Review: Havoc by M.L. Buchman

Review: Havoc by M.L. BuchmanHavoc (Miranda Chase NTSB #7) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #7
Pages: 374
Published by Buchman Bookworks on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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When one of their own is threatened—the nation’s #1 air-crash investigation team enters a race to survive.

An airliner downed on a Pacific atoll. A CIA covert strike team sent in to “clean it up.” An old enemy seeks revenge. This time, the NTSB’s autistic air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, and her team are in the crosshairs. The action races around the globe as US military airbases become shooting galleries and their lives are placed on the line.

And hidden from sight? A treacherous plan to grab political power and start a new war with Russia in the Middle East. Only Miranda’s team stands in their way, if they can survive.

My Review:

As Miranda Chase’s team has pulled together over the course of this marvelous series, each person that has joined has occupied a specific and necessary niche.

Necessary for the team to function at its incredibly high peak of capability, and necessary for Miranda to be able to manage her world. She needs every person in their proper place so that she can concentrate on why the downed aircraft in front of her abruptly stopped being in its proper place – flying safely through the sky.

But in Havoc, the seventh book in this awesome series, one of the key members of Miranda’s team has gone, not exactly walkabout, as much as Australian Holly Hunter wishes she truly were.

Holly was on her way to tie up the loose ends left by the deaths of her parents in remote Tenant Creek, a tiny town in the middle of Australia’s Northern Territory. The place that Holly left at 16, half a lifetime ago, and tried never to look back at through her military career in her country’s special forces and her secondment from the Australian TSB to Miranda’s team in the US NTSB.

Holly has always occupied the “lancer” position in Miranda’s now-larger-than-5-man band. Holly’s the muscle and she handles security. She’s also Miranda’s truest friend in a way that neither woman has much experience with.

So the team is off-kilter and a bit off their game when Holly is away. An absence that gets extended when Holly’s flight “home” is forced to crash on a remote Pacific atoll. That crash scene is barely squared away when a high-profile crash drags Miranda and the rest of the team to Syria. It’s only after she finally reaches Australia that Holly discovers the reason for both crashes.

It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you. When that someone is a pissed-off, psychotic Russian elite operative who has been locked in a box for a year and is willing to start a real honest-to-badness war in order to make sure you go down, even Holly’s extreme paranoia isn’t nearly enough.

But Holly is. No matter what it takes to save Miranda and the rest of the team she calls “home”.

Escape Rating A: The plot of Havoc is a story where all of the chickens from a previous adventure in this series, Condor, all come home to roost. I’m not sure you need to have read the ENTIRE series to get into Havoc as much as I did – although it’s awesome and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – but I don’t think it would work at all to start with Havoc. In this case, to get up to speed quickly you’d need to read both the first book, Drone, and Condor before Havoc.

But the whole series is totally awesome and well worth a read. Truly.

Back to those chickens coming home to roost in this story. There are two elements of Condor that come back to haunt this time around

The first is that Miranda’s friends-with-benefits relationship with Major Jon Swift of the US Air Force Accident Investigation Board comes to an abrupt end with the shock of a Taser. Literally. Deservedly. And oh-thank-goodness finally. Back in Condor it seemed like the relationship might actually work, but Major Swift turned into Major PIA (Pain in the Ass) long before Miranda slapped him in the face early in this story. He won’t be missed by anyone. Not even Miranda.

The second, biggest and baddest of those “chickens” is the Russian Zaslon operative, Elayne Kasparak that the team beat in the earlier story. Holly turned out to be the nemesis that brought Kasparak down. Once she was captured, Holly made a deal with Miranda’s rival-turned-frenemy, CIA Director Clarissa Reese because Miranda didn’t like the idea of just killing her. No matter how much she seriously deserved it..

Kasparak was supposed to spend the rest of her life locked up in one of the CIA’s infamous Black Sites. When she learns that Kasparak has somehow managed to escape the inescapable, Holly knows that Kasparak is responsible for both recent plane crashes and that she’s gunning for Holly with everything she’s got.

Which is 10-pounds of crazy in a 5-pound sack with knives and guns pointed at everyone and everything Holly holds dear. As far as Kasparak is concerned, any collateral damage she racks up along the way is just icing on her crazycake.

As this story was going on, and the stakes just kept getting higher and higher, and I started to get a bit desperate to see what happened next, I still found myself stopping in the middle for a bit. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good and I was so caught up in it and I discovered that I cared about Holly so damn much that I couldn’t bear to read her pain.

And it just kept getting more and more painful as it goes, as we learn both about what made Holly who and what she is – and what she’ll go through to take care of everyone she has claimed as her own.

This is one where the tension just ramps up past 11 and keeps right on going. Even a bit past the end.

Not that the story of Miranda’s team has ended when the reader closes Havoc. Which left me with a terrible book hangover. I don’t merely want, I absolutely NEED to find out what happens after the end of this book. But the next book in the series, White Top, won’t be out for a month or two, and I don’t even have an ARC yet, so I’ll have to wait.

My fingernails may not survive.

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha WellsFugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Murderbot Diaries #6
Pages: 176
Published by Tor.com on April 27, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.
When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)
Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!
Again!

My Review:

If you like characters who have their snark-o-matic turned up to 11 ALL THE TIME you’re going to love Murderbot. Because it’s snarktastic to the max and we get to spend the entire story inside its head as it thinks about just how much it would like to shove all the humans around it out the nearest airlock – or at least tie and gag them all so they stop getting in its way.

Because we’ve all felt that way from time to time. And we all come to the same conclusion that Murderbot does, that we really can’t indulge in those particular desires because the consequences would be too damn much trouble.

Not that Murderbot couldn’t handle the trouble, but then there’d be even more trouble, and it would all take time away from watching bad space opera on downloaded media. And haven’t we all been exactly there – or close enough?

What’s interesting about this particular entry in the Murderbot Diaries, at least from the perspective of a Murderbot fan (and Murderbot would be oh-so-pissed to know it had fans!), is that this is a story about Murderbot adapting to its new circumstances rather than a story about dealing with one evil corporation’s desire to get revenge for Murderbot’s favored humans’ successful scotching of their extreme version of corporate skullduggery.

Not that the result of this entry isn’t ALSO the scotching of extreme corporate skullduggery, it’s just that it’s a different corporation so the skullduggery isn’t PERSONAL. Now that Murderbot is starting to adjust – after its own fashion – to being a person. Not a human, Murderbot has no desire to be human – thank you very much.

But Murderbot is not merely an individual but is acknowledged by the powers-that-be on Preservation Station – if not most of the residents – that it is a self-willed entity responsible for its own actions. That it is not owned or fostered or infantilized by the humans it has chosen to consort with.

