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: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + Giveaway

Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + GiveawayThe Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Series: Physick Book #2
Pages: 338
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe returns to the world of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with a bewitching story of a New England history professor who must race against time to free her family from a curseConnie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America—especially women’s home recipes and medicines—and by exposing society's threats against women fluent in those skills. But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows.

When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a hundreds’-years-long deadly curse.

Flashing back through American history to the lives of certain supernaturally gifted women, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs affectingly reveals not only the special bond that unites one particular matriarchal line, but also explores the many challenges to women’s survival across the decades—and the risks some women are forced to take to protect what they love most.

My Review:

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because those are the words written on James and Lily Potter’s tombstone. Or, if your reading trends in an entirely different direction, it’s a line in the 15th chapter of the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Considering the story in The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, the Harry Potter reference is more appropriate. Because Temperance Hobbs and all of her mothers and daughters in every generation up to and including Connie Goodwin in the here and now, were all “cunning women”. In other words, they were witches. Sorta/kinda. More or less.

Howsomever, Connie doesn’t actually want to defeat death, she just wants to postpone the bout with him until a much later date. Because Connie is caught on the horns of a familial dilemma that she wasn’t prepared for in any way, shape, or form.

In all the generations of her family, all the way back to Deliverance Dane in the 1690s, there has been one constant in their lives. They can have a husband – or they can have a child – but they can’t have both at the same time. Or at least not for very long.

Whether it’s really terrible luck or a truly horrific curse, in each generation, as soon as they have a child, their husbands die. Of accidents. Natural causes. War. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One after another after another.

But Connie Goodwin is more than just an occasional practitioner. She is also an academic specializing in American History of the Colonial Period, with a particular emphasis on the belief in, practice of, and suppression of witchcraft.

She did her Ph.D. thesis on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and her adventures in producing that thesis and exploring the world and practices of her ancestress are detailed in the novel of the same name.

She’s already pregnant. She just doesn’t want to lose her lover, the father of her child, to any force other than the hands of time – a long, long time from now.

Connie is sure that somewhere or somewhen in her family tree, at least one woman found a way around the curse. Connie just has to discover that secret for herself, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I did read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, back when it came out ten years ago. I remember it being a terrific time slip book, but I do not remember the details. I didn’t need to in order to enjoy The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs – but enjoy it I certainly did.

The events of that first book are 10 years in Connie’s past as well as ours. I want to say that her life has moved on, but technically I’m not sure that’s true. She is every bit as driven and tunnel-visioned as an Assistant Professor seeking tenure as she was as a grad student seeking a Ph.D.

She’s still a hamster on her wheel, unable to see anything except what’s right in front of her. And what’s right in front of her is always more work. The description of the paper chase of academic life rings true – and makes the reader wonder how Sam has managed to be so tolerant and so supportive for so long.

We’re not surprised that he’s reaching the end of his rope.

But Connie’s discovery that she is pregnant changes her focus in ways well beyond the obvious. She’s worried about the effect it will have on her still-fledgling career – but she fears that their child means Sam’s imminent death – and history bears her out. And she finally figures out that she doesn’t want to lose Sam, and that she needs to find some balance between her work and her life – because they are not, and should not be, the same thing all the time.

Connie begins researching at a furious and desperate pace, hoping to discover that at least one of her ancestresses beat the curse – and how she did it. The portrayal of how the research is conducted, the long hours of fruitless searching, the despair of reaching dead ends and the joy of discovery, sucks the reader right in – as do the interlude chapters told from the perspective of the women that Connie finds in her search.

Connie’s race against time, her race to save her soon-to-be-husband Sam, provides all the tension this story needs. There was an attempt to add a more human villain to the mix, but it didn’t quite work for me. This person wasn’t present enough or woven into the narrative enough to make that concept gel for me – and the story didn’t need it.

Connie’s race against time and death – just like Temperance Hobbs’ before her – provided all the drama needed – along with plenty of compulsion to keep the reader in a race to get to the very last page.

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

 

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Review: The Hound of Justice by Claire O’Dell

Review: The Hound of Justice by Claire O’DellThe Hound of Justice (The Janet Watson Chronicles, #2) by Claire O'Dell
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #2
Pages: 288
Published by Harper Voyager on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Dr. Janet Watson and former covert agent Sara Holmes, introduced in the acclaimed A Study in Honor, continue their dangerous investigation into the new American Civil War with the help of fresh allies, advanced technology, and brilliant deduction in this superb reimagining of Sherlock Holmes.

