Grade A #BookReview: Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge

Grade A #BookReview: Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen CambridgeMastering the Art of French Murder (An American In Paris, #1) by Colleen Cambridge
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: culinary mystery, foodie fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: American in Paris Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Kensington on April 25, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Marie Benedict, Nita Prose, and of course, Julia Child, will adore this magnifique new mystery set in Paris and starring Julia Child’s (fictional) best friend, confidante, and fellow American. From the acclaimed author of Murder at Mallowan Hall , this delightful new book provides a fresh perspective on the iconic chef’s years in post-WWII Paris.
“Enchanting…Cambridge captures Child’s distinct voice and energy so perfectly. Expect to leave this vacation hoping for a return trip.” – Publishers Weekly
As Paris rediscovers its joie de vivre, Tabitha Knight, recently arrived from Detroit for an extended stay with her French grandfather, is on her own journey of discovery. Paris isn’t just the City of Light; it’s the city of history, romance, stunning architecture . . . and food. Thanks to her neighbor and friend Julia Child, another ex-pat who’s fallen head over heels for Paris, Tabitha is learning how to cook for her Grandpère and Oncle Rafe.
Between tutoring Americans in French, visiting the market, and eagerly sampling the results of Julia’s studies at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, Tabitha’s sojourn is proving thoroughly delightful. That is, until the cold December day they return to Julia’s building and learn that a body has been found in the cellar. Tabitha recognizes the victim as a woman she’d met only the night before, at a party given by Julia’s sister, Dort. The murder weapon found nearby is recognizable too—a knife from Julia’s kitchen.
Tabitha is eager to help the investigation, but is shocked when Inspector Merveille reveals that a note, in Tabitha’s handwriting, was found in the dead woman’s pocket. Is this murder a case of international intrigue, or something far more personal? From the shadows of the Tour Eiffel at midnight, to the tiny third-floor Child kitchen, to the grungy streets of Montmartre, Tabitha navigates through the city hoping to find the real killer before she or one of her friends ends up in prison . . . or worse.
“Part historical fiction, part mystery, Mastering the Art of French Murder is totally delectable entertainment.” – The Washington Post
“Certain to appeal to a broad readership, especially fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen, and Cambridge’s own Phyllida Bright series.” –First Clue, STARRED REVIEW

My Review:

‘Drama is very important in life: You have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper. Everything can have drama if it’s done right. Even a pancake.” So said the real Julia Child, whose larger-than-life fictional persona has barged into the life of her neighbor in Paris, fellow expat Tabitha Knight, just a few months before a murder in Julia’s building bangs into both of their lives.

It’s the murder of a very recent guest in the apartment shared by Julia, her husband Paul Child, her sister Dorothy (Dort) McWilliams on the “Roo de Loo” as Julia called it. A murder committed with one of Julia’s distinctive chef’s knives, making Julia, at least initially, the prime suspect in this tragedy.

But Julia is not the amateur sleuth – she was too busy with what became her lifelong obsession, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” as evidenced by the title of her first cookbook.

The amateur sleuthing is left to Tabitha Knight, a former “Rosie the Riveter” living across the street with her elderly French grandfather and her honorary “oncle”, his equally elderly best friend (and probably lover).

Tabitha and Julia have already bonded over their shared infatuation with French food and French cooking – the difference being that Julia is already extremely capable at that art while Tabitha is lucky not to burn or otherwise ruin the meals she attempts to make for her elderly ‘messieurs’ and their two spoiled pets, Oscar Wilde the tiny papillon dog and Madame X the slinky cat.

But the murder isn’t merely a curiosity for either of the women. The victim died just after leaving a party in Julia’s apartment, a guest of Julia’s sister Dort, killed by one of Julia’s knives. Tabitha rode down in the elevator with the woman, and was the last to speak with her other than her killer.

The police, in the steely-eyed persona of Inspecteur Merveille, seem convinced that either Julia or Tabitha committed the foul deed. Or so it seems to Tabitha, who grew up on a steady reading diet of Nancy Drew and other mystery stories as well as her police detective father brought home. Julia is just certain – and Julia was always certain if she was anything at all – that Tabitha will be able to solve the murder ahead of the police – and pushes her into trying.

Not that it takes much arm twisting to get Tabitha on the case. A case that leads from one murder, to a second, and a third – and even a first before the one that dragged Tabitha and Julia into the mess. A mess that, surprising to everyone but the two old men yearning for Julia’s cooking rather than Tabitha’s, leads back to the war late war in which they all, in their own way, served.

And the colder war that has just begun.

Escape Rating A: First, and most important, this was an absolutely charming, utterly lovely read as well as a captivating mystery. The way that evokes post-World War II Paris, just as the lights came back on in the City of Light draws the reader and keeps them mesmerized every step of Tabitha’s way.

And I could hear Julia Child’s voice in my head in every single bit of her dialog. She was such an iconic figure in the 60s and 70s, and so ubiquitous in seemingly EVERY promo that PBS broadcast during those decades, that even though I never watched any of her programs I STILL heard her distinctive voice every single time she barged into a scene. The character as fictionalized sounded and behaved very much as at least her public persona did and swept the reader along in her wake.

But Julia was not the star of this show, no matter how often she seemed to hold center stage in any individual scene. That honor – even if she didn’t always see it as an honor – was reserved for Julia’s fictional friend and neighbor, Tabitha Knight.

And Tabitha turned out to be a terrific point-of-view character for this story. She’s impish, impulsive and intelligent, and can’t resist being the fool who rushes into a crime scene where police have barred the way and angels rightfully fear to tread.

As much as the blurbs for this book invoke Jacqueline Winspear and her Maisie Dobbs, the character that Tabitha reminds this reader of is Mabel Canning in her first outing, A Body on the Doorstep. Both Tabitha and Mabel’s stories are set just after the ending of a World War, although not the same war, at a point where their worlds are changing and new possibilities are opening up even as others close down. Both young women choose to uproot themselves from the familiar and chart a new course for their lives, and are still in the exploratory stage of that new life and new opportunities.

And both have a fortunate knack – one that often seems unfortunate as it occurs – of tripping over murder victims and being unable to resist poking their own noses into investigations that should be left to the police.

At the same time, Tabitha’s post-war Paris is a place that, if given the opportunity at the right time, It’s almost impossible not to imagine taking that opportunity and running with it to a new life in a storied city just as it is coming back into its own after the darkness of war.

The secondary characters introduced in this first book do an excellent job of drawing the reader into and filling out the corners or Tabitha’s Paris, from her charming, elderly messieurs, their equally idiosyncratic pets, the even more idiosyncratic members of the Child household, to the implacable, unreadable Inspecteur Étienne Merveille, who looks like he will become both a thorn in Tabitha’s side – and vice versa – in the books ahead.

If not, perhaps, something more.

And then there’s Julia Child herself, much too boisterous to ever be considered merely a secondary character and certainly not a sidekick, who draws readers in with her true-to-life mannerism, her real, documented history working for the OSS in the war, and her larger-than-life presence on so many wonderful pages of this story.

The alchemy of all of the above makes this reader so very glad that a second book in this An American in Paris series, A Murder Most French, will be coming out in April. I’m anticipating its arrival with nearly as much pleasure as Tabitha’s messieurs look forward to their next delicious repast from the kitchen of Madame Child.

It’s impossible to leave this story behind without one final word from that famous chef. Fortunately for the fictional Julia Child, this quote postdates her post-War years by a considerable margin. If this had been attributed to her at the time, Tabitha might have had considerably more difficulty convincing the Inspecteur that Julia was not guilty of the murder.

According to Julia Child, “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded, and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.”

