#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #3
Pages: 420
Published by Embla Books on February 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a driver dies during a glamourous classic car event at her family's estate, Dr Nell Ward is in a race against time to uncover the truth and prevent the killer from making a speedy getaway...
Back in her natural habitat, Dr Nell Ward heads to a woodland pond to survey local newt populations. She's shocked to discover a car submerged in the water - with the driver dead behind the wheel.
Nell recognises the dead man as professional racing driver, and tabloid love rat, Jack Rafferty, whose performance on (and off) Finchmere's racetrack had earned him enemies.
Suspecting this isn't the tragic accident it appears DI James Clark calls upon Nell and her ecological skills to help find the murderer. But she soon finds that more lurks under the surface than she could ever have imagined. Despite the danger, Nell is determined to dredge up the truth from the murky depths of this case, before it's too late...

My Review:

Whichever of her two personas is her alter ego, both of them are entirely too busy during the jam-packed weekend this story takes place.

As Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, heir to the estate of Finchmere – the weekend of the Finchmere Classic – a Classic Car race, car auction, fun fair and general all purpose extravaganza may be one of Lady Eleanor’s favorite events at the estate but is also a showcase for her family’s stewardship of the land, maintenance of the estate, and everything she’s doing to keep the whole business self-sustaining and profitable for the ones who come after her.

That she is personally involved with one of the cars in the race, a formerly derelict but classic ‘gullwing’ Mercedes-Benz 300 SL that has been converted to an all-electric vehicle just adds to the heightened atmosphere – and the tensions among the car’s crew for the race add bucketloads of stress to a situation that is already fraught.

As Dr. Nell Ward, ecologist and environmental surveyor, she has committed to help a former intern at a nearby nature reserve do some surveying in preparation for an upcoming certification visit early on the morning that the festivities at Finchmere begin.

And both of her personas are on pins and needles as she hoped that she would be able to get to know her romantic partner’s parents as they attend the Classic – in between all the other demands on her time – which are legion even at the start.

When Nell and her friend Mai discover that the reserve’s pristine habitat has been compromised – if not outright ruined – by a car that crashed through and then sank in what had been a carefully rehabilitated pond – WITH a dead body in it – everything crashes along with the car.

Not that the dead man hadn’t honestly earned more than enough enmity for someone to have seen to his demise. But he was supposed to drive Nell’s car in the race. Her partner’s young sister left her custom-made earrings on the dashboard of the wreck. His parents, who already disapprove for multiple reasons – are about to blame Nell for the girl’s involvement – as well as everything else that continues to go wrong over one of the longest weekends in Nell’s life.

At least the police can’t arrest her for the murder this time around. Not that some of them wouldn’t still like to – if only to stop Nell meddling in the investigation. Again.

Escape Rating B-: This third book in the Dr. Nell Ward series, after A Murder of Crows and A Cast of Falcons, follows a pattern that this series seems to have hit in my brain. I keep having mixed feelings about the whole thing – and this entry more than most for reasons I’ll get to, appropriately as you’ll see, at the end.

I’ve been following the series because I like Nell as a character, but I like her nerdiness about her earned profession more than I do her persona as Lady Eleanor, so this book didn’t get as near to a mystery sweet spot for me as others that I follow. All of which means that I hope she gets back a bit more to her environmental work in the next book A Generation of Vipers. We’ll certainly see. Eventually.

But in the meantime, back to A Mischief of Rats. It could be claimed that the dead man was the chief rat in this mystery, but he actually wasn’t. The chief rat, that is. He certainly was one of the rats. That his rat-nature got him killed isn’t a surprise at all. That the road to figuring out how his rattiness rattled the chief rat to the point that it got him killed made for a marvelously twisty mystery, which I want to say had plenty of tasty red herrings but in this case no because rats and tasty do not belong in the same sentence or even the same paragraph.

Still, you get the point. Unlike the first book in the series, while I knew it wasn’t any of the obvious suspects fairly early on – I just didn’t figure out who the real killer was until the point where Nell does – with the police following along behind her. Literally.

The part that left me with extremely mixed feelings was the ending. Not the resolution of the mystery because that was fine and wrapped things up with a really cathartic and rat-free bow. But the personal parts of this story and the way they ended on a terrible crash of a cliffhanger gave me a lot of pause. And that’s literal, as in I will continue the series but I’m going to pause for a bit to let the ending settle.

