Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, short stories, thriller
Pages: 272
Published by Soho Crime on October 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Everyone’s favorite octogenarian killer is back in this new collection of stories by Swedish crime writer Helene Tursten that is sure to have you in stitches.
Eighty-eight-year-old Maud is never looking for trouble, but it always seems to find her. First, a woman in her building met an untimely end: tragic. Then, just recently, a dead body mysteriously appeared in her very own apartment, prompting an investigation by the local Gothenburg authorities. Such a strange coincidence. When it seems suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is, Maud decides to skip town and splurges on a trip to South Africa for herself.
In these six interlocking stories, memories of unfortunate incidents from Maud’s past keep bubbling to the surface, each triggered by something in the present: an image, a word, even a taste. When she lands in Johannesburg at last, eager to move on from the bloody ordeal last summer, she finds certain problems seem to be following her. Luckily, Maud is no stranger to taking matters into her own hands . . . even if it means she has to get a little blood on them in the process.
Don’t let her age fool you. Maud may be nearly ninety, but this elderly lady still has a few tricks before she’s ready to call it quits.
*Includes cookie recipes*

My Review:

While neither as smooth nor as famous as “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” there has been a progression in this week’s reviews. First there was a book about “real” ghosts. Then fake ghosts being investigated by elderly lady amateur detectives. Today we have a story about real detectives investigating an elderly lady who might just be a serial killer. With fatally delicious cookie recipes.

Just like the previous trip through Maud’s murderous memory, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, the detectives who visit Maud are more of a catalyst than they are an integral part of the story. Inspector Irene Huss and Detective Embla Nyström still can’t quite get their minds around the idea that 88-year-old Maud might have been the murderer of the man who was found dead in her apartment over the summer. But they also can’t dismiss their instincts that say that Maud did it, no matter how frail and dotty a persona she projects.

That the detectives are still sniffing around Maud’s apartment makes Maud a bit apprehensive. I’d say nervous but Maud doesn’t seem to get nervous. Maud just removes whatever problem has come her way. But when the problem is two police detectives, she’s better off removing herself from their jurisdiction rather than employing her usual methods.

So Maud takes herself off, at 88 going on 89, on a luxury trip to a place she’s always loved. It’s been five years since her last, somewhat more economical visit to South Africa, so this time she’s going to go first class all the way. After all, she can afford it and she has no one to leave her money to, so she might as well spend some of it while she’s still capable of the trip.

The story of this elderly lady who truly must not be crossed isn’t so much a single story as it is a collection of memories. As Maud naps on the very long series of flights from Sweden to Johannesburg, her mind drifts back into the past, to the very first time she took care of business in her own inimitable-if-not-yet-deadly style when she was only eleven.

By the time that Maud eliminates her rival for a full-time teaching position, we see that Maud’s course is firmly set. She sees a problem – and she gets rid of the problem. She plans, she executes, and well, she executes someone who is in her way. Sometimes by way of a well aimed icicle, and sometimes by way of a not-so-nice recipe for cookies.

Maud gets things done.

But her trip to South Africa, besides causing her in-flight trips down memory lane, also gives her a chance to think about what she wants from the rest of her life, however short or long that might be. And it puts her in the way of one last good deed, by carrying out one more bad one.

Escape Rating A-: As with the previous book, Maud’s adventures are short but not exactly sweet. How could they be when Maud’s tried-and-true method of solving problems is to eliminate the cause of the problem – permanently.

Which makes Maud a bit of a guilty pleasure. On the one hand, I hope to be that healthy, spry and self-possessed at 88. On the other hand, Maud is a successful serial killer, not exactly a hobby to aspire to. If that’s what it takes to keep oneself young there’s a serious problem with the collateral damage. Maud is kind of like a picture of Dorian Gray that inflicts its damage on other people instead of a portrait.

I’m waxing a bit hyperbolic because of my internal conflict – although Maud has none. And probably doesn’t have a conscience either. There’s so much about Maud that’s admirable, and enviable. Her head is a very entertaining place to be. But she kills people who get in her way. Regularly. Some of them deserve it. And some are just in Maud’s way – until they aren’t.

The Ducote sisters from yesterday’s book are probably better role models for what one would want to be in their 80s. But having a drink or a meal with Maud would be fascinating – at least after I’d checked everything over for poison.

Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda James

Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda JamesFixing to Die (Southern Ladies Mystery, #4) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #4
Pages: 294
Published by Berkley Books on October 3, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and Digging Up the Dirt returns with the latest Southern Ladies Mystery...
It's autumn down south, and An'gel and Dickce Ducote are in Natchez, Mississippi, at the request of Mary Turner Catlin, the granddaughter of an old friend. Mary and her husband, Henry Howard, live in Cliffwood, one of the beautiful antebellum homes for which Natchez is famous.
Odd things have been happening in the house for years, and the French Room in particular has become the focal point for spooky sensations. The Ducotes suspect the ghostly goings-on are caused by the living, but when a relative of the Catlins is found dead in the room, An'gel and Dickce must sift through a haunted family history to catch a killer.

My Review:

What is it that makes cozy mysteries just so cozy and so much of a comfort to read? You’d think that the fact that they all start with a dead body would act against that, but it doesn’t. At all.

I’m caught up in this question because so many of my “comfort reads” are cozy mysteries. Because this has been a week where the weather has been so wet and gloomy that it makes a person want to curl up with a good book, a hot cup of tea and a cat and just wait for it all to go away – which won’t be until Saturday at the earliest and it’s been raining since Sunday. I couldn’t focus on any of the things I planned to read and ended up looking for a cozy mystery to sink into.

And here we are, Fixing to Die. Because this is the last book in the author’s Southern Ladies mystery series, although the adventures of the Cat in the Stacks seem to be continuing. Thank goodness.

So, on a damp and chilly autumn evening, when I couldn’t get into anything else, I found myself, along with sisters An’gel and Dickce Ducote, traveling from their home in Athena Mississippi to Natchez to help the granddaughter of an old friend out with her haunted antebellum bed and breakfast.

Only to find themselves in the midst of an acrimonious family drama – although thankfully one not even remotely their own this time, unlike the events in Dead with the Wind.

The practical-minded An’gel is certain that the ghostly happenings at Cliffwood are the result of a worldly rather than an otherworldly agent. Dickce is a bit more open-minded about the whole thing. After all, their own antebellum home has its share of inexplicable door-closings and perambulating knick-knacks.