It’s been two months since Dr. Janet Watson accepted an offer from Georgetown University Hospital. The training for her new high-tech arm is taking longer than expected, however, leaving her in limbo. Meanwhile, her brilliant friend and compatriot, Sara Holmes, has been placed on leave--punishment for going rogue during their previous adventure. Neither is taking their situation very well.

Then an extremist faction called the Brotherhood of Redemption launches an assassination attempt on the president. The attempt fails but causes mass destruction—fifty dead and hundreds more injured, and Holmes takes on the task of investigating the Brotherhood.

Holmes is making progress when she abruptly disappears. Watson receives a mysterious message from Holmes’s cousin Micha and learns that her friend has quit the service and is operating in the shadows, investigating clues that link the Brotherhood to Adler Industries.

She needs a surgeon, Micha tells Watson. She needs you.

Reunited once more, Dr. Watson, Holmes, and Micha embark on a mission through the deep South to clear Holmes’s name, thwart the Brotherhood’s next move, and most important, bring their nemesis to justice for the atrocities she’s committed in the New Civil War.

My Review:

The Hound of Justice is even better than A Study in Honor, and I loved A Study in Honor. But Study needs to set itself up in its near-future variation on our world and its not-quite-pastiche of Holmes and Watson.

When the action picks up in Hound, we’re already there. We know who these women are, and we recognize their world – it’s all too close to our own.

It’s a world that feels like a direct – and not very far future descendant – of the world we know now. Obama was president, and so was Trump. And the U.S. flirted with fascism during the presidency of Trump and his enablers.

Resulting in a leftist backlash, and now a right-center response to that backlash. This is a future that is well within the lifetime of all of us reading the book, and it feels all-too-plausible from here.

Damn it.

It also feels like a variation of the alternative history of last year’s awesome American War. Because somewhere in those swings of the political pendulum, the New Confederacy declared war on the Federal States. It’s an ugly, brutal war, because civil wars are seldom civil at all.

And there are entirely too many people on the side of the supposedly liberal Federal States whose beliefs align much more closely with the Confederacy. Along with entirely too many people who profit from the chaos and carnage – and only care that it continues as long as bloody possible.

After the events of A Study in Honor, Sara Holmes and Dr. Janet Watson are living in the aftermath, where they were right for the wrong reasons, and Sara went rogue from her alphabet agency handlers to get the job done.

The problem is that the job was only partially done. Holmes and Watson will have to go behind enemy lines to finish it.

Or be finished.

Escape Rating A: I found the story in The Hound of Justice to be both fascinating and predictable, and those two things shouldn’t go together – but they do in this case. They really, really do.

Partially, it is that I love the setup. I hate that it feels so very plausible, but it works all too well. It feels like a logical extension of the current political climate – to the point that I was glad to see that my present home of Atlanta does stay within the Federal States.

The Federal States haven’t reached the level of being dystopian, at least not yet. And at least not if you are not black or brown or gay or gender nonconforming or female. Also probably not if you are some variety of Christian, but the fault lines on that particularly axis are not obvious so far, as our heroines are black, lesbian professional women.

Or really, heroine, singular. As in the original Holmes stories, Watson is telling the story of her life with – and often without – Holmes. But the Holmes of the Janet Watson Chronicles is even more mercurial – and less forthcoming – than the original. Truly this is Janet Watson’s story, while Holmes is a catalyst for events more than a participant.

And that’s a good thing, because this Holmes seems to have the emotional depths of a teaspoon – and the original, particularly at the beginning, wasn’t much better.

Janet Watson, on the other hand, feels too much. She’s a wounded war veteran (as was the original) who has to cope with the temporary and perhaps permanent loss of her identity as a surgeon. And has to deal with her ongoing PTSD, a condition that is exacerbated by the events of this story.

Because she feels, we feel with her. Her hopes, her fears, her dreams and especially her nightmares. Because she has to live them, over and over again. And yet, she keeps going. It’s the journey that she keeps going on, the road that she keeps traveling in spite of her fear, that make this story so fascinating.

The predictability factor comes from knowing just a bit about the original Holmes. And on the nature of fiction in series.

