Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, short stories
Pages: 184
Published by Soho Crime on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?

My Review:

I picked this up because I loved the title. And because I read one of the author’s previous books in her Inspector Huss series (Who Watchetch) and liked it very much. So I was hoping for more of the same, both in the style and of the character.

And I was in the mood for a mystery. I got a tiny taste of Inspector Huss – but I’m not so sure about the mystery – because we always know whodunit.

Mostly, I got a variation on Arsenic and Old Lace, with a much smaller cast and no lace. Also, the old lady administering the equivalent of the arsenic isn’t nearly so lovable. – but she’s twice as irascible.

She’s also much better at hiding her tracks.

There’s a part of me that wants to be Maud when I’m her age. After all, she’s in her late 80s in these stories, and is perfectly capable of traveling around the world by herself at a whim, as well as able to climb through her own apartment windows in order to cover up a bit of murder.

I’d want the first part but not the second. Maud’s answer to taking care of situations that bother her is just murder. And she doesn’t even seem to have much of a conscience about it.

Great health, lousy ethics. Not that the people that we see her eliminate aren’t due for a bit of trouble, but murder seems a bit drastic. Most of the time.

The stories in this collection that are the most interesting are the two at the end, The Antique Dealer’s Death and An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, because they show the same crime from two rather different perspectives.

In The Antique Dealer’s Death Inspector Irene Huss is called to Maud’s apartment, The elderly lady has found a dead body stewing in one of the unused rooms. We see Maud at her best, pretending to be confused and frail, but by this point in the collection we know it’s an act.

The police, however, do not. They take the old lady’s behavior at face value, which is always a huge mistake. Maud’s behavior can never be taken at face value. We watch both the police and even an amateur detective who gets roped into the scene fix their sights on the dead antique dealer having an accomplice who killed him and scarpered when they attempted to rob the old lady. And we know they are all barking up the wrong tree – or scaffolding.

But in the companion story, An Elderly Lady is Faced with a Difficult Dilemma, we see Maud in all of her excellent health, equally excellent planning, and slightly sociopathic glory as she discovers the antique dealer in the process of robbing her and decides not just to kill him but also how to fool the police.

As she does, and does well. The Inspector does figure out at the end that the only logical conclusion to the crime is that Maud did it, but she is also aware that there is no way to prove it.

Maud is just too good when she is up to no good.

Escape Rating A-: Lesson to be learned, never take an old lady for granted, she may be more than she seems. Maud’s “adventures” make for grisly fun, and a quick read if you’re in the mood to dip into a bit of Scandinavian noir.

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary BaloghSomeone to Trust (Westcott, #5) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Westcott #5
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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During a rare white Christmas at Brambledean Court, the widow Elizabeth, Lady Overfield, defies convention by falling in love with a younger man in the latest novel in the Westcott series.

After her husband's passing, Elizabeth Overfield decides that she must enter into another suitable marriage. That, however, is the last thing on her mind when she meets Colin Handrich, Lord Hodges, at the Westcott Christmas house party. She simply enjoys his company as they listen to carolers on Christmas Eve, walk home from church together on Christmas morning, and engage in a spirited snowball fight in the afternoon. Both are surprised when their sled topples them into a snow bank and they end up sharing an unexpected kiss. They know there is no question of any relationship between them for she is nine years older than he.

They return to London the following season, both committed to finding other, more suitable matches. Still they agree to share one waltz at each ball they attend. This innocuous agreement proves to be one that will topple their worlds, as each dance steadily ensnares them in a romance that forces the two to question what they are willing to sacrifice for love...

My Review:

This is the latest volume in the marvelous historical romance Westcott series. The series as a whole deals with the consequences of the late Lord Humphrey Westcott’s bastardy. That bastardy was only in the metaphorical sense, but he certainly qualified. When it was discovered, upon his death, that his marriage to his still-living countess was bigamous – on his part – his family was forced to re-think their entire future. Not just his now illegitimate son and daughters whose futures were suddenly not what they thought they were, as they and his wife were ostracized by society, but also the lives of both his legitimate daughter, suddenly an heiress, and his cousin who has acquired a title that came with a neglected estate, a load of debt, and no money to deal with either.

What makes the series so marvelous is the way that each of the affected people deals with the sudden change in their circumstances. While it is not necessary to read them all to enjoy any one in particular, they are great stories. If you want the full tale of just how big a bastard Lord Humphrey is, start with Someone to Love, appropriately titled because the Westcott family, minus Lord Humphrey, is very lovable indeed.

Even though the overall story has not yet dealt with all of the late Lord Humphrey’s children (I suspect the story about his son Harry is going to be last) the family connections have expanded enough through marriage that we are able to get this delightful romance between two of those connections on the outer fringe of the group.

Elizabeth Overfield is still a relatively young widow at 35, and she has reached the conclusion that it is time for her to marry again and finally set up her own household now that her brother Alex has found the love of his life. (Alex and Wren’s story is in Someone to Wed)

But Alex and Wren’s marriage has brought Wren’s brother Colin into the Westcott fold. Because of the circumstances of Wren’s early life, as detailed in Someone to Wed, Wren is estranged from most of her family – and with good reason.