But the humans who have gathered at Cliffwood make both the sisters more than a bit suspicious. Mary and Henry, the owners of the house, are fighting over just how much of their lives should be devoted to the care and feeding of the house and the guests they need to keep on keeping the house up to the standards of the Historical Society.

Mary’s cousin Nathan believes he’s entitled to the contents of one of the rooms in the house – based on an old will that he can’t find. That the room contains priceless antiques just adds to his motivations to make his cousin Mary and her husband Henry’s lives even more miserable. Nathan’s sister invites herself and her lawyer to the house in the hopes of loosening her brother’s grip on her trust fund.

Then a psychic medium knocks on the door, claiming that the spirits in the house have called to her to give them peace, and it’s clear that some kind of fix is in. If not multiple fixes.

When Nathan’s dead body is found in the morning in the room he claimed he owned, it’s more of a relief than it is a surprise. One of the lovely things about this series is that the person you most want to end up dead usually does in short order.

But with a corpse on their hands – again – the Ducote sisters can’t resist playing Nancy Drew in order to figure out how the murderer got into and out of the locked room containing the victim. So they can figure out whodunnit, and why, and how.

Because that’s what they do. They help the police solve murders – even when the police would much, much rather NOT be helped!

Escape Rating B: And we’re back to what makes cozy mysteries cozy, and why this particular series – and this particular author – have turned out to be such a cozy and comforting read for me.

I think what makes cozy mysteries cozy is a combination of two factors. A big one is the gang or group or family (found or birth or a combination) that surrounds the detectives, whether amateur or professional. An’gel and Dickce have each other of course, but they also have their 19-year-old ward, Benjy, and their companion animals, the Labradoodle Peanut who thinks An’gel hung the moon, and the Abyssinian cat Endora, who is certain that Dickce provides the best lap in the universe.

The sisters know everyone in Athena, and their friends and friends of friends, especially Athena’s chief homicide detective Kanesha Berry, extend their reach far and wide. And make everyone they come into contact with feel familiar – only because in a way they are.

There’s also the element of cozy mystery that’s sometimes referred to as the “romance of justice”. The reader knows going in that someone who might deserve it is going to die, and that whoever murdered them is going to get what’s coming to them. And that the murder will happen safely off-screen and that the murderer will receive their just desserts legally as well as righteously. No vigilantes, very little blood and gore, and everybody walks away, with the perpetrator walking away in handcuffs in police custody.

All’s well that ends well. And cozy mysteries invariably end well. It’s part of their charm, and it’s part of the comfort they provide, that the world can be rational, that good triumphs and evil gets an appropriate punishment.

Fixing to Die turned out to be exactly what I was looking for on a very rainy autumn night. The cast of characters is a lot of fun, the family shenanigans are interesting and are somebody else’s, the murder victim needed to be taken out of the gene pool and his murderer got their just desserts. The sisters saved the day – as they always do – and their animals are along to provide just the right touch of comic relief.

This series has just the right amount of sass mixed in with the sweet, and I’m sorry that it seems to have ended with this story. Although I wouldn’t mind visiting with the Ducote sisters again, either in a future book of their own or whenever Athena’s amateur detective and professional librarian, Charlie Harris and his big Cat in the Stacks Diesel need a bit of the Ducote’s local knowledge or wide span of influence around town.

I’ll be back to visit Charlie and Diesel in Athena early next spring with Hiss Me Deadly, and I’m definitely looking forward to the trip!

Review: Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Review: Under the Whispering Door by TJ KluneUnder the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, magical realism, paranormal, relationship fiction
Pages: 373
Published by Tor Books on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop's owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn't ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo's help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.

My Review:

To paraphrase a classic that isn’t nearly as different as you’d think, Wallace Price was dead: to begin with. He was also an asshole.

The first condition is beyond Wallace’s own ability to change. The second, surprisingly, not so much. But unlike Scrooge’s situation, the spirits aren’t capable of doing anything to change it, and it’s going to take a whole lot more than one single night.

I know that Scrooge isn’t the one who dies in A Christmas Carol, but he was certainly headed down that road before the spirits staged their one-night intervention. The parallels are way closer than I was expecting.

Because the story about what’s behind the whispering door – not exactly under because the door is on the ceiling – is definitely a redemption story. It’s just that this redemption takes place after Wallace Price has already died. Even if he initially doesn’t want to admit it. Or accept it.

The purpose of Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats is all about that acceptance. The redemption appears to be optional, but the acceptance, that’s required. Charon’s Crossing, pun and all, is a waystation for people who have died but who just aren’t ready to move on to their next great adventure – or the peace of the hereafter – or whatever happens next.

They need time, and that’s just what the people who make up Charon’s Crossing are there to provide. Hugo the ferryman, Mei the reaper, the irreverent Nelson who gives lessons in being dead, and Apollo the dog who won’t leave his person, not even after he’s supposed to have gone to the Rainbow Bridge, or wherever it is that good dogs go. And Apollo was, and is, a very good dog indeed.

The late and completely unlamented Wallace Price, one of the founding partners of the white shoe law firm Moore, Price, Hernandez & Worthington, is brought to Charon’s Crossing by Mei the Reaper on her first solo gig. He doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want to be there, and he doesn’t want to accept that he’s dead.  He’s unwilling to admit that the life he barely lived is already over. And he’s still angry that his funeral was so poorly, and disrespectfully, attended.

But he’ll have all the time he needs at the tea shop to get over who he used to and learn to be who he should have been. Or so he thinks. And so Hugo hopes. Until the mysterious Manager comes to tell him that the found family he’s become a part of isn’t meant for him – no matter how much they’d love for him to stay.

So Wallace plans on one last hurrah. One final pleading before a being who is judge, jury and from a certain perspective, executioner. And it’s a doozy. The question is whether it’s enough.

Escape Rating A: Under the Whispering Door is a lovely book about the power of change and the two steps forward one step back of the process of making the attempt to change. In the end, I loved all the characters and especially the story about how they made their little found family pretty much in spite of themselves.

This is also one of the best “sad fluff” books you could possibly ever find, even though it does surprisingly manage to have a happy ending. It’s just that one person’s happy can also be another person’s letting go.

But I almost didn’t finish this. Actually the first time I read it I mostly skimmed it because the first third is hard going. Wallace Price really, truly is an asshole. Which means that the way the story is centered around him is a bit of a slog, because he’s more than a bit of a slog. And a bastard, and definitely a bastard.

To the point where the best parts of that first third are when Mei and/or Nelson get the best of him. Because Wallace SO deserves it.