Most of the humans on the Station are having a bit of a problem with that. Mostly because the popular media image of SecUnits – the hybrid human/AI beings that Murderbot was programmed to be – have a bad reputation to say the least. Technically Murderbot is a “rogue SecUnit” who has hacked its own programming. From the perspective of the corporation that did the original programming and thinks it OWNS Murderbot, that perspective is kind of correct. Except that it mostly isn’t.

Everyone expects Murderbot to run around and start murdering people. Its self-selected name designation does not exactly help it counteract that image.

It also doesn’t help when it finds a dead body on a station that has such a low incidence of murder that entirely too many humans want to blame the murder on Murderbot. Murderbot just wants to do what it does best, investigate this extremely anomalous incident in case it might have something to do with the evil corporation that is still chasing the humans it has taken under its protection.

After all, it needs to deal with the possible threat so that it can return to viewing the next episode of its favorite space opera serial.

Escape Rating A: If you love Murderbot as much as I do, Fugitive Telemetry is a terrific opportunity to get back in touch with its snark. If you have not yet met Murderbot, this is not the place to begin your acquaintance. Start with All Systems Red to understand just what makes Murderbot so much deliciously snarky fun and to get an insight on just what made this series a nominee for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series as well as garnering nominations for last year’s Murderbot outing, Network Effect, for Best Novel in both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Fugitive Telemetry is a story about Murderbot doing the job that it was originally programmed to do, just doing it for itself and for the job’s own sake and not because someone ordered it to do so. Murderbot is a very noir detective solving a murder in a place that doesn’t even have any mean streets – although it certainly has plenty of mean people.

One of the things that makes Murderbot so fascinating is that it most explicitly has zero desire to be human. It’s not Data, it doesn’t think humans are “better” in any way and does not aspire to be one of us. It thinks we’re stupid and useless and full of shit in more ways than one – and it’s right.

So even when it’s trying to blend in, it’s not because it thinks we’re better, it’s because it thinks we’re worse but that we’ll get out of it’s way more easily if it can make us a bit more comfortable – or at least a bit less upset with it.

The only thing it seems to think we’re actually good for is producing media with which it can while away its actually copious free time.

At the same time, as much as it finds humans irksome – often in the extreme – it is also saying to itself all the things that we’ve said to ourselves about other people and never our ownselves. Murderbot thinks all the kinds of things we wish we’d said and its internal voice is wry and snarky to the point of chortles and chuckles and even the occasional LOL.

So if you like your detectives über-competent and ultra-snarky, pick up Fugitive Telemetry or any of the Murderbot Diaries and take a walk inside Murderbot’s head. It’s a fun place to spend an afternoon.

Also a much more survivable place than being the person or corporation that Murderbot has in its sights. Meanwhile, I have Murderbot – or at least its diaries – squarely in my reading sights. It’s just been announced that the author has a new contract with Tordotcom for three more books in this fantastic series. Go Murderbot!

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison EpsteinA Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, historical mystery, thriller
Pages: 384
Published by Doubleday Books on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance.

England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne.
While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes.
Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theatre troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.

My Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Whoops. Wrong book. Right concept, but very much the wrong book. Much too early.

Elizabethan England only seems like a Golden Age because we’re looking back at it. Because history is written by the victors, and in this case the victor was Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana herself.

Anonymous 16th century portrait, believed to be Christopher Marlowe

What history glosses over are the dirty deeds done, whether or not they are dirt cheap, by unscrupulous men in dark places who pretend they are working for the good of their country – even if they are just out for the main chance.

Christopher Marlowe, often referred to as Kit, was a comet blazing across the English stage just as William Shakespeare was getting his start. It’s even possible, although unlikely, that Marlowe actually was Shakespeare. He’s got the credentials for it and the timing is possible.

On the condition that Marlowe faked his own rather suspicious death in a barroom brawl. We’ll probably never know.

But this book, this story wrapped around not one but several tips for any number of hangmen, leads the reader – and Kit Marlowe – to that suspicious barroom brawl by a road that is surprising, circuitous and shrouded in secrets. The kind of secrets that brought one queen to her end and saved another’s kingdom.

Escape Rating A+: A Tip for the Hangman is the best kind of historical fiction, the kind where the reader feels the dirt under their fingernails, the grit under their own feet – and the smells in their own nostrils.

It’s also the kind that immerses the reader in the era it portrays. We’re right there with Marlowe, a poor scholarship student at Cambridge, as he becomes Doctor Faustus to his own personal Mephistopheles a decade before he wrote his most enduring play.

Depiction of Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

It’s hard to get past that image, even though we only see it in retrospect, as the Queen’s Spymaster and Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham, recruits the young, impoverished and most importantly clever Marlowe into his network of agents and informants with one aim in mind.

To bring down Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary, Queen of Scots.

A recruitment which ultimately becomes Mary’s end. But eventually also Marlowe’s as well.

Marlowe spends the entire book dancing on the edge of a knife, trying to forget that he’ll be cut no matter which way he falls and ignoring the forces around him, along with his own increasing world-weariness, that guarantee he will fall sooner or later.

There’s something about this period, the Tudor and Stuart era of English history, that has always captivated me. This book does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into the cut and thrust not of politics so much as the skullduggery that lies underneath it.

As I was reading A Tip for the Hangman, my mind dragged up two series that I loved that feature the same period and have many characters that overlap this book. Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age puts an urban fantasy/portal twist on this period and includes both Marlowe and Shakespeare as featured characters, while Dorothy Dunnett’s marvelous Lymond series focuses on a character who spies on many of the same people that Marlowe does here, most notably Mary, Queen of Scots. Lymond’s frequent second, third and fourth thoughts about the life he has fallen into echo Marlowe in the depths of regret and even despair.

A Tip for the Hangman is a fantastic book for those looking for their history and historical fiction to be “warts and all” – to immerse the reader in life as it was lived and not just the deeds and doings of the high and mighty. Because when it comes to conveying a more nuanced version of life as a hard-scrabbling playwright living hand to mouth and fearing that the hand would get cut off this feels like an absorbing story of fiction being the lie that tells, if not THE absolute truth then absolutely a certain kind of truth.

I would also say, “Read it and weep” for Kit Marlowe and what he might have been if he’d lived. Instead, I’ll just say “READ IT!”

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady MartineA Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2) by Arkady Martine
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Teixcalaan #2
Pages: 496
Published by Tor Books on March 2, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass - still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire - face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction - and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger....

My Review

I mostly listened to A Desolation Called Peace, and because I don’t have quite as much listening time as I did pre-COVID, it took about three weeks before I got impatient and started finishing chapters in the ebook and then just losing all patience completely and switching to the ebook because I just had to find out what happened.