While part of what I love about cozy mysteries revolves around getting to know the characters and the gang of friends and assistants that they gather around them, Nell seems to have a lot of personal angst and romantic drama that, for this reader at least, takes away from the fun and coziness of the mystery. There’s been a ‘torn between two lovers’ undercurrent going on through these first three books, and I’ve gotta admit that isn’t a place I want this series to go. (It’s part of what turned me off of the Stephanie Plum series – not that she changed her mind but that she couldn’t seem to make it up at all.)

I admit that this is a ‘me’ thing that may not be a ‘you’ thing. Howsomever, for this reader it feels like Nell’s romantic trials and tribulations are a bit over the top, particularly as her rich and aristocratic background – along with her surprisingly functional relationship with her parents – seem to have insulated her from a whole lot of regular stresses and issues to the point where over-the-top is the only direction left.

Which is exactly where this installment of the series ended – up and over the top of the wall and landing upside-down with traction. I’m still kind of reeling over it, to the point where I had to thumb the next couple of books to make sure that this story thread does get resolved no matter how much more angst will be involved in that wrapping.

So, for the most part, I was enjoying the mystery right up until that end, when I crashed right along with it. I’ll be back to see what murders Nell trips over and what terrible things happen in her personal life in A Generation of Vipers, but probably not for a couple of months at least.

We’ll certainly see the next time I get into another murder-y mood.

#BookReview: My Dearest Mackenzie by Rachel Blaufeld

#BookReview: My Dearest Mackenzie by Rachel BlaufeldMy Dearest Mackenzie by Rachel Blaufeld
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: 40s Love and Romance #3
Pages: 217
Published by Rachel Blaufeld Publishing on April 25, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Frankie Burns, brash and bold on the outside, divorced and scarred on the inside, is determined to figure out what really happened with her Paps and his long-lost love, Rosie. Understanding why the duo didn’t find their happily-ever-after is her biggest mission. With every inch of her five-foot-two frame, she’s determined to discover why they were separated and forced to live a life without one another, convinced it will fix her own unhappiness.
Mackenzie Miller, handsome, rich, and one of New York’s most eligible bachelors, keeps everyone at an arm’s length and believes the only barometer to happiness is how wealthy and powerful he becomes. Shoving back his grandmother Milly’s wishes for him to find an everlasting love, he is successful in every other area of life. Abandoned by his mother, fairy tales are not part of Mack’s world, but running his makeup and perfume empire is paramount.
That is… until a feisty blond woman blasts into his life and won’t accept no for an answer when it comes to looking for a connection between his beloved Milly and her beloved Paps. He doesn’t understand the severity of her search. She needs to know the story to fill a gap in her own life.
The twist neither of them expects is falling for one another in the process…

My Review:

It’s not exactly a meet-cute, although Mackenzie Miller thinks that Frances Burns is plenty cute – also feisty and ferocious – which is how she managed to barge her 5 foot nothing self into his usually well-guarded office.

Frankie has a quest that Mack doesn’t even believe in – and he’s not remotely willing to hear her out. He’s pretty sure that her quest is for his money – and he’s been there and done that and is way, way over any further attempts.

But Frankie doesn’t care about his money – or the cosmetics and perfume empire he inherited from his beloved grandmother Milly.

Although that’s not quite right. Frankie is interested in one product and one only. A perfume that is now considered old fashioned and was discontinued long ago. Frankie only cares about “Rose’s Lily” because it was named for the love of her late grandfather’s life.

Frankie found the letters that Milly wrote to James Burns during the year that they fell in love – back when her grandfather and Mack’s grandmother were seventeen. Milly’s father – Mack’s great-grandfather – dragged the young lovers apart and got Milly married off before she even turned eighteen because Milly was Jewish and James Burns was not – and in those days that mattered and it mattered a lot.

But neither James nor Milly EVER forgot the person who was their “One” – not over the course of their long and relatively successful, but separate, lives.

Frankie, whose own tilt at the “Happy Ever After” windmill went down in flames, feels like she needs to learn what happened to that young woman her grandfather loved and lost in order to get some closure on the loss of the person who meant the most to her in this world.

At first, Mack doesn’t believe her. Then again, his mother’s abandonment of him to his grandmother’s waiting arms left him with a whole trunk of emotional baggage that he mostly deals with by running away, including a belief that romantic love doesn’t really exist.

