Review: Jack by Connie Willis

Review: Jack by Connie WillisJack by Connie Willis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy, World War II
Pages: 112
Published by Subterranean Press on April 30, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

During the height of the Blitz in London, the air raid rescue squad operating out of Mrs. Lucy’s house is close-knit and ever-watchful. When a new volunteer named Jack shows up, his odd behavior—not eating, disappearing during the day for a mysterious job—isn’t concerning at first. The sleepless stress of the job is hard on everyone. Soon, Jack is in high demand, due to an almost uncanny talent for finding buried people still alive under the rubble…

But how does he do it? As the narrator, another member of the squad also named Jack, begins to investigate, the truth turns out to have a dark, tragic twist.

New York Times bestselling, multiple-award-winning author Connie Willis’s surprising and deftly rendered classic 1991 novella “Jack,” a finalist for the Nebula and the Hugo awards, is a must-have for readers of her beloved works set in World War II, including “Fire Watch,” Blackout, and All Clear.

My Review:

I didn’t catch that this was a reprint when I downloaded it from NetGalley a few weeks ago. Upon further investigation, I discovered that I read this one, a long, long time ago. It’s part of Connie Willis’ marvelous short story collection, Impossible Things. This is one I even have a signed copy of.

And just for the record, my absolute favorite story in that collection is Even the Queen. Even after reading Jack. If you haven’t seen the collection or read that particular story, it’s certainly worth looking into.

But we’re here to talk about Jack. Both Jacks, really. Because the titular character is named Jack and the subject of the story is named Jack and they are NOT the same Jack.

The story here is about a group of Air Raid Wardens in London during the Blitz. A time of chaos and confusion, a time of monsters and heroes. This is a story about someone who is a bit of both.

War makes monsters of us all. Sometimes it makes the monsters into heroes, and the heroes into monsters. One’s perspective shifts depending on whether one is one of the bombers – or one of the bombed.

War is also a time when people reach deep inside themselves and find the hero, or the villain, within. London during the Blitz was a time of rising crime. It was also a time when people went out into the bombed streets to rescue their friends, their neighbors, and even relative strangers.

War is also a time when life is in upheaval, when social norms are overthrown, when some people manage to have the best of times, while others experience the worst.

Jack, our narrator Jack, is a young man waiting to be called up for military service. While he’s waiting, he’s part of a quirky bunch of air raid wardens. The portrait of the life of the air raid wardens, their gallows humor, their intense camaraderie, their harrowing experiences in the field and their endless war against paperwork, brings the read deeply into their little found family just as the other Jack, the subject of the story is introduced to their little gang.

New Jack, Jack Settle, is a bit of a mystery. He has an uncanny knack for finding survivors under the rubble of a bomb site. He is entirely too good at finding people who aren’t making a sound – and he knows when they’ve died while the rescue is still ongoing.

Our narrator can’t resist poking into the conundrum that is Jack Settle, and he finds something unexpected – and shocking. Some monsters are more literally monstrous than others. But even they have a part to play in this war. There are times when a curse can be a blessing, even though no amount of rescues can balance the scales weighing past crimes.

Escape Rating B: Jack is a quiet little story. Quietly heroic and quietly chilling as well. The narrator’s discovery about Jack Settle’s true nature creeps up on both the narrator and the reader, as does that narrator’s understanding that this war, as terrible as it is, has allowed some people to show their best selves – even a monster like Jack Settle – while others display the more monstrous side of their humanity.

I don’t think it’s any accident that there’s a “bodysniffer” every bit as successful as Jack Settle over in Whitechapel. He’s probably named Jack, too.

Jack, the story, is a quick read. If you’re a fan of the author, particularly her award-winning Blackout/All Clear duology, Jack is a return to that setting from a different perspective. And if you haven’t read her Impossible Things collection, the entire thing is available in more formats for less money and is a real treat!

Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells

Review: Network Effect by Martha WellsNetwork Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5) by Martha Wells
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Series: Murderbot Diaries #5
Pages: 352
Published by Tor.com on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Murderbot returns in its highly-anticipated, first, full-length standalone novel.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you're a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you're Murderbot.

Come for the pew-pew space battles, stay for the most relatable A.I. you’ll read this century.

I’m usually alone in my head, and that’s where 90 plus percent of my problems are.

When Murderbot's human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action.

Drastic action it is, then.

My Review:

If you are already well acquainted with Murderbot, Network Effect is a fantastic way to get to know it and its world a whole lot better. But if you do not already know Murderbot, this is not the place to get to know Murderbot. That would be All Systems Red, the first book in this multiple Hugo Award winning series.