TLC

TLC tour schedule:

Monday, February 19th: @books_old_and_new

Tuesday, February 20th: @diveintoagoodbook

Tuesday, February 20th: @suethebookie

Wednesday, February 21st: @mrsj_readsbooks

Wednesday, February 21st: @dianas_books_cars_coffee

Thursday, February 22nd: @abookwormwithwine

Thursday, February 22nd: @amys_book_addiction

Friday, February 23rd: @bookapotamus

Friday, February 23rd: @bookgirlbrown_reviews

Saturday, February 24th: @nissa_the.bookworm

Sunday, February 25th: @pineshorelittlefreelibrary

Monday, February 26th: @donasbooks

Tuesday, February 27th: Reading Reality and @reading_reality

Wednesday, February 28th: @the.caffeinated.reader

Thursday, February 29th: @aneedleinmybookstack

Friday, March 1st: @oilycaffeinatedmama

Friday, March 1st: @whatkarinareads

Saturday, March 2nd: @cmtloveswineandbooks

Saturday, March 2nd: @ablueboxfullofbooks

Sunday, March 3rd: @lyon.brit.andthebookshelf

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux

#AudioBookReview: Glory Be by Danielle ArceneauxGlory Be (Glory Broussard Mystery, #1) by Danielle Arceneaux
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Format: audiobook
Source: supplied by the publisher via Spotify
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Glory Broussard Mystery #1
Pages: 272
Length: 8 hours and 47 minutes
Published by Pegasus Crime, Spotify on October 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The first in a vivid and charming crime series set in the Louisiana bayou, introducing the hilariously uncensored amateur sleuth Glory Broussard. Perfect for fans of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club.
It’s a hot and sticky Sunday in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Glory has settled into her usual after-church routine, meeting gamblers at the local coffee shop, where she works as a small-time bookie. Sitting at her corner table, Glory hears that her best friend—a nun beloved by the community—has been found dead in her apartment.
When police declare the mysterious death a suicide, Glory is convinced that there must be more to the story. With her reluctant daughter—who has troubles of her own—in tow, Glory launches a shadow investigation into Lafayette’s oil tycoons, church gossips, a rumored voodoo priestess, nosey neighbors, and longtime ne'er-do wells.
As a Black woman of a certain age who grew up in a segregated Louisiana, Glory is used to being minimized and overlooked. But she’s determined to make her presence known as the case leads her deep into a web of intrigue she never realized Lafayette could harbor.
Danielle Arcenaux’s riveting debut brings forth an unforgettable character that will charm and delight crime fans everywhere and leave them hungry for her next adventure.

My Review:

Like most amateur detectives, Glory Broussard begins her first investigation because it’s personal. Her best friend is dead, and the police have ruled that death a suicide. A decision that Glory refuses to believe.

Glory had known Amity Gay since they were little girls in pinafores, and for all the 60-some-odd years of their lives that followed. Glory knew Amita Gay as well as she knew herself, and her friend was looking forward to life, not running away from it.

And through bitter experience, Glory is all too aware that the police, in Louisiana and elsewhere but perhaps especially in Louisiana, discount and disregard the deaths of black people in general and black women in particular.

Because that’s the way it always has been, and in spite of changes on the surface, that’s the way it still is.

So Glory, amateur detective, professional busybody and successful bookmaker (yes, I mean gambling and not bookkeeping) does a bit of surreptitious reconnaissance in her late friend’s apartment and discovers a whole lot of paperwork about a chemical plant that the big company in Lafayette wants to construct right next to a poor black town so they can make even more money and spread more cancer – not necessarily in that order to Glory’s cynical mind.

While the police might have left the paperwork behind because it wasn’t an actual part of the crime scene, Glory knows they didn’t search at all because she found a box of fentanyl-laced lollipops in the back of Amity Gay’s closet. Something that would definitely have been found and confiscated in even a cursory search.

Which means that obviously no search was done, that the police are rushing to judgment because its easier for them – and possibly for the big company with those chemical plant plans.

Glory will just have to nose her way around Amity Gay’s old friends, Glory’s own new enemies and figure out which of the possible parties and motives is responsible for the death of her best friend.

The last thing Glory needs to add to her already overwhelming to-do list is figuring out what her daughter, a successful New York City attorney, is doing back in Lafayette, minding Glory’s business and cleaning up her house. Or, for that matter, figuring out what has the city all fired-up to condemn her house.

Or even, heaven forbid, whether or not her dearest friend, a professed Catholic nun, had been doing something unholy. Again.

Escape Rating B: Glory Broussard does not hold back. Ever. Not within the confines of her own head as she tells this story, and not out loud, either. She’s certainly an acquired taste for her friends and neighbors, and quite possibly for the reader as well.

Glory does not suffer fools, neither does she let said fool out of her sight without telling them that she thinks they are one. Sometimes in great detail. In other words, Glory is a lot, and not exactly universally beloved – or even respected.

To the point where it’s easy to understand why her daughter, successful New York City attorney Delphine, wishes she could get her mother to just shut up now and again, especially when faced with city officials who want to condemn Glory’s house. Not that Glory doesn’t get the best of that situation – along with a whole lot else – in the end.

But part of Glory’s charm, and certainly part of the charm of the story as a whole, is Glory’s bone-deep authenticity. It’s certainly not Glory’s honesty, because she doesn’t seem to have an honest bone in her body – not even in reference to herself and the depression she has sunk into over the years.

What does ring true, particularly in audio, is the relationship between Glory and Delphine, that ‘roses and thorns’ kind of love that can exist between mothers and their adult daughters. Part of both the compulsion to finish this mystery and the difficulty of doing so for this reader is that I heard the echo of every single argument I had with my own mother in the exchanges between Glory and Delphine. That roses and thorns observation was heartbreaking because it felt so very true.

But the story, the mystery, and the eventual, hard-won mutual respect that arises between mother and daughter, follows Glory’s stubborn pig-headedness from something that everyone told her should be left well enough alone to a conclusion she almost wishes she’d never uncovered.

She’s left with the realization that too many of the people she believed in have feet of clay up to the knees. And to console herself, in the end, that justice has been done, along with the new lease on life that becoming an amateur detective has brought her.

Readers, on the other hand, can console themselves with the fact that Glory will be back on the case in another mystery this coming fall!

TLC

TLC tour schedule:

Thursday, February 15th: @booksandthemes

Friday, February 16th: @naesreadingnook

Friday, February 16th: @booksandcoffeemx

Saturday, February 17th: @bookitqueen

Sunday, February 18th: @laura_cover_stories

Monday, February 19th: @idreamofthelibrary

Tuesday, February 20th: @books_and_biewers

Wednesday, February 21st: @simplyreadwithv

Thursday, February 22nd: @booksnbikram

Friday, February 23rd: Reading Reality and @reading_reality

Saturday, February 24th: @spaceonthebookcase

Saturday, February 24th: @thereadingchemist

Sunday, February 25th: @kristis_literary_corner

Monday, February 26th: @karen_runwrightreads

Monday, February 26th: @sometimesrobinreads on TikTok

Tuesday, February 27th: @paperbacksandsketchbooks

Wednesday, February 28th: @readthisandsteep

Thursday, February 29th: @djreadsbooks

#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris Yamashita

#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris YamashitaVillage in the Dark (Cara Kennedy, #2) by Iris Yamashita
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Cara Kennedy #2
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Detective Cara Kennedy thought she’d lost her husband and son in an accident, but harrowing evidence has emerged that points to murder--and she will stop at nothing to find the truth in this riveting mystery from the author of City Under One Roof.
On a frigid February day, Anchorage Detective Cara Kennedy stands by the graves of her husband and son, watching as their caskets are raised from the earth. It feels sacrilegious, but she has no choice. Aaron and Dylan disappeared on a hike a year ago, their bones eventually found and buried. But shocking clues have emerged that foul play was involved, potentially connecting them to a string of other deaths and disappearances.  Somehow tied to the mystery is Mia Upash, who grew up in an isolated village called Unity, a community of women and children in hiding from abusive men. Mia never imagined the trouble she would find herself in when she left home to live in Man’s World. Although she remains haunted by the tragedy of what happened to the man and the boy in the woods, she has her own reasons for keeping quiet. Aided by police officer Joe Barkowski and other residents of Point Mettier, Cara’s investigation will lead them on a dangerous path that puts their lives and the lives of everyone around them in mortal jeopardy.