But the irresistible force has met the immovable object – and sparks have been struck no matter how much both Frankie and Mack deny it – and each other – at every turn.

Escape Rating B: This isn’t exactly a dual-timelines story. It is a bit, but not really. Mack and Frankie’s tempestuous relationship – whatever it might be at the time – is always front and center in the story. What they discover about the past really doesn’t change things for them – although it does change some of the dynamics in their present-day relationships with others.

Their journey of discovery, both of their grandparents’ past and of their mutual present, is a story of two steps forward and one step back for multiple reasons – although the biggest reason is that every time they get close emotionally Mack runs away. Often literally. Once leaving Frankie behind in the Hamptons with no transportation.

(Not that ride-sharing isn’t a thing, and not that she doesn’t call one, but really, that’s a douche move. Or at least the move of a man who’s scared of touching his own emotions – let alone anyone else’s. And his behavior dovetails all too well and very badly with Frankie’s fears of abandonment.)

Each time they discover something about the past – it temporarily derails their present. Not because the revelations are so terrible, but because each one peels back a layer of reserve and self-protection and neither of them is really all that great at handling any of THAT.

Even though they should be as both are well into adulthood – and for the most part are doing a decently successful job of adulting. But that also means that their emotional scar tissue is many layers deep – and that scraping at it hurts rather a lot.

I really enjoyed that this was a romance between two people at midlife – and not fresh and dewy 20somethings. Their baggage is real and heavy, but the rewards feel that much sweeter because they were much harder to earn.

At the same time, the story they are searching for, Paps and Milly’s blighted young love, had a lot of resonance for this reader. Not because there’s something like their story in my own family’s history, but because the idea of it, that young lovers could be forcibly separated by a difference in religion – to the point of disownment or declaring the one who married out to be deceased – was very real in my own family. It’s a practice that has changed over time, but there were a few cousins of my parents’ generation who disappeared from family gatherings only to reappear decades later with non-Jewish spouses after the immigrant generation of the family had passed on.

Also, Milly’s real name was Rose and so was my own grandmother’s. So there’s that.

Returning to Frankie and Mack – as the story itself does frequently and often. I liked their midlife romance. I felt that their emotional baggage had weight and heft and made a huge difference both in what brought them together and what kept them apart. I really did enjoy their journey, but as a reader I felt like the book should have ended a bit sooner. The last few chapters dragged a bit because it felt like everything had been resolved and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And it finally did, but when it dropped it was more of a whimper than a thud and didn’t seem to quite justify those last “slice of new life” chapters. Not that it wasn’t nice to see their HEA get firmly planted, but the lingering last bits did, well, linger a bit too long.

But I still did enjoy My Dearest Mackenzie with its dip into the past and its exploration of midlife romance in the present. I didn’t learn that this is might be part in a series until I finished, so I’ll be looking for the author’s loosely connected 40s, Love and Romance series that starts with The Back Nine, the next time I’m in the mood for a bit of romance.

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#AudioBookReview: Lovers at the Museum by Isabel Allende

#AudioBookReview: Lovers at the Museum by Isabel AllendeLovers at the Museum by Isabel Allende
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, magical realism, short stories
Pages: 25
Length: 38 minutes
Published by Amazon Original Stories on April 1, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wind Knows My Name comes a mesmerizing tale of two passionate souls who share one magical night that defies all rational explanation.
Love, be it wild or tender, often defies logic. In fact, at times, the only rationale behind the instant connection of two souls is plain magic.
Bibiña Aranda, runaway bride, wakes up in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao still wearing her wedding dress, draped in the loving arms of a naked man whose name she doesn’t know. She and the man with no clothes, Indar Zubieta, attempt to explain to the authorities how they got there. It’s a story of love at first sight and experience beyond compare, one that involves a dreamlike journey through the museum.
But the lovers’ transcendent night bears no resemblance to the crude one Detective Larramendi attempts to reconstruct. And no amount of fantastical descriptions can convince the irritated inspector of the truth.
Allende’s dreamy short story has the power to transport readers in any language, leaving them to ponder the wonders of love long after the story’s over.