So that first time I skimmed the book I missed a lot of what made it so good because I found Wallace so hard to care about. Or be in the company of. But when the audio popped up on NetGalley I decided to give it another try. And this time I fell kind of in love with the residents of Charon’s Crossing and Wallace’s redemptive story. Wallace may not just be “mostly dead” but actually all the way dead, but he still manages to get better. And isn’t that a trick and a half!

And in audio that slow but steady upwards climb captivated me and I loved every minute. Especially the times when Wallace really screws up – or gets screwed up and over – and I was laughing so hard I had to pull the car over to wipe my eyes.

One final set of thoughts. This is being marketed as fantasy because of the author’s previous work in the genre, like the lovely House in the Cerulean Sea, and because of the “I help dead people” angle. But if this is fantasy, it’s mostly of the magical realism variety, like the now-old movie Heaven Can Wait or the even older Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It’s fantastic but not fantasy as the term is generally used.

Instead, it’s more about Wallace’s developing relationships with his found family, the town that Charon’s Crossing is located in, and his growing romantic attachment to Hugo – and very much vice-versa.

At the same time, it feels like the story hints at deeper roots to the whole setup of the ferrymen and ferrywomen (ferrypersons?) and the somewhat supernatural organization that recruits them. The mysterious Manager reads like an avatar for the Horned God of ancient myth, someone like Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter or the Green Man or even Pan. But that’s all just a hint and if you squint you might miss it.

Besides those two movies, there are other stories that touch of bits of what this does. Peter S. Beagle’s classic A Fine and  Private Place is another story about redemption after death and living the life you’ve got to the fullest.

And I believe that Hugo, the ferryman and expert tea advocate, would have a great deal to share with Sibling Dex, the tea monk of Becky Chambers’ marvelous A Psalm for the Wild-Built, as both their stories, in spite of the separation of millennia, are about the joy of found families and the surprising power of a good, well-chosen blend of tea.

Review: Pets in Space 6 edited by Carol Van Natta

Review: Pets in Space 6 edited by Carol Van NattaPets in Space 6: A Science Fiction Romance Anthology by S.E. Smith, Veronica Scott, Honey Phillips, Carol Van Natta, Cassandra Chandler, J.C. Hay, S.J. Pajonas, Greta van der Rol, Deborah A. Bailey, Melisse Aires, Kyndra Hatch
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, science fiction, science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space #6
Pages: 1329
Published by Pets in Space Books on October 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Pets in Space® is back for a new year of adventures!
Join the incredible authors in this year's Pets in Space 6 for another out-of-this-world adventure. This award-winning, USA TODAY Bestselling anthology is packed full ofyour favorite Pets in Space®. Featuring 11 original, never-before-released stories from some of today's bestselling science fiction romance and fantasy authors, Pets in Space 6 continues their vital support of Hero-Dogs.org, the non-profit charity that improves quality of life for veterans of the U.S. military and first-responders with disabilities. Don't miss out on this limited-edition anthology before it is too late!

THE STORIES
BEHR'S REBEL

Marastin Dow Book 2
by S.E. Smith
With the help of her two innovative pets, a human woman rescues an alien General and becomes part of the revolution he is leading.

STAR CRUISE: TIME LOOP
Sectors Romance series
by Veronica Scott
Reliving the same terrible day, Raelyn and her pet are in a race to save the interstellar cruise ship…

THE CYBORG WITH NO NAME
by Honey Phillips
Can a rogue robotic horse and a misfit mechanical dog protect a wounded cyborg and a lonely scientist from a vicious new enemy?

ESCAPE FROM NOVA NINE
A Central Galactic Concordance Novella
by Carol Van Natta
She's a space pirate with vital information. He's a wanted fugitive with enemies hot on his afterburner. Will their unexpected attraction survive escaping a dangerous asteroid mine in time to avert a war?

TRADE SECRETS
The Department of Homeworld Security Series

by Cassandra Chandler
She wanted to learn about aliens—and ended up uncovering their secrets!

SEE HOW THEY RUN
TriSystems: Smugglers
by JC Hay
Love blossoms in space, but can it survive being dragged back down to ground?

SURI'S SURE THING
Kimura Sisters Series
by S.J. Pajonas
In this best-friends-to-lover romance, workaholic Suri would rather be in space than deal with her ex-boyfriend. Will she be able to leave him behind and find love with her best friend instead?

THE THUNDER EGG
by Greta van der Rol
Can a freighter captain and an academic outwit their pursuers and get a little alien foundling back where she belongs?

WORLDS OF FIRE: METAMORPHOSIS
by Deborah A. Bailey
When an alchemy student is deceived into using her transmutation skills to assist a smuggling ring, will her gargoyle shifter mentor help her expose the criminals or turn her in?

STRANDED ON GRZBT
by Melisse Aires
Can a resourceful human trust the alien determined to help her and her companions?

ESCAPING KORTH
Before The Fall series
by Kyndra Hatch
An alien interrogator recognizes the human prisoner as his fated mate, leading to danger for both of them.

My Review:

Welcome to the latest iteration of the annual reading treat that is Pets in Space. It’s that time again, and the newest addition to the Pets in Space litter, clowder, herd or what-have-you of marvelous science fiction romance novellas where the pets steal the show will be released tomorrow, October 5, 2021.

It’s time for Pets in Space 6, and I already know that it’s every bit as big a winner as its earlier siblings.

The Pets in Space collections are always huge reading treats, and this year is no exception. There are eleven stories packed into 1,300 pages – that’s over 100 pages per story. So these are not exactly short stories. Rather they are all novelette or novella length.

So none of the stories are small. Some of the pets however – like the mice in one of my favorite stories this year – are a bit on the tiny side. But oh-so-cute all the same.

Because this collection is always a mega-treat, I always go into it with a plan of attack – and this year is no exception. The stories are always so good, and too much of a good thing can be wonderful, but these are always such lovely treats that I like to spread them out a bit over the year.

But first, that plan of attack. Because I definitely want to read some of the stories the moment I get the collection!

I start by looking for stories in worlds that I’m already familiar with. This year that meant Veronica Scott’s Sectors SF Romance Star Cruise: Time Loop. The series as a whole began with The Wreck of the Nebula Dream, but has evolved to cruise around the galaxy on a ship that is crewed and staffed by quite a few retired members of the military.

It’s a cruise ship. In space. Who wouldn’t want to take one of their cruises, in spite of some of the stranger and/or more dangerous things that happen aboard? I’d certainly sign up.