Murderbot is the name it gave itself once it hacked its own governor module and went completely rogue. Except it didn’t. SecUnits like Murderboth are property of one of the many megalomaniacal corporations that run the galaxy, and are more explicitly slaves than the human employees of those corporations. But not more explicitly by much.

It’s only through the events that take place in the first four novellas, All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, that Murderbot finds a group of humans who are willing to give it purpose without suppressing its individuality.

Dr. Mensah and her family and colleagues treat Murderbot as another colleague. The messy emotions that engenders within Murderbot make it uncomfortable in the extreme. It finds humans messy and stupid at the best of times. Feelings, its and theirs, are something to be avoided at all costs. Except that they can’t be.

This is a story that turns out to be all about the emotions that Murderbot really doesn’t want to deal with, wrapped around a page-turning adventure. Because the heart of this story is about friendship. Murderbot’s seldom acknowledged friendship for ART, the Asshole Research Transport who helped it learn to blend in better among augmented humans. It’s also about Murderbot’s need to help the people it has designated as its humans, even when they put themselves in danger and drive it crazy.

The story begins when Murderbot and some of its humans are kidnapped by weird gray humanoids who look diseased and talk like cartoon villains. Complete with bwahahas. It middles with Murderbot discovering that his kidnapping (bot-napping?) was orchestrated by his friend ART in ART’s desperate attempt to save not merely itself and its humans, but to also save, quite possibly, humanity itself – although that is just possibly a side effect – or even an unintended consequence. Neither Murderbot nor ART are all that taken with humanity in general, just their own special portion of it.

And it ends with a dramatic rescue attempt that finally gets Murderbot to understand that it is valued for itself and not just for its functions. That’s a frightening revelation for a being who is still rightfully paranoid about its fate if the wrong people ever figure out what it really is.

Something that it is still figuring out for itself.

Escape Rating A+: I’ve been waiting for Network Effect for almost two years, and it was well worth the wait. This is one of those reviews where I just want to squee all over the page. This was definitely a one-day read for me. I absolutely could not put it down. At all. Not that I tried very hard.

What makes this series – and each story within it – work so well is Murderbot’s voice. The story is told from Murderbot’s perspective, in its first-person voice. We’re there inside its head, and its an awesomely snarky place to be. While Murderbot does manage to keep itself from blurting out all of the insensitive and insulting things that it’s thinking, it’s thinking them a lot. It says everything in its head that all of us think all the time, try to pretend we’re not thinking, and praying that never actually come out of our mouths. It’s inner thoughts are constantly rude, and its extremely dry sense of humor is on the gallows side.

This series is probably great in audio. First person narratives, when they are done well, and this one is, generally are.

Murderbot is also fascinating because Murderbot is a version of Pinocchio who has zero desire to become a real boy. Or, for that matter, a real girl, a real genderfluid person or, in all honesty, a real human at all. Murderbot just wants its humans to do what it tells them in situations when security is threatened, and to be left alone to watch its really bad SF serial dramas the rest of the time. Part of what makes Murderbot so interesting is that its entire story, its journey, is its search for personhood without any of that personhood being tied to humanity.

Of course, what Murderbot wants is not what Murderbot gets. Just like the rest of us.

While its setting in the stars among abandoned colonies and corporate overlords run amuck reads much like the gameworld in The Outer Worlds, The progress of the story and the journey of its protagonist feels very similar to that of Finder, both in the universe-weary voice of its first-person narrator, and in the “out of the frying pan and into the fire” nature of its plot. Murderbot, like Fergus Ferguson, seems to be an avatar of Murphy. Whatever can go wrong generally does, and then continues right on going. Wrong. And wronger. And every so often wrongest.

And yet, it perseveres, usually while denying it’s in trouble and serving up a heaping helping of snarkitude. That it manages to save, not only its humans but possibly humanity as a whole in the process is just part of its charm. A charm that it would deny it had.

I loved this one so hard I’m having a difficult time conveying just how much I loved it. If you don’t know Murderbot, get All Systems Red and settle in for a terrific binge read. It’s awesome.

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope there will be more Murderbot in the future. Its journey is far from over, and I want to read it.

Review: Close Up by Amanda Quick

Review: Close Up by Amanda QuickClose Up (Burning Cove #4) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #4
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Burning Cove, California where 1930s Hollywood glamour conceals a ruthless killer…

Vivian Brazier never thought life as an art photographer would include nightly wake-up calls to snap photos of grisly crime scenes or headshots for aspiring male actors. Although she is set on a career of transforming photography into a new art form, she knows her current work is what’s paying the bills.