Colin would prefer not to have much to do with his mother and his other sisters himself, not after hearing Wren’s full story, but he doesn’t have much choice. Colin is Lord Hodges, the head of his family, and he needs to do something to keep his narcissistic mother both in line and out of his business. It’s going to be an uphill battle – especially as it’s a battle he’s avoided since he gained the title several years ago upon the death of his father. Colin is now 26 and it’s past time for him to take up all his responsibilities – including finding a wife and continuing the family.

Colin and Elizabeth meet at the Westcott family Christmas party, the first of what will clearly be an ongoing tradition at her brother Alex’s partially updated family pile. (He’s working on it, and it needs a LOT of work)

As people who are both a bit outside the central family circle, Colin and Elizabeth gravitate towards each other, and discover that they like each other’s company very much indeed. More than either of them is willing to admit to the other – or even to themselves.

Elizabeth is 9 years older than Colin, so any relationship between them other than friendship seems impossible. She can’t believe he would be interested in a woman so many years older, and he can’t believe she’d be interested in someone so callow and immature.

Except, of course, they’re both wrong. And so very right for each other.

Escape Rating A-: I love it when an older woman/younger man romance does it right, as Someone to Trust certainly does. I also hate it when it’s done wrong or for laughs, which never happens in this story.

While the time and place are different, the thoughts running through Colin’s and especially Elizabeth’s heads are very real and ring true to life. My life. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so when this trope works for me, it really works. When it doesn’t, it grates like sandpaper.

No sandpaper in this romance.

This series in general has been terrific. Each of the people affected by Lord Humphrey’s mess are affected differently, and their reactions, while different, have felt realistic. Harry joined the army. His older sister gets a job. His mother retreats. His cousin tries to find a woman he can love who also happens to have a fortune so he can handle the responsibilities he’s just been saddled with.

Colin and Elizabeth are less directly affected by Lord Humphrey’s shenanigans, but they have plenty of issues of their own. Elizabeth’s late and totally unlamented husband was an alcoholic who beat her during his drunken rages. She married him because she loved him, and doesn’t trust herself to fall in love again. Once burned, twice shy, and with good reason.

Colin’s family, with the exception of his sister Wren, is a piece of work. Especially his mother, who fits the classic definition of a narcissist, whether the term was known or not in the 19th century. Just because there’s no word for something doesn’t mean the phenomenon doesn’t exist. The scary thing about his mother is that she’s real. I’ve met people like that, even to that degree although it manifested differently. And they are every bit as frightening as his mother because they live in their own little world and do entirely too good a job of manipulating the rest of the world into conforming with their self-centered views – because they can’t hear or see anything else.

One of the issues with any age gap romance, whichever direction it goes, is to deal with closing the emotional/maturity/experience gap. This is all too often glossed over when the gap goes in the traditional direction, but it’s always there.

In this story, it’s handled well. Colin’s experience with his parents, particularly his mother, would result in him growing up early. When the parent is the child, the child becomes the parent. It works.

And so does the rest of this story, as Colin and Elizabeth meet in the middle, and realize that in spite of all of the outside voices that say they couldn’t possibly love each other or have a successful marriage, the still, small voices inside their own hearts are very, very sure that they can and they will.

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Security by Anna HackettMission: Her Security (Team 52 #3) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance
Series: Team 52 #3
Pages: 212
Published by Anna Hackett on November 11th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When sweet, smiling Kinsey is kidnapped by unknown forces, former SEAL and Team 52 operator Smith Creed will risk anything to get her back.

Kinsey Beck is used to life knocking her down. She escaped her past and came to Las Vegas for a new start. So what if she didn’t achieve her dream of being a showgirl, instead, she now has an awesome job as logistics manager for the covert, black ops Team 52. She loves all the team…especially big, gruff mountain man Smith, even if he isn’t interested in her the way she’d like. But when Kinsey is kidnapped, she finds alone and herself trapped in a deadly fight for survival…

Smith Creed is a loner who prefers his own company, his dog, and his mountain cabin. Working for Team 52 lets him use his unique skills to help ensure pieces of powerful ancient technology don’t fall into the wrong hands. It also brings him in close contact with a woman he knows isn’t for him—sweet, beautiful Kinsey. But when he learns she’s been snatched, her life hanging in the balance, he’ll tear the world apart to bring her home safely.

But rescuing Kinsey uncovers a deeper plot and a shadowy group out to destroy the world. Smith and Team 52 will be forced to make tough decisions—revolving around a dangerous, ancient artifact—and even when Kinsey is back in Smith’s arms, she still isn’t safe. With danger at every turn, Smith with sacrifice everything to ensure Kinsey’s security, but the greatest danger of all might be to Smith’s closed-off heart.

My Review:

I’ve always said that this series reminded me of Stargate. I had to laugh out loud when they headed to Denver, the home of the Cheyenne Mountain Base. There may not be a Stargate in the mountain, but as many artifacts as Team 52 has turned up so far, you never know!

This story begins when Team 52’s logistics expert, Kinsey Beck, is kidnapped from their in-town “Bunker” in Las Vegas. Her kidnapping sets off several chain reactions, reactions of all different kinds.