The events of the story in this year’s collection are both strange AND dangerous. Senior stewardess Raelyn Cantorini of the cruise ship Nebula Zephyr has a pet lizard from her homeworld. Eyn is bright and mischievous, as so many pets are. Eyn is also more intelligent than average, which just adds to the amount of mischief the little one can make. But when Eyn breaks a glass ornament that was supposedly an artifact of the Ancients who seeded the galaxy with life, Raelyn finds herself experiencing Groundhog Day. Not the day in February, but the movie, where life repeats the same day over and over until someone, in this case Raelyn, gets it right.

And saves the lives of everyone on the ship. If she can get someone to believe her before its too late.

Eyn’s mischief led me to feline mischief – not that I don’t see plenty of that in real life!

In Trade Secrets by Cassandra Chandler, a confessed space nerd girl learns that not only are aliens out there, but they are also living on Earth – with their ultra-intelligent, hypo-allergenic cats. Gwen points her hacking skills at an abandoned Mars Rover only to discover that lizard-like aliens have fixed and adopted the little machine. Which is very much against the rules – not that Gwen’s hack was any better. The aliens come to Earth to persuade Gwen to give up her recording – and end up taking her back to the stars.

Where the Star Cruise story reminded me a lot of the Stargate SG-1 episode Window of Opportunity, Trade Secrets had the flavor of Earth Girls are Easy – which was a hoot and a half I still remember fondly.

Howsomever, as much as I’d love to go into space, and as easily as Gwen falls for her fated alien mate, much of the charm of this story belongs to the super-smart and super-cute “space cat” Bandit, along with his self-centered and destructive litter-mate Queenie.

After the cruise ship and the cats, I went looking for something cute and fuzzy to round out this portion of my SFR reading and discovered Positive, Negative and Monocle, the lab mice in See How They Run by JC Hay. This story is part of a series that sounds a bit like Firefly crossed with Sisters of the Vast Black, as odd a combination as that sounds. The engineers on the ship Sentinel of Gems, April and Baker, are friends who would like to be more. But Baker has a history of not letting herself get involved, and April has just learned that they may have a genetic time bomb ticking in their lungs. When Baker decides to save her friend by stealing a trio of lab mice from a high tech laboratory that studies just the disease that April fears they have, the situation goes pear-shaped at the speed of light. But while they are all in quarantine together, April, Baker and the surprisingly intelligent stolen mice, the humans figure out that it’s more important to spend what time they have together than to worry about how much time they might or might not have. Not that the mice won’t have plenty to say about that.

Escape Rating A: I love this collection. I love it for its size and its scope, for the endless hours of reading pleasure it gives me, for its promotion of great science fiction romance and SFR authors, and for its annual donations to Hero Dogs, a charity that raises, trains, and places support dogs with U.S. veterans and first-responders.

So this is a win-win-win. I get a great bunch of stories to read every year. A terrific charity gets a nice boost in donations and publicity. And now I get to pass all of that on to you! If any of the stories I’ve mentioned above appeal to you, or if you like the concept of Pets in Space, pick up a copy of this year’s collection and settle in for a long and glorious reading binge!

Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

Review: A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowA Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables, #1) by Alix E. Harrow
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, fairy tales, fantasy, retellings
Series: Fractured Fables #1
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on October 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow's A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story.
It's Zinnia Gray's twenty-first birthday, which is extra-special because it's the last birthday she'll ever have. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no one has lived past twenty-one.
Her best friend Charm is intent on making Zinnia's last birthday special with a full sleeping beauty experience, complete with a tower and a spinning wheel. But when Zinnia pricks her finger, something strange and unexpected happens, and she finds herself falling through worlds, with another sleeping beauty, just as desperate to escape her fate.

My Review:

A Spindle Splintered is about the power of narrative to shape and warp people’s lives. And it’s about the power of sisterhood and friendship that helps them to break free.

Zinnia Gray is dying. For her, Sleeping Beauty is more than a myth or a fairy tale. It’s a dream of wish fulfillment. Sleeping Beauty went to sleep, and when she woke up her curse was broken and all was well.

Zinnia would be happy to sleep for a century if she could wake up and be healthy, with all of her loved ones around her. But it’s not to be, and she knows it. She has an incurable disease that is going to take away all the birthdays after this one.

Her best friend Charm is determined to give Zinnia the full Disney Princess Sleeping Beauty experience, complete with crumbling castle and defective spinning wheel. But the power of their friendship and the power of narrative and the multiverse turn out to be a whole lot stronger than either Zinnia or Charm could possibly have imagined.

Zinnia, like all the other Sleeping Beauties before and after her, pricks her finger on the spindle, but instead of sleeping for a century, Zinnia finds herself spinning out into the multiverse of all the Sleeping Beauties who have ever, or will ever, do the same.

Zinnia cries out through the multiverse, not for someone to save her, but for someone she can save. And her cry is answered in ways that Disney and the Brothers Grimm never imagined.

Escape Rating A+: First, this book is just plain wonderful. It’s a wonderfully twisted re-imagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, and it’s a terrific story of friendship, sisterhood and agency. I always love it when the princesses save themselves – as they should!

Most of the reviews make a comparison between A Spindle Splintered and the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that comparison is certainly there to be made. Just as Miles Morales teams up with variations of Spider-Man from across one multiverse, Zinnia teams up with Sleeping Beauties from myths and fairytales that spread across their multiverse.

There is, however, an element to A Spindle Splintered and the multiverse of Sleeping Beauties that wasn’t present in the Spiderverse. Come to think of it, there are two elements. One is that Spider-Man in all of his, her, and their incarnations, including Spider-Ham, is an active character with agency. Once that radioactive spider bites their victim, the resulting Spider-person becomes an active force for good.

Sleeping Beauty is a passive character. Her fate is to prick her finger and sleep for a century, only to be woken up by a kiss. She’s the progenitor of the woman in the refrigerator trope. She’s not even the protagonist of her own story.

But the original point I wanted to make about the royalty of princesses (yes, royalty is the collective noun for a group of princesses) who would be Sleeping Beauty is that many of them, and clearly the ones who answer Zinnia’s call, don’t want to be Sleeping Beauty. They are being forced or coerced or shoved into the role by the power of the narrative to shoehorn people into predetermined patterns or tropes. It’s a concept that has been used to power entire stories or series like Second Hand Curses by Drew Hayes, the Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, and the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. The force of narrative, of its need to recreate timeless stories by shoving people into roles they don’t want in order to fulfill its directive, makes A Spindle Splintered a powerful story because we already know how the story is “supposed” to go and want to see it subverted.