This matters because the length of the total listen divided by the amount of time I listened each day compared to the amount of time post-listening each day, when combined with the sheer denseness of the story and the worldbuilding meant that I had a lot of time to think about the story in between listening to the story.

And I had a LOT of thoughts. Maybe not enough to fill the entirety of Teixcalaan, but more than enough to fill Lsel Station. And so we begin.

We begin not terribly long after Mahit Dzmare returned to her home, tiny, independent(ish) Lsel Station, after the tumultuous events of A Memory Called Empire. And everything that happens in A Desolation Called Peace is a result of those events.

Meaning don’t start here. Start with A Memory Called Empire, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2020 because it was so incredibly awesome. It’s even more of an achievement when you realize that Memory was the author’s debut novel. WOW! Whatever you’ve heard about just how good it was doesn’t even come close.

For Mahit, the results of that eventful, impactful week – and it all took place in just a week – have left her back home in a state that Mahit refers to as “fuckedness” with damn good reason. She’s screwed no matter which way she turns.

The powers-that-be on her station didn’t expect her to come back home. Now they all want to use her as a wedge against the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan. Except for the Councilor for Culture, who just wants to slice her up to see what makes Dzmare and her imago, the machine that holds the memories she carries of her late predecessor Yskandr Aghavn, work. Because they weren’t supposed to.

Mahit knows full well that she won’t survive the slicing. She wasn’t meant to survive Culture’s previous efforts to sabotage her but those were at a bit of a remove. If she is unable to outmaneuver her enemy she’ll be directly under the Councilor’s knife. Literally, and certainly fatally.

And that’s where the war that Mahit traded her station’s freedom for at the end of the previous story reaches out and physically grabs Mahit out of Lsel Station in the person of Three Seagrass, her former cultural attache – and potential lover – during Mahit’s hell week on Teixcalaan.

Three Seagrass, now the Third Undersecretary in the Ministry of Information, has sent herself as a special envoy to the Teixcalaan fleet prosecuting that war. The Fleet needs a diplomat and a translator. Three Seagrass needs to get out of her office before she molders there. She needs an adventure and a challenge. Most of all, she needs Mahit Dzmare, even if she can’t quite admit it to herself.

Out of the frying pan and very much into the fire, Three Seagrass sweeps into Lsel Station, whisks Mahit away from the imminent threat of the Culture Ministry’s surgical suite, and takes her to the flagship of the Teixcalaan fleet to help her translate the speech of the enemy, an enemy who doesn’t so much speak as make mechanical sounds that seem to be designed to make humans, whether Teixcalaanlitzlim like Three Seagrass or barbarians like Mahit Dzmare, involuntarily perform the technicolor yawn past the point where they have any cookies, or anything else, left to toss.

When the aliens aren’t making all the humans ride the “vomit comet”, their ships are regurgitating acidic spit that eats its way through both Teixcalaanli ships and pilots. It’s up to Three Seagrass and Mahit to get the aliens talking instead of shooting – or spitting – before it’s too late.

All the while, political forces within the Fleet are attempting an end run around both the Fleet’s commander- and the Emperor.

No pressure – well, at least no more pressure than last time. The bloody results of which no one is likely to forget.

Escape Rating A: A Desolation Called Peace is an absolutely excellent example of science fiction as the romance of political agency. Not that plenty of Earth-shaking, or perhaps that should be Teixcalaan-shaking, events don’t happen, and not that Mahit and Three Seagrass aren’t using every scrap of agency they have so that they, the fleet and the empire – and Lsel Station – all survive more or less intact. But all of pretty much everyone’s actions in this story have their roots in the convoluted politics of the empire, both from within and from without.

As much as I fell into A Desolation Called Peace and could not stop thinking about it, I have to say that it isn’t quite as good as A Memory Called Empire. On my other hand, the first book was SO DAMN GOOD that it set a very high bar. Not quite reaching that bar means that this second book is still a great read.

I said at the top that the time I spent between immersions in this story meant that I had a lot of time for thinking about the story. And did I ever have thoughts!

So much of what makes both books so deeply layered is the way that everything revolves around context. Stories about context, about the use of context to convey “otherness” and the way that lack of context inhibits communication, for me circle back to the classic Star Trek Next Gen episode Darmok, where the Federation has to learn to communicate with people who ONLY speak in cultural context, so the entire episode is about the two captains creating a joint context where none existed before so that they can understand each other.

Teixcalaan is an old empire that has been what they call “civilized” for a long time. From their perspective, everything that is important to say or do is shrouded in layers and layers of context from history, literature and poetry. Out of that perspective arises the foundational belief that Teixcalaan, the jewel at the heart of the world, is their planet, their empire, and the only world that matters. This belief is so ingrained in their culture that the words for their planet, their empire, the world at large AND the right and proper way of doing things are all the same word.

A belief that leads to a state of constant microaggression against everyone and everything that is not Teixcalaanli. Those thoughtless and constant microaggressions form the heart of the conflict between Mahit and Three Seagrass – and also lie deep within Mahit’s own heart in conflict with itself.

Mahit, as an outsider, can see the rapaciousness of Teixcalaan as both an empire and as a culture, while at the same time she loves that culture, wants to be a part of it, and knows that she can’t truly. Not ever.

But her love for Teixcalaan, even if it is unrequited, has made her an outsider in her own home as much as she is a barbarian in Teixcalaan. Perhaps even more so. Mahit always makes me think of the Psalm that begins “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning…” Mahit’s heartbreak is that for her, both Teixcalaan AND Lsel are Jerusalem and she cannot truly return to either of them.

I could go on. In fact, I’m sorely tempted to do so because there is so much to unpack in this world – which still and above all tells a cracking good story.

One last thought before this review rivals the book for length. I began by listening, and probably listened to about 2/3rds of the story. BTW, the reader does an especially good job with Mahit’s voice and Mahit’s perspective.

But as I said, in Teixcalaan, context is everything. Listening rather than reading provided some surprising differences in context. The name of the flagship of the fleet, like the names of all of the fleet’s ships, has meaning in Teixcalaan history and literature. When the ship was first introduced, I heard her name as “Wait for the Wheel”, conveying a sense of patience before action – at least to this listener. When I cracked open the ebook and saw the name of the ship in text, I discovered it was “Weight for the Wheel”, as in the weight that pushes the wheel forward. And more in line with the purpose that both the ship and her commander have in the story.

In Teixcalaan, context is everything. And in that context, the way that A Desolation Called Peace ends allows for a third book but does not require one. If the story ends here, the ending is certainly satisfying. But if we get the chance to see what fire Mahit and Three Seagrass are thrown in – or throw themselves into – next, it would make me a very happy reader.