The villain was who the villain had to be, because there were so many clues about that job not being taken care of the first time. It just couldn’t be anyone else, particularly with such similar methods. The title of this story is a play on The Hound of the Baskervilles, a story which takes place just before Holmes’ “death” at Reichenbach Falls. Another clue to the ultimate ending of this version.

But there is so much marvelously taut tension in how The Hound of Justice gets from its bloody beginning to its cathartic but not quite victorious end that I got sucked in on the opening page and couldn’t put it down.

I hope that the author returns to these characters and this world, whenever. Preferably ASAP.

TLC
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Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre + Giveaway

Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre + GiveawayThe Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 312
Published by Midnight Ink on August 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Some people just need killing.

Marlena Altizer Durst lives in her husband's shadow. He controls her every move--what she wears, the food she eats, and the friends she's allowed to make. If she disobeys, there are...consequences. And he has all the power.

To outsiders, it seems that she leads a fairy-tale life. But nobody ever wonders if Cinderella was happy after she married the prince. Marlena has traded freedom and safety for luxurious imprisonment, and most days, that seems like a bad bargain. Death may be the only exit she's allowed. Just like his first wife. And his second. Unless she flips the script.

Some people just need killing.

Praise:

"The Third Mrs. Durst is a slow, dark burn that leads to a fantastic explosion of an ending."--Victoria Helen Stone, bestselling author of Jane Doe

My Review:

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. The Third Mrs. Durst serves it as if it were Baked Alaska, carefully prepared, frozen, and set on fire.

I almost said there’s no mystery here, that The Third Mrs. Durst is purely a thriller – and purely a thrill from beginning to end. Then I thought about it a bit, and realized that yes, it is also a mystery. Just not the mystery that the reader expects until the very, very end.

It seems like a dark twist on the Cinderella story, as it’s intended to be. Marlena Altizer escapes from the cowboy heroin capital of the world. The backwoods of Kentucky where oxycodone has destroyed lives, families and entire towns.

Marlena runs away to escape a world that holds no future for her except early and too many pregnancies, too many easy but temporary escapes via drugs and alcohol, and an early death after a battered life. The life that her mother chose.

Marlena chooses another path.

At first it seems like she’s chosen to be Cinderella, escaping from her drudgery of an existence to a world of glitz and glamour – but with an even darker underbelly. She gets lucky – becomes a model and mostly doesn’t have to pay for her chances with her body.

Until she chooses to trade that body for the high-life as the trophy wife of a high-roller who just so happens to have a taste for beautiful young women with no pasts – so that he can mold them into exactly what he wants.

Marlena knows it’s a dark and dirty bargain – but it’s exactly what she bargained for. Until it looks like her “loving” husband has set his plans to make her follow the first Mrs. Durst, and the second Mrs. Durst, a little sooner than she was ready for.

Marlena Altizer Durst has no intention of joining her predecessors in the death that their Bluebeard of a husband has planned for her. Whether she can escape his deadly clutches is another thing entirely.

And get him into hers.

Escape Rating A+: This one had me from beginning to end. I got sucked in at breakfast and didn’t spill out until after dinner – gasping at the ending. An ending which reminds me a lot of the classic movie, The Sting, the kind of ending where you gasp and blink and realize that everything you thought you knew was what you were intended to know – and that you have been completely misdirected right along with most of the characters in the story.

And that’s as much as I’m going to say about that because I don’t want to spoil the effect. But it’s a wow!

What makes this so compelling is the character of Marlena, and the way that her story and her motivations are revealed slowly and carefully. In spite of being inside her head, we’ve been deceived right along with everyone else.

At first, this seems like a dark Pretty Woman. And it’s a story that we’ve seen and read about too many times. A young woman thinks she’s found a golden ticket only to discover that she’s been bought and sold by a man who holds all the cards. She’s his creation, and his puppet. He controls her with isolation, with violence, and with threats to anyone that she loves. She’s trapped and she knows it and he loves knowing that he has all the control.

But as the story progresses, we discover that it’s not exactly what we thought. Marlena went into this horror with her eyes wide open. She has an agenda of her own. She wants revenge for her sister, the first Mrs. Durst. She’s just not sure she can get it. Michael Durst is more ruthless – and less hinged, than she imagined.

She still plays her hand, fearing all the while that she may have dealt herself into a higher stakes game than she planned. As hard as it is to read about the abuse that she suffers, we are frightened for her. It seems as if its too much for her to take – and too much for us.

Then it all goes completely pear-shaped – not that it was any bed of roses before. It looks like her plans have unraveled. And then – boom! A boom that will explode everything. For her, for him, and especially for the reader, blinking and gasping at the end.

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

To celebrate the release of THE THIRD MRS. DURST by Ann Aguirre we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2xR3Suw 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Ann Aguirre. Giveaway ends 8/18/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

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!

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Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + Giveaway

Review: Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn + GiveawayRelative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Julia Kydd #1
Pages: 320
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

In 1920s New York, the price of a woman’s independence can be exorbitant—even fatal.

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who can blame her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Review: Lady in the Lake by Laura LippmanLady in the Lake by Laura Lippman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Pages: 340
Published by William Morrow on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The revered New York Times bestselling author returns with a novel set in 1960s Baltimore that combines modern psychological insights with elements of classic noir, about a middle-aged housewife turned aspiring reporter who pursues the murder of a forgotten young woman.

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know--everyone, that is, except Madeline "Maddie" Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she's bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl--assistance that leads to a job at the city's afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie--and the dead woman herself. Maddie's going to find the truth about Cleo's life and death. Cleo's ghost, privy to Maddie's poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie's investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life--a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people--including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Review:

The lady in that lake in Baltimore isn’t actually the lady that everybody thinks is under the lake. She also isn’t the central character of this story about the discovery of said lady, or about all the ripples that discovery causes through the lives of all the people involved.

In spite of the title, and in spite of her ghost commenting on events, this story is not about the lady IN the lake, Cleo Sherwood. Rather, the story focuses on the woman who found that lady in the lake, Maddie Schwartz. And that’s exactly the way that Maddie would want it. Because it’s really all about her. It’s always all about her.

It’s so much all about her that she never seems to have a thought for all the people she leaves damaged in her wake. Not even the lady in the lake who catapults her to fame.

Escape Rating B: The pipes for that fountain in that lake must have one heck of a lot of suction going on somewhere. Because I got sucked into this book almost in spite of myself. I kept thinking I’d put it away for the night, but then just one more chapter, just one more person, and then I was done.

I also got just a bit weirded out at one point. Maddie and my mother were born the same year. Wondering if my mom ever had any of the internal thoughts and feelings that Maddie did kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies. Ironically, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my mom had some of the same career thoughts and aspirations – although hopefully not the rest.

(Two things no one likes to think about – their parents having sex and their children having sex. We all know it happens, but that doesn’t mean we want to dwell on it even for a nanosecond.)

The structure of this story is interesting – and more than a bit distancing. Although Maddie is the main point of view character, she’s not the only one. The first time she interacts with someone, the reader is then given that person’s perspective on the encounter in general and Maddie in particular.

Those perspectives are not kind. Usually pretty spot on, but not kind. Maddie is not a likable protagonist. She’s more like the eye of a hurricane. Everyone focuses on her, and that’s what she wants, while she ignores all the trouble that her storm creates. Like that hurricane, Maddie’s story sucks you in and spits you out – but it isn’t a comfortable journey. Interesting, but not comfortable.

At the same time, the story manages to say quite a bit about a lot of things through those various perspectives. Seeing life in the mid-1960s through that variety of perspectives, we hear about still-rampant Antisemitism, the universality of structural racism, the intractable misogyny of work life in general and newspaper journalism in particular. Through all those thoughts and feelings we get a slice of life in the 1960s, and it rings true.

The story kind of sits at the boundary between mystery and thriller. Except for one brief but telling escapade, Maddie herself is never in true danger. No one is stalking her – this isn’t that kind of story. She puts plenty of other people in danger or at least distress – usually inadvertently. She doesn’t believe she’s really doing anything wrong – even when she is. That her single-minded self-centered laser focus puts other people at risk is never her fault.

But the slow unraveling of the two intertwined mysteries that make Maddie’s career are thrilling. Maddie literally does not know what she is doing most of the time – just that she has a driving need to be the center of it all, again and again and again. And she has an instinct about what parts of a story – or which people – are hiding something that she desperately wants to uncover – and just how to uncover it, no matter what it takes. Or who.

So that’s what she does. But the greatest secret of all, the one that really makes her career, turns out to be not what she expected. And it contains a truth that she can never reveal. After everything we’ve learned about Maddie, it feels like it serves her right.

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Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayBrazen and the Beast (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Bareknuckle Bastards #2)
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

My Review:

I picked up Brazen and the Beast because I enjoyed the first book in the series, Wicked and the Wallflower, and wanted to see where the story went from there.

There is plenty to love in this series – and this story in that series. Particularly for readers of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and/or Sophie Barnes’ Diamonds in the Rough series.

Because the story of the Bareknuckle Bastards is a story about the underbelly of the Regency and post-Regency periods, as are both of those series. The actual Bareknuckle Bastards themselves, Devil (hero of Wicked and the Wallflower) and his brother Beast here in Brazen and the Beast are the uncrowned kings of Covent Garden and the working-class districts that surround it.

The bastards control the area, and all the legal – and definitely all the illegal – trade that takes place therein. And their people love them for it, because the bastards provide good well-paying jobs, protection and economic security for their fiefdom.

A fiefdom that they have, and will, defend to the death.

And that’s where Hattie Sedley careens into the picture. She’s a “lady” but not a “Lady” – and she’d rather not be either. Her father is an Earl, but it’s a life peerage, so he can’t pass it on to her brother. And that’s a good thing, because Augie Sedley is a waste of space.

It’s Hattie who is her father’s true heir in every way that matters, but the man can’t see past the fact that she’s a woman.

She’s also 29, big and loud and brash and brazen, so society has put her very firmly on the shelf. A shelf that she is happy to occupy, as long as she gets to take care of her father’s shipping business. And that’s a possibility that she is determined to seize with both hands – and that her brother seems determined to ruin. Stealing from the Bareknuckle Bastards isn’t just stupid – it’s downright suicidal. But Augie doesn’t care that he’ll take the family with him.

It’s up to Hattie to “negotiate” with Beast to find her family a way out of Augie’s mess – and to figure out how she can win the business into the bargain.

But there are more wheels turning than even Hattie can see, and more consequences than she knows. She’s met her match in Beast. But he’s met his match in her just as much. Figuring out that he can love her, or he can protect her, but that he can’t manage both makes for a hot, sparky (sometimes literally) romance!

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot to love in Brazen and the Beast – in multiple ways. First, there’s just a lot of Hattie Sedley to love – and Beast loves her just the way she is – as do the readers.

Hattie manages to absolutely ooze body positivity while at the same showing just how vulnerable her differences have made her – and that those differences haven’t kept her from reaching for what she wants.

Hattie is big and tall and bold in a society that expects women to be tiny and demure, to be seen as little as possible and not heard at all. And she can’t be any of those things, so she does her best to be who and what she is. At the same time, she’s still very aware of how she’s seen – and it hurts her.

Society seeks a freak, but Beast sees a queen – and he makes Hattie not just see herself that way, but embrace that identity. All the parts of her that high society wants to quash are just the parts that the more realistic world around Covent Garden values.

What makes the romance between Hattie and Beast (his actual name is Whit), so fascinating is its central conflict. Not that there aren’t plenty of secondary and ancillary conflicts. The tension between Hattie and Whit over who will get the better of whom and Whit’s need to protect his people vs. Hattie’s need to protect hers sparks and sizzles on every page.

The romantic conflict is all about how they will define their relationship to each other, and how that ties into their essential selves. Whit is a protector. It’s who he is, it’s what he does, and he can’t seem to turn off that side of his nature. That his society in general believes that women should be protected at every turn just adds to his deep-rooted need to protect everyone he cares for.

But that is not what Hattie is built for. For her, protection is a cage. She has to be his partner – or she’ll be nothing to him at all. It’s a hard lesson for him to learn – and he only figures it out when he has no choice. But he does get it by the end – and that’s what gives this story its heart.

There are two very hard parts to this book. One is the opening. Until Hattie and Beast have their first real meeting in the high class female-serving (and not female-using) brothel, a lot of her self-talk revolves around just how hard it is to get her father to see that she’s the better fit to run the shipping business. Because she so obviously is, her brother is so obviously an idiot, and her father is just being ridiculously obtuse. It’s everything that women hate about the patriarchy, and is compounded because her father was awarded that life peerage for being an excellent businessman. His estate will not be entailed and he can bequeath whatever to whoever. The same man who built the business couldn’t be that big an idiot.

And then there’s the overarching story of this series. Devil, Beast, their half-brother Ewan and their adopted sister Grace all suffered – extremely – under the machinations of their father the Duke. Ewan “won” the competition to become the Duke’s heir, and in the process betrayed the rest of them. He’s been pursuing them ever since because he wants Grace. Ewan’s stalkerish pursuit/revenge has been dastardly from the very beginning, and his obsession with Grace is frankly a bit creepy. It’s clear from the teaser at the end of Brazen and the Beast that the next story, Daring and The Duke, will finally resolve that long-standing issue.

And do I ever wonder how that’s going to work out!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Brazen and the Beast to one very lucky US/Can commenter on this tour!

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Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski

Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael StraczynskiBecoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, biography, science fiction
Pages: 460
Published by Harper Voyager on July 23, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5, Sense8, Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Marvel's Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics. Yet there's one story he's never told before: his own.

Joe's early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults--a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized--Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father's desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family's past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski's personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life. It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

My Review:

I jumped at the chance to read this book and be on this tour because, well, basically because Babylon 5. Which I’ve watched more than once, and have frequently cited in regards to its treatment of chaos vs. order in the Shadow War. Because that dichotomy rears its head, over and over, in SF, in Fantasy, in life.

It’s what makes Loki such a fascinating character, because he represents chaos. While the MCU may equate chaos with evil, it ain’t necessarily so. There’s a reason why seemingly every mythology has a chaos avatar – because chaos and the response to it pushes us forward.

It’s what makes Ben Franklin’s quote about sacrificing freedom to obtain security so powerful, as freedom is generally a bit chaotic, while security generally aligns with order. But too much of either, no matter how well intentioned, is always a bad thing.

The surprising thing about this autobiography is just how much chaos swirled around the author’s early life. And that his adult response seems to have been, not to fight against the chaos, but to embrace it. To grow stronger from the fight – no matter how much it hurt.

And it’s a fascinating journey from beginning to end – even if – or especially because – it (and the author) took a very long walk through some very dark places.

Reality Rating A+: I opened this book, fell completely into it, and didn’t emerge until I turned the last page. Sort of like the first time I watched Babylon 5, somewhere in Season 3, and got so deeply entranced – or entrenched – that I went back to the beginning to catch up then waited with the proverbial bated breath for each episode thereafter.

One of the fascinating things about the author’s life is the way that he knows and addresses the fact that he might not be the most reliable narrator of the early parts of it. Not because of lies or embellishments – or at least not because of his own lies or embellishments. Rather because the people whose memories he is forced to rely on for the parts that take place before his birth or during his early childhood were themselves far from reliable. His family’s story is a story of lies and coverups hiding multiple essential and nasty truths.

All families have secrets. All families centered around any kind of abuse have particular kinds of secrets designed to protect the abuser from the consequences of their actions. All of that is in this life story.

But the dark heart hidden underneath all of that is even more rotten than most people have to deal with in one lifetime. And it left the kind of damage that makes all too many people not merely dysfunctional, but sets them up for a lifetime of perpetuating their abuse.

What makes this story so special? For one, the book is compulsively readable. I started and absolutely couldn’t put it down until about 2:30 in the morning – and not just because I wanted to get to the good parts. I felt so compelled because the man is a consummate storyteller, no matter how painful the story is. I was hooked and I stayed that way for 5 hours of reading, just as I stayed that way for 5 years of B5.

The story begins as a shitshow of epic proportions, travels inexorably from endless defeats to seeming victories to yet more defeats, only to rise and fall again and again, until the end is, not so much a triumph as a paean of gratitude for all the chances that came, and for all of the million-to-one shots that surprisingly and delightfully paid off.

And it’s an absolutely marvelous read every step of the way. Even the hard parts. Especially the hard parts. Because the author spares no one, particularly not himself.

My one and only regret about this book is that I didn’t have time to listen to the audio, which is read by the actor who played the clown-turned-emperor Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. The only way that could have been better would be if G’Kar were still with us to participate. And now, I think it’s time for a rewatch.

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Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + Giveaway

Review: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal + GiveawayWhen We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of The Art of Inheriting Secrets comes an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.

Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…

Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. Her resemblance to Josie is unbelievable. And unmistakable. With it comes a flood of emotions—grief, loss, and anger—that Kit finally has a chance to put to rest: by finding the sister who’s been living a lie.

After arriving in New Zealand, Kit begins her journey with the memories of the past: of days spent on the beach with Josie. Of a lost teenage boy who’d become part of their family. And of a trauma that has haunted Kit and Josie their entire lives.

Now, if two sisters are to reunite, it can only be by unearthing long-buried secrets and facing a devastating truth that has kept them apart far too long. To regain their relationship, they may have to lose everything.

My Review:

This is the story about the deconstruction of a life. Not in the sense that things fall apart, because the lives of both Kit and Josie Bianchi fell apart a long, long time ago. The echoes of what happened in their childhood have rippled like aftershocks through everything that has happened since.

Including, but definitely not limited to, Josie’s death – and the faking thereof.

When We Believed in Mermaids is rather about the examination, in memory, of those long ago events. What begins as a look back at a seemingly perfect childhood that was ripped apart by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 reveals cracks in that perfection – just as the girls’ examination of their cliffside house revealed cracks that made the house’s fall inevitable.

There were plenty of warning signs that a disaster was coming – but the adults were too wrapped up in themselves, and much too damaged themselves, to see it. And the girls were children. It’s only as adults that they are able to look back and see that what went wrong was hardly their fault.

But now they are both adults. And both still scarred. Both, in their own ways, isolated because of it. Kit, whose life has come to be confined to her ER practice, her surfing, and her cat. While Josie, who seemingly has it all, is isolated by her secrets. No one knows her true self. Her past is another country, on another continent, and it happened to someone else.

One brief moment in the background in someone else’s camera frame brings Josie’s worlds into collision. And Kit’s walls come tumbling down.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story that can best be described as quietly charming. It feels like one of those stories where not a lot happens on the surface, but that surface is only 10% of what’s happening. Underneath, Kit and Josie are paddling like crazy.

While the comparison is to an iceberg, there’s nothing cold about the story – including its two settings, the California coast and Auckland, New Zealand. Where it’s a hot and steamy late summer when Kit arrives to investigate that three-second sighting of the sister who has been presumed dead for 15 years.

We begin the story from Kit’s point of view as she believes, disbelieves, questions and investigates a possibility that has haunted her for all of her adult life. What if Josie is still alive?

In alternating chapters we find ourselves looking through the eyes of a woman named Mari. Who seemingly has it all, a rich and handsome husband, two terrific kids, a storied house to investigate – and a gigantic secret.

As both Kit and Mari remember their childhoods, with each dive into the past revealing more cracks in that originally perfect surface, their memories converge. It’s obvious fairly quickly that Mari is Josie, and that she’s rightfully worried that her few seconds in that background shot are going to bring her world crashing down – and she’s right.

But until the crash, it’s Kit’s view that holds the attention. While Mari has found the life she dreamed of, and is afraid of losing it – Kit is very much still seeking, not just Josie, but a life that will not merely sustain her but support her and enrich her spirit. Her search, including her hesitant relationship with the handsome Spanish guitarist Jose Velez, opens her heart and shakes her certainties – even as she hunts down the sister she never expected to find.

Kit’s on a quest, and somewhat ironically, Josie is the macguffin she’s looking for. But all the while, both of them are internally exploring their memories of the life they once shared together. As those memories reach toward the present, Josie and Kit reach towards each other.

And the possibility of a shared – and much brighter – future.

I picked up When We Believed in Mermaids because I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets by this same author very much, with just a few quibbles. The same is true about When We Believed in Mermaids, including the quibbles. Both are stories where events in the present cause the narrator(s) to search through their own pasts as well as the past of a place that they become involved with in the course of the story, so if you like one you’ll definitely like the other.

In The Art of Inheriting Secrets, I had a couple of issues with the way that the hesitant romance in that book proceeded, but loved the look back into the past of the house she inherits and the mother she discovers that she never really knew. There’s also an old house in Mermaids, and I was hoping for as interesting a reveal of its history as there was in Secrets, but alas, it was not to be. The secrets about Sapphire House, when finally revealed, felt anticlimactic. That was the one part of the story where I really expected more.

Then again, I love stories about research done well and filled with fascinating reveals. And there were plenty of those fascinating reveals in Kit and Josie’s hesitant journeys down memory lane. As I said, this story is quietly charming, and I was certainly charmed. If you’re looking for a beach read this summer all you have to do is believe in these mermaids!

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

I’m giving away a copy of When We Believed in Mermaids to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter on this tour!

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