And it’s wonderful – especially when all the Sleeping Beauties carry off the princess and save the day, not just for her, but for each other as well.

Speaking of stories that could use a different ending, the Fractured Fables series will continue next summer with A Mirror Mended. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, will Zinnia Gray save the sorceress or take a really big fall?” Or both. We’ll see what we see when we look in that mirror.

Review: Gutter Mage by J.S. Kelley

Review: Gutter Mage by J.S. KelleyGutter Mage by J.S. Kelley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Pages: 336
Published by Gallery / Saga Press on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Fantasy and hardboiled noir in this fast-paced, twisting tale of magic, mystery, and a whole lot of unruly behavior.
In a kingdom where magic fuels everything from street lamps to horseless carriages, the mage guilds of Penador wield power equal to the king himself. So when Lord Edmund’s infant son is kidnapped by the ruthless Alath Guild, he turns to the one person who’s feared by even the most magically adept: Rosalind Featherstone, a.k.a. the Gutter Mage.
But as Roz delves into the circumstances behind the child’s disappearance, she uncovers an old enemy from her traumatic past and a long-brewing plot that could lead to the death of countless innocents, as well as the complete collapse of Penadorian society itself!

My Review:

Is it still urban fantasy if it isn’t set in our world? That’s a question I’m still very much puzzling over after finishing Gutter Mage, because this story has all the gritty, noir feels of urban fantasy, even if the cities of Drusiel and Monaxa are in a place called Penador and nowhere in the world we know.

Not that Drusiel, in particular, doesn’t remind me of other gritty fantasy cities, like Kirkwall and Ankh-Morpork, places where trouble brews in back alleys, disreputable taverns, and in the halls of power and powerful guilds alike.

The story of the Gutter Mage begins in the only disreputable tavern that has not yet barred Arcanist Rosalind Featherstone from its dingy but not disgusting premises. Roz is the Gutter Mage herself – but she’ll deck you if you call her that. Or set you on fire. Or both. Probably both.

Roz is a mercenary, an investigator into magic gone wrong, and a woman who seems to be doing her best to destroy herself one brain cell at a time. She is most emphatically NOT a mage – because the powerful mage guilds threw her out on her ear when her mentor abused her in the worst way possible.

He turned her into a weapon of fire. And she burned him to death for it, along with every other mage who participated in the ritual that put fire literally in her hands.

But someone has kidnapped a nobleman’s newborn baby for a magical ritual that isn’t supposed to exist. Then again, when Roz investigates, it starts to look like the baby doesn’t exist either. And on Roz’ other burning hand, it looks a lot like her former mentor is alive, and well, and planning to enact a ritual that is supposed to be a myth and an allegory, and not a real ritual at all.

Just like the one that put the fire in Roz’ hands. This time, her old nemesis has much bigger plans. He’s not just going to screw up one person’s life – he’s going to bring down the magic that keeps the entire kingdom going.

If Roz doesn’t stop him first.

Escape Rating A-: Gutter Mage is just a surprise and a dark delight of a book. I got captured by Roz’ bar brawl at the very beginning, and just could not read fast enough from there. The story is a blend of dark and gritty urban fantasy, mixed with just a bit of dark and gritty sword and sorcery – although way more sorcery than swords – and a scope that keeps getting bigger and broader even as the story tightens its focus on Roz, her self-destructive tendencies, her property destroying talent – or curse – and her need to put a stop to the man who used her and broke her.

This is a story that starts out small, as many urban fantasies do. Roz and her business partner and best friend Lysander are hired to solve a kidnapping and retrieve the victim – an infant who is so new that his mother hasn’t healed from his birth yet. The case looks easy. They even have a suspect for the crime – a mage guild who claims that the baby is integral to a ritual they plan to perform.

Except that every person they interview contradicts everyone else. There’s too much that just doesn’t make sense. It’s all so obvious that it’s obvious that it’s a setup. A setup that Roz figures out part of relatively easily. It’s just that Roz should have remembered that old saying about when something is too good to be true, and you’re not sure who the chump is, it’s you.

But the reveals are what make this thing so much fun. And where the story expands in scope. Because Roz learns that she might not be who she thinks she is. Also that the guilds and the powers that be are even more evil than she believed they were, even though she starts the story certain that they are all pretty much the WORST. The first thing is life altering. The second might be world destroying – and the world might even deserve it. On top of those revelations, there’s one more, the knowledge that, from a certain twisted point of view – that of Roz’ former mentor – it’s all Roz’ fault, for reasons that I wish had been a bit less clichéd. But the stakes ended up being so damn high that it doesn’t really matter. Except to Roz.

Gutter Mage reminded me a lot of The Blacktongue Thief and The Moonsteel Crown. Both have that same dark feel to them, both of them also feature protagonists who are more antihero than hero, and both revolve around self-deceptive characters who need to save the world anyway – even if they’re not remotely certain they want to save themselves. And both are series openers, and I really hope that Gutter Mage is as well.

Because, like both of those books, Gutter Mage reads like the start of something new and big and exciting. And I can’t wait to read where it goes.

Review: The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

Review: The Collector’s Daughter by Gill PaulThe Collector's Daughter: A Novel of the Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb by Gill Paul
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A Paperback Original
Bestselling author Gill Paul returns with a brilliant novel about Lady Evelyn Herbert, the woman who took the very first step into the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and who lived in the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, and the long after-effects of the Curse of Pharaohs. 
Lady Evelyn Herbert was the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, brought up in stunning Highclere Castle. Popular and pretty, she seemed destined for a prestigious marriage, but she had other ideas. Instead, she left behind the world of society balls and chaperones to travel to the Egyptian desert, where she hoped to become a lady archaeologist, working alongside her father and Howard Carter in the hunt for an undisturbed tomb.
In November 1922, their dreams came true when they discovered the burial place of Tutankhamun, packed full of gold and unimaginable riches, and she was the first person to crawl inside for three thousand years. She called it the “greatest moment” of her life—but soon afterwards everything changed, with a string of tragedies that left her world a darker, sadder place.
Newspapers claimed it was “the curse of Tutankhamun,” but Howard Carter said no rational person would entertain such nonsense. Yet fifty years later, when an Egyptian academic came asking questions about what really happened in the tomb, it unleashed a new chain of events that seemed to threaten the happiness Eve had finally found.