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + Giveaway

Review: An Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart + GiveawayAn Invincible Summer by Mariah Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Series: Wyndham Beach #1
Pages: 378
Published by Montlake on May 1, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

It was a lifetime ago that recently widowed Maggie Flynn was in Wyndham Beach. Now, on the occasion of her fortieth high school reunion, she returns to her hometown on the Massachusetts coast, picking up right where she left off with dear friends Lydia and Emma. But seeing Brett Crawford again stirs other emotions. Once, they were the town’s golden couple destined for one another. He shared Maggie’s dreams—and eventually, a shattering secret that drove them apart.
Buying her old family home and resettling in Wyndham Beach means a chance to start over for Maggie and her two daughters, but it also means facing her rekindled feelings for her first love and finally confronting—and embracing—the past in ways she never thought possible. Maggie won’t be alone. With her family and friends around her, she can weather this stormy turning point in her life and open her heart to the future. As for that dream shared and lost years ago? If Maggie can forgive herself, it still might come true.

My Review:

It’s not that summer is invincible, even if it sometimes feels that way. It’s that during this particular summer Maggie Flynn, along with her besties Lydia and Emma, discover that their friendship, tried and tested and true, makes them invincible.

Not in spite of, but because of, the 50+ years it has been supporting and sustaining them. Although definitely in spite of all the challenges that life has thrown their way.

The story begins in the summer of their 40th high school reunion, making all three women 58 give or take a few months. Lydia and Emma have lived in tiny Wyndham Beach Massachusetts all their lives, while Maggie left to work in Philadelphia and ended up staying there for 30 years, through marriage, two daughters – and the still recent death of her beloved husband.

When Maggie comes back for the reunion, she discovers that in spite of the years and the miles and the tragedies, Wyndham Beach is still – or again – the place that she thinks of as home. Even though both of her adult daughters live in the Philly area, and she loves them and sees them often, Wyndham Beach, where she grew up and where Lydia and Emma still live, is the place that calls her heart.

Even if she has to face the heartbreak she left behind all those years ago in order to stay.

Escape Rating A: This is EXACTLY the kind of story I think of as “women’s fiction”. And as much as I dislike that phrase, I LOVED this book.

One of the things I loved was Maggie. It was terrific to see a story centered on a woman near my own age that focused on her and not on her 20something daughters. Not that Maggie’s daughters aren’t important to the story and not that they don’t get their share of pages, or of Maggie’s attention. And certainly not that they don’t have their own issues to deal with over the course of the book.

But the focus here is on Maggie. She’s the person at the center, it’s about her friendships, her adult relationships with her daughters and her possibilities for romance. She’s the one turning a corner in her life and she’s the one who has to make decisions about her future.

A future that the story dives into from all sides with the acknowledgement that at not-quite-60 Maggie still has plenty of life to live and love to give and that she’s not ready to step back from life. The same is also true of her friends Emma and Lydia.

In other words, Maggie may be a grandmother, but that is far from the entire focus of the rest of her life. It doesn’t have to be and it probably shouldn’t be.

The terrific thread that runs through the story is the way that all of the women, Maggie, Lydia, Emma and Maggie’s daughters Natalie and Grace are ALL at inflection points in their lives. And that all of them grasp their respective bulls by their horns and wrestle their lives into the shapes that they want to live. If romance happens for any of them, it’s the icing on a cake they’ve baked themselves with help from each other.

Also, the issue in Maggie’s past that was holding her back, while the shape of it, so to speak, was obvious early on, the exact nature of the original issue and the way it got resolved was both surprising and lovely.

Honestly, the whole book was just a lovely, charming read from beginning to end.

This is one of those cases where a story turned out to be the right book at the right time. I fell into the lives of Maggie, her friends and her daughters with a contented sigh, and was sorry to fall out of Wyndham Beach at the end. So I’m very happy to see that there will be a second book in this series, Goodbye Again, just in time to pull me out of the winter doldrums next February. That beach is going to sound awfully good about then!

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

I am really, really pleased to be able to give a copy of An Invincible Summer away to one very lucky US/CAN winner. I loved this book and hope the winner will too! (As far as the question in the rafflecopter, I haven’t been to a single reunion since the 10th. I wasn’t close to anyone in high school haven’t had the urge to go and probably won’t. YMMV)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A charming rom-com with a supernatural twist...Filled with a strong sense of place, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and a sweet love story (or two), Reichert's latest will surely delight readers." Booklist Starred Review
Named a Must Read for spring by Buzzfeed * Bustle * Booktrib * PopSugar * BookRiot * Midwest Living

Jobless and forced home to Wisconsin, journalist Sabrina Monroe can tolerate reunions with frenemies and kisses from old boyfriends, but not the literal ghosts that greet her in this heartwarming tale of the power of love and connection from acclaimed author Amy E. Reichert.
For Sabrina Monroe, moving back home to the Wisconsin Dells–the self-described Waterpark Capital of the World–means returning to the Monroe family curse: the women in her family can see spirits who come to them for help with unfinished business. But Sabrina’s always redirected the needy spirits to her mom, who’s much better suited for the job. The one exception has always been Molly, a bubbly rom-com loving ghost, who stuck by Sabrina’s side all through her lonely childhood.
Her personal life starts looking up when Ray, the new local restaurateur, invites Sabrina to his supper club, where he flirts with her over his famous Brandy Old-Fashioneds. He’s charming and handsome, but Sabrina tells herself she doesn’t have time for romance–she needs to focus on finding a job. Except the longer she’s in the Dells, the harder it is to resist her feelings for Ray. Who can turn down a cute guy with a fondness for rescue dogs and an obsession with perfecting his fried cheese curds recipe?
When the Dells starts to feel like home for the first time and with Ray in her corner, Sabrina begins to realize that she can make a difference and help others wherever she is.

My Review:

The saying goes that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Sabrina Monroe, unemployed and in student loan debt hell way over her head, has to go there – no matter how much she really, really doesn’t want to.

Her parents are more than willing to take her in. The rest of the town, not so much. Or, at least not so much in the person of her lifelong arch-nemesis, who is happy to have Sabrina back in the Dells just so that she can continue her literally lifelong torture of the one girl in school who never begged to be part of her inner circle of bitches.

I have to say that part of the story was not my favorite.

What was lovely, however, was the relationship that Sabrina reluctantly develops, one-step-forward and two-steps-back, with Ray Harper, the new owner of The Otter Club, a restaurant and supper club that has been in his family – and in the Dells – so long that both are institutions.