My Review:

Just as once-and-future Anchorage PD Detective Cara Kennedy wrapped up the murder cases at Point Mettier in City Under One Roof, a monkey wrench was thrown into the case nearest and dearest to her heart. Cara has been, honestly not surprisingly, unwilling to let the case of her husband’s and her son’s deaths go, to the point where the Anchorage PD’s psych evaluation put her out on disability.

Not a good place for a detective with nothing to do but dwell on the ‘might have beens’ to be. Particularly not when a picture of her late husband, her dead son, and herself, taken just before the ill-fated trip that left her a widow, was found on the cell phone of one of the gang members responsible for the deaths in Point Mettier in that first adventure.

Making Cara in this second mystery the equivalent of a dog with a very large bone to chew on. A bone that is made just that much bigger when she has her family’s bodies exhumed and discovers that, whoever they are, and whatever the Anchorage PD told her, the bodies she buried under her husband’s and son’s names were not, in fact, the bodies of her husband and son.

Although it certainly looks like one of those bodies was the victim of murder. Adding yet more questions to the pile of unanswered ones that she already has. And not just questions about who the now unidentified bodies were, and who are the other missing, presumed dead people in that gang member’s cell phone photo roll.

Because if the two bodies she buried weren’t her own loved ones, then where the hell are her husband and her son? Are they dead by some other misadventure lost in some other remote part of the Alaskan Bush? Or are they alive and in hiding?

Or worse, does her husband have something to do with the long list of missing and presumed dead faces in that photo roll? Cara can’t rest until she finds out the truth – whether it sets her free or gets her killed. Or both, not necessarily in that order.

Escape Rating B: Part of what made City Under One Roof work so well was the claustrophobic nature of its setting. Whittier, like the city modeled after it in the story, really is a city under one roof. That a significant chunk of that first story takes place while Point Mettier is literally cut off from the rest of the world – as really does happen in Whittier – gives the story a kind of ‘locked room’ vibe, complete with time running out as the tunnel will eventually open and the bottled up suspects will have the opportunity to escape.

The story in Village in the Dark spreads itself out in both time and space, as the action shifts from Point Mettier to Mia’s temporary refuge outside Willow to Anchorage and back again. It’s also a bigger story, in that it begins with Cara’s seemingly never-ending quest to find out what really happened – or who really happened – to her husband and son but loops in one of Point Mettier’s more colorful residents, that woman’s search for the events that led to her own son’s death, and then seemingly tacks on one mysterious young woman attempting to hide in plain sight.

It’s a bigger story but it’s a whole lot less tight and taut in the way that City Under One Roof was, and that mysteries are at their best. In other words, I got lost a bit whenever we switched to young Mia’s point of view because she started out WAY out there compared to the central axis of the story. Not that she didn’t finally move to the center of things, but it certainly took a while.

In the end, it’s a story about drugs and money. About corruption and temptation and dirty deeds done dirt cheap in the service of people who will never pay the price for the deeds done in their name – even if that name is a false one hidden behind multiple go-betweens.

But the further the story spread out, the less it hung together until the rapid-fire denouement. And then it was, quite literally, gangbusters.

At the end, the story that brought Cara into this series has been resolved. Whether it will be the jumping off point for more, and less personal and more procedural investigations, is a mystery yet to be solved.

One final note, the subtext in this entry in the series is the ease with which the police dismiss missing persons cases and crimes against women, particularly, in the Alaskan setting, indigenous women. The same horrifying subtext also underlaid the suspense in last year’s The Way of the Bear by Anne Hillerman. Coincidentally, or perhaps a commentary on the pervasiveness of the issue, the book I am currently listening to, Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux, has an entirely too similar tragedy at its heart, yet again exploring and decrying the ease with which police discount and dismiss crimes against black women in that book’s Louisiana setting.

The pervasiveness of this all too real problem is considerably more chilling than the suspense in ANY mystery.

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

Spotlight + Excerpt: A Quantum Love Story by Mike ChenA Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction romance, time travel
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on January 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.

Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career— after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.

Except the strangest thing a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.

Because time is about to loop.

In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share. With everything resetting—even bank accounts—joy comes in the little a delicious (and expensive) meal, a tennis match, giving a dog his favorite treat.

In some ways, those are all that matter.

But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.

Welcome to the blog tour for A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. This is another author who I discovered through participation in a blog tour, so I’m thrilled to be back again with another book and tour. I’ve already finished A Quantum Love Story and loved it, so look forward to that review late next week. But the book is coming out TOMORROW, so here’s an excerpt from the very first chapter to whet your reading appetite for the whole, quantum tangle of this story!

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen

1
Carter Cho wasn’t really into science experiments.
Otherwise, he might have completed his degree in quantum mechanics. Cooking experiments, though? Totally different, because there was a real joy to that process. But setting a hypothesis, identifying controls, and looking for…stuff?
Seriously, that seemed like such a slog.
Except for this particular Thursday morning, on the corner of a crosswalk and standing across from the world’s biggest, most advanced particle accelerator, a science experiment felt necessary.
He didn’t really have a choice. It seemed to be the only way to possibly understand or even escape his very strange predicament.
Carter checked the time on his phone, waiting for it to tick specifically to twenty-three seconds past 8:22 a.m.
At that moment, the crosswalk light would switch, signaling for pedestrians to go.
Then everything would cascade, a waterfall of specific actions by the world around him:
The person on Carter’s right would step out first.
The person behind him would wait an extra four seconds, eyes stuck on his phone.
Annoyed, the woman next to that person would let out an exaggerated sigh, move around, then rush forward six steps into the street before catching her shoe.
Then she would stumble forward, her coffee spilling. The first time he went through this, he’d noticed the spill just in time to sidestep it before continuing on.
All of these actions sat line by line on the old-fashioned paper notebook in his hands, a checklist of what was to come with the precision delivered by his photographic memory.
Science experiments all led to a result. As for this, he wasn’t quite sure what the result, or even the purpose, might be. He already knew he was in a loop of some sort, something that started the instant he woke up on Monday mornings.
And it always ended up with the huge facility across the street exploding.
The Hawke Accelerator, both a modern marvel of technology circa 2094 and also some sort of weird top-secret project that no one really understood—now also the place that would simply go boom.
Carter should know. The first time he experienced this, he was in the accelerator chamber’s observation room, right in the heart of where the go boom happened at precisely 12:42 p.m. on Thursday. Which was today, again. Just a few hours from now.
He’d been through this six times before, each time expanding his acute understanding of the details surrounding him. Usually he wrote things down at the end of the day, a memory trick he’d
learned about himself very early on that helped cement the details into place, so even when he started the loop over without any scribbled notes to organize his thoughts, his photographic memory recalled it.
But this morning, he went in reverse, writing out the exact steps as they were meant to be.
And then he’d make sure it played out that way, bit by bit.
After that, he wasn’t sure. Carter thought of his parents, their usual voices chastising him for his lack of planning and forethought, how his teenage foray into coding and hacking was more about fun than applying himself, and now look at him, simply a technician running tests and tightening screws. Even now that he’d been through this loop several times, he hadn’t bothered to call them back from their birthday messages. Part of him used the excuse that he should stay as close to the original path as possible, but he knew better.
Even if this weird loop existence meant a complete lack of consequences, calling his parents was the last thing he wanted to do.
Carter checked his phone one more time, five seconds remaining until the crosswalk kicked off the sequence. He gripped the notebook, staring at the list of things to come.
A chime came from the crosswalk. And Carter began to move.
The person on the right moved.
The man behind Carter stayed.
An exasperated sigh came from behind him. Carter kept his eyes on his notebook, counting steps in his head. “Ack,” the woman said, right when Carter sidestepped. His focus moved down to the next item on the list, then the next, then the next, not once looking up. Instead, he executed through a combination of memory and instinct, sliding sideways when a cyclist rolled by on the sidewalk and slowing down just enough to follow in a group waiting at the front entrance of Hawke.
Someone coughed, marking a time to pause and wait thirteen seconds, enough time to review the next items on the notebook still in front of him:
Front desk hands out mobile device for the David AI digital assistant.
Security guard says something about visiting group from ReLive project.
Passing scientist asks what time Dr. Beckett’s flight gets in.

