which they find themselves feel adult in their consequences.

In the end of Bursts of Fire, we, and the characters, know more about the reasons for the fractured state of their world, but are no closer to a resolution. This is a story about a world that is broken – and it is not made whole by the end. There must be future books in this series, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

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

I am giving away a copy of Bursts of Fire to one very lucky US/CAN commenter!

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TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare + Giveaway

Review: The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare + GiveawayThe Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3) by Tessa Dare
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Girl Meets Duke #3
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on August 13, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


To an undaunted wallflower, he's just the beast next door.

Wealthy and ruthless, Gabriel Duke clawed his way from the lowliest slums to the pinnacle of high society—and now he wants to get even.

Loyal and passionate, Lady Penelope Campion never met a lost or wounded creature she wouldn’t take into her home and her heart.

When her imposing—and attractive—new neighbor demands she clear out the rescued animals, Penny sets him a challenge. She will part with her precious charges, if he can find them loving homes.

Done, Gabriel says. How hard can it be to find homes for a few kittens?

And a two-legged dog.

And a foul-mouthed parrot.

And a goat, an otter, a hedgehog . . .

Easier said than done, for a cold-blooded bastard who wouldn’t know a loving home from a workhouse. Soon he’s covered in cat hair, knee-deep in adorable, and bewitched by a shyly pretty spinster who defies his every attempt to resist. Now she’s set her mind and heart on saving him.

Not if he ruins her first.

My Review:

In the spirit of, “If you give a mouse a cookie…” If you smuggle a hedgehog into a ballroom, you end up with a parrot as the Greek chorus for your romance.

To be fair to the mouse – not to mention the hedgehog and the parrot – in the case of The Wallflower Wager it’s a very good cookie!

The Wallflower Wager is the third book in the Girl Meets Duke series as well as a slightly different twist on the assumptions that the reader is led into by the series title.

While I haven’t read the first two books, The Duchess Deal and The Governess Game (which didn’t affect my enjoyment of The Wallflower Wager in the slightest), they are what the series title leads the reader to believe, that a girl meets an actual Duke, they fall in love in spite of society and whatever else stands in their way, and reach a blissful HEA.

Lady Penelope Campion does meet a Duke, but he’s not a Duke. Mr. Gabriel Duke may be both rich and infamous, but while he holds the sobriquet of the Duke of Ruin, at least according to the scandal sheets, he isn’t part of the aristocracy at all.

Even though he holds entirely too many of their “vowels” – those vowels being I, O and U.

His most recent acquisition through ruination is the house next door to Penny’s. And she’s part of his financial equation. Which gives her more cards in the game than she currently feels that she possesses.

The house he has acquired, while not a wreck, needs a heck of a lot of work, as its previous owners descended well into genteel poverty before he bought up all their outstanding debts – and called them in.

His plan is to renovate the house and sell it at a considerable profit. The presence of an actual Lady, an Earl’s spinster daughter, next door is sure to increase the value of the address.

Until he sees Penny walking her goat in the square. A goat, along with the rest of her considerable menagerie, will downgrade the value of the property, and the Duke of Ruin isn’t having that.

What he wants to have is Penny. As close as possible. Perhaps with a fewer animal companions – at least in bed. Or in labor. Or sneezing bovine sneezes at him.

Will Penny give in to his charms – or will he give in to hers? Or will they both admit that what they really want is exactly what that parrot has been asking all along?

Escape Rating B+: The Wallflower Wager is a delightfully frothy romp from beginning to end, with just enough bitter mixed into the confection to make the treat really, really sweet.

Lady Penelope Campion is the wallflower of the title, and in spite of all of Gabriel’s plans, this is her story. She begins as more than a bit of a misfit, keeping a menagerie of hard-luck animals in her London house.

But it isn’t really her house. Even at 26, she isn’t in control of her own life or her own fortune. Her brother can, and does, order her around. His current order is that she give up all her animals and move back to their country house. A prospect that she absolutely dreads, and with good reason.

Her only chance is to prove to the satisfaction of both her brother and her aunt that she is benefiting from being in town. By their definition of benefit – meaning that she is part of society as she is (literally) entitled to be and has prospects for marriage.

That’s where Gabriel comes in. He needs her to stay in the city, so he can use her presence as a selling point for the house. She needs his help in reducing her animal population by finding them good homes – and getting her into the society columns enough to keep her relatives at bay.

It’s a bargain. A bargain that will provide her with no small amount of embarrassment, but will protect her from the worst of her fears. A bargain that will put them into each other’s company entirely too much. A bargain which frightens her friends (along with Gabriel’s well-deserved reputation) but delights Penny.

What adds just enough of that bitter to the sweet of this story is the way that they work to overcome their own self-doubts and let go of the fears that hold them back – not just from each other – but from experiencing life to its fullest.

Gabriel can’t manage to silence the voice of the guttersnipe that he used to be. He knows that society doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of Penny, or honestly of the slightest consideration that his money can’t buy. And he believes that voice.

Penny’s trust was stolen – make that groomed away – when she was a child. She doesn’t believe that she’s lovable or salvageable because society has taught her that her innocence is all that she is valued for. An innocence she no longer has.

Discovering that they deserve each other, and the happiness that they can have together, makes this book special – and fun. That certain bastards get everything that’s coming to them is icing on this very sweet and tasty cake of a story.

This is one of those romances where nobody’s perfect, but they discover that they are just perfect for each other. And this book is just perfect for those days when the darkness of real life gets too deep and you really, really need to mix in a bit of bubbly froth to help you see the bright side of everything.