After shooting crime scene photos of a famous actress, the latest victim of the murderer the press has dubbed the “Dagger Killer,” Vivian notices eerie similarities to the crime scenes of previous victims—details that only another photographer would have noticed—details that put Vivian at the top of the killer’s target list.

Nick Sundridge has always been able to “see” things that others don’t, coping with disturbing dreams and visions. His talent, or as he puts it—his curse—along with his dark past makes him a recluse, but a brilliant investigator. As the only one with the ability to help, Nick is sent to protect Vivian. Together, they discover the Dagger Killer has ties to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood royalty and high society. It is a cutthroat world of allure and deception that Vivian and Nick must traverse—all in order to uncover the killer who will stop at nothing to add them to their gallery of murders.

My Review:

Close Up is the enchanting follow up to Tightrope, making it book 4 in the Burning Cove series. But don’t let that stop you from picking up this terrific historical romance, as there is very little that ties this book into the earlier books in the series, beginning with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

Come to think of it, the entire series features women who know entirely too much, and who use that knowledge to solve murder sprees that they find themselves at the hearts of through absolutely no fault of their own.

Not that it’s remotely coincidental that bad things happen to them, just as it is far from coincidental that photographer Vivian Brazier becomes the target of not one but two murder attempts. The long arm of coincidence is seldom that long, and it certainly isn’t here – no matter how much it seems that the two plots are not related to each other – except in their choice of victim.

It’s up to Vivian, along with her temporary bodyguard, private investigator Nick Sundridge, to figure out who is after her and why – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: The fun in this entry in the series is twofold. Of course there’s figuring out who is doing it. Not to mention, why are they doing it? Well not directly why. The murderer is planning to do Vivian in because he’s being paid to do it. The question is why would someone want to eliminate her?

Her family may be wealthy, but she’s been disowned. She’s a freelance crime photographer and hopeful art photographer, neither of which brought in “big bucks” during the Depression. She’s young and hopeful at the art photography, using the freelance crime photography to pay the rent. So no one is after the money she doesn’t have.

She’s still at the bottom rung of the ladder in her chosen profession, so she’s not in anyone’s way.

At least the first murder attempt was the direct result of her actions. She figured out, not who the “Dagger Killer” was, not exactly, but she narrowed the field enough for the police to hone in on their killer. Who tried to kill her first and failed.

The second plot seems to make no sense. But through investigating it we get to visit the point in history when the question of whether photography could possibly ever be considered “Art” was still the subject of considerable debate. (Man Ray, the famous artist and photographer, was working in Paris at this time, along with one of the characters of yesterday’s book, Salvador Dali)

Times when the world is in flux make fascinating backgrounds for stories and characters. Vivian is at the crux of this particular change, and it makes her compelling to follow. She’s a woman attempting to make a career in a man’s world, and that’s always a challenge. But she’s also a proponent of a new way of doing things at a time when the old way still holds sway. And she’s working at the juncture between commercialism and art, yet another turning point.

She’s right, she knows she’s right, but there’s a question of whether she will live to see her vision proven correct. Not just because she’s in the crosshairs of a murderer, but because pioneers in any field always wonder if they will make it during their own lifetimes.

And on top of it all, there’s a romance. I’ll admit that, like an earlier book in this series, The Other Lady Vanishes, I didn’t quite buy the romance. I expected it as part of the pattern for this series, but there wasn’t quite enough romantic tension between Vivian and Nick to really sell it, at least not for me.

But I still had a great time watching Vivian take on the establishment and help to save herself from being the murderer’s next victim. A murderer that, like both Vivian and Nick, I didn’t suss out until the very end.

Amanda Quick is an author that I love under all of her names, Quick for historical, Jayne Castle for futuristic and Jayne Ann Krentz for contemporary. I look forward to reading her next venture into romantic suspense, no matter when it is set or which name she publishes it under!

Review: Dali Summer by T.J. Brown

Review: Dali Summer by T.J. BrownDali Summer by T. J. Brown
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 344
Published by TULE Publishing Group on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her wild and vivid visions inspire an icon...

Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente-- crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family's reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love.

Set against the political upheaval of 1917 Spain, Dali Summer captures the fierce spirit of Catalonia, the generosity and stubbornness of its people and the blossoming promise of a woman who thought life was bland and empty and had long ago had passed her by.

My Review:

So many stories are about characters that earn their names, their titles, their reputations, or a bit of each. Dali Summer, on the other hand, is the story of a woman who initially owns her name but loses that ownership, and who finally sheds her investment in a reputation that was never her own.

Dolor is Spanish for pain and ache, and for sorrow and grief. Initially, Dolors Posa is all of those things. She is lonely and filled with sorrow, grieving for her father, the mother she never knew, the life she might have had. The story opens with the pain of a sudden, intense, blinding headache that ironically lifts one of Dolors long standing aches while replacing it with a potentially greater one.