He moved through the security gate designated for employees, taking him past the lobby threshold and over to the main hallway that split in three directions. He stopped, leaned against the wall and waited for the final item to come to pass. Nothing special or unique, just the sound of heels walking in a hurried cadence from his right to his left. Carter checked the notebook, waiting for the visitor’s David AI to speak exactly what he wrote.
“Your next meeting starts in two minutes,” the AI said from the small mobile unit in his familiar London accent. “Oops! Looks like you might be late. Should I give the meeting notice of that?”
Carter mouthed the words as the visitor spoke, his voice fading down the hallway. “No, thanks. I’ll just hurry.”
David’s simulated voice could still be heard as Carter put the notebook down, holding it at his side while considering what just happened. He wasn’t particularly religious, though part of him wondered if he’d been condemned to some sort of purgatory. The predictability of it all, the strange exactness of everything he saw playing out as written on the notebook in his hands.
The first few times, he’d felt disbelief. Then curiosity. Then amusement.
This time, well, he guessed that was the purpose of this experiment: to figure out how he felt knowing he could predict every exact movement of every person he encountered.
Disbelief, curiosity, amusement, and now the whole thing was just unnerving.
Nothing out of turn. Nothing different. Nothing unexpected.
He blew out a sigh, hands pushing back his wavy black hair. Something tugged at him, a wish for things to be different. A person walking from his left instead of his right. Or the plant behind him coming to life and biting his arm. Or a piano dropping out of the sky and smashing his foot.
Anything at all to end this.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
Ten minutes passed with Carter lost in his own thoughts, but that in itself turned out to be a change. Normally, he’d take a walk to clear his head, but the list’s finality wound up freezing him. All the previous loops, he’d tried to follow his original path as closely as possible, always ending back in the observation room where the accelerator started to deteriorate and a massive blast of energy struck him. Perhaps that was the only real difference, as he’d changed spots in those final moments to see exactly where the bolt landed on the floor, even using his photographic memory to draw a precise grid of the floor panels.
What he could do with that information, he wasn’t sure. But it had to mean something.
This time, though, a weight paused him, an all-encompassing blanket that left him pondering far longer than he’d ever done.
And then it hit him: he’d deviated farther from his path than before, and nothing bad had happened.
Heck, if he wanted something bad to happen simply so it could, maybe it’d be best if he pushed farther. Or even went in the complete other direction.
At this point, he’d normally turn right, check in with the technician’s desk, grab his cart of tools and begin going through his assignments for the day. But a sharp, almost foreign defiance grabbed him.
He would turn left. He would not check in with his supervisor. Instead he’d go…
Carter’s eyes scanned, looking for the most opposite thing he could possibly do.
Of course.
His steps echoed as he pressed ahead, a strange jubilance to his feet. He moved around people
milling about or talking about actual work things, practically skipping with joy until he turned to the entrance of the Hawke cafeteria and straight to the bakery station and its waft of morning pastries.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s totally fine. I, uh,” he said. She bit down on her lip, brow scrunched, though eventually they locked gazes. “I should have watched where I was going.” He gestured at the growing coffee stain on his outfit.
“You sure?”
“Absolutely. It’s work clothes. It gets dirty. No big deal.”
The woman’s expression broke, relief lifting her cheeks into a toothy grin, one of those unexpected sights that made everything a little bit better. She looked back at the group, then the coffee cup in her hands. “Damn it, I spilled a bunch. Is there a place to get a refill?”
“You’re going to the main conference room?”
“Yeah. Spent all week there.”
All week. All the times Carter had been through the loop before, even seen the names of various guest groups on schedules, and yet they’d never crossed paths—not until he did the exact opposite of his routine.
Funny how that worked.
“We finally get to see the observation room, though. In a little bit.” She held up her coffee cup. “Just need a refill somewhere along the way.”
“Café is back there,” he said, thumb pointing behind him. “Way back there.”
“Ah,” she said with furrowed brow, a conflicted look that seemed about much more than a coffee refill. “Probably should meet with the team. Not enough time.”
Not enough time. The concept almost made Carter laugh. “Well,” he said, pulling out a bag, “a donut for making you late?”
She took the bag and peaked inside, cheeks rising with a sudden smile. “I don’t usually like donuts. But these glazed ones. Simple, you know?” She shuffled the bottom of the bag to nudge the donut out the opening. “Are you sure? I spilled coffee on you.”
“Yeah. I’m, uh,” he started, pausing as their gazes lingered. “My fault for running into you.”
The wrapper crinkled as she examined it up close before taking a small bite. “I should get back to my team. Maybe they’ll hand out free coffee by the time we get to the observation room. Thanks for this.”
Carter dipped his chin, a quick farewell as he considered the inevitability of the next few hours, a march toward a chaotic and violent reset. He matched her smile, though as she turned, he pondered saying something.
Normally, he wouldn’t. But with the world exploding soon? He went with the opposite of normal.
“My name’s Carter, by the way,” he said. “Carter, the guy who gives people donuts.”
Her gaze shifted, first looking at the floor, then up at the ceiling, even at the bag on her shoulder before finally locking eyes again. “Mariana,” she said, holding up the donut bag, “the woman always looking for coffee.” She bit down on her lip before glancing around. “I’m going to tell you something completely random.”
“Okay?” Carter said slowly. “About donuts?”
She laughed, an easy, bright laugh, though her eyes carried something far heavier. “No. The group I’m with. We’re touring the facility. But I’m quitting. They don’t know yet. Today’ll be my last day. Science is great until it’s not.” Her shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Probably because we’ll never see each other again.” She spun on her heel, an abrupt move followed by determined steps forward.
“Not unless you need another glazed donut.”
She turned, slowing as she walked away backward, this mystery scientist who spilled coffee on him and then caught his attention. Because the idea that someone didn’t like most donuts, well, that
was as opposite as anything he’d ever encountered in his life. “Maybe that,” she said with a small grin.
“I’ll remember your name in case we do,” he said. “Mariana.”
Her fingers fluttered in a quick wave, then she turned, and Carter leaned against the wall, ignoring the people who came and went.
Mariana. Maybe he should write that down, just in case she became important. He pulled the notebook out from under his arm, only to find the pages soaked with coffee.
A pen would rip through those pages. He’d have to trust his memory to recall her name, her voice, her face. On the off chance that they ever met again.
None of it mattered anyway, but as experiments went, this morning did at least prove helpful.
Now Carter knew that he could do anything, even the opposite of normal. And that might just lead to him escaping this thing. Or, at the very least, a lot more pastries.
Mariana disappeared into the sea of people, and as she did, her words echoed in his mind. First her group went to the conference room, then the observation room above the accelerator core. He knew that space well; after all, he’d been in that same room when everything began to explode and—
Wait.
That was it. A possible connection that he’d somehow missed before. He’d been there, of all places, summoned to check some of the power conduits lining the walls as the whole thing fell apart. Could that exact space be important?
Carter’s head tilted up. Maybe the observation room held the key to everything.
And if it did, what would happen if others were caught in it too?