A relationship that is pushed and pulled and connived at and encouraged, not just by Sabrina’s mother who wants her oldest daughter to come home, but by the Monroe family’s resident ghost, Molly.

The Monroe women see dead people. It’s their duty to help the recently deceased with unfinished business finish that business so they can actually rest in peace. Or in the light. Or wherever they go when they shuffle off this mortal coil and all the worries and responsibilities that go along with it.

Molly, dead since Prohibition, is an exception. Whatever unfinished business she has can’t seem to be resolved, so she sticks around and helps the Monroes do the work that only they can do.

So far, at least, it hasn’t been a terrible afterlife. Molly loves movies – especially romantic comedies. She wants her friend Sabrina to get her own happy ending – no matter how much baggage Sabrina has piled in the way. Little do either Sabrina or Molly know that helping Sabrina get out of her own way with Ray Harper will lead Molly to her own, long delayed but seemingly literal, happy ever after.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those books that drove me absolutely crazy, both in a good way AND in a bad way at the same time.

The good way took me on a bit of a search, because as I read I kept having that “I’ve read this before” kind of deja vu. The trip down reading memory lane was a whole lot of fun, as I managed to latch onto what this reminded me of so strongly.

For most of this story, Molly reads very much like Colleen, the genius loci of Stella Maris Island in Susan M. Boyer’s cozy mystery series that begins with Lowcountry Boil. Both Molly and Colleen are ghosts that protect their respective families, have limited ability to act in the real world, and do one heck of a lot of spying for their favorite people. Both also died young with unfinished business.

But the heart of the ghostly interactions in The Kindred Spirits Supper Club echoes the way that the paranormal talent that Clare Cermak the protagonist of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series finds herself inheriting a family gift for interacting with the spirit world and helping the recently and not-so-recently dead finish their unfinished business and “go towards the light”. Clare and Sabrina would have a lot to talk about, especially about the negative impact that “seeing dead people’ has on their social life, professional reputation, and opportunities for romance.

In the not so good way of driving me bonkers, while I know that Erika is supposed to serve as the villain of the piece, her behavior, especially the way it continued to the present day, read as much too far over the top. The amount of humiliation that she has put Sabrina through since grade school – and continues into adulthood – made for an uncomfortable read. As did the way that Ray’s parents treated him over his desire to stay in the Dells and continue to operate his late uncle’s supper club. The way that relationship resolved worked out for the best, but it middled in a way that was pretty damn nasty.

And it still made more sense than Erika’s crazy. I detested Erika’s crazy and it colored my feelings about the entire book, which is a real shame because I wanted to love this book and expected to love this book but the Erika plotline made that impossible.

Your reading mileage may vary.

Even though I guessed the resolution of Molly’s story fairly early on, I still liked that part of the story and Molly as a character. I also enjoyed the strong sense of place that imbues this book – another similarity to the Lowcountry Boil series, BTW. In spite of living in Chicago for 20 years, I never visited the Dells as so many Chicagoans do. This story both made me wish I had and made me feel like I almost but not quite did.

I also felt for Sabrina, her love of her family combined with her conflicting desires both to be with them and to be as far away from the Dells as possible. Her retreats into herself, her panic attacks and her anxieties made her feel real and I liked her a lot. I wanted to see her happy as much as Molly did.

In the end, while there was one character/situation to hate, there was a LOT to love about The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.

Review: The Three Mrs Greys by Shelly Ellis

Review: The Three Mrs Greys by Shelly EllisThe Three Mrs. Greys by Shelly Ellis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 320
Published by Dafina Books on March 30, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One wealthy businessman, a trio of unsuspecting wives, and an explosive turn of events. In this scandalous, twist-filled new series from award-winning author Shelly Ellis, will too many secrets and one devastating bond unite three women--or destroy them?
Noelle. Diamond. Vanessa. Each woman believes she is Cyrus Grey's only wife--until he's nearly shot to death. Now, as he lies in a coma, the deceptions keep coming, unraveling everything they thought they knew...
Gorgeous model Noelle's marriage to Cyrus anchored her--though she couldn't understand why he wouldn't have a baby with her. They certainly had the money. But she's learning fast just how Cyrus became so rich--thanks to his fatally attractive business partner...
For Diamond, marrying Cyrus saved her from the streets--and being a pimp's punching bag. But her past makes her the police's prime suspect in Cyrus' shooting. She's determined to get to the truth--if she can she survive long enough to tell it...
Even with her beautiful house, three kids, and elegant lifestyle, Vanessa sensed something was wrong in her marriage. But she never expected this--or that taking a lover for comfort would change the game completely.
With danger closing in, Cyrus' life hanging in the balance, and collateral damage threatening to take them all down, how far will each woman go to be the real Mrs. Grey?

My Review:

Grey is not an uncommon surname. It’s not out of the question for there to be three – or probably a whole lot more – Mrs. Greys in the Washington DC/Baltimore megapolis.

But Cyrus William Grey is a considerably less common name taken all together. While it’s still possible for the man to have had three wives one after another – divorce is certainly a thing, after all – for three women to all believe that they are CURRENTLY Mrs. Cyrus William Grey is a bit of a stretch.

That they all had a reason to kill him – or to have him killed – after their mutual discovery isn’t actually a surprise. That one of them may have attempted to do the deed before she found out about the other two is what makes this story so fascinating.

The story of the three Mrs. Greys is really about the falling of a house of cards – and just what happens to all of those cards once they’ve crashed to the ground around the builder of that house – in this case Cyrus William Grey.

At first, it seems like the story is all about the women – and just about the women. Mostly because Cyrus is laid up in the hospital after taking three bullets to the chest and is in a medically induced coma. He’s not “there” to keep his house of cards from crashing.

That’s where things get interesting, as the three Mrs. Greys reveal who they are, or who they used to be, or a bit of both, without Cyrus there to keep them guessing or placated or too busy to notice what the man behind the curtain is doing.

Who might not be, or might not only be, Cyrus Grey.

Escape Rating B: I don’t want to say too much about the story, because this is one of those stories where layers keep peeling back, not just the layers that Cyrus deliberately put in place, but also the layers of secrets that his three wives managed to wrap around themselves during all the time when they thought he was away on a business trip.

After all, if each of them was only getting about a third of his time, that means they each had another 2/3rds to spend alone. Or not alone, as at least one of the cases turns out to be.

The story is told through alternating points of view, day by day, for the week after Cyrus Grey gets himself shot. And he certainly did get himself shot. Not that he set himself up, but that he wasn’t keeping track of all the messes he left in his wake as he danced between his wives and his not-quite-successful-enough business.

Supporting three separate households in the style to which they wished to become accustomed is an expensive undertaking. One that threatens to send Cyrus Grey to an undertaker – one way or another.