My Review:

Once upon a time, there was a crocodile on a sandbank. While that particular crocodile doesn’t make an appearance in this book (although there is A crocodile), it’s still the reason I picked this book up. I’m referring to the first Amelia Peabody book by Elizabeth Peters, Crocodile on the Sandbank, published only three years after the more modern parts of The Collector’s Daughter take place. I still miss Amelia, and I still look for books that remind me of her. I hoped that this book, wrapped around famous ( or infamous) events in Egyptology featuring people that Amelia would have known and had firm opinions about – as she always did – would scratch my itch to hear Amelia’s rather forthright voice in my head one more time.

Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn Herbert and Howard Carter at the top of the steps leading to the newly discovered tomb of Tutankhamun, November 1922.

The lovely thing about this particular story, however, is that at least the bare bones of it are true. Lady Evelyn Leonora Almina Beauchamp (née Herbert) was the daughter of Lord Carnarvon. THE Lord Carnarvon who sponsored Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Evelyn, along with her father and Howard Carter, was truly one of the first people to see the inside of the famous tomb in modern times. Even if those modern times were nearly a century ago.

Howsomever, the way that the story split its timelines between the 1920s and the 1970s meant that it wasn’t exactly the book that the blurb would lead one to expect. Because that blurb, along with the book’s subtitle, gives every impression that the more significant part of the story revolves around the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. And unfortunately it doesn’t.

Instead, the larger part of the story takes place in the 1970s, just after the latest in a series of strokes that Eve suffered throughout her real life, after a severe automobile accident in 1935. Whether this particular stroke mirrors reality or not, it is true that the threat of another stroke hung over her life very much like the curse of Tutankhamun – even if that curse was entirely a creation of the press looking for sensationalism.

So most of the book takes place in the 1970s, and much of its time, its mystery and its pathos are wrapped around Eve’s months of recovery, her flashbacks of memory during that recovery, her husband’s love for her and his fears about the future as they are both in their 70s, and the attempts by an unscrupulous archaeologist to get a compromised Eve to reveal secrets that she has been keeping for 50 long and tumultuous years.

Escape Rating B+: The issue with this book is that it is a much quieter and gentler book than the reader has been led to expect from the blurb and the subtitle. I was expecting, honestly, a bit of Amelia. A woman perhaps a bit ahead of her time who overcame obstacles and had adventures. Because, let’s face it, being one of the very first people to see the inside of Tutankhamun’s tomb in thousands of years should have been a great adventure. The adventure of a lifetime. I was expecting to read a story about that adventure.

But that’s not what this story is about. Partially that’s because it is wrapped around Eve’s real life, and Eve is, as her Wikipedia entry puts it, “known for (being) present at the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb. She didn’t discover it. She didn’t work on the team that made the discovery. She was not an archeologist – and neither was her father Lord Carnarvon. Eve was present because her father provided the funding for Howard Carter’s expedition, and she was the first in the tomb because she was able to fit through a much smaller hole than either her father or Carter.

Then her father died, the lurid story of the curse was born, and Eve left Egypt for home, never to return, although she and Howard Carter remained friends for the rest of Carter’s life.

This story isn’t really about the discovery. It’s really about the way that the discovery has haunted her life and the way that the secrets she kept hidden loomed in the background. The secrets really existed, as revealed in her uncle’s diary many years after she returned to England. There had always been rumors that she, her father and Howard Carter had made a surreptitious visit to the inside of the tomb before the officials came down from Cairo to certify the find. And that while they were inside the tomb, a few small items made their way into all of their pockets. In a way, this is a story about the way that the thing that Eve stuck in her pocket has hung over her life rather like a bad smell. Still it seems to have been a good life, a comfortable life, and even if it was visited by tragedy, it seems like no more than any other – curses notwithstanding.

But readers expecting something like the 1999 film The Mummy, where Rachel Weisz plays a character named Evelyn Carnahan who is based on Eve Herbert, are going to be a bit  disappointed. As I was in Eve’s lack of resemblance to the redoubtable Amelia Peabody. Or even to amateur detective Jane Wunderly in Murder at the Mena House. But if you’re looking for a quiet, lovely book about a woman who did not transcend her time but lived in the shadow of her one great adventure, there’s plenty of charm and a great deal to enjoy in The Collector’s Daughter.

It just wasn’t quite the book I was looking for.

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie BarnesThe Dishonored Viscount (Diamonds in the Rough, #8) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #8
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He knows he doesn’t deserve her, yet he can’t get her out of his mind...
Stripped of his title because of a crime his father committed, Marcus Berkly has struggled to find a new place for himself in the world. Now, as London’s most skilled eye-surgeon, he dedicates his time to his patients while steering clear of Society. Until a chance encounter with a determined young woman upends his life.
When Lady Louise discovers that Mr. Berkly’s surgical method could save her from permanent blindness, she decides to enlist his help. Against her father’s direct orders, she takes charge of her fate, and falls desperately in love in the process. But can a proper lady and an ill-reputed scoundrel have a future together? Or are the odds against them simply too great?

My Review:

I picked this up because I thought I’d read the entire Diamonds in the Rough series so far, and I always look forward to the latest installment. Although it turns out I managed to miss one (The Forgotten Duke), and obviously I’ll have to go back.

While I haven’t loved any of the series quite as much as I did the very first book, A Most Unlikely Duke, I’ve certainly enjoyed them more than well enough to keep coming back for more. So I’m actually kind of glad I missed one because it will give me an opportunity to catch up between now and the next. Especially as it looks like the story in that book leads directly to this one – not that plenty of other things haven’t as well.

All of the stories in this series start with the premise that either the hero or the heroine – and usually it’s the hero – is not worthy of the love of the heroine, nor her hand in marriage. At least unworthy according to the strict – and strictly hypocritical – rules of Regency high society.

Marcus Berkly used to be the heir of the Earl of Hedgewick. From a certain perspective, he still is. But where he was once the heir to the Earldom, now he’s heir to nothing but the scandal and opprobrium rightfully attached to his father’s name. The title, the estate, and everything Marcus expected to inherit were forfeit to the Crown when his father’s crimes were revealed.

Society can no longer sneer at his dead father, but they can certainly administer the cut direct to Marcus at every opportunity. So he does his best to give them as few opportunities as possible. After all, with the loss of his estate, Marcus has been forced to work for his living. And he does. After long years of training, Marcus Berkly has become an inventive, esteemed and highly-respected eye surgeon.

Which is where the rest of the story comes in. Lady Louise, the daughter of the Earl of Grasmere, has cataracts, and has since she was a girl. The usual treatment for her condition is to “couch” her eyes, inserting a needle into the eye and moving the occluded lens aside. It works, at least for a little while, and is just as painful as you might expect.