Excerpted from A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen. Copyright © 2024 by Mike Chen. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

About the Author:

Mike Chen is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Brotherhood, Here and Now and Then, Light Years from Home and other novels. He has covered geek culture for sites such as Nerdist, Tor.com and StarTrek.com, and in a different life, he’s covered the NHL. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter and many rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

 

 

A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys Ford

A- #BookReview: Port in a Storm by Rhys FordPort in a Storm (Sinners #8) by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance
Series: Sinners #8
Pages: 192
Published by Dreamspinner Press on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

San Francisco SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and Crossroads Gin drummer Forest Ackerman make an odd couple. Connor, an Irish-born cop from a tight-knit family, never imagined he’d find his happily-ever-after with a raised-on-the-streets musician, but Forest had the gentlest soul he’d ever met. After a long, hard road of heartbreak, murder, and trouble, they fell hard in love and married.
Then Fate intervenes and throws their lives into a chaos neither one of them is prepared for.
During a brutal SWAT raid, Connor stumbles on Tate, an abused, vulnerable little boy caught in a shoot-out with his father’s drug-running gang. As heavy fire riddles the walls, an injured Connor rescues Tate from the fray… only to be struck numb when a caseworker pries a sobbing Tate from his arms.
Scarred from his own childhood experiences, Forest doubts he can be a good enough father, but Connor assures him they can give Tate what he needs and more. Soon they are on an insane ride where trust and affection are hard-earned, especially when coming from a little boy raised in society’s filthiest gutters. Facing down every challenge thrown their way, they battle to give Tate what Connor treasures and Forest never had—a family to call his own.

My Review:

Port in a Storm, the long-awaited final book in the utterly awesome Sinners series combines coda and confirmation into one beautiful if sometimes heartbreaking package, coming full circle halfway around the world to end where it all began. With a dog named ‘Dude’.

We first met the Morgan Family and the members of Crossroads Gin back in 2012, in Sinner’s Gin – although I personally didn’t discover the series until five years later after falling in love with the author’s characters and work through her Cole McGinnis series.

Either way, it’s been a long road, getting from there to here. But here we are just the same.

As this story opens, it seems as if the current generation of the Irish-American, mostly SFPD cops of the Morgan family have found their various happy ever afters, often by pairing up with one of the members of Miki St. John’s resurrected band, Crossroads Gin.

That’s certainly true for Kane Morgan and Miki himself, whose meeting, facilitated by a dog that neither of them has ever fully admitted is theirs – honestly they are his, anyway – kicked off the entire series back in that first story.

But SFPD SWAT Lieutenant Connor Morgan and the band’s drummer Forest Ackerman, as happy as they are together – and they most definitely are – discover that there’s a child-shaped hole in their lives that they need to fill with Tate Robinson, a seven-year-old boy that Connor rescues in the midst of a drug raid.

A raid that was intended to net the major drug cooker listed as ‘father’ on Tate’s birth certificate.

Connor’s team may have come up empty-handed as far as the drugs or their maker were concerned, but left with a heart full of the need to get one desperate child out of the foster care system that still gives his husband Forest so many nightmares.

The battle in Port in Storm isn’t the Morgan family’s usual fight against criminals and drug dealers nor is it an attempt to break up or break down the band or any of its members. Instead it’s the battle against an overworked – at best – foster care system that seems to be more about ticking off boxes and protecting bureaucrat’s asses than it is about making the right decision for a young child even though that right decision has been handed to them on a silver platter.

Escape Rating A-: Those of us who are fans of the Sinners series were pretty convinced that book six, Sin and Tonic, was the ending – a happy ending that all the characters had earned and deserved – especially Dude.

And that the short story collection, ‘Nother Sip of Gin, was basically lagniappe. A lovely treat, a bit of a filling in of the corners, a chance to visit with old and dear friends one last time.

Until this. Until Port in a Storm and this nearly heartbreaking but ultimately just happily teary story that confirms that happy ending for everyone and ties it up with a really marvelous bow. Even better because we weren’t expecting it so we’re all crying a bit that it’s over but smiling because it happened.

(In other words, treat the above as a huge hint not to start here OR with either ‘Nother Sip of Gin or Sin and Tonic, because these are the endings. Start with Sinner’s Gin and settle in for a fantastic read!)

The actual story in Port in a Storm – is about just that. About a young boy finding his very own port in own storm with a badass cop and a rockstar drummer who also happens to be a foster care survivor himself. It’s about Tate Robinson finding the best home he could ever have found, with two men who have stepped up to be his dads in every single way, backed by friends and families who will help them figure out how to be dads and help Tate himself figure out how to love and trust again in spite of everything he’s been through.

That the social worker and agent of the system who does her damndest to break up their family is an avatar for Dolores Umbridge – complete with pink suits and simpering non-smiles – says all that needs to be said about how wrong the system was in this case and how right Connor, Forest and their whole entire family are for Tate.

And I’ll admit I wish we got just a bit more explanation of why and how she got involved and was so determined to break their family apart. But that was the only tiny niggle in one whole, entire, utterly marvelous wrap to a terrific series. So I’m left being just thrilled that we got to see everyone’s HEA confirmed and with bells on.

And that’s awesome – but maybe it’s time to go back and read the whole saga from the very beginning. Because that would be awesome too!

 

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan

Grade A #BookReview: The Missing Witness by Allison BrennanThe Missing Witness (Quinn & Costa, #5) by Allison Brennan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Quinn & Costa #5
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on January 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a key witness goes missing, Quinn and Costa must find her before a killer silences her for good…
Detective Kara Quinn is back in Los Angeles to testify against a notorious human trafficker, finally moving past the case that upended her life. But when the accused is shot by a masked man in broad daylight, the chaotic scene of the crime turns up few reliable bystanders. And one witness—a whistleblower who might be the key to everything—has disappeared.
After the prosecuting DDA is stabbed to death, it’s clear that anyone who knows too much about the investigation is in danger, and tracking down the witness becomes a matter of life or death. With government corruption running rampant and someone on the inside trying to pin anything they can on Kara, she trusts nobody except FBI special agent Matt Costa and a handful of allies.
But when explosive secrets begin to surface within the LAPD and FBI, Kara questions everything she thought she knew about the case, her colleagues and the life she left behind months ago.
Now Quinn and Costa must race to find the missing witness and get to the bottom of the avalanche of conspiracies that has rocked LA to its core…before it's too late.

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” or so Sir Walter Scott claimed – even if the quote is generally and erroneously attributed to Shakespeare. It does rather sound like one of his, after all.

The Missing Witness, both the person and the case she’s caught in the middle of, is all about those practices of deception, and the need for the FBI’s Mobile Response Team to get to the heart of those deceptions. Bloodily if necessary.

Because the case in this fifth book in the series, after The Third to Die, Tell No Lies, The Wrong Victim and last year’s Seven Girls Gone, takes LAPD Detective Kara Quinn’s temporary membership in the MRT all the way back to where it began, to the case that made LA much too hot a place for her to remain, putting her on an unwelcome vacation and pushing her straight into the path of the FBI – and into the arms of the MRT’s Special Agent in Charge, Matt Costa.

Kara has been dragged back to LA, possibly because the human trafficking case that sent her out of town is finally being brought to trial. Or, more likely because the villain of the piece wants her back in town so he can send his goons out to eliminate her – just as he’s done with all the other witnesses to his many, many crimes.

Not that both of those things aren’t true – they’re just not anything remotely like the whole entire story or any of its moduses and/or operandis.

This is a case that has always been about deception. Including covering up the fact that the case is much bigger on the inside than appears on the outside. But also because Kara’s participation at the beginning, misplaced guilt in the middle and exile at the end are all about, not the deceptions that all the perpetrators have perpetrated in order to keep the dirty deeds on the down-low. The biggest deceptions in this case are the lies that the cops who were supposed to be on Kara’s side, on her team, the people that she trusted to bring her back home to her city and her job, have been lying to her all along.

And that’s one betrayal that she has utterly no capacity to forgive.

Escape Rating A: The case in The Missing Witness was solid and compelling and confounding, all at the same time. Because it’s wrapped around something so huge, so monstrous, and so easy to hide and obfuscate, that it’s nearly impossible to see the whole of it at once.

When Kara Quinn opened this case and this can of worms not quite a year ago, it was about sweatshops and human trafficking and scum who are so rich and so well connected it seems like they can even buy forgiveness from the FBI

But Kara tipped over a huge, gigantic rock, and the things that crawled out from underneath it have tentacles reaching from the Mayor’s Office to the County Board of Supervisors to the LAPD and the LA Office of the FBI – and that’s just for starters.