This isn’t a case where the reader has to like one – or honestly any – of the protagonists in order to get caught up in the story. No one has clean hands in this one, and everyone has secrets that aren’t as secret as they thought they were. But the whole thing is utterly fascinating. The reader – along with all three Mrs. Greys – can’t help but marvel at the whole thing. It’s not a surprise that it fell apart, it’s a surprise that he managed it as long as he did.

So The Three Mrs. Greys is that kind of deliciously scandalous story where just desserts get passed all around. And it’s so satisfying in the sense that the whole thing couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of people. (Not quite like the Thrombey family in Knives Out – but comparisons could be made)

It’s also not over yet. The author plans to continue the story in further books. After all, nobody’s dead yet. Considering just how big of a mess this is, somebody’s going to be a dead body before the last of those just desserts is finally served.

One final note: when I was growing up, Cincinnati was not as big as the Baltimore/DC metro area is now, but it wasn’t exactly a small town, either. We used to regularly get telephone calls for the other Joe Harris who lived in Cincy, whose wife was also named Shirley like my mother. It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t old enough to be interested in books like this one, otherwise I would have been VERY suspicious!

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Review: Just Get Home by Bridget Foley

Review: Just Get Home by Bridget FoleyJust Get Home by Bridget Foley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Genres: suspense, thriller
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on April 13, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When a devastating earthquake - the Big One - hits Los Angeles, two strangers are brought together by an act of violence and must help each other survive the wrecked city.
Beegie is riding the bus when the quake hits. The teenager was heading back to her unhappy foster home, but then she’s thrown into a broken world. Roads crumble, storefronts shatter and people run wild.
Dessa, a single mom, is enjoying a rare night out when it strikes. Cell towers are down, so without even knowing if her 3-three-year-old daughter is dead or alive, she races to get back across town.
As danger escalates in the chaotic streets, Beegie and Dessa meet by a twist of fate. The two form a fragile partnership, relying on each other in ways they never thought possible, and learn who they really are when there’s only one goal: Just get home.

My Review:

One of the things I liked about yesterday’s book was that even with werewolves in the mix the author made it clear that monstrosity and monstrousness was really a human condition. No werewolves – or any creature that goes bump in the night – need apply, because we’re nasty enough on our own.

Just Get Home is a story about the evil that men – and women, but mostly men – do when the restraints of so-called civilized society are stripped away. It’s a story about what happens when the world comes to an end – at least temporarily.

And this story is all the more monstrous for feeling so close to the real and the here and the now.

Escape Rating B: I have more feelings about this book than I do coherent thoughts, so I’m putting the rating up early. I don’t read a lot of thrillers, and I was expecting this one to more about the journey and the unlikely partnership between Dessa and Beegie, and less about the messes their lives were in before.

This is also a book where I recognize that it’s good of its type and that lots of people are going to love it from the edge of their seat, but that I’m not the right reader for it. YMMV.

It doesn’t help my own reading of the story that Beegie and Dessa are hot messes long before the story opens. And that so much of the mess of Dessa’s life was of her own making. She had – and still has at least before the quake hits – PLENTY of options. I’d have felt more sympathy for her if she’d tried and failed than that she doesn’t seem to have tried at all.

But where Dessa is in her mid-late 20s, Beegie is a decade younger or a bit more. She’s been bounced around the foster care system for reasons that are not of her making, and it feels like her life is in the situation it’s in before the story opens because her choices have been so limited by race, by poverty, by age and by gender. She isn’t making good choices, but she is also so stuck in so many different ways that it’s no surprise that she lashes out the few times she can.

One of the things this book does well, when it focuses on the immediate present and not either character’s past, is the immediacy of all the ways that civilization and civilized behavior break down in the wake of a disaster. The frightening thing is that if the “Big One” really does hit California things will likely be even worse.

For this reader, the harrowing nature of their journey drove home that life at its best and certainly at its worst is considerably more dangerous for women in so many ways that their situation forces them to think about constantly.

And us too.

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Split Shift by TA Moore + Excerpt + GiveawaySplit Shift (Night Shift #2) by T.A. Moore
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Night Shift #2
Pages: 117
Published by Rogue Firebird Press on April 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The hard thing about Night Shift is when you realize werewolves are bad news, but people can be worse.

After Night Shift officer Kit Marlow solved the murder of child star Haley Jenkins, he figured he was due a little down time. Maybe even a dinner date with Cade Deacon, the sarcastic security consultant, very good kisser, and werewolf who'd helped with the investigation.

That was before someone in a Night Shift uniform drove them both off the road. With the full moon up the only dinner date Cade is interested in...has Marlow served up on a plate. And not in a sexy way.

It's the second time that corrupt Night Shift officers have tried to kill Marlow. If he has his way, it will be the last. Problem is he only has twenty-eight days before the next full moon. If he hasn't identified who wants him dead by then, he'll have to take to werewolf filled streets with a team at his back he can't trust.

First things first, though. Get through the next twelve hours alive and uneaten, and hope that if a second date is still on the cards it's less eventful.

My Review:

The awesome tease that was the first book in this series, Shift Work, left me screaming for more because it ended on an honest-to-goodness (more likely badness or badassness in this case) cliffhanger.

As in someone just T-boned Marlow’s car – with Cade in it – and left them precarious hanging onto the end of a literal, actual cliff as dusk descends and the full moon comes up over the horizon.

Meaning that Cade is about to wolf-out and Marlow is going to be on his menu – and not in the way that the two men were both hoping.

The thing is, though, that the car that crashed them onto that cliff’s edge was driven by someone in a Night Shift uniform – one of Marlow’s fellow officers. Someone he’s supposed to be able to trust to have his back on those nights when it really isn’t safe out there.

Marlow’s all too aware that it isn’t safe for him inside his own squad – a safety that he hoped he’d gotten back after a past betrayal by a dirty cop nearly ended both his career and his life. But the case that put Marlow and Cade into each other’s orbits in Night Shift isn’t done yet.

Someone is still out to get him. He just has to figure out who before they succeed. Because he’s still hoping for that date with Cade – and he has to be alive to enjoy it.

Escape Rating A-: Godsdammit but she did it again. I turned the last page of this book and realized that this case still isn’t done yet. At least Marlow isn’t hanging over the edge of an actual cliff this time. But I’m not satisfied – actually neither are Marlow and Cade – because this case still isn’t over.

ARRRGGGHHH!

One of the things that this series so far is doing really well, besides teasing its readers half to death, is showing that no matter who or what the monster of the day is in urban fantasy – this time it’s werewolves – that the real monsters, forever and always, are human beings.