One is the chain reaction her kidnapping sets off in Smith Creed, one of the loners in Team 52. He’s interested in Kinsey, but as has been the case with the other heroes in this series, Smith believes that he’s too damaged to be good for Kinsey. Kinsey has more than few emotional scars of her own, and has assumed that her own interest in Smith is one-sided. Wondering whether or not you’re going to live another day has a way of focusing one’s priorities.

Although Smith tries to keep Kinsey at more than arm’s length, when the first snatch and grab turns into the second and eventually the third, he gives in to the inevitable – and Kinsey is more than willing to give in to him. She just doesn’t think it will last.

There are also some subterranean chain reactions, set off by the ancient artifact that Team 52 is forced to trade for Kinsey’s life. Someone seems to think that setting off earthquakes is the perfect way to get attention – and remake the world.

Of course Team 52, with more than a little help from Treasure Hunter Security, is going to stop the villains from carrying out their nefarious plans – once they manage to stop everyone from kidnapping Kinsey!

Escape Rating B-: My favorite scene was when Team 52 meets up with Treasure Hunter Security in the THS offices, and Darcy Ward (co-owner of THS and heroine of Undetected) tell them, “THS badasses meet the Team 52 badasses.” What a hoot!

However, I also found myself thinking that for all the prep that the badasses of Team 52 do for their missions, they did a really lousy job of taking care of the security for their logistics manager. So much of what happens to Kinsey in this story happens because she wasn’t prepared. Not that she didn’t do fairly well with the hand that she was dealt, but she gets kidnapped so damn often because she wasn’t nearly well trained enough for a situation that seemed inevitable.

Some evildoer was bound to figure out that Kinsey was the weak link in Team 52’s security sooner or later – and they really should have bet on sooner. After all, it’s what they do.

As with all of this author’s work, I found the story to be a lot of fun, but it also felt like the cheesy factor lived up to the title. I’ve always found the titles of this series to be particularly cheesy, and this entry lives up to the cheese.

First, Kinsey gets kidnapped way too often. One of the things I like about this author is that she usually doesn’t resort to the stereotypical “heroine in jeopardy” plot devices. This outing got way too close to falling into that trope trap.

That being said, I still had a good time with Mission: Her Security – even if poor Kinsey wasn’t very secure for a good chunk of the book. But then, that’s why it needed to be a mission!

I’m looking forward to Anna Hackett’s return to science fiction romance in Edge of Eon, coming in December. OMG that’s next month! YAY!

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Review: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise PennyKingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14) by Louise Penny
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14
Pages: 400
Published by Minotaur Books on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The new Chief Inspector Gamache novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.

When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder.

None of them had ever met the elderly woman.

The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane?

When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre will suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing.

But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing.

The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip though his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception.

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner city Montreal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there.

My Review:

The original quote is from the philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” There’s irony in the use of the quote, as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, currently the Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec , albeit under suspension, would never put himself in the place of the one-eyed man. He always believes that he is one of the blind – even as he fervently prays that he is not.

This is a story where there are two cases, as there often are in this series. One case initially seems trivial, but of course turns out to be much larger than it appears. But it does not tie into the other case in this story, the one that not only starts out large, but started out in the previous book in the series, Glass Houses.

Which itself was the culmination of a story that begin several books before that. Which is a hint that this series is best read in order and from its beginning in Still Life. And that it’s worth every moment of immersion with these people and in the quirky, semi-lost village of Three Pines.

The small case seems to be the easy part, at least at first. Someone has named Gamache, his neighbor Myrna Landers, and a builder from Montreal as the liquidators, we would call them executors, of her will. None of them knew the dead woman, and have no idea why she named them in her will. But Gamache and Myrna, a psychologist turned bookstore-owner, are intrigued enough to agree, as does the young builder.

When they all get blizzard-bound in Three Pines, it provides plenty of opportunity for Gamache to investigate the possible connections between the three of them and the dead woman, and for the residents of Three Pines to pass judgment on the young man unwittingly stuck in their midst.

This case, while it turns out to be a great deal larger than it originally seemed, also provides the source of most of the lighter moments in the story – as any protracted sojourn in Three Pines generally does.

Those lighter moments are needed, as the decisions that Gamache and his team made in Glass Houses are still hanging over their heads like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. Gamache has planned that the sword will fall on his head alone, but he is still making one last desperate attempt to clean up the deadly mess he created in order to eliminate the rot in his beloved Sûreté.

That his career will end as a result of his actions is a consequence that he can live with. Leaving the deadly opioid carfentanil on the streets of Montreal is not. But the piece he has left on the chessboard to clean up that mess may not be enough.

If she is not, her death will only be the first of thousands that will be rightfully laid at his door.

Escape Rating A+: I was riveted by this story, and at the same time there were points where I had to stop and literally turn my eyes away – it was just too much. There were times when I nearly lost faith with Gamache, it seemed against the character of the character I have grown to love and admire that he would send an agent into the literal heart of darkness and that the agent would be unaware that they had been sent. I should have known better.

And yet there was a point where that had seemed to happen. That a young Sûreté cadet had either committed a heinous act or had been set up to take the fall for one, and that the agent had been sent into the hellish streets where addicts wasted their lives in pursuit of their next fix of a drug that was certainly killing them. It seemed that the cadet had been sent out into the cold, into the streets from which they had been rescued, with no resources and no backup, in the hopes that the missing drugs could be found before they hit the streets and set off a wave of death from which there could be no escape.