So Kara left town so that the case against one human trafficker could get pulled together without her body ending up in the middle of it. But that’s not the case her friends and mentors at the LAPD are investigating. They’re investigating the much bigger monsters that crawled out from under that rock – and they’re keeping Kara out of town for her own good – or so they believe.

Their cause is righteous, but their methods are not. To the point where the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing – or who the left hand is killing along the way.

At its heart, this is a case about political corruption, greed and graft, and the way all those things have intersected within the morass that has been called the Homeless Industrial Complex.

But white collar corruption and fraud cases are huge and complicated. There are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to get people to understand what’s at stake and who has been staked. So an awful lot of bad has happened but it’s been hard to even get the public’s attention OR to get a District Attorney to prosecute.

Murder cases, on the other hand, are easy to reduce to the soundbite of a gunshot.

What makes this story so compelling, is the way that Kara’s pursuit of the original murder and trafficker is used as a vehicle to get us inside, to get us to care about the larger but much more amorphous corruption case that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

And the way that even though a measure of justice gets served, we still feel the depths of the betrayals Kara suffers, that the people she once believed had her back have been lying to her all along in their belief that she wouldn’t have been willing to serve the same justice they were.

Which leads to the epic conclusion of The Missing Witness, a conclusion that is certainly the ending of the story arc of the first five books in this thrilling, suspenseful series, but hopefully will lead to much more to come. Because I’ve loved this whole series and I absolutely do not want it to end!

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

Review: The Wishing Bridge by Viola ShipmanThe Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: holiday fiction, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels

My Review:

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” at least according to Robert Frost. But just because they have to take you in, or even if they WANT to take you in, that does not give you permission to steal it out from under them.

Which is EXACTLY what Henrietta Wegner plans to do when she returns home to Frankenmuth, MI and to the ‘all Christmas all the time all year round’ store named after her family. A store that anchors not just the Christmas season in Frankenmuth but the whole, entire town.

50something Henri is on the ropes at the cutthroat mergers and acquisitions firm she cut a wide swath through back in the day – when she first left home to make her own mark. Now she’s back home, attempting to defend that mark by ‘acquiring’ the store her parents have put their heart and soul into.

Henri sees herself as the Grinch, descending upon Whoville with a heart that’s three sizes too small – if not a bit more.

But just as no plan survives contact with the enemy – a description that Henri is sure will be left in her wake – Henri’s plan to put the Grinch into her family’s Christmas doesn’t look like it can survive contact with the Spirit of Christmas.

Henri’s story has all the makings of one of those Hallmark holiday movies that she and her mother are not-so-secretly fond of – if she’ll just let it. Happy Holidays, indeed!

Escape Rating B+: The Wishing Bridge, in addition to being a heartwarming story for the holiday season, combines two romance/women’s fiction tropes in a way that the one reinforces the other and back around again, and both lean in to the holiday season in a way that just wraps the whole story up with a bright red holiday bow with an ornament hanging from it.

At first, The Wishing Bridge is that tried-and-true story about the stone-hearted corporate bigwig coming to a tiny town to take it over and make it over – or tear it down – who discovers that he or she has a heart after all that gets captured by the town, the people who live there, and some special someone.

AND The Wishing Bridge is also a story about second chances. Not just a second chance at romance, although that too, but a second chance at pretty much everything. It’s a story about that ‘road not taken’ winding back around and intersecting with the road that Henri took all those years ago, giving her the opportunity – not so much to do things over, because life has happened and this isn’t a time travel story – but rather to make a different choice for the next phase of her life.

Both of those tropes require that the main character take a good, hard look at the life they have and decide whether it’s REALLY the life they want or need, and those are never easy decisions – and they’re certainly not for Henri.

(That her boss is an utter douchecanoe seems like it should make the decision easier, but it’s right that it doesn’t and even right-er that he’s not her ex. Because that would be gross under the circumstances. This is about Henri and what she wants, his asshattery is not REALLY what her decision needs to be about and that’s handled well.)

One thing that turned out to be difficult for this reader, and leads to a bit of a trigger warning. A lot of what makes the idea of selling Wegman’s out from under her parents instead of signing on and continuing their legacy is that the all-Christmas all the time dream was one that she shared with her father. He still has that dream, but she’s let it fall behind her – or buried it under her own ambitions. There’s a lot about fathers and daughters in this one, and it gave me a bit of the weepies even though the ending is a happy one. (In other words, if you have unfinished business with your dad, it may hit you the same way.)

To make a long story at least a bit shorter, even though the eARC did not include the bonus novella Christmas Angels, The Wishing Bridge all by itself is a charming story and a lovely start to the holiday reading season!

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

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Wishing Bridge by Viola ShipmanThe Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, holiday romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 7, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

With unabashed winter charm, The Wishing Bridge sparkles with the humor and heart fans of Kristy Woodson Harvey, Nancy Thayer and Jenny Colgan love most.
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Includes the bonus novella Christmas Angels

Welcome to the blog tour for The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman. I first discovered this author through participation in a blog tour, so it’s fitting that they are back again with not just another book but also another tour. I will be reviewing The Wishing Bridge at the end of next week. Howsomever, the book is coming out TODAY, so here’s an excerpt from the very first chapter to whet all of our reading appetites!

Excerpt from Part One, Chapter 1 of The Wishing Bridge by Viola Shipman

December 7
I hit the brakes, my car fishtailing on the slippery road. I come to a stop just inches from the car before me.
Ah, the hazards of winter in Michigan and Detroit drivers who think snow is a reason to hit the gas.
I cock my head and see an accident just a few cars in front of me. A man is out of his car, screaming into the window of the car he hit.
Merry Christmas!
I take a breath, sip my coffee—which miraculously didn’t spill—hit my blinker and wait to merge into the next lane.
That’s when I notice it: the abandoned house I drive by every day to work.
There are many abandoned homes in many forgotten neighborhoods in this proud city whose shoulders were slumped by the mortgage crisis, layoffs in the auto industry and never-ending
winters that used to be as brutal and mind-numbing as a Detroit Lions football season. Neighborhoods stand like ghost towns, and, in winter, they look even sadder, the grass dead, the green gone, broken glass shimmering in the sun before the snow arrives to cover their remains.
This particular home is a three-story redbrick beauty that looks like a castle. The windows are broken, the walls are collapsing and yet the wooden staircase—visible to the world— remains intact. I slow down just enough every day to admire the finials, worn and shining from the hands that have polished them over the years.
There is a line of shattered windows just above the ground, and as you pass by, you catch a glimmer of red in the basement. Coming the opposite way, you swear you can see a man smiling.
I stopped years ago to investigate. I parked, careful to avoid nails, and wound my way in high heels through the weeds to the broken window. I knelt and peeked into the basement.
Santa!
A plastic molded Santa smiled at me. It was a vintage mold—like the one my grandparents centered in the middle of a wreath on their front door every year—of a cheery Santa with red cheeks, blue eyes, green gloves, holding a candy cane tied in a golden bow.
I scanned the basement. Boxes were still stacked everywhere.
Tubs were marked Christmas!
In the corner of the basement sat a sign overrun with cobwebs that read Santa’s Toy Shop!