The wolves are just following biological imperatives. They aren’t culpable for what happens when they are shifted. They really aren’t.

When the wolves are assholes, and some of them are, it’s not because they are wolves. They are assholes because they are humans for all except the three nights of the full moon. And human beings frequently, often, suck.

And not in a fun way.

So, the problem that Marlow is having has nothing to do with wolves – even when they are chasing him. It’s humans every single time. The question that he has just begun to solve at the end of his Split Shift revolves around exactly which ones? And just how far will they go to get him out of their way?

Maybe we’ll find out in the next book in the series. Pretty, please, Ms. Author? Soon, please!

Guest Post from TA Moore + Chapter 2 of the Night Shift prequel short (check out Chapter 1 at Love Bytes)

First of all, thank you so much for having me! I’m thrilled to be here with my new release, Split Shift by TA Moore, the second novella in the Night Shift series.

For the blog tour I’ve written a short story set in the Night Shift world. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 2

Sorry.

It was technically the third apology. So far Brian hadn’t responded to any of them. Marlow stared at the phone screen for a second and then dropped his head back against the cushioned, pleather back of the booth in frustration. He stared up at the ceiling, a single cobwebby string of dust strung from one chrome light fitting to the tiles.

Three months ago Brian had thought dating someone in Night Shift was exciting. Hot. Dangerous in a sexy way. He’d wanted Marlow to turn up at his apartment in uniform, the more battered the better.

Now he had either left Marlow on read the morning after the full moon, or he’d slept through their dinner/breakfast date.

The call-and-response rhythm of food orders pitched up and down in the background. Start the Day Right was open at breakfast, but it mostly catered to the night shift. Both the Night Shift who kept the city safe during the full moon, and the less celebrated ones who kept the city running during it. So there was the occasional pancake order or call for fried beets and eggs–who didn’t like breakfast food all day?–most of the orders were for fried chicken, avocado sandwiches, and beers.

“You ready to order, love?” the waitress asked.

Marlow lifted his head. “Sorry,” he said.

For all the ‘love’ the waitress looked about twenty four. She winked at him and clicked her pen.

“Not the first who’s dozed off in here,” she said. “Not even the first today. You ready to order.”

Piper had left his order before he’d stepped out to make a call. That was easy.

“Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, extra spicy,” he said.

The waitress scratched half the order down, and paused on the spicy. “Are you sure?” she asked. “When we say something is extra spicy, it’s made people go blind.”

“That’s what he wants,” Marlow said, with a nod to Piper’s jacket on the other chair. While the waitress wrote the rest of the order down, Marlow gave the menu a quick once over. The thought of food made his stomach knot, but he supposed he had to have something on the plate. “Crispy ginger latkes?”

She nodded and scrawled it down. A swipe of the pen underlined the order and she turned to go, only to rock back on her heels as she came face to face with Piper.

“Oh!” she said. A wide smile crossed her face. “Ned! If I’d known it was your table I’d not have questioned the extra-spicy sauce.”

“I’d hope not,” Piper said. “Make that two of the same, along with whatever Marlow ordered.”

She amended the order quickly and headed off to the kitchens. A few other diners tried to catch her attention on the way past, but she waved them off. Piper pulled the chair on the other side of the booth out and sat down.

“Budge up,” the tall, blond man told Marlow as he slid into the booth next to him. His elbow nudged Marlow in the ribs and he smelled of fresh soap and leather. “You’re in my spot.”

Piper took a drink of coffee. “Marlow,” he said. “Meet Colin Franklin. He just got cleared to get back to work.”

“I got a new hip,” Franklin said with bluntly weaponised good cheer as he took his jacket off. “I try and think of it as more cybernetic than geriatic.”

“How’s that going?” Marlow asked.

He shifted up the bench to put space between them. Franklin promptly shifted back

into the space, his leg pressed against Marlow’s under the table.

“Better some days than others. On the plus side I learned to play a mean hand of bridge,” Franklin said. He stole Marlow’s coffee and took a drink. The taste made him grimace and give it back. “Bean juice. Gross. You can keep that.”

“It isn’t mine,” Marlow lied blandly. “It was on the table when we got here.”

There was a visible pause as Franklin stopped the schtick. The genial goofball slipped for a second and Franklin’s heavy-boned, handsome face settled into a thoughtful expression. It only lasted a moment then was banished with a lazy grin.

“All right, at least people won’t think you’re funnier than me,” he said.

“He’s better at hand to hand,” Piper said conversationally. He unwrapped his cutlery and laid it out on the table. “Drives like an old lady, though.”

Franklin laughed, despite the flicker of annoyance he’d shown at the first part of the sentence. “Shows what you know,” he said. “Some of the old dears in getting their hips done would have put half the cops on the force to shame. They’d run down a toddler down to get to a toilet paper sale.”

Marlow resisted the urge to move further up the bench. He’d just end up squashed into the corner and still have Franklin’s thigh against his.

“No offense, sir,” he said. Piper made a face at the ‘sir’ and Franklin sucked air through his teeth. “What is this in aid of?”

There was a pause as the waitress came back from the kitchen, plates in hand. She slid them onto the table, introducing each as she went, and grabbed a pot to top up their cups. When she finished she chirped ‘enjoy your meal’ and headed over to a nearby table that had been trying to get her attention.

“…we were here first,” one of the men grumbled. “How come they got served first?”

Marlow missed the justification for that as Piper reclaimed his attention.

“Franklin was my first pick for Night Shift,” he said as he tucked his napkin into his lap. “You both know that. He has the experience, I know he has the nerve, and the skills I want to bring to the team.”

Shit.

For a second Marlow’s chest cramped, tight and wet as if he’d just swallowed water, and then he relaxed. It wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted to hear, but it was done. He took a bite of his latkes and started to play what next.

Robbery hadn’t been that bad, but with six months on Night Shift under his belt he could move to Homicide. Or just…move? The Sheriff’s Department had their own Night Shift division, for the small towns and out in the desert. That was another option. Or another city? State?

The idea felt huge. Marlow had spent his whole life in San Diego, but his family was gone and his friends weren’t lifelong ones. There was Brian, but…

It wasn’t like he’d texted back yet.

“See?” Piper said to Franklin. He sounded obscurely pleased. “That’s what Marlow brings to the team. He’s unflappable, even in the middle of a fight. So yeah, Franklin was my first choice but you were always a close second, Marlow. I’d rather not get rid of either of you. It puts us over-budget on our wages for the year, but Quints is retiring in six months and we can absorb it until then.”

Franklin slapped Marlow on the shoulder. It was a little too hard to be friendly. “You sitting there near shitting yourself,” he chuckled, “And for what?”