It didn’t seem as if Gamache could have committed such a terrible betrayal, and yet it seemed that he had. It’s only at the end of the story that we discover the truth, bitter but not black after all.

The other, initially smaller case is equally bitter, if at a slight remove – throwing the parallels into stark relief. Gamache has taught all of his agents many hard lessons, among them the lesson that betrayal can only come from those who are closest. That is what it appears has happened with the young agent sent into the wild streets, and that is also at the heart of the story of the dead woman and the three confused liquidators.

In the end, the story is brought full circle, as the betrayals are revealed, the cases are closed, and the reckonings come due. The open arcs of story that began 30 years and many books ago have finally closed. It is possible that this is the end of the series. It could conclude at this point, but I truly hope not. These characters have taken on a life of their own, and I want to see it continue with all my heart.

If it does not, I’ll be echoing Gamache’s grandson Honore’s first words, imitating Rosa the duck. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Thanksgiving Day 2018: A Reading List

Galen here, once again borrowing Marlene’s blog for a holiday post.

Hecate the kitten looking forward to turkey – or well, anything she can bite, really.

Sometimes it is the tiniest of things for which I am thankful. For example, this year I am thankful for the little ball of energy and bitey-ness pictured here, who came into our lives (and care) last month and has been growing ever since.

I have been spending a lot of time with her — rather unavoidably, considering she had to be syringe-fed when we got her — but of course I found it no great burden to take care of such a wee kitten. She has been a distraction as well, but only in part.

Unlike Thanksgiving two years ago, I am finding a bit more hope that this country may yet move past the governance by the unfit. Too political a statement for this post? Too political for the virtual Thanksgiving table? Perhaps, but these are not times that permit much beating around the bush nor falling sway to distractions. We can be thankful that there is yet time and space to act to preserve our republic and to work towards a more perfect realization of our country’s best ideals — to say nothing of acting to keep our planet habitable — but so much work lies ahead of us all.

Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for falling prey to hopelessness achieves nothing, but let us also consider what must happen for us to be even more thankful in future years.

Review: A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden

Review: A Dangerous Duet by Karen OddenA Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This dazzling new Victorian mystery from USA Today bestselling author Karen Odden introduces readers to Nell Hallam, a determined young pianist who stumbles upon the operations of a notorious—and deadly—crime ring while illicitly working as the piano player in a Soho music hall. Perfect for readers of Tasha Alexander, Anne Perry, and Deanna Raybourn.

Nineteen-year-old Nell Hallam lives in a modest corner of Mayfair with her brother Matthew, an inspector at Scotland Yard. An exceptionally talented pianist, she aspires to attend the Royal Academy; but with tuition beyond their means, Nell sets out to earn the money herself—by playing piano in a popular Soho music hall. And the fact that she will have to disguise herself as a man and slip out at night to do it doesn’t deter her.

Spending evenings at the Octavian is like entering an alternate world, one of lively energy, fascinating performers, raucous patrons—and dark secrets. And when Nell stumbles upon the operations of an infamous crime ring working in the shadows of the music hall, she is drawn into a conspiracy that stretches the length of London. To further complicate matters, she has begun to fall for the hall owner's charismatic son, Jack, who has secrets of his own.

The more Nell becomes a part of the Octavian’s world, the more she risks the relationships with the people she loves. And when another performer is left for dead in an alley as a warning, she realizes her future could be in jeopardy in more ways than one.

My Review:

There are plenty of comparisons to life being like an onion – including the bit about weeping through the process.

One of the characters in this story is a bit more specific. His comment is that people’s stories are like onions, that you have to peel them back layer by layer to get the whole thing. And that’s truer of his story than most as it turns out.

But the life that is really being peeled back in this story is Nell Hallam’s. We first meet her as a young woman in Victorian London who has done something just a bit daring and just a tad dangerous in order to achieve her life-long ambition.

Nell is a gifted pianist, and she wants to win a place at the Royal Academy. But even if she wins, such places are not free. And her much reduced family – just herself and her older brother, a Scotland Yard detective, can’t afford the tuition.

So Nell is earning the money using the talent she has been given. She’s the piano player in a Soho “theater” that we would probably label as a dive. And that might be an insult to dives.

But in Victorian London, “nice” women aren’t permitted in such places, and certainly aren’t allowed to work as musicians. Or work much at all, but particularly in Nell’s circumstance.

That’s where that danger and daring come in, because Nell Hallam is sneaking out at night in men’s clothes and playing piano in Soho as Ed Nell three nights a week while her brother works late at Scotland Yard.

When a new fiddle player turns up at the Octavian, Nell finds herself becoming more and more involved in the life of the club – a life that she has previously held at arm’s reach.

But this isn’t that kind of story. That fiddle player does open her eyes to the deadly world operating in the shadows around her – but she is too canny to let him drag her into either his schemes or his arms.

Which doesn’t stop danger from reaching out for her at every turn.

Escape Rating B: This is a plot driven story rather than a character driven story. By that I mean that we follow Nell as she dives under the surface of the Octavian, and with each twist and turn we can’t help but feel for her as her world opens up and the danger closes in.