December 1975

“They’re here! They’re here!”
My voice echoed through my grandparents’ house. I ran to the front door, grabbed the first catalog, which seemed to weigh nearly as much as I did, and tottered down the steep basement stairs. Back up I went to retrieve the next one from Mr. Haley, the postman, who looked exactly like Captain Kangaroo.
“Don’t move!” I said, disappearing and returning moments later.
Then back down the stairs I scrambled once again.
Mr. Haley laughed when I returned the final time, out of breath.
“Last one,” he said. “Oh, and a bunch of Christmas cards for your grandmother.”
I bent over, panting, as if I’d just done wind sprints on the track.
“Tired?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No! Think of what Santa carries! Not to mention what you carry every day!”
“You got me there,” he said. “Here’s the cards. I’ll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas!”
I watched him trudge through the freshly fallen snow, just enough to dust the world in white. If there’s one thing we never had to worry about in our town of Frankenmuth, it was a white Christmas. My dad said it was one of the gifts of living in a Christmas wonderland.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Haley!” I yelled, my breath coming out in puffs.
I shut the door, tossed the cards on the telephone desk sitting in the foyer and hightailed it back down to the basement.
I looked at the catalogs where I’d set them on the shag carpet and ran around them in a happy circle doing a little jig.
I turned on the electric fireplace. It was so cool, fake brick, and it just faded into the Z-BRICK walls. The flames seemed
to dance, even though they weren’t real.
I went over to the card table where my grandparents played games—bridge, canasta, hearts—and I grabbed my marker from a cup.
The red one.
The one I used every year.
The one Santa would recognize.
I took a seat on the orange shag and arranged the catalogs in a semicircle around me: the Christmas catalogs from JCPenney and Monkey Wards, and my favorite, the Sears Wish Book.
The catalogs were heavy and thick, big as the Buick my grandpa drove. They were brand-new and all mine. I began to f lip through the crisp pages, turning quickly to the ones that showed all the toys, clothes and games I wanted for Christmas.
I was lost for hours in the pages, dreaming, hoping, wishing. “Yes, yes, yes!” I said, my marker in constant motion.
“Are you using a red marker so Santa will see?”
I looked up, and my dad was standing over me. He was tall, hair as fair as mine. He had just gotten off work. He was an accountant at a car dealership, and he never seemed happy when he got home from work.
Until he came down to my grandparents’ basement.
“Of course!” I said. “Finn gets green. I use red!”
“So what do you want Santa to bring you this year?”
I patted the carpet, and my dad took a seat next to me. I began showing him all the things I’d marked in the wish catalogs.
“I want this eight-room dollhouse, and, oh! this Shaun Cassidy phono with sing-along microphone and this battery-operated sewing machine! It’s the first ever like this!” I stopped,
took a deep breath and continued, “And this dress, and this Raggedy Ann doll, but—” I stopped again, flipping through pages as quickly as I could “—more than anything I want this
game called Simon. It’s computer controlled, Daddy! It’s like Simon Says, and you have to be really fast, and…”
“Slow down,” he said, rubbing my back. “And what about your brother?”
“What about him?”
“What does he want?”
“He’ll want all the stupid stuff boys like,” I said. “Stars Wars figurines, an erector set, a Nerf rocket and probably a drum set.”
My father winced at the last suggestion.
“Maybe a scooter instead,” my dad suggested. “What do
you think?”
“Good idea, Daddy.” I placed my hands over my ears.
He laughed and stood up.
“Hey?” I asked. “What do you want for Christmas?”
My dad headed over to the workshop he had on the other side of the basement. We lived in a small ranch house on the other side of town that didn’t have a basement, much less any extra room. My grandparents let my father convert this space a few years ago so he could pursue a second career and his true passion: Christmas.
“You know what I want,” he said with a smile.
My dad picked up a sign and turned it my way. It was a handcarved wooden sign that read Frohe Weihnachten! Frankenmuth is a Bavarian town filled with all things German: a wooden bridge flowing over a charming river, a glockenspiel that—on the hour—played the Westminster chimes followed by an entire show complete with dancing figurines,
a cheese haus and competing chicken-and-noodle restaurants. I was named Henrietta, my father Jakob, my brother, Finn. Only my mother, Debbie, escaped the German name game with the
very American moniker.
“What’s this mean, Henri?” my dad asked.
“Merry Christmas,” I said.
“And what do I want?”
“Christmas all year long.”
“Exactly,” he said. “Just like you. Except as a grown-up.” He looked at his sign. “That’s my Christmas wish.”
For a long time, everyone thought this was just a hobby of my father’s, sort of like other dads tinkered on car engines, went fishing or coached baseball. For an even longer time, people thought my dad was nuts.
Why would a man spend all of his time creating Christmas signs in July, or designing ornaments in March?
They didn’t know my dad.
They didn’t how serious he was, that he often worked until three in the morning from October through December and countless weekends the rest of the year.
“You have a good job, Jakob,” friends would tell him. “Don’t ruin your life over some silly notion.”
But my mom and grandparents believed in him just as much as I believed in Santa.
I watched my father work. As he did, he began to whistle Christmas tunes.
The world was finally catching up with my father’s dream.
He was now creating window displays for two of the biggest stores in town: Shepherd Woolen Mill and Koch’s Country Store.

Excerpted from The Wishing Bridge. Copyright © 2023 by Viola Shipman. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.

About the Author:

VIOLA SHIPMAN is the pen name for internationally bestselling LGBTQIA author Wade Rouse. Wade is the author of fifteen books, which have been translated into 21 languages and sold over a million copies around the world. Wade writes under his grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the working poor Ozarks seamstress whose sacrifices changed his family’s life and whose memory inspires his fiction.
Wade’s books have been selected multiple times as Must-Reads by NBC’s Today Show, Michigan Notable Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

 

Review: A Duke’s Lesson in Charm by Sophie Barnes

Review: A Duke’s Lesson in Charm by Sophie BarnesA Duke's Lesson in Charm (The Gentlemen Authors) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Gentlemen Authors #3
Pages: 274
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 24, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She was the last person he ever expected to marry…
Callum Davis, Duke of Stratton, never expected to get along with Emily Brooke, but thanks to his ward, he starts to realize she’s pretty good company. The more time he spends with her, the better he likes her. But rather than let their relationship grow at a gradual pace, a pretend courtship leads to a whirlwind romance that quickly collapses when Emily finds out what Callum has written about her. Now he must make every effort to prove his love for her is real, or risk losing her forever.
There is only one person Lady Emily Brooke must avoid at all cost, and that’s the Duke of Stratton. Since her debut, the man has threatened her safety by stepping upon her toes, spilling drinks on her gown, and sending her head first into a fountain. But when he invites her for a walk so the boy in his care can spend time with her dog, she cannot resist. What surprises her most is how charming the duke can be. Until a mistake on his part makes her question his feelings and his intentions.

My Review:

What has made this series so much fun is that it has followed the creation of a romance novel designed to capture the then-recently-late Jane Austen’s fans, not merely through the process of writing the thing but more specifically through the trials and travails of getting it published and into the hands of as many readers as possible.

The first book, A Duke’s Guide to Romance, planted the idea in the heads of three financially embarrassed dukes by a young gentlewoman who binds books in the back of her uncle’s popular bookshop. Along its merry way it introduces Anthony Gibbs, Duke of Westcliffe to Ada Quinn, the love of his life, AND gives both the dukes and the readers a peek into the way that books were printed and published in Jane Austen’s day.

The second book, A Duke’s Introduction to Courtship, moves the story about how books get made into the hands of the potential printers and publishers for the Gentlemen Authors’ completed novel. As Brody Evans, Duke of Corwin, learns the editing and publishing business from the ground up, he falls in love with the printing press’ crackerjack print compositor, Harriet Michaels. Who has done an entirely too convincing job convincing everyone, including Brody, that the print compositor is a young man named Harry.

Their book, A Seductive Scandal, is ready to be put into the hands of its readers. Which is where this third book and my envy come in. Book discovery has probably been an issue for authors, publishers and readers since the first text was chiseled into a stone tablet. It was a problem in Jane Austen’s day, it’s still a problem today and will probably still be a problem for as long as there are so many books and so little time. Meaning forever.

To convince people to buy their book, potential readers need to know it exists and believe that it will be worth their time to read. Which is where the Lady Librarian comes in. The Lady Librarian has the most popular book review column of the day, published in an equally popular and widely distributed newspaper. She has the Gentlemen Authors’ new novel at the top of her TBR (To Be Read) pile, and plans for her review to be published in the Mayfair Chronicle on the morning that A Seductive Scandal arrives in bookshops all over London.