“The other shoe,” Marlow said. He watched Piper over the rack of condiments in the middle of the table. “We aren’t getting a free meal for nothing are we?”

Piper smirked. He added more hot sauce to his sandwich and took a bite. The batter crunched between his teeth and juice dripped over the plate as he set back down on the table. He wiped his mouth and then his hands on a napkin as he chewed until he could swallow.

“Are you two going to be able to work together?” he asked. “Or you going to be butting heads about who’s my favorite the whole time?”

Franklin shrugged and picked up his burger. “I just want to get back to work,” he

said. “I’m not in it for back pats and medals.”

He took a huge bite and chewed contentedly–and noisily–on it.

“I don’t care who’s the favorite,” Marlow said. “I just want to do the job.”

Piper dipped a fry in the hot sauce and bit it neatly in half. He gave both of them a slow, greasy-lipped smile.

“Good,” he said. “Tonight you get to prove it. I’m going to yoke you two together, see if you can put aside your egos and do what needs done. If you can’t, well, then I guess I have a decision to make.”

He waved the waitress down again and asked for the rest of sandwich to go. It came back to the table in a neat box with a ‘little bit of something sweet to get through till tonight’.

“See you tonight at the briefing,” Piper said as he stood up. “Get some sleep.”

He walked out, bag swinging from one hand.

“I mean, you know I am the favorite right?” Franklin said as he shoved the last bite of chicken and fries into his mouth. “First choice. See you tonight, rookie.”

He bumped Marlow with his shoulder, slid out of the booth and left. The smear of hot sauce left on his plate was sour and strong enough to wrinkle Marlow’s nose. He’d not left any money.

The latkes were only ok. Marlow finished his coffee and tilted his head to catch the waitress’s eye. She topped up a coffee and sauntered over.

“Refill?”

“Just the bill,” Marlow said.

She laughed and shook her head. “No. It’s always on the house for Piper,” she said. “He saved the owner’s kid one full moon. And you, of course, thank you for your service!”

Catch the next chapter tomorrow at Two Chicks Obsessed and follow the tour for the rest of the story!

About the Author:

TA Moore is a Northern Irish writer of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance novels. A childhood in a rural, seaside town fostered in her a suspicious nature, a love of mystery, and a streak of black humour a mile wide. As her grandmother always said, ‘she’d laugh at a bad thing that one’, mind you, that was the pot calling the kettle black. TA Moore studied History, Irish mythology, English at University, mostly because she has always loved a good story. She has worked as a journalist, a finance manager, and in the arts sector before she finally gave in to a lifelong desire to write.

Coffee, Doc Marten boots, and good friends are the essential things in life. Spiders, mayo, and heels are to be avoided.

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Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline MartinThe Last Bookshop in London: A Novel of World War II by Madeline Martin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 320
Published by Hanover Square Press on April 6, 2021
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Goodreads

Inspired by the true World War II history of the few bookshops to survive the Blitz, The Last Bookshop in London is a timeless story of wartime loss, love and the enduring power of literature.
August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.
Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

My Review:

This was an utterly charming read, and I was definitely charmed by it. I’m saying that in spite of, just yesterday, claiming that I seemed to be suffering from a bit of WW2 historical fiction fatigue. It appears that that book just wasn’t the right book, where The Last Bookshop in London definitely was.

When we, along with Grace and her bestie Viv, arrive in London in 1939, Primrose Books is far from the last bookshop in London. It’s just that the rest of them seem to be congregated on Paternoster Row, while Primrose Books is a bit off the beaten path – albeit a bit closer to where Grace and Viv take up lodgings with Mrs. Weatherford.

The young women are from Drayton, a country town the dust of which neither of them could shake off their shoes fast enough. Mrs. Weatherford grew up in Drayton, like the girls, but of an earlier generation. In fact, the generation of Grace’s late mother. And they were besties back then, just as Grace and Viv are now.

And there was a war coming then too. History, damn it all, repeats the worst of its patterns.

Grace needs Mrs. Weatherford’s help, in the form of Mrs. W’s ability to boss around pretty much everyone in her orbit – including Mr. Evans, the curmudgeonly owner of Primrose Books. Which is very much within the scope of her bossing.

Grace needs a job but doesn’t have a reference – and isn’t brazen enough to fake it the way that Viv most definitely is. Mr. Evans needs someone to brighten up both the store and his life for reasons that are not apparent when we and Grace first meet him, although his need certainly is.

And Grace, dives in with a will, even though she has no idea how to sell books because she hasn’t been much of a reader – at least not so far. But she understands marketing, as she’s done it before back in Drayton, and she’s good at organization, and she needs to work with/for/at Mr. Evans for 6 months in order to get a good reference. That’s the deal he made with Mrs. Weatherford. Grace just has to earn that reference, which will just take hard work and a bit of managing – of Mr. Evans, that is.

But the dark clouds of war that have been looming on the horizon much longer than anyone wants to admit turn into a full blown storm of German bombs, just as Grace gets her feet under her in London. A London that is now on fire.

Bomb damage from St. Paul’s towards Paternoster Row

Escape Rating A-: Although this story covers very large events, the London Blitz being the obvious exploding elephant in the story’s “room”, it’s not actually a big story. It isn’t about important people directing earth-shaking events – even though the earth does frequently shake under the nightly assault by German bombers.

Rather, this is a story about ordinary people rising to the occasion, managing through adversity, keeping calm, carrying on and doing their bit to keep themselves, their friends and their neighbors together in the face of their world seeming to fall apart.

And in the midst of grief, loss and rationing, bombs falling and spirits all too often falling right along with them, it’s also a story about the power of a good book to take a person – or a whole group of people in a bomb shelter – away from the worst parts of their here and now into someone else’s there and then. Knowing that when they come back from their imaginary adventure the world will seem just a bit less grim for both the tiny escape and the shared camaraderie.

Grace’s Primrose Books may not have actually been the “Last Bookshop in London” even in the story. But Paternoster Row, the center of the British publishing industry, was destroyed during the Blitz as described herein, taking most of London’s bookstores along with it.

In spite of the Blitz, the retreat from Dunkirk, the deaths among Grace’s family of choice in London, The Last Bookshop in London is actually a hopeful story. Not just because as readers we know the result of war, but because of the way that the community that Grace has built around herself and the bookstore rallies ‘round and lifts her up – along with themselves – at even the lowest moments of the story.

So, as I said at the very beginning, The Last Bookshop in London was simply a charming and lovely read. If you like historical fiction centered on World War II, especially about the British Homefront, and/or stories about the power of reading and stories to lift people up and carry them away, this is a story that will bring as big a smile to your face as the stories that Grace reads aloud do to all of her listeners.