My Review:

Lovers at the Museum caught my eye primarily for the audiobook. The narrator, Nicholas Boulton, is the voice of one of my favorite characters in the video game Mass Effect Andromeda. (A game that is much better than the reviews would lead one to believe, but that is not the topic of this review.)

Back on topic, at least a bit more on topic, I have to say that he didn’t sound much like that character in this narration, which I should have expected because they’re not remotely alike nor should they be and that’s just plain good acting.

Which leads me back, again, by a meandering path, to this lovely little short story about, well, love, and magic, and the magic of love.

Although it starts out with the evidence of a whole lot of lust – as that’s a much easier thing to get a handle on – particularly when one of the protagonists is still presenting a handle. So to speak.

Ahem.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao of modern and contemporary art in Spain’s Basque region (pictured at left) is already a magical place, both for its bulky, blocky and some would even say Brutalist, design, and in this story, at least, for the strange and weird things that happen within its walls.

This incident would add to that legend.

The morning staff of the museum discovered two disheveled, entwined, partially nude lovers in one of the galleries sleeping off a night of lustful debauchery that shouldn’t have happened at all. Not for particularly nefarious reasons but simply because they entered while the museum was closed – and should have triggered alarms in every single room they came into – which seems to have been all of them.

They say the door opened for them. They claim that they weren’t really in the museum, but in a magical pleasure palace.

The local police inspector, with a reputation for finding hidden clues, eliciting damning confessions, and a dogged determination to punish the guilty, is frustrated that he can’t break their ridiculous stories and isn’t sure what crime, if any, they actually committed.

It seems as if the magic of the Guggenheim claimed the lovers that incredible night, and it’s taking away the inspector’s will to punish them in the cold light of day.

Escape Rating B: This is short and very, very sweet – even though the inspector is downright salty for a lot of the story.

There’s a lot of salt to be had – at least from his perspective. He’s sure that someone HAS to be guilty of something prosecutable, and that someone is lying to him.

(I was betting on the museum officials lying to cover up less than attentive guards and not so secure security. It seemed like the obvious solution. Which it is logically but then again, this is about magic.)

The inspector wants to punish the lovers for their vice and their disrespect of the museum. But mostly because he envies them the magic of their love – something that is clearly lacking in his own life in spite of his decades long marriage – or perhaps because of it. That’s a bit hard to tell, but it’s sad no matter how one looks at it. Unless one is the inspector, in which case it’s downright tragic.

In the end, it all boils down to magic, the kind of magical realism that takes a story out of the everyday and sprinkles a bit of fairy dust over the proceedings. So short, sweet and utterly charming – including the inspector’s bluster.

Even better, if Isabel Allende is an author you’ve heard about but haven’t ever actually read – as was true for this reader – or if you’re not sure whether or not magical realism could be a flavor in your jam – this delightful short is the perfect way to stick your reading toe into magical realism with an author who is considered a master of the genre.

#BookReview: Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law by Lavie Tidhar

#BookReview: Judge Dee and the Limits of the Law by Lavie TidharJudge Dee and the Limits of the Law (Judge Dee, #1) by Lavie Tidhar
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, horror, paranormal, short stories, vampires
Series: Judge Dee #1
Pages: 32
Published by Tor Books on November 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

No vampire is ever innocent…
The wandering Judge Dee serves as judge, jury, and executioner for any vampire who breaks the laws designed to safeguard their kind’s survival. This new case in particular puts his mandate to the test.

My Review:

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I picked this up, but what I got was kind of interesting and sorta cute and blissfully short yet still told a good story and somehow managed to fit – albeit weirdly and oddly – into the whole Judge Dee rabbit hole I fell down last week.

Like many vampire stories, it needs a human touch. And it has one in this case, as it is told by vampire Judge Dee’s current human assistant, Jonathan. Who is often just a bit hard done by the Judge, as poor Jonathan needs the occasional meal of real food, and the occasional break to catch his labored breath, while the vampire clearly does not. And sometimes forgets to care.

That the human is a considerably messier eater than the average vampire, let alone the rather fastidious Judge Dee, is just part of the byplay between these two unequal companions.

The story here still manages to display Judge Dee’s much vaunted ability to, well, judge evildoers within the limits of the law and render a fit punishment – when punishment is what’s due.

The case that introduces this pair to readers is just such a case – more convoluted that one might expect leading to a rather elegant ending – and not the one the reader expects when Judge Dee first knocks on the door.