Berkly is pioneering a new and permanent treatment for the condition, and has a high success rate for the operation. Which is to remove the occluded lens completely through a tiny cut. It’s even more painful than couching, the recovery time is longer, and without a lens in the eye the patient will have to wear eyeglasses for the rest of their life. But it’s permanent.

Louise wants the treatment. Desperately. Every time the couching fails, as it inevitably does, she’s blind until the next painful treatment. Once and done – no matter the pain – seems like an extremely worthwhile trade to her.

But not to her father. Who is stubborn, a stick in the mud, a dictator in Louise’s life and a stickler for the rules. He refuses to consider the new treatment, because he’s hidebound, because her current eye doctor is a long-term friend, and especially and mostly because of the scandal attached to Marcus’ name.

Louise is not supposed to have any agency in this situation. Her father certainly believes that she does not. So she takes it – and herself – out of his clutches and concocts a plan to get the treatment she needs and should be entitled to.

That she and Marcus will have to stay in the country – properly chaperoned of course – for an entire month has no bearing on her plans when the scheme takes flight. But by the time her father finds her and returns her to London, her view of the world and her future in it has changed.

And not just because she can finally see.

Escape Rating B: One of the things that is glaringly obvious in Regency romances written today is the way that the hypocrisy of the ton is set out in such sharp relief. Marcus Berkly has done absolutely nothing wrong. Not by any standards whatsoever. He has not committed any crimes, he hasn’t cheated at cards, he’s just a reasonably decent man who is suffering from a huge case of guilt by association. As one of the characters in the story put it, how was he supposed to disassociate himself from his own father? Not that he didn’t want to, but seriously, how does one do that?

The story also exposes the way that everything in high society functions is all about the appearance of obeying the rules, which seems to be the biggest rule of all. So it’s not that all of the offers for Lady Louise’s hand are from fortune hunters, it’s that the obviousness of that issue is not exposed to society in a way that can’t be ignored.

On the one hand, the sheer, intended and intentional helplessness of Louise’s situation grates like rough sandpaper. And on the other, that she grasps the nettle by the thorns and gets herself the treatment she needs in spite of her father’s threats is very well done. She wants more from her life than a miserable existence as some man’s decorative object and broodmare, and she’s willing to be exiled from society to get it.

Her father is such a jackass about the whole thing that he becomes a caricature. There were plenty of legitimate reasons for not approving the new treatment but he went the high-handed dictator route instead. He actually did have reasonably good intentions for his daughter, even if he went about them in the worst and most tyrannical way. Maybe he does make sense, but I found him even more of a trial than Louise did.

Marcus also falls prey to the “I’m not worthy” syndrome because society has forced it upon him, along with a heaping helping of “she doesn’t know her own mind” which made me want to strangle him at points. At the same time, it’s so clear that he’s a very good man and might possibly be good enough for Louise. Maybe. If he works very, very hard.

She’s the one I wanted to see get her HEA. After all, she’s blackmailing her father, which takes some serious gonads. She earned every good thing that finally comes to her, because she’s the one who gets tried the most, and she’s not found wanting.

The men in her life, not so much.

Still, I had a good time reading this latest book in the series, which, according to the author, is the last full-length novel in it. But I still have The Forgotten Duke to go back to when I want to take a quick trip to the Regency, and a new novella in the series, The Roguish Baron, to look forward to this holiday season, when it will be included in The Rogue Who Stole Christmas anthology.

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuireBeneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children, #3) by Seanan McGuire
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy, urban fantasy, young adult
Series: Wayward Children #3
Pages: 174
Published by Tordotcom on January 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Beneath the Sugar Sky, the third book in McGuire's Wayward Children series, returns to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children in a standalone contemporary fantasy for fans of all ages. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the "real" world.
When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.) If she can't find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests...
A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do. Warning: May contain nuts.

My Review:

I have read the Wayward Children series completely out of order, so instead of the usual 1,2,3 progression it’s been 1,6,7,2 and now three. And it still makes sense – or at least as much sense as it’s supposed to consider that many of the doors that the children who come to Miss West’s School have come through have been from worlds with more than a bit of Nonsense in them.

As does the world of Confection, the place the late and much lamented Sumi came from, and to which she expected to return. Not just hoped, but actually expected, because Sumi was from Confection, and she had been told she had a destiny there that she had to go back and meet when the time was right.

But Sumi’s destiny was interrupted by Jack and Jill’s bloodthirsty quest to re-open their door back to the Moors in Every Heart a Doorway – and I just realized that the title is a bit of a macabre pun because by a certain interpretation Sumi’s bloody heart was literally Jack and Jill’s doorway. So when Sumi’s daughter Rini, a daughter Sumi was much, much too young to have already had before she was killed, literally drops out of the sky into a fountain at the school, there’s more than a bit of problem and a quest has certainly come knocking on Miss West’s door – in spite of the sign that prohibits quests on school grounds.

Rini is in the middle of a Back to the Future situation. Specifically, the situation in the first movie where Marty starts disappearing because he’s changed the timeline too much and won’t be born. Rini is in the same predicament, even though it’s not her fault that her mother won’t be coming back to Confection to marry her father and give birth to her.

But it’s not just Rini herself that’s being erased. The entire timeline where Sumi saved Confection from the evil and entirely too Orderly and Logical Queen of Cakes is also being erased – with disastrous consequences for the people of Confection.

In order to save Rini and save her world, several of the children are going to have to whistle Sumi’s bones out of her grave and take them on a journey to the Lord of the Dead to see if there’s a way to bring Sumi back from death and save both her world and her daughter.

It’s an adventure. It’s something to do while they each wait for their own doors to open again. And it will save Sumi, Rini, and their entire world. Unless the children lose themselves along the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up now because I read Where the Drowned Girls Go for a Library Journal review last month and, while I didn’t have any problems getting into the story, it was pretty clear that the characters in that 7th book in the series had been on previous adventures together. Beneath the Sugar Sky looked like one of those previous adventures, so I was determined to get to it as soon as possible.

Not that one can’t read this series entirely out of order as I seem to be doing. It’s just that there’s clearly important stuff that I missed and now I want to know what it was. So here we are. Or there they are.

The story in Beneath the Sugar Sky is a story wrapped around found family and friendship. It’s not that Kade, Cora, Christopher and Nadya don’t want to save Rini and her world, because they absolutely do. But their real motivation for taking on this quest is to save their friend Sumi. They don’t know Rini yet but Sumi is loved and missed and their quest is to bring her back to life.