At the same time, we don’t get much of a peek into the other characters. Part of Nell’s past has trained her to keep her emotions at a distance, and it feels like we don’t know enough about the other characters in this story to do more than understand them at a bit of distance as well.

But the world that Nell falls into, or perhaps digs herself into, is as compelling to the reader as it is to her. Once she has a glimpse beneath the surface at the Octavian, she uncovers a criminal underground that uses young children to pour wealth into the hands of a select and deadly few.

A few that includes the owner of the Octavian, his son, and that dastardly fiddle player.

It’s also the same criminal underground that her brother is investigating for Scotland Yard. When her two worlds combine – her secrets explode, remaking her life, her world and her very self

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Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to  Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl (The Lady Travelers Society, #3) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on November 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set sail for love in this sparkling new adventure in #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander’s Lady Travelers Society series.

Harry Armstrong has spent years in Egypt, recovering relics and disregarding rules. Now he’s back in England with a new title and a new purpose: penning his exploits. But his efforts are overshadowed by London’s favorite writer about Egypt—a woman they call The Queen of the Desert, of all things. Worse, her stories—serialized in newspapers and reprinted in books—are complete rubbish.

Miss Sidney Honeywell didn’t set out to deceive anyone. It’s not her fault readers assumed her Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt were real! Admitting her inadvertent deception now would destroy her reputation and her livelihood. But when the Earl of Brenton challenges her to travel to Egypt to prove her expertise, accompanied by his dashing, arrogant nephew, what choice does she have but to pack her bags?

With the matchmaking founders of the Lady Travelers Society in tow, Harry is determined to expose Sidney’s secret. But the truth might not be as great a revelation as discovering that love can strike even the most stubborn of hearts.

My Review:

I kept expecting Amelia Peabody Emerson to walk through the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel at any moment. Not that this is her story, but she and her entourage would have fit right into the adventures of Harry Armstrong, Sidney Honeywell and the gaggle of elderly ladies who are alternately chaperoning and matchmaking the couple – when they’re not aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise or two.

And there’s no dead body – not quite. Not even the one that Sidney and Harry expect to find.

But this is definitely a romp from beginning to end. It’s lighthearted, occasionally light-fingered, and frothy fun.

Sidney has been supplementing her meager income by writing. She has fictionalized the Egyptian adventures of her late grandmother in Cadwallender’s magazine, and the series has been a huge success.

But Sidney knew she was writing fiction, admittedly fiction with an underpinning of fact as well as a scholar’s knowledge of Egypt and her antiquities. However, her readers seem to believe that her stories are absolutely factual from beginning to end.

And the meddling founders of the Lady Travelers Society, not having gotten their members in enough trouble in the previous outings of the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen and The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger) can’t seem to resist getting themselves a bit too involved when the Earl of Brenton takes offense at Sidney’s stories.

He claims they are complete bunk, and that Sidney, who writes as Mrs. Gordon, is deceiving her audience unconscionably. What he’s not admitting is that he is incensed that Sidney’s fluff pieces are celebrated while he can’t seem to find a publisher for his earnestly written, utterly factual – and deadly dull – accounts of his own travels in Egypt.

So they’re off on a jaunt to Egypt, paid for by the magazine, so that Sidney can prove her expertise, or Harry can prove she’s a fraud and get a guaranteed publishing contract. With the founding “Lady Travelers” along as chaperones and comic relief, managing to finally take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of.

Sidney claims to be Mrs. Gordon, Harry claims to be his own nephew, and the reporter sent by the magazine hovers over everything, hoping to get a story that will make his career, one way or another.

Then Harry’s somewhat disreputable past catches up with Sidney’s new-found spirit of adventure, and they find themselves in the midst of a classic farce of a treasure hunt.

With so much fun to be had, sun, sand, adventure and the trip of a lifetime, how could they not fall in love? With Egypt, and especially with each other?

Escape Rating B+: This is absolutely wonderful, marvelously tasty, complete and utter fluff. It’s delicious.

It would also make a great Shakespearean comedy. Sidney is deceiving Harry. Harry is deceiving Sidney. The reporter is deceiving everyone. Except that everyone seems to know that everyone is deceiving everyone else and no one is willing to admit it.

And that just adds to the sense of fun and adventure.

It’s also a lot of fun the way that Sidney’s real-life adventures in Egypt seem so much like her fictional adventures. Her friends think she’s been kidnapped by white slavers, when the truth is that an Egyptian princess is a fan of her work, so she gets to spend a night in the harem with the princess and her family.

She steals a priceless Egyptian antiquity from a nefarious smuggler, only to discover that it’s the key to a much greater treasure and a much bigger adventure.

She begins by revisiting the scenes of her grandmother’s greatest adventures – only to have a great adventure of her own. And to clear up her grandmother’s unfinished business.

Her contest with Harry brings out Sidney’s inner adventurer at every turn, and allows her to become the woman she was meant to be. Not because he sweeps her off her feet – although he eventually does – but because he treats her as an equal combatant in their rivalry.

That she also helps him solve the mystery that has been dogging him for two long and lonely years makes them earn their happy ever after – while providing just desserts for the true villain of the piece.

This series is simply loads of fun, and every trip with the Lady Travelers Society is always a lovely adventure. I’m looking forward to their next adventure in The Lady Travelers Guide to Happily Ever After when it comes out in June. It’s sure to be another marvelous lark!