Dolors is completely colorblind. She sees the world only in shades of gray. But it was not always so. As a child, she saw colors like everyone else, but when her grandmother, in a fit of temper, struck her with a heavy crystal in the back of the head, Dolors’ color sight was taken away. Seemingly permanently.

But the vision she sees while in a fugue state brought on by that terrible, blinding headache is fantastical in the extreme – and in brilliant, living color. Even in technicolor, although that word hadn’t yet been invented in the summer of 1917.

The sudden re-emergence of color in Dolors’ life is just the beginning. The visions come to the attention of a very young Salvador Dali, just 13 and already on the road to becoming the eccentric artist that he will be remembered for. But in 1917, he is young, still learning, but fascinated with Dolors’ visions and willing to stretch his art to make them come to life.

Dolors’ need to discover the reason for her visions – or more precisely to determine whether or not she is going mad, bring her to the attention of Lidia and Xavi Sala, sister and brother, each revolutionary in their own ways.

Lidia’s revolution is a desire for sexual liberation, she wants to love everyone and doesn’t care who she hurts along the way. Her brother Xavi, however, wants to change the world. Xavi wants to free his country and turn it into a workers’ paradise.

Their flamboyant intersection with Dolors and her tiny little village of Cadaqués will change all of them – some for the better, some for the worse. But before Dolors can be shed of the griefs and sorrows that have weighed down her entire life, first she must drink the bitter cup to its dregs.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. At the same time, at its heart its a very simple story, the story of one woman moving out of the long shadow of her family’s expectations and finally making a life for herself.

The complications of the story feel like they are all in the background and setup. The introduction of the very young Salvador Dali is fascinating, but at the same time feels like it’s more of a “hook” to get readers to pick up the book than it is an integral part of the story. He’s kind of a symbol of Dolors unstated desire for more color in her life, both literal color and figurative color, than she is willing to own up to at the beginning.

The political upheaval of the period is represented by Xavi’s revolutionary agitation, but again, it feels more symbolic than it does a real part of Dolors’ personal story – and this is at its heart her personal story and not the story of the wider world.

The political ferment does have its effects. Even in backwater Cadaqués, the world is changing. A change that inveigles itself into Dolors’ life with the return of color and the introduction of the Salas.

But the story is of Dolors’ quiet revolution. The way that she slowly, and initially very cautiously, moves herself out of her grandmother’s long and hateful shadow, and at first carefully and then recklessly starts to live her own life, always looking over her shoulder at the demons of the past.

While Dolors’ is trying to move forward in her life, her grandmother is doing her level best – and worst – to keep the entire family moored in the past and under her heavy thumb. It’s a situation that brews throughout the story until it comes to its inevitable head at the climax.

But the one to watch in this story is Dolors’ every step of the way. This is the story of the brilliantly colored butterfly emerging from its drab cocoon. A story that is slow to unfold but surprisingly lovely in its portrait of a woman on the cusp of change.

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

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-3-20

Sunday Post

Welcome to yet another Sunday in “Quarantineville”. Which has been going on long enough now that it kind of feels like normal. And something not too different from this might be for the foreseeable future. We’re not ready to “reopen” the states. There aren’t nearly enough tests. All of the usual childcare options are still closed, leaving mothers with both young children and jobs in a terrible fix. And people don’t feel safe, and probably won’t for a long time.

Be careful out there people, and buckle up. The next several months are going to be a very bumpy ride!

Meanwhile, I have Murderbot on Wednesday! That’s definitely something to look forward to!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Mother May I Giveaway Hop
The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci
Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Something to Marble At Giveaway Hop is Roy
The winner of the Rain, Rain Go Away Giveaway Hop is Shelly

Blog Recap:

B Review: Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
A- Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence
A- Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + Giveaway
B Review: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick
Mother May I Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (390)

Coming This Week:

Dali Summer by T.J. Brown (blog tour review)
Close Up by Amanda Quick (blog tour review)
Network Effect by Martha Wells (review)
Jack by Connie Willis (review)
Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (390)

Stacking the Shelves

It feels like April was about a million years long – but now it’s May. That means spring is starting to settle in, except down here in the South where it will undoubtedly make way for summer long before any of us are ready for it.  And then there’s the whole “reopening the economy” mess. As much as I’d love for things to go back to something approaching normal, we’re not ready. It’s going to be a long and bumpy road to the future, whatever it turns out to be.

Meanwhile, there are books. There are lots of books. It’s been a great time to sit out on the back porch and read, and I’m expecting more of that in the future!

For Review:
The Abstainer by Ian McGuire
All Scot and Bothered (Devil You Know #2) by Kerrigan Byrne
All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Gamache #16) by Louise Penny
Ashes of the Sun (Burningblade & Silvereye #1) by Django Wexler
The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew by Denise Heinze
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde
Daring and the Duke (Bareknuckle Bastards #3) by Sarah MacLean
Dark Star Rising (Blackwood & Virtue #2) by Bennett R. Coles
A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik
East of Hounslow (Jay Qasim #1) by Khurrum Rahman
The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi
Escaping Dreamland by Charlie Lovett
First Cut by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell
Forbidden Promises (Jackson Falls #1) by Synithia Williams
The Four Profound Weaves (Birdverse) by R.B. Lemberg
Get a Life, Chloe Brown (Brown Sisters #1)  by Talia Hibbert
Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
Hard Ride (Clean Slate Ranch #5) by A.M. Arthur
Headliners (London Celebrities #5) by Lucy Parker
Lionhearts (Nottingham #2) by Nathan Makaryk
Love Her or Lose Her (Hot & Hammered #2) by Tessa Bailey
One by One by Ruth Ware
The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo
Prime Deceptions (Chilling Effect #2) by Valerie Valdes
Second Chance Angel (Last Stop Station #1) by Griffin Barber and Kacey Ezell
Shadows in Death (In Death #51) by J.D. Robb
A Star is Bored by Byron Lane
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
The Tyrant Baru Cormorant (Masquerade #3) by Seth Dickinson
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
Wicked Bite (Night Rebel #2, Night Huntress Universe #15) by Jeaniene Frost

Mother May I Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Mother May I Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

The name of this blog hop is a play on Mother’s Day being in May, on the date of the hope being May 1, or May I, and, last but not least, on the name of the children’s game “Mother May I?” Plus an echo of every child’s question, “Mother, may I go out to play?” albeit phrased a bit less formally.

In this year of COVID19, whether it is permissible AT ALL for anyone to go outside and play seems to still be up in the air – right along with the virus.

I may not be the “Mother” of the game – or actually anyone’s mother except for our cats – but I still MAY, and in fact AM, giving away the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books from the Book Depository to one lucky winner on this hop. Whether the winner chooses to do something sensible or get themselves something to play with is entirely up to them!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You MAY want to check out the terrific prizes at all the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

Review: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

Review: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra PatrickThe Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Park Row on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A single father gets an unexpected second chance at love in the heartwarming new novel from the author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper


It’s summer in the city and passions are soaring along with the temperature—for everyone but Mitchell Fisher, who hates all things romance. He relishes his job cutting off the padlocks that couples fasten to the famous “love story” bridge. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his prickly veneer, Mitchell still grieves the loss of her mother.

Then one hot day, everything changes when Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls from the bridge into the river. He’s surprised to feel an unexpected connection to her, but she disappears before he can ask her name. Desperate to find out her identity, Mitchell is shocked to learn she’s been missing for almost a year. He teams up with her spirited sister, Liza, on a quest to find her again. However, she’s left only one clue behind—a message on the padlock she hung on the bridge.

Brimming with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and a sparkling cast of characters, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge follows one man’s journey to unlock his heart and discover new beginnings in the unlikeliest places.

My Review:

I picked up this book because the premise reminded me of our trip to Dublin last year, particularly the Ha’penny Bridge, officially known as the Liffey Bridge. And it shouldn’t have, because the Ha’penny Bridge is not a love lock bridge, at least not officially. Although I’m sure it happens.

On the other hand, the fanciful, ultra-modern, slightly fantastical bridge that lies at the heart of so much of the heartbreak in Mitchell’s past sounds exactly like the Samuel Beckett Bridge (pictured below), which we walked across every day while we were in Dublin.

Mitchell’s story is a story about bridges. Not so much about designing them, as he did when he was a practicing architect, or about denuding them of illicitly placed locks, as he is doing when the story opens.

(Not that the denuding doesn’t need to be done. As romantic as the love lock concept sounds, it’s actually dangerous to the bridges. Padlocks are heavy. Lots and lots and lots of locks all together are VERY heavy. If the bridge wasn’t designed to bear the extra weight – eventually it won’t – with disastrous results.)

But the bridges in this story are the kind of bridges that span the distance between yesterday and tomorrow. Between the past and the present, Between a father and his daughter, both grieving the loss of their partner/mother in their own – unfortunately completely antithetical – ways.

And most especially, the bridge between clinging to the hurts of the past and searching for a brighter future.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that rewards patience. There’s a point in this story, just about at the halfway point, where a switch flips and it shifts from being a bit of a downer to a story where it’s not just that things are finally happening, and Mitchell is shaken out of his rut, but where things actually look up and get brighter.

Which does happen because Mitchell gets shaken out of his rut when he leaps over that bridge in pursuit of the mysterious woman who fell off – a mystery that seems to deepen as Mitchell learns more about her. In the process he learns more about himself, or finds the road back from the slough of despond he’s been wallowing in for the past three years, or both.

Or one could say that his act of spontaneous heroism breaks him out of the straitjacket of plans, goals and objectives that he has been trapped in since his partner’s death. A straitjacket that he has been using to keep himself from feeling the grief he needs to get through.

Once his daughter’s music teacher, Liza Bradfield, reveals that the woman he rescued is her sister, a sister who has been missing for the past year, his carefully planned and somewhat stale life moves, awkwardly at first, into Liza’s more colorful and much more spontaneous world.

At first the endless circling of his thoughts tries to drag him back into his safe but sterile existence, only for him to be taken by the hand by his daughter Poppy and pulled into the world that she wants to inhabit. A world with friends and fun and definitely with Liza.

But it takes Mitchell about half the book to start climbing out of that rut, and it’s a bit dark and gloomy down there. The story only begins to shine when Mitchell starts letting things happen instead of trying to plan them to death – and he’s all the better for it. So is Poppy. So is the story.

The second half of this book really sings, as Mitchell starts to shake himself loose, finally lets himself grieve and move forward (the catharsis is much needed) and gets himself involved not just with Liza but with her entire slightly crazy family.

His heart opens, his world expands and sunshine comes back into his life. A big part of that expansion consists of the wave of letter writing inspired by his plunge into the icy river. Those letters let him see just how many people he’s touched – and they touch him in return.

I enjoyed Mitchell’s story, but I really wish we could have seen more of those letters, because the ones we got were a delight – even when Mitchell wasn’t ready to see it.

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + GiveawayThe Ingredients of You and Me (Hopeless Romantics, #3) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #3
Pages: 320
Published by Gallery Books on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of the “heartwarming and refreshingly sweet” (Lauren Layne, New York Times bestselling author) On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a sizzling and sweet small-town love story that follows a bakery store owner who decides to take her chances on a truly hopeless romantic.

After selling her successful bakery back in New York, Parker Powell decides to visit her best friend Charlotte in Hope Lake, Pennsylvania to figure out her next steps. As she acquaints herself with the people in town, she begins to wonder why she ever loved city life in the first place. Between the Golden Girls (a.k.a. the senior citizen women who hold court), the response from the town to her sweet treats, and Nick Arthur, the ever-charming local owner of a landscaping business she spent time with during her last visit, Parker finds a community of cheerleaders who encourage her to get her baking mojo back.

At first, everything is great—she collaborates with the Golden Girls to put new twists on traditional confections, and thanks to Nick’s advice, she’s quickly learning the stark differences between big city and small-town business practices. Although Nick has quickly become her friend and confidant, Parker’s determined to keep things platonic—especially since his girlfriend isn’t a fan of their friendship. But just when things fall into place so they can finally be together, Parker’s dream bakery is threatened by a major corporation who wants to take her down using the very bit of advice that Nick gave her.

With a recipe for disaster looming, Parker must cook up a new scheme, figuring out how to keep the business—and man—she’s come to love before she loses it all.

Perfect for fans of Amy E. Reichert and Jenny Colgan, The Ingredients of You and Me is a scrumptious romantic comedy that lets you have your cake and eat it too.

My Review:

I picked this up at lunch and got completely sucked into it. I’d say it was like opening a bag of potato chips and not being able to eat just one, but it was much more like opening a box of Girl Scout Cookies, where the serving size is supposed to be 2 cookies, is really more like an entire sleeve, and is, just occasionally and for the right cookie, the entire box. (Samoas for me, but your cookie mileage probably varies)

The story in The Ingredients of You and Me is both a fairly direct followup to the previous book in the series, Meet Me on Love Lane, and a complete standalone at the same time. It’s a followup because the heroine ingredient of this book was the NYC best friend of the heroine in that second story. And Parker met Nick, the hero of this one, while visiting her bestie Charlotte in Hope Lake.

But the sparks that flew between Parker and Nick at that first meeting, and all their subsequent – and clandestine – meetings, were kept very much a secret from everyone who knew either of them. No one was cheating on anyone, this is not that kind of story. They just wanted to see what their relationship might be – if it was even going to be anything beyond a series of hot, long-distance booty-calls – without the pressure of all their mutual friends watching every move they made – or didn’t.

So when Nick ghosted Parker at Thanksgiving – just when she wanted to tell him that she had sold her successful NYC bakery and was hoping they could have more time together, she was left at very loose ends.

Not that she sold Delicious & Vicious for Nick, because she didn’t. She sold it for herself and did very well out of the deal. But she did hope that while she was deciding on the next phase of her life that Nick might be interested in being factored into those decisions.

Now that the bakery has sold, Parker is at loose ends. AND she’s lost her baking mojo. So she sets out for an extended – OMG winter – vacation at chilly but heartwarming Hope Lake PA, to spend time with Charlotte and see what she, meaning Parker, wants to do next in her life.

That’s where the fun begins – along with just a bit of melodrama. While Charlotte reconnected with Gigi, the grandmother that she left behind in Hope Lake, Parker finds herself “adopted” by the entire gaggle of Hope Lake “Golden Girls”. It’s through her relationship with the group that becomes famous – and sometimes infamous – as “The Baked Nanas” that Parker figures out who Parker Phase Two really is. And she gets her baking mojo back by helping the Nanas translate their old family recipes from imprecise old-fashioned measurements – like jelly jars and fists – to modern day equivalents that will allow them to pass those recipes on to their own families.

It’s in the process of Parker’s healing and reinvention that she learns where Nick went and why he ghosted her. Now Nick is torn between his unfinished but still smoldering feelings for Parker – and his new relationship with “Miss Suzy Perfect”. Who is, of course, anything but.

But this is Parker’s show every step of the way. She’s in Hope Lake to figure her life out for herself. Nick can be part of that, or not. But he can’t be half in or half out. It was fun sneaking around when there was no one to be hurt, but she won’t be his dirty little secret while he’s making a relationship with someone else.

Whether Nick will see the light and fix himself is anyone’s guess. But Parker is taking care of Parker, and doing a damn fine job of it with or without him. Thanks in no small part to those “Baked Nanas”.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one even more than I did Meet Me on Love Lane, and I liked that one quite a lot. But this one had a compulsion to it that the earlier book, sweet as it was, didn’t quite.

And even though this story directly follows from that earlier book, this one still feels like it stands alone. Because the story here is really about Parker losing herself and finding herself, and it all happens in this story. The characters from the previous books (I haven’t read the first one, On the Corner of Love and Hate) are in the background here, but getting involved in Parker’s story doesn’t depend on any in depth knowledge of the first two. This one is all her and it’s all here.

Howsomever, like the previous book in the series, The Ingredients of You and Me mixes the ingredients of contemporary romance with women’s fiction, and it feels like the women’s fiction is the stronger part of the story.

Parker is at a crossroads. She’s sold the bakery that she put her heart and soul into in NYC, and it was the right choice for her. She was overtired, overstressed and burned out. She had no life, only work and sleep. Her fling with Nick did bring that home to her, that she wanted more time for a real life and couldn’t have it if she kept on the bakery treadmill.

She has time and enough money to let herself be, to figure out who she wants to be and where and how to do it. She just doesn’t have a plan – and Parker is usually all about plans. Staying in Hope Lake lets her reconnect with friends, make new ones, take a breath, look around, and let inspiration come to her.

And it does in the larger-than-life-size personages of the Baked Nanas, especially the outrageous Mancini who adopts Parker instantly upon her arrival. It’s through the relationships among all of the women that Parker is able to let herself be herself and muddle through to where she wants to be.

Nick is more than a bit of ass through the whole thing. And Parker doesn’t try to fix him or change him – or herself. She takes care of herself and if that means putting distance between them, so be it. That she cares but never bends over backwards or begs or grovels is one of the things I liked a LOT about this story.

Parker doesn’t always take the high road, but she does take the honest road. That she gets her reward at the end is icing on a very lovely cake.

One final comment. The series title, Hopeless Romantics, has given me a terrible earworm that I have to pass along. It’s part of a line from the Eagles’ song New Kid in Town. And the line from the song certainly fits the series, “Hopeless romantics, here we go again.”

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of The Ingredients of You and Me to one lucky US commenter on this tour. It’s a terrific story, but the winner may need to exercise a little more patience than usual while waiting to receive their copy in these uncertain times. But I promise you that the book is worth the wait!

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Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary Lawrence

Review: The Lost Boys of London by Mary LawrenceThe Lost Boys of London (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #5) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #5
Pages: 320
Published by Red Puddle Print on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set in the final years of King Henry VIII's reign, an alchemist's daughter uses her skills to aid the living and helps seek justice for the dead...

While her husband fights the Scots on behalf of King Henry VIII, Bianca Goddard earns her coin by concocting medicines that offer relief to London's sick. Some unfortunates, however, are beyond any remedies she can provide—like the young boy discovered hanging from a church dripstone. Examining the body, Bianca finds a rosary twined around the child's neck. A week later, another boy is found dead at a different church. When Bianca's impish acquaintance, Fisk, goes missing, she fears he may become the third victim...

There are many villains who would prey on wayward, penniless boys. But Bianca suspects the killings are not brutal acts of impulse, but something far more calculated. In her room of Medicinals and Physickes, she examines the sole piece of evidence: a sweet-smelling, stained cloth. If Bianca can unravel its secret, reputations and lives will be saved. The expected hour of the next murder is approaching, and a single misstep may mean another boy is lost forever...

My Review:

From that first scene, where the running boy barely manages to step over a steaming turd, you know that this is one of those marvelous works of historical fiction where you’re going to walk the streets at the side of the characters and feel the cobbles beneath your own shoes.

Not to mention breathe the same air and smell the same smells. Maybe it’s better not to go into too many details about the smells, at least not around mealtime.

This series takes place at one of the crossroads of English history, a time when there was ferment both politically and ideologically, a time when the world was changing but the impact of those changes was still in process. And like all times of great change, there were forces dead set on maintaining their power and the status quo, just as they were those who were agitating for the changes to come. And both sides used violence to make their point, with bloody results no matter who won.

Set at the sunset of the reign of Henry VIII, the focus of this entry in the series is split between Bianca in London and her husband John, who was conscripted into the army at the end of the previous book, The Alchemist of Lost Souls. John is in Scotland, just one of the many footsoldiers participating in King Henry’s “Rough Wooing” of the Scots, and learning the lesson that transcends time and place and applies to all wars, that war is hell, and that entirely too many of the men fighting it release their inner devils for the purpose.

Bianca has no idea where John is or how he is, all she knows is that he is gone and that she has been left to make the best living she can as a “white witch” dispensing medicinal herbs and tinctures, and to occupy herself as best she can by aiding the local constable with his inquiries. Meaning that Constable Patch has the authority, Bianca has the brains, and the Constable gets all the credit for her solutions.

Patch has called Bianca in to solve a terrible crime – one made even more terrible by its repetition. Someone is killing young boys and stringing them up from church gargoyles. It’s ugly and gruesome in every possible way. But it doesn’t make sense.

It’s unclear whether someone is targeting the churches, drawing attention to the inconstancy of their beliefs and practices as they are caught in the King’s religious caprices, or whether someone is trying to discredit the church as a whole in order to bring about more reform. In either these scenarios, the boys are part of the show and not its purpose.

Or is someone poking into the gangs of thieving boys in an attempt to uncover their masters? Or is it another possibility all together?

Caught between feuding constables, infighting clergymen and searching for the lost boys, Bianca is uncertain of which way to turn. She only knows that she has to get to the root of these crimes before more are sacrificed.

Escape Rating A-: This is apparently the final book in this series, and if that’s true I’m very sorry to see it end. Bianca Goddard is a fascinating heroine in so many ways. It’s not just her intelligence and her agency, although it is marvelous to read a historical mystery with a female protagonist who is neither noble nor a member of the upper classes. Bianca’s story portrays life among the groundlings, in its all too frequent nastiness, dirtiness and brevity. Her vocation is to do her best to ease the suffering around her.

At the same time, she is human in a way that is easy for 21st century readers to identify with. She’s smart, both too smart and too observant for her own good. She gets obsessive and absorbed in her work, has little patience for either small talk or fools. Her husband doesn’t try to keep her home or protect her from it. Both because he’s easy-going and because they can’t afford for her not to work every bit as hard as he does.

He does worry about her work investigating crime, and somebody should be worried. She sticks her nose and herself into places that are dangerous, and that danger all too often reaches out to grab her.

The stories in this series do an excellent job of portraying Bianca’s world, not just her personal circumstances, but the way that the doings of the high and mighty reach down and affect the lives of every person in the kingdom. Bianca is intelligent enough that when things happen, she doesn’t just know what, but she understands the why and the how of it, and so do we, even in circumstances that seem far removed from our own.

I like Bianca and I’m going to miss her. If you enjoy gritty historical mystery and want more, in addition to Bianca’s series (start with The Alchemist’s Daughter) there’s also Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest series, Candace Robb’s Owen Archer and Kate Clifford serieses and D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles in very similar veins.

One final note. Bianca has a cat named Hobs. As is usual for cats, it would be more accurate to say that Hobs has her. Due to a bit of magical realism in the previous books in the series, Bianca believes that Hobs is immortal, and the events of this book prove her correct. I want a cat like Hobs. Actually, I want all my cats to be like Hobs. Desperately. If this particular character in the story includes a bit of wish fulfillment on the part of the author, I understand completely.