Along the way the quest becomes as much about saving each other as resurrecting their friend, with a huge heaping helping about body shaming, accepting yourself for who you are and living your best life as that person, and learning how to make your strengths really, really count when the chips are down – even if most people see those strengths as faults or weaknesses.

All of that is at the heart of Cora’s story, a story which continues for certain in Where the Drowned Girls Go, but also possibly in Come Tumbling Down, which I have not read yet and obviously need to. Because it was Cora’s story in Drowned Girls that made me go flying backwards through the rest of the series. I picked this up because I wanted to know more about Cora’s story and now that I know more I want to know even more. And I will.

But first I have In an Absent Dream to look forward to. And I so definitely am!

Review: An Impossible Promise by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets

Review: An Impossible Promise by Jude Deveraux and Tara SheetsAn Impossible Promise: A Novel by Jude Deveraux
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, time travel romance
Series: Providence Falls #2
Pages: 288
Published by Mira on September 21, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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They can’t be together, but they can’t stay apart…
Liam O’Connor has one purpose in this life—to push the woman he loves into the arms of another man. The Irish rogue unknowingly changed the course of destiny when he fell in love with Cora McLeod over a century ago. Their passion was intense, brief and tragic. And the angels have been trying to restore the balance of fate ever since.
Now police officers in Providence Falls, North Carolina, Liam and Cora are partners on a murder investigation. The intensity of the case has drawn them closer together—exactly what Liam is supposed to avoid. The angels have made it clear Cora must be with Finley Walsh. But headstrong Cora makes her own decisions and she’s starting to have feelings for Liam—the only thing he’s ever really wanted.
Liam knows this is the last chance to save his soul. But does he love Cora enough to let her go?
Providence Falls
Book 1: Chance of a Lifetime

My Review:

Okay, I’m hooked. Also confused, frustrated and annoyed – but hooked. I have to find out how this whole soap opera turns out.

Which constitutes fair warning on two counts. Count number one, that the insane story begun in Chance of a Lifetime does NOT conclude in An Impossible Promise. Count number two, this series is one story broken up into chapters, not two separate stories with some kind of link between them. In other words, you have to start at the beginning and it’s not done yet.

The third book isn’t even announced yet. Hence both the frustration AND the annoyance. I want to know how this is all going to get resolved – if only to find out if ANY of my guesses are right. And I need to know that the answers will be forthcoming at hopefully the not too distant future, but at least at some fixed date in the future.

Let me explain, which isn’t going to be easy because this story, at least so far, completely broke my willing suspension of disbelief meter and then set it on fire. This story needs resolution in the hopes that at the end it will all make sense.

The concept for the whole thing, as I discussed in my review of the first book in the series last week, has a lot of potential. It’s a time travel romance with a bit of angelic interference taking the place of any SFnal handwavium that often powers the jaunt through time.

What makes this different from the usual run of such things is that Liam O’Connor doesn’t go backward in time – he goes forward. From 1844 to an undefined present day probably just pre-pandemic.

Way back when, Liam O’Connor messed with Cora McLeod’s destiny when he convinced her to run away with him rather than marrying the man her father picked out for her. Whatever that destiny was, it was so huge and important that the angels, two of them specifically, have given Liam a second chance to get it right by giving up the woman he really does most sincerely love.

The angels fast forward Liam to now, where Cora McLeod, still with the same name, has another chance to marry her destined mate, Finley Walsh. It’s up to Liam to put aside his own desires – and honestly Cora’s as well – to make sure that this time things turn out the way they were supposed to.

All the while pretending to be a 21st police detective in a tiny town in North Carolina, learning how to live in a world he never imagined, while helping Cora solve a series of murders that have everyone in town on edge.

While a couple of meddling angels blow celestial trumpets in his ears to remind him that he only has three months to fix what he broke long ago before he goes straight to hell.

Escape Rating C+: As I said at the top, I am hooked on this story, and eaten up with speculation about how the whole thing is finally going to be worked out. But, but, but there are a whole lot of things about this story that drive me crazy because they don’t make sense – or at least they don’t make sense without a whole lot more explication than we have so far.

Liam, at one point in this book, asks the angels who have stuck him in this situation whether they are really angels or whether they’re working for the other side. I do not blame him AT ALL for wondering. They say they’re working for the “greater good” and all that, but anyone who works for the so-called “greater good” without explaining a whole lot about whose good and why it’s greater makes me twitchy and gives me mad Albus Dumbledore vibes and not in a good way.

Liam was kind of “voluntold” to participate in this mess, but it seems like everyone else is being manipulated rather a lot in order to accept Liam’s place in the world and in all of their lives. It also feels like a vast coincidence, beyond any angelic arrangement, that all the people in Providence Falls are reincarnations of the people Liam and Cora knew in their first go around, that they ALL have the same names and they are all in the same relationships to Liam, to Cora, and to each other.

The long arm of coincidence does not stretch that far – even in fiction.

Aside from the setup, the big issue in this romance is the romance. Liam really does love Cora, past and present. Cora is falling for Liam, again, even though she doesn’t remember their first time around.

Because we experience the story from Liam’s perspective, he’s the one we have empathy for. We want him to get his HEA and there’s no way that happens if he fulfills his promise to the angels. The entire story goes against the grain of the way it’s being told, especially when Cora’s growing feelings for Liam are taken into consideration. That she is not getting to make her own choices just bites. Seriously.

That’s not to say that this incarnation of Finley Walsh isn’t a good guy or in any way unworthy – but he’s not Cora’s choice. Although at least the story gives us a little more depth about him in this second installment. I would be happy to see Finn get his own HEA, but so far at least I’m not on board with that HEA being with Cora.

That’s where all of my thoughts about how this is going to play out go pear-shaped. At the end of this book, Liam finally gets a full explanation of why Cora has to marry Finn – but we don’t see it. All we get is Liam’s epiphany that his wants don’t matter, that Cora’s destiny is too important for him to mess up.

The problem I’m having is that I just don’t believe it. I’m not convinced. At all. The angels could be manipulating him, they could have shown him something that leads to this conclusion without it being the truth, and they could still be demons. On an entirely other hand they could be demons like Crowley (in Good Omens) was a demon, meaning that they might be doing the right thing in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. That’s actually an explanation I could seriously get behind.

But I want to know so, so badly. So I’m hooked. Along with being confused, frustrated and annoyed. The next book can’t come out soon enough. The horns of this particular dilemma are downright painful!