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Review: The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman + Giveaway

Review: The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman + GiveawayThe Mortal Word (The Invisible Library, #5) by Genevieve Cogman
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, mystery
Series: Invisible Library #5
Pages: 368
Published by Ace on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the latest novel in Genevieve Cogman's historical fantasy series, the fate of worlds lies in the balance. When a dragon is murdered at a peace conference, time-travelling Librarian spy Irene must solve the case to keep the balance between order, chaos . . . and the Library.

When Irene returns to London after a relatively straightforward book theft in Vienna, Bradamant informs her that there is a top secret dragon-Fae peace conference in progress that the Library is mediating, but that the second-in-command dragon has been stabbed to death. Tasked with solving the case, Vale and Irene immediately go to 1890s Paris.

Once they arrive, it seems that the murder victim had uncovered evidence suggesting that he may have found proof of treachery by one or more Librarians. But to ensure the peace of the conference, some Librarians are already hostages in the dragon and Fae courts. To save the captives, including her parents, Irene must get to the bottom of this murder—but was it dragon, Fae, or even a Librarian who committed the crime?

My Review:

In this version of the multiverse the Library serves to provide the balance between the fae worlds of chaos and the dragon worlds of order. Humans don’t do well at either extreme, and it’s the Library’s function to guard and preserve the middle ground where human beings thrive.

Just because the Library serves as a point of balance does not mean that the lives of any of the Librarians that serve it are remotely balanced in any way. It could be said that the Librarians are like that metaphorical duck, “calm on the surface but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”

Librarian Irene Winters’ life feels more like the old adage about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire – except that for Irene, it’s frying pans and fires all the way down.

When I first started this series, all the way back with The Invisible Library, it felt a lot like the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, because both stories are all about the power of words, especially the power of words in books.

But now that we’re five books in, that resemblance has faded. As much as I loved The Eyre Affair,  the first Thursday Next book, the series as a whole felt like a one-trick-pony, or a story that was only “funny once” and not “funny always”. It seemed as if the story was more interested in being incessantly clever than in telling a story – or that there wasn’t nearly enough worldbuilding underneath the gimmick to sustain a series.

What makes The Invisible Library different – and better as a series – is that there is plenty of worldbuilding below the madcap adventure. And you really, really need to start with the first book for the world to make sense – because the scaffolding of that worldbuilding becomes more solid with each story.

And they are absolutely oodles of fun – every single one. That there will be at least THREE MORE after this one is excellent news.

Because while this book does have a story that wraps up within the volume, as does every entry in the series so far, it is equally clear that the author is not done with either the world of the Library or the life and adventures of this particular Librarian.

And neither are the readers.

Escape Rating A: This is a complex story in a complicated world. I can’t imagine it making much sense without having read the previous volumes first. And possibly recently. Certainly this is a series that rewards readers who have knowledge of how our heroine got into the fix she’s currently in, and how much her previous fixes – and the fixes for those fixes – have contributed (or conspired) to put her in the awkward, uncomfortable and dangerous place she now finds herself.

I also have the distinct impression that one of these days Irene is going to stop being expendable to the Library and become a power within it, but that day is not yet. And first she has to survive her expendability. That’s never an easy task, as Irene has a tendency to be the fool that rushes in where the angels quaver to tread.

One of the things that I have found fascinating about this series is its treatment of good vs. evil, because there really isn’t one. Individuals commit terrible acts in the service of their particular perspective on the eternal argument, but the eternal argument in this world is between order and chaos, and explicitly not between good and evil.

The plot in The Mortal Word is essentially that of a murder mystery with political overtones. The dragons and the fae are meeting on a neutral world in order to forge a peace treaty. Or at least a non-aggression pact. The Library will take whatever it can get, and it is the Library that is brokering this attempt at detente.

In the middle of the negotiations, someone is murdered. As much high tension as is in the air, it’s not actually surprising that someone ends up dead. However, the victim was the most trusted lieutenant of the dragon monarch who represents that side of this equation. While said monarch wants to blame his arch-enemies the fae for the murder, he also claims that the victim implicated the Library in a possible plot to sabotage the negotiations.

Events are at a standstill until the perpetrator is discovered, and that’s when Irene is brought in. Yes, because she’s expendable. She’s always aware that she will take the blame if anything goes wrong – or if the solution is not satisfactory to all the parties involved. Which is far from the same thing.

She is both shadowed and assisted by agents from both of the courts, and there is treachery at every turn, as well as an entire city full of red herrings – some of them still bloody.

But Irene’s adventures, as she doggedly – and very, very dangerously – follows the clues to their unpopular but necessary conclusion, are always worth following. Every twisty step of the way.