Or just listen to that parrot.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Wallflower Wager to one very lucky US/CAN winner. You’ll get to find out what the parrot says!

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Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + Giveaway

Review: Forgotten Bones by Vivian Barz + GiveawayForgotten Bones by Vivian Barz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Dead Remaining #1
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas & Mercer on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely pair teams up to investigate a brutal murder in a haunting thriller that walks the line between reality and impossibility.

When small-town police officers discover the grave of a young boy, they’re quick to pin the crime on a convicted felon who lives nearby. But when it comes to murder, Officer Susan Marlan never trusts a simple explanation, so she’s just getting started.

Meanwhile, college professor Eric Evans hallucinates a young boy in overalls: a symptom of his schizophrenia—or so he thinks. But when more bodies turn up, Eric has more visions, and they mirror details of the murder case. As the investigation continues, the police stick with their original conclusion, but Susan’s instincts tell her something is off. The higher-ups keep stonewalling her, and the FBI’s closing in.

Desperate for answers, Susan goes rogue and turns to Eric for help. Together they take an unorthodox approach to the case as the evidence keeps getting stranger. With Eric’s hallucinations intensifying and the body count rising, can the pair separate truth from illusion long enough to catch a monster?

My Review:

Forgotten Bones is definitely not a book to be read with the lights off. Or alone in the middle of the night. Or anyplace where it can feel like the creepy-crawlies might be closing in.

This one sits at the intersection between mystery/thriller, horror and paranormal – and that’s not a comfortable place to be in the dark. It’s a fascinating place, in the thrills and chills kind of way, but not exactly comfy or cozy.

A place to get really, really to get sucked into – but absolutely not cozy. Unless you like to cozy up to claustrophobia.

There are two protagonists in this story. One seems fairly typical for the genre, but the other is definitely not. And that’s part of what makes the story so fascinating.

Perrick, California is a small town, and Susan Marlan is a member of its equally small police force. She’s relatively young, still pretty gung-ho about policing and crime solving, and kind of stuck.

Not that she can’t leave, but that the police chief is also her mentor – and he’s just weeks shy of retirement. There might be promotions in the inevitable shuffling in the wake of his departure. And Perrick is her home.

We’ve seen Susan’s type before in plenty of mysteries. She’s the young investigator who just can’t let go when a big crime – with its attendant opportunities for recognition and promotion – drops into her lap. So of course she goes out on her own, against orders and definitely off the books, to try to solve the case before the FBI. Or perhaps in spite of the FBI, as she’s sure the neat and tidy solution they finally come up with isn’t all there is.

And there needs to be plenty. Because the crime that has been uncovered under the soil of tiny Perrick becomes known as the “Death Farm”. Twenty-plus bodies have been hiding under a local farm, bodies going back decades. All – but one – children. Young children. Decades of dead little boys and girls.

Susan feels compelled to find the killers – because the FBI find one but not his partner.

Eric Evans is compelled too, but he’s compelled by the dead. He’s just arrived in Perrick to teach at the local community college after his life derails in Philly.

Eric is extremely lucky that he couldn’t possibly have been the perpetrator or any of the murders, because if he were he would have been the FBI’s best suspect. Eric was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago. He manages his condition with medication, and he’s mostly successful. He’s high functioning, to the point of being a good teacher, a decent drummer and completely capable of forming friendships and relationships and making a good life for himself.

But something about Perrick is sending him off the rails, or so it seems at first. The dead invade his dreams – and his waking life. The dead children from that farm. When he can’t pretend that the visions are just dreams, he tries to believe that they are just a symptom of his illness.

In the end, he teams up with Susan. She’s compelled to find the truth. He’s compelled to bring that truth to light to get those children out of his head, his house and even his classroom before someone decides that he’s even crazier than he actually is.

Or someone decides that Susan and Eric need to be the final victims.

Escape Rating B+: The crime in this story, the multi-year, multi-victim murder spree, is not unprecedented. There have been real-life cases where “death farms” have been discovered, to the nightmares of investigators and local residents alike, after an event uncovers one or a few of the bodies.

(I’m particularly thinking of the case of Belle Gunness in LaPorte County Indiana, which is indelibly imprinted on my brain. I was attending a dinner meeting and the post-dinner speaker gave the assembled – and rather startled – diners a fascinating but stomach-churning talk about her murder spree and discovery – complete with pictures. And I’m finding myself wondering what the post-lecture bar tab turned out to be…)

Susan Marlan is not an atypical investigator in a case – or story – like this one. The young cop going a bit rogue because she (or he) knows that the powers-that-be – the FBI in this case – are willingly overlooking something because it interferes with their neat theory. And because they want to go back to their big city home office and get out of tiny wherever.

And because someone local misdirects the out-of-towners for usually underhanded reasons of their own – as happens in this case. That the reader has a handle on who the perpetrators are long before the FBI – and even somewhat before Susan – does not detract from the compelling readability of the story.

Because this is a case where Susan’s actions and reactions in the face of that discovery are more important than the discovery itself.

What makes this tale rise above its stock characters is Eric Evans. The story does not fall into the trap of making Eric an obvious suspect so that he has to find the killer to get himself out of the frame. That would have been an easy way to go, and the story is much better for not going there.

It also feels like it treats his mental illness sympathetically and realistically – as well as his reactions to it and people’s reactions to him. That Susan is able to accept both his help and him is what powers this book into the opener of what could be a fascinating series. Hidden Bones will come to light this time next year. I’ll be looking for it when I want some creepy chills to go along with my mystery thrills.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Forgotten Bones to one lucky US/CAN commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway