Review: American Magic by Zach Fehst

Review: American Magic by Zach FehstAmerican Magic: A Thriller by Zach Fehst
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: thriller
Pages: 320
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books/Alloy Entertainment on August 20, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In this fast-paced, international thriller, chaos erupts after a shadowy figure with ties to an elite and ancient society posts incantations on the dark web that allow people to perform real magic.

When an enigmatic message uploaded to the dark web turns out to contain an ancient secret giving regular people the power to do impossible things, like levitate cars or make themselves invisible, American government officials panic. They know the demo videos on YouTube and instructions for incantations could turn from fantastical amusement to dangerous weapon at the drop of the hat, and they scramble to keep the information out of the wrong hands.

They tap Ben Zolstra, an ex-CIA field operative whose history with the Agency is conflicted at best, to lead the team that’s racing to contain the dangerous knowledge—and track down the mysterious figure behind the leak who threatens that even more dangerous spells will be released one by one until the world as we know it no longer exists.

This sweeping, globe-spanning thriller explores the dark consequences of a question mankind has been asking for centuries: What if magic were real?

My Review:

American Magic is a spy-thriller for everyone who ever wondered what would happen if someone deliberately broke the Statute of Secrecy in Harry Potter – in other words, how would the world react if magic suddenly turned out to be real – and the entire world wanted to weaponize it.

Of course they would.

It’s like a crossover story where Jack Reacher or Jack Ryan don’t so much meet Harry himself as run into some disaffected muggleborn who ran away from magic with their memory intact and decided to stick it to everyone who ever looked down upon them for not being pureblood. Or powerful. Or, really, sane.

In this version of our world, someone uses the dark side of the internet to release a video that provides complete instructions on how to perform one big piece of magic – telekinesis. That’s basically the ability to move sh*t with your mind. (A book came out earlier this year with that in the title, and I want to read it for the title alone!)

Not everyone can do magic. Just like any other talent. Not everyone can paint a masterpiece – or even draw a straight line. Not everyone can be an Olympic swimmer or gymnast. Not everyone can be Einstein or Da Vinci. Not everyone can even carry a tune in a bucket, let alone sing opera.

The CIA has found a video, also on the internet (isn’t everything, sooner or later?) of a woman who can move a car with her mind. They haven’t found anyone within their own ranks who can move more than pencil – and they want her.

It doesn’t matter what she wants. It never does. And it doesn’t matter what the agent they bring in from the cold of Vermont wants, either. Nor does it matter to them what they did to said agent to force him into that cold and out of the bureau.

It does, of course, matter to him. And to her. So Ben Zolstra, who is supposed to bring Eila Mack over to the CIA’s side – takes her side instead. And takes her out of the “safe house” where the CIA has her imprisoned.

From that point it’s off to the races on this thrill-a-minute ride, as the supposed “good” guys, the actual “bad” guys, and some even more terrible guys, for loose definitions of good, bad and guys, all chase after Ben and Mack.

In either the hope or the fear of putting the “magic” genie back in its magic bottle before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: For readers looking for a spy thriller with an interesting twist, American Magic is a hell of a lot of fun. Anyone expecting the emphasis to be on the “magic” in the title is probably going to be disappointed – because this is not a fantasy.

American Magic is very much in the spy thriller tradition. Magic in this story is treated as if it were a weapon of mass destruction. It the reader substitutes a bioterrorism weapon for “magic” the story works just as well.

And that’s part of its charm. What would happen if the secret of magic were suddenly revealed, and some people discovered that they suddenly had the power to move things with their minds. Or teleport. Or throw fireballs.

First the secret wouldn’t remain secret. Second, chaos. With the internet, no information can be kept completely secret for very long. And once something is known, it can’t (usually) become unknown – at least not overnight.

Would it be weaponized? Of course. Would some people and organizations want to use it for nefarious purposes? It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t. Would governments try to restrict the use of this new power to only their own side? History has the answer for that and it’s yes. If you don’t think so, look at the history of the ability to build an atomic bomb.

It’s from that spy thriller genre, however, that we get most of the actual plot of this story. Ben Zolstra is the epitome of the “rogue agent” who wants to serve his country but refuses to kowtow to the idiots in charge of it. He’s a quintessential lone wolf who is willing to do what needs to be done – but only if his bosses are willing to get out of his way.

And they don’t, because those same idiots can never let go of the illusion of control. And thereby hangs one thread of the story, as what should be the side of good chases down their own agent because he isn’t playing by their rules.

The most interesting characters in the story are Eila Mack, the young woman trying to claw her way back to a decent life who suddenly discovers she has magic, and Desdemona Heaton, an elderly and disgraced scholar who discovers that the myths and legends she has always believed in, the research in those legends that has destroyed her academic career – was right all along.

There is magic in the world, and there are people determined to keep that secret at all costs. Including the lives of anyone who gets in their way.

The fun in this one is watching this unconventional trio, the agent, the scholar and the mage, find a way to get that genie back in its bottle – and get everyone, both good and bad, off their backs. All the want is to put the world back together – even if none of them are quite together themselves.

Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. KuangThe Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2) by R.F. Kuang
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, grimdark
Series: Poppy War #2
Pages: 672
Published by Harper Voyager on August 6, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

My Review:

I thought that the first book in this series, The Poppy War (also the series title) was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t wait for this second book to come out. Now that I’ve read The Dragon Republic, I have to say that it’s even better than its predecessor. And I can’t wait for book 3, whatever it turns out to be called and whenever it appears.

The action in The Dragon Republic begins in the opium-clouded, blood-soaked aftermath of The Poppy War. (This is a series that desperately needs to be read in order, and as close together as you can manage – which makes waiting for book 3 absolute hell.) Our heroine, Rin, is leading a small remnant of the Cike, the ragtag unit of Shamans used by the Imperial Army.

But the Cike are on the run from their former masters. Or would be if anyone knew that some of them were still alive. Not that their incognito status is going to last long. Because whenever a situation is working in Rin’s favor – it NEVER lasts for very long.

Rin is supposedly their leader, after she got their last leader killed at the end of the first book. Well, at least that’s how everyone seems to see it, and their loyalty to her seems to be tempered by that condition. None of them seem to be sure whether she’s making good decisions or determined to get them all killed in her mad quest for vengeance.

That she spends the first part of this story in an opium-induced haze does not help them put their trust in her, does not lead her to making remotely sensible decisions, and makes the opening moves in this very long game seem as murky as Rin’s thought processes, which are disjointed at best and nightmarish at worst.

Just when it looks like their current employer is finally going to give Rin the weapons she needs to take her war back to the empire – and empress – that betrayed them, she is sold out. But then, that’s what pirate queens do – and what Rin should have expected if she were operating in the present even half the time.

That betrayal, the latest in a long, long line of betrayals that Rin has suffered and survived, is nearly the breaking of her. But she’s been broken before, and just like each of those previous times, Rin rises from her own ashes, only to fall and rise again.

Just like the phoenix that she is. She really, really is. And she’s finally ready to set her world on fire.

Escape Rating A+: I loved The Poppy War, and I loved The Dragon Republic every bit as hard. I say hard because this military epic fantasy is very dark.

I mean dark to the point where in order to call this series grimdark it would actually need to lighten up a bit. This is one of those stories where the light at the end of the tunnel is always the local equivalent of an oncoming train, and where things are always darkest just before they turn completely black.

And yet, Rin always keeps moving forward. Or sideways. Or through. She is relentless, even if, or sometimes especially because, she is heading in the wrong direction.

While the over-story of The Dragon Republic is the story of the doomed Dragon Republic, the underlying story is all about Rin fighting with her demons, trying to find a balance between using those demons, giving into those demons, or becoming those demons, in a scenario where giving into and becoming are manifestly not the same things.

Also there’s an actual demon. Or god. It depends on one’s perspective.

This is also one of those stories where nothing is remotely the way it seems – although many people seem to be aware of that. Just not Rin. She’s trying to avoid or avert her destiny, and one of many methods of avoidance is to allow herself to become someone else’s tool – not that she isn’t often perceived as a tool in other senses of that word.

And certainly not that there are not plenty of tools around. But Rin’s desire to not be responsible for her own actions allows her to be used by the biggest tool around – not that he isn’t also being used by even bigger tools.

It’s tools all the way down.

But Rin blazes at the center of this story, even when her own fires are banked – against her will. Burning is who she is and what she does. She is the living avatar of the Phoenix, and her fire is meant to consume everyone, including herself.

This is the story of her learning to master that fire – and learning to turn that destruction outward and away from herself – to the destruction of her enemies. Even if it’s only at the end that she finally figures out at least some of who those enemies really are.

And that she has the power – and finally the will – to take that fight to them. But not until OMG the next book. AAARRRGGGHHH!

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Guest Review: Mischief and Mayhem by L. E. Rico

Guest Review: Mischief and Mayhem by L. E. RicoMischief and Mayhem (Whiskey Sisters, #2) by L.E. Rico, Lauren E. Rico
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Whiskey Sisters #2
Pages: 315
Published by Entangled Publishing on July 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Welcome to Mayhem, Minnesota, home of the Knitty Kitty, The Little Slice of Heaven Pie Shop, and O’Halloran’s Pub—owned by the four young women known as The Whiskey Sisters.

In the wake of her divorce, Jameson O’Halloran has gone man-vegan. And this is one diet she’s determined to stick with. Even when her long-lost ex-brother-in-law shows up looking like two scoops of double dutch dipped in chocolate… She’s not giving in. Been there and still wearing the messy T-shirt.

It’s been a decade since Scott Clarke left his family and his hometown, never to return. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself dragged back to the land of gossip, judgment, and the one woman he absolutely, positively, without a doubt can never have. His brother’s ex is off-limits. He just needs to keep repeating that to himself until it sinks in.

Guest review by Amy:

Jameson – and what an odd name for a girl, don’t you think? – is finally well and truly done with her ex. She loves her father-in-law, and she loves her son, so she’s trying to keep things civil, and so far, so good. Sorta-happily-ever-after, yeah? Well, of course, something has to happen to upset the tidy balance, and when father-in-law “Big Win” has a stroke, and they find out that his health care proxies are his other son, and his now-ex-daughter-in-law, ex-hubs Winston pitches a fit.

Other-brother Scott is traveling the world, and hasn’t been home in a decade; there’s some tension between him and his father, so when the nonprofit he’s working with gets a message to him in Mexico, he’s reluctant to head home. But he does, and realizes that there have been sparks between him and Jameson for a long, long time. Things get complex, very fast.

Escape Rating: A+: This is hands-down one of my favorite reads so far this year. No fame-and-fortune here, no paranormal shenanigans, nothing that couldn’t happen to you or me, really, just a story about real people, living out very, very complicated relationships. There are a lot of side stories here – Jameson’s younger sister is one of the county fair’s royalty, Winston is having some kind of something-or-other with another member of the court, a girl a decade younger than him, Scott and his lawyer brother can’t get along, and that leads Scott to uncover something about his own backstory…subplots abound.  But buried in there is a romance that neither Scott nor Jameson thinks should happen, at first, but they gradually grow into. This central thread is shepherded along by a recovering Big Win, who just wants to see them both happy. When the whole truth finally comes out about what happened in Mayhem, Minnesota thirty years ago, it shakes everyone’s world quite a bit.

Sounds good so far, right?  But almost-certainly Marlene or I have read at least one complicated story along the way as good or better. What sets Mischief and Mayhem apart, for this reader, was the exceptional craftsmanship of the tale. Author Rico gives us a good story, easy to fall into. But the exceptional care she took to think the characters through, and make sure that they are presented in an engaging way really shines. We flip back and forth in point-of-view throughout the book, and both of our main characters’ internal dialogues are clear, consistent, and distinct. You don’t need to be told at the top of the chapter whose head we’re in for this chapter, really, because it’s obvious from what they’re thinking. One of the funny quirks Scott ended up with is that he’s kind of behind on technology. After Jameson shows him what Siri is on his father’s borrowed iPhone, he’s entertained enough that in the interludes between chapters, he talks to the AI (and texts with Jameson’s sister Hennessy), and these provide brief giggles that serve as a sort of Greek chorus, giving us these tiny insights into whats going on.

Our settings are rich and easy to envision, the cast of secondary characters are all complicated beings without being contrived, and our “villain” is suitable to the story. Robert Heinlein wrote in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls that for every great hero, you need a great villain; the more heroic your hero, the nastier the villain must be, or things get out of balance and the story doesn’t work. Jameson’s ex Winston is, as I see it, the perfectly-crafted villain for this tale. We don’t need a scorch-the-earth supervillain here; we need a nasty ex-husband. Winston is not really an overwhelmingly bad guy, he’s just petty and vain and kind of a hot mess of his own, and since he won’t own his own problems, he complicates life for Jameson and Scott in order to feel powerful. He’s a “real” person, and having had my own share of ex-partners, I can totally see him as the perfect exasperating ex.

I could rave on about this book for a long, long time, I suppose, but that’d waste time that you should spend reading Mischief and Mayhem. If contemporary romance is your jam, here’s a beautifully crafted tale to enjoy, which has my strongest possible endorsement.

Guest Review: Poison Fruit by Jacqueline Carey

Guest Review: Poison Fruit by Jacqueline CareyPoison Fruit (Agent of Hel, #3) by Jacqueline Carey
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Agent of Hel #3
Pages: 437
Published by Roc Hardcover on October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The hot-as-Hel series with the “Sookie Stackhouse type of vibe” (Paranormal Horizon) is back—but this time the paranormal Midwestern town of Pemkowet is feeling a frost in the air and the residents are frozen in fear...

The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism—even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.

But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary—represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion—has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy—but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.

Guest review by Amy:

Winter has come to Pemkowet, and the Agent of ancient Norse Goddess-of-Death Hel is breathing a sigh of relief over the end of the haunting October. It was a mess, to be sure, but lives were saved, so maybe she can relax a little?  Maybe?  And take some time to figure out which of two men she can actually get serious about?

Not so fast. If Jacqueline Carey ever gave us a straight-up romance without something wild happening, I’d eat my hat. Fortunately, my hat is safe; remember that odd lawyer that was running around Pemkowet buying up property? Hel had asked her agent, half-human, half-demon Daisy Johanssen to investigate, and with the help of her friends, she does. He’s a hellspawn, all right, and he’s up to no good…but on whose behalf is he working?

Escape Rating: A: Carey, like Nora Roberts, has something of a knack for trilogies. Never mind that unless you live in Texas as I do, there are four seasons, and I’d love to read another book set in Pemkowet, Jacqueline Carey has given us a strong conclusion to this series in Poison Fruit. Daisy’s been told repeatedly that the decisions she makes are super-important, perhaps even on a global scale, but she’s mired in what to do about the men in her life.

The super-hot Outcast ghoul Stefan has to be away for a bit, leaving her working a little more than she’d like around the super-sexy werewolf, her sometimes partner Cody. Cody, for his part, has made it clear that as much as he’d like to, he’s got to get involved with another werewolf. Preservation of the species, you see, and the fact that he does that whole once-a-month howl-at-the-moon thing, which she cannot share…you understand, don’t you Daisy? It’s not about you, right? She says she does, but unlike Cody, she understands that some couples have diverse interests and activities. He can’t go to Hel’s demesne and see the Norse goddess, either, at least not under normal circumstances, so they each have their “me time,” so to speak. Don’t we all need that?

There’s a Night Hag roaming around, and Daisy and her friends must deal with that. Just about the time they do, Stefan comes back to town, and he has brought a friend, with an unusual request: that Daisy use Hel’s magic dagger to kill him. This was a tough scene for me to read; Janek is living with ALS, and, being Outcast, cannot die on his own, or be killed by mortal means. This has led him to most of a century of suffering, unable to be healed, and unable to die and find peace in his body and soul. Janek tells his story, and asks Daisy to use the dagger. After some back and forth, she does, and Janek dies with dignity, his faith that he could gain a chance at Heaven strong. As you might guess, shadows of this scene follow her to the end of the book; there was more than just a mercy here. There was an important lesson for her, and for Stefan.

When it’s finally revealed who is trying to buy up the prime land in Pemkowet, and why…well, things get busy in a hurry. The sneaky lawyer sets up a bogus lawsuit that’ll cost Hel her home, and the goddess is not at all happy about that. Pemkowet’s diverse eldritch community must come together to fight for their right to exist, and it is Daisy who must lead them. It’s not at all clear, for quite a while, that Pemkowet will win over the outsiders, which brings a delicious tension to the book.

…and after all the kvetching I’ve done in the other two reviews about who Daisy dates, I shan’t tell you whom she ends up with. I’m such a meanie! Go read it yourself. But let’s just say I’m finally happy with her choice, in the end. All in all, I’ve greatly enjoyed this series; it’s got a heroine I can enjoy, some fascinating supernaturals, a bit of action/adventure, and some steam to go alongside. There’s something for everyone here, so enjoy!

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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 you’re 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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