I can’t wait for her next adventure!

~~~~~~ PUBLISHER GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

In celebration of the publication of the Ace Books, the publisher of The Invisible Library series is offering a giveaway of the ENTIRE series. If you like madcap adventures, traveling through the multiverse, stories about the power of words, and DRAGONS this series is a real treat.

Click HERE for the giveaway or go to https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/invisible-library-sweeps

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + Giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Passion by Lisa Kessler + GiveawayPirate's Passion by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #2
Pages: 311
Published by Entangled: Amara on November 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Samuel Keegan used to man the wheel of the Sea Dog over 200 years ago, but these days he’s the front man of a southern rock band. Rum and women are plentiful, but his world is changing rapidly now that his crew is back together searching for the Holy Grail to break their curse. But the quest leads him to a historian with raven hair and a wicked smile. She holds all the answers, but she could also spell death for them all.

Dr. Charlotte Sinclair works for the Maritime Museum in Savannah, an expert on ancient pirate wrecks. When a government agent requests her help in a top-secret investigation, she discovers not only is the Holy Grail real, but the lead singer of her favorite band is actually the immortal pilot of the Sea Dog crew.

The search for the Grail opens some dark secrets better left hidden, and Charlotte's life might depend on one Pirate's Passion...

Each book in the Sentinels of Savannah series is STANDALONE:* Magnolia Mystic* Pirate's Passion

My Review:

While the title of this series is reminiscent of the Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans, the story keeps giving me vibes that it’s related to Alyssa Day’s Warriors of Poseidon – along with a touch of a vampire romance series that I read a long time ago and now can’t recall the title of. And that’s going to drive me bananas until I figure out what it was.

Along with just a hint of the X-Files.

Only the beginnings of this mix were hinted at in the first book in this series, Magnolia Mystic. In that first story, readers were introduced to the immortal crew of the privateer Sea Dog, alive and mostly well over two centuries after their ship sank in the waters near Savannah.

Nearly, well, because their immortality seems to be wearing off.

The last treasure they took was the Holy Grail – and they all took a drink from the cup of immortality. But suddenly they aren’t healing as fast or as well as they used to. They decide to retrieve it from its hiding place and take another sip, only to discover that the cup is missing.

And that they aren’t the only ones after it. That’s where the X-Files come in, or at least Department 13, in the person of Agent David Bale.

That’s where we pick up the story in Pirate’s Passion. While Bale has already enlisted the help of the Sea Dog crew to retrieve the cup, they all need help figuring out who might have stolen it and why.

That’s where Dr. Charlotte Sinclair and the Savannah Maritime Museum come it. Charlotte is an expert on 19th century privateering in the Savannah area in general, and on the Sea Dog and its crew in particular.

She’s even written a book on the subject.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that she might be able to help – once Bale reveals at least some of the truths to Dr. Sinclair. The big truth that “the truth really is out there” and that there are all sorts of legendary creatures that are not quite as legendary as she might have thought.

And that the crew of the Sea Dog, including the local rock singer she nearly went to bed with the night before, is alive and well and has been spending their eternity in Savannah. She’s not certain whether to be embarrassed about her previous encounter with Samuel Keegan, or to just go with the chemistry between them.

Her friends have all been telling her that she seriously needs to get a life – even if getting an immortal one isn’t quite what they had in mind.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. While Magnolia Mystic introduces the series, that was a novella. And now it kind of feels like a teaser. We met the crew and discovered their situation, but the wider (and sometimes wilder) world is mostly in the background. Which makes it a very nice introduction to the series but not critical to getting into this story.

Pirate’s Passion is where all the big guns and full-size cutlasses come out of their holsters and sheaths, and we learn just how different the world really is. While there is a romance in this story, and it looks like there will be in the rest of the series, the overarching story is urban fantasy.

This is our world, it just has a whole lot more…dimensions… than we are aware of. Many of those extra added attractions are interesting, some are very cool, and more than a few are quite deadly. As our heroine discovers, even if our hero isn’t certain whether that deadliness is something that he has to worry about – or not – or not yet.

The romance between Keegan and Char burns hot and heavy, but is often laced with tears. One of the dilemmas that ALWAYS has to be solved, resolved, or at least glossed over is what happens when one of the lovers is immortal. As far as they know, Keegan could live for centuries yet, where Char is mortal. If things go the way they have gone, his choices are to leave before his heart is too deeply engaged or watch her eventually grow old and die – if the dangers of their world don’t kill her first.

That this conundrum is resolved differently from the choices made in Magnolia Mystic gives the story some heft. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. (Also, one-size-fits-all is one of the ten biggest lies, right up there with “the check’s in the mail”, and “this will only hurt for a little while”)

This is also a series where, like Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Team 52 series, there is a government department tasked with dealing with the weird, that has a storage facility of dangerous artifacts. A department that employs agents who not only believe in the supernatural, but may also be a part of it.

Including Agent Bale, who has been fighting the bad guys longer than anyone expects. And where Char’s supposedly dead father has been hiding out from everyone who seems to be out to get him – on both sides.

So this is the book in the series where we learn just how big and bad the big bad is going to be. After all, if there are good guys on the side of the light, there must also be bad guys hiding in the dark. That there are multiple organizations out there who want to steal whatever artifacts Department 13 turns up for more-or-less nefarious reasons of their own makes sense in this context.