Which it will be. Whether that review will be a paean or a pan is the saga told in A Duke’s Lesson in Charm. Because Lady Emily Brooke has come to believe, after years of clumsy contacts between herself and Callum Davis, Duke of Stratton, that this particular duke has no charm whatsoever.

Callum has no idea that the Lady Librarian is Lady Emily’s alter ego, while Emily is not aware that Callum and his two friends are the true authors of the book she’s been asked to review. The resulting misunderstandings, misidentifications and missteps threaten to scupper any possibility of A Seductive Scandal paddling the Gentlemen Authors’ respective fortunes away from the River Tick. And may just cost Callum and Emily the love of their lives.

Escape Rating A-: This final book in the Gentlemen Authors series is one that I have been anticipating with more than a bit of envy. The romance was lovely, but then ALL the romances in this series have been lovely.

What I was REALLY looking forward to was the story of a heroine who produces something extremely similar to what you are reading right this very minute. Lady Emily Brooke is a book reviewer. It’s the perfect ending to this series about getting a book to its readers, and I was just plain curious to see a bit of how this particular part of the process worked back then.

I do envy Lady Emily the reach of her publication and the size of her audience. She can literally make or break a book, which becomes the final bit of dramatic tension in this story.

But it’s hard to make an entire story about the solitary acts of reading and writing. We’d just be inside Emily’s head the whole way and probably not as entertained by that as she ultimately is by the book.

What we do have is a charming and sometimes fraught romance that manages to be both as filled with non-traditional female agency as the first two books in the series while still telling a story that is a bit closer to what is thought of as a traditional Regency romance.

Unlike the heroines of the first two books, Emily is a member of the ton in good standing. It’s Callum’s reputation that has taken a bit of a hit, both as a result of the behavior that wrecked his finances AND his quiet attempts to keep the bill collectors at bay by selling off some items that he won’t miss and letting go of some staff he can no longer afford to keep.

His title and his person seem to be the only assets Callum has on the ‘Marriage Mart’, and Emily’s father has some serious questions about Callum’s suitability to marry the well-dowered Emily. Her father’s objections are very nicely handled. Too often in historical romances, the father of the bride is a bit of a villain, but the Earl of Rosemont’s reaction to Callum’s suit for Emily’s hand hits all the right notes.

On the way to that suit, one of the best parts of the story is the way that Callum and Emily finally manage to get over their years of disastrous encounters through Callum’s adoption of his young cousin, and said cousin’s insta-love for Emily’s dog Heidi.

Once Heidi helps them leap over their initial apprehensions, their original animosity turns to real friendship, and then more, in the best enemies-to-lovers fashion – at least until a series of self-inflicted misapprehensions nearly breaks them apart.

All in all – and I realize there’s been a LOT of all in this review – A Duke’s Lesson in Charm was a marvelous and utterly fitting ending to what has been a lovely Regency romance series. As always, I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next!

Review: An Inheritance of Magic by Benedict Jacka

Review: An Inheritance of Magic by Benedict JackaAn Inheritance of Magic (Stephen Oakwood, #1) by Benedict Jacka
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Stephen Oakwood #1
Pages: 384
Published by Ace on October 5, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The super-rich control everything—including magic—in this thrilling and brilliant, contemporary fantasy from the author of the Alex Verus novels.
The wealthy seem to exist in a different, glittering world from the rest of us. Almost as if by... magic.
Stephen Oakwood is a young man on the edge of this hidden world. He has talent and potential, but turning that potential into magical power takes money, opportunity, and training. All Stephen has is a minimum wage job and a cat. 
But when a chance encounter with a member of House Ashford gets him noticed by the wrong people, Stephen is thrown in the deep end. For centuries, the vast corporations and aristocratic Houses of the magical world have grown impossibly rich and influential by hoarding their knowledge. To survive, Stephen will have to take his talent and build it up into something greater—for only then can he beat them at their own game.

My Review:

In a famous exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald claimed that “the rich are different from you and me” to which Hemingway rejoined “Yes, they have money.”

That principle is at the heart of An Inheritance of Magic, as the story begins with Stephen Oakwood discovering that he’s related to a rich and powerful family – who have only looked him up in order to stomp him like a bug.

Because they are powerful because they are rich, and rich because they are powerful, and as far as they are concerned his only use to any of them is as a pawn in their games – both mundane and, more importantly, magical.

The magic is called drucraft, a talent in which Stephen has had only one teacher and little to no training. Which means that over his relatively short life, he’s learned to do things that organized training would have told him were impossible. And maybe they mostly are, but for him, some of them are not.

So Stephen’s story is about having the lesson literally beaten into him that the playing field is not level – because it isn’t. And it’s about Stephen deciding that even if that is true – and it is – there is nothing stopping him from doing his level best to level it – one way or another.

If he doesn’t have the training to play by their rules, he can develop the power and more importantly the will to make them play by his. Because they’ve already made him see what the worst case scenario might cost him and he’s not willing to go there again.

No matter how many rules – or people – he has to break along the way.

Escape Rating B+: An Inheritance of Magic is a combination of a coming-of-age story and a coming-into-power story set in an urban fantasy version of our world where magic hides in plain sight even as it magnifies the ambitions and the sheer reach of the rich and powerful.

Stephen Oakwood is the perspective through which we learn about this hidden world as he is rather forcibly jerked into it – initially very much to his detriment. He’s always known about drucraft, and has been doing his best to practice the first principles of the discipline that his father taught him, but Stephen is at multiple disadvantages when the story begins.

His mother disappeared when Stephen was barely a year old and he knows nothing about her. His father disappeared three years ago, just as Stephen turned 18, and no trace of him has ever been discovered. Stephen is supposed to be starting his adult life, but at 21 he’s barely scraping together enough to get by and can’t decide what he wants to do when he grows up.

He wants to find his dad. He wants to practice drucraft. But he needs to pay rent and keep himself and his cat Hobbes fed and watered. He’s drifting when he literally gets kidnapped by his mother’s obscenely rich and powerful family so that the members of his generation of that family can use him as a pawn in each of their games to become the sole heir to the seat of power.

The story of An Inheritance of Magic is the story of how Stephen stops being a pawn. But it’s only the barest beginnings of that story, because first he has to learn a whole lot more about what drucraft can do for him in his struggle, and the reader has to learn what kind of magic it exactly is and how it works. Meaning that a LOT of the story is taken up with our introduction to drucraft through his learning and training process.

It means that, while the beginning of this story is very scarily WOW, and the ending is slam-bang awesome, the middle is a whole lot of lonely exploration of both his craft and the world in which it happens. For some readers that’s catnip and for others it will be a bit of a slog and your reading mileage may vary.

And there’s more than a bit of a trigger warning for that scary WOW at the beginning. Because Stephen’s one true hostage to fortune is his cat, Hobbes, so, when his powerful but psychotic family wants to teach the upstart a lesson they take it out on poor Hobbes. While the cat does eventually get better, because Stephen’s combination of guilt and angst leads to a breakthrough in his craft and power, I almost DNF’ed at that point because the cat’s pain and Stephen’s anguish over it were almost too much for this cat lover to bear. Hobbes comes back stronger than ever and so does Stephen, but OMFG it was awful going through that with them. So consider yourself warned.

Hobbes’ situation aside, this type of story, of a young man discovering that his rich family are lying assholes who want to use him and him learning how to hoist them and the society they think they own on their own petards is not exactly new except for the drucraft. In fact, it’s the setup of a fair amount of Harry Potter fanfiction of certain stripes.

Which doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting setup for a series, because it most definitely is. Particularly if you’re the kind of reader who likes seeing a whole bunch of assholes get righteously taken down – because I think we’re going to get there in the end.

I most definitely AM that kind of reader, so I’m looking forward to seeing where Stephen Oakwood’s adventures in drucraft lead him, and us, to next!