The world that the crew of the Sea Dog is a part of gets much bigger and much deadlier in this entry in the series. While I love the complexity of the world building, this is one of those times where it might have been better if it didn’t whack into the reader all at once – especially with Char’s own personal connections to the weird along with the crew of the Sea Dog finding out just how much is out there besides themselves.

Your mileage may vary.

That being said, I certainly enjoyed my second outing with the crew of the Sea Dog, if not quite as much as my first trip in Magnolia Mystic. I’m definitely looking forward to another voyage with this crew of pirates in Pirate’s Pleasure, sometime next year. Hopefully early next year!

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

To celebrate the release of PIRATE’S PASSION by Lisa Kessler, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2y1fdsw

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing.  Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Seasons of Sorcery by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jennifer Estep and Jeffe KennedySeasons of Sorcery : A Fantasy Anthology by Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven, Jeffe Kennedy, Jennifer Estep
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance
Pages: 410
Published by Brightlynx on November 13, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

WINTER'S WEB BY JENNIFER ESTEP

An assassin at a renaissance faire. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, if you’re Gin Blanco. This Spider is trapped in someone else’s icy web—and it seems like they don’t want her to leave the faire alive . . .

 A WILDERNESS OF GLASS BY GRACE DRAVEN

 The stretch of sea known as the Gray rules the lives of those in the village of Ancilar, including widow Brida Gazi. In the aftermath of an autumn storm, Brida discovers one of the sea's secrets cast onto the shore—a discovery that will change her world, mend her soul, and put her in the greatest danger she's ever faced.

 A CURSE FOR SPRING BY AMANDA BOUCHET

 A malevolent spell strangles the kingdom of Leathen in catastrophic drought. Prince Daric must break the curse before his people starve. A once-mighty goddess trapped in a human body might be the key—but saving his kingdom could mean losing all that he loves.

 THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER BY JEFFE KENNEDY

 As unofficial consort to the High Queen, former mercenary Harlan Konyngrr faces a challenge worse than looming war and fearsome dragons. His long-held secrets threaten what he loves most—and he must make a choice between vows to two women.

My Review:

Jeffe Kennedy seems to be participating in one of these fantasy romance anthologies every year, because that’s where I get them from. There’s always a story from her awesome Twelve Kingdoms series, and I’d get the whole thing for that alone. But the other stories are frequently awesome, occasionally even awesomer, so I’m glad to collect the set!

Seasons of Sorcery contains four fantasy romance novellas, all but one set in its author’s ongoing series.

Winter’s Web by Jennifer Estep is set in her Elemental Assassin series, which I haven’t read – or at least not yet. The story takes place at a Renaissance Faire in an urban fantasy-type world where magic exists but seems to be mostly, but not totally, hidden in plain sight. As I said, I haven’t read this series, but I still enjoyed the story. The Ren Faire setting always provides an interesting backdrop for urban fantasy, and this story is no exception. I suspect that the story didn’t have quite the resonance for me as it would for readers who are familiar with the series, but it still worked well and I didn’t feel lost at all. I liked it more than enough to put this series on the towering TBR pile!

Escape Rating for Winter’s Web: B+

Although A Wilderness of Glass by Grace Draven is set in her Wraith Kings world, which I have not read, the setting felt awfully familiar. Only because it was. This story is set in the same town and among the same people as Night Tide, her fantastic story in Teeth Long and Sharp. A story that I loved.

I didn’t find this story to be quite as good as Night Tide, possibly because it was a bit too reminiscent of The Shape of Water. Albeit with a slightly different version of the happy ending. At least as far as we know.

Escape Rating for A Wilderness of Glass: B

There’s nearly always one story in a collection that doesn’t work for me. It’s the nature of collections that you get to sample authors you may not be familiar with, but might like because they are like someone you already do.

Not that any fantasy romance reader is not familiar with Amanda Bouchet and her terrific Kingmaker Chronicles!

But A Curse for Spring by Amanda Bouchet is the story in this collection that just didn’t work for me. Which is ironic because it is the one story that is not in a previously created world of any kind. For this reader, the problem with this story was that it felt too obvious. It seemed clear from the very beginning what was going on, who was responsible, and how the problem was going to get solved. I kept wanting the story to either just get on with it or go someplace interesting – but it did neither.

Escape Rating for A Curse for Spring: C

Last but definitely not least, The Dragons of Summer by Jeffe Kennedy. This is the story that I got this collection for, and it did not disappoint – although it did occasionally infuriate – but in a good way.

This story is set in Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms/Uncharted Realms series. While it seems to take place directly after The Arrows of the Heart, much of the emotional heft of the story comes from its relationship to the heroine of her Chronicles of Dasnaria series. The long shadow cast by the lost Dasnarian princess Jenna still looms over her brothers Harlan and Kral. Neither of them know their sister’s fate, but both had a hand in setting her on her path.

It’s not just her brothers that are ignorant of whether Jenna is alive or dead. The final book in that series, Warrior of the World, is due out on January 8. I’ve never been so glad to have an ARC! It’s not so much that either the previous story, Exile of the Seas, or this short story end in a cliffhanger as that it is now obvious that Jenna’s fate is going to be the key that resolves EVERYTHING in both series.

It’s just the kind of ginormous wrap-up that makes readers salivate waiting for the next book in the series. But it also means that this story, of all the stories in the collection, is the one that really only makes sense if you’ve followed the series. And if you love fantasy romance and you haven’t read the series, what on earth are you waiting for? Begin your journey with The Mark of the Tala, and settle in for a marvelous read.

Escape Rating for The Dragons of Summer: A