Escape Rating B: I picked this up this week for two reasons. The first is part of the reason I grabbed this at all, that I fell down a reading rabbit hole about Judge Dee and discovered this series and simply couldn’t resist. A lack of resistance that may have had something to do with the cover art which is just this side of comic but bizarre in a way that pulled me in.

The second reason, and the why right now reason, is that these are blissfully short. I’ve overcommitted myself this week and needed that really, really badly.

But I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting a lot, because there is literally not a lot here. Howsomever, I got more than I expected.

Judge Dee does his damndest to stick to the letter of the law while leaning over it just enough to find justice in a situation where there might not have been any to find. He’s beyond clever and yet is amused when a potential defendant before his traveling bench manages to out-clever him.

What makes the story fun – more than fun enough that I’ll be picking up the next story the next time I need something short to tide me over an overcommitted calendar – is the first person perspective of poor, put upon, Jonathan. He’s snarky, he’s both world-weary and vampire-weary, but he’s always aware of the side on which his bread is buttered – when he can get any, that is. So his commentary covers the Judge, the law he administers, his opinions and predilections, but also the companionship they provide each other.

Along with Jonathan’s constant scramble to get enough food in his belly to keep him upright for another day trudging after the indefatigable vampire Judge Dee. And one of these days soon I’ll be, not trudging but skipping along right beside him with Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels.

A+ #BookReview: The Black Hand by Will Thomas + #Giveaway

A+ #BookReview: The Black Hand by Will Thomas + #GiveawayThe Black Hand (Barker & Llewelyn, #5) by Will Thomas
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Barker & Llewelyn #5
Pages: 289
Published by Touchstone on July 1, 2008
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

When an Italian assassin's body is found floating in a barrel in Victorian London's East End, enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn are called in to investigate. Soon corpses begin to appear all over London, each accompanied by a Mafia Black Hand note. As Barker and Llewelyn dig deeper, they become entangled in the vendettas of rival Italian syndicates -- and it is no longer clear who is a friend or foe.

My Review:

So far, at least, the Barker & Llewelyn series is a bit like a caper movie. Not that Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn are committing capers – their job is to either thwart or investigate such goings-on. Instead, just like a good caper movie, the story opens at a climactic moment and then rewinds to the beginning of the story we’ve just been dropped into the middle of so we can see how things came to such a desperate pass.

As those climactic moments are generally life-threatening, and specifically threatening to the life of Thomas Llewelyn, it’s a good thing that we go into that pulse-pounding scene knowing that Llewelyn must have survived. After all, part of his job as private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker’s assistant is to chronicle Barker’s cases – and dead men tell no tales.

The tale that Llewelyn has to tell this time around is the story of a brewing turf war among London’s criminal underbelly. There’s a new player in the old game of gangs and turf and money, but a new player under a very old and familiar name – the Sicilian Mafia.

Muscling for territory in wide-open London with their signature stilettos against native gangs and older immigrant groups who rely on fists, brickbats and other coshes to get their dirty work done, the incomers cut a wide swath, literally, through the forces scrambling to array against them.

Including both Scotland Yard and the Home Office, which is where Barker and Llewelyn get dragooned into the fight. A fight that Barker most certainly did not start, but is utterly determined to finish – no matter how many favors he has to call in, how many compromises he has to make, or how many of his own hostages to fortune he has to put in harm’s way.

Escape Rating A+: There are three – well, at least three – things going on in this book, and every single one of them just adds to the reader’s compulsion to keep turning the pages, starting from that chilling, riveting opening.

The first thing, of course, is the case itself. The Mafia – or at least one arm or finger of that organization – is doing its damndest to carve out a toehold for itself in London – by carving up as many as possible until they get their way.

Barker’s remit – to be handled however he sees fit – is to make London so hot for the Sicilian gangs that they go back to Sicily, before their brand of bloody assassination becomes the norm in London.

But just because Barker has carte blanche from the Home Office, that doesn’t mean they’ll provide him with anything else, and certainly not any of their own forces. They don’t even want Scotland Yard involved but have left Barker to do things as he sees best. After all, they can always blame him for whatever goes wrong after the fact.

He sees best to call in a whole lot of favors, which means that the reader, through Thomas Llewelyn’s eyes and pen, gets to learn a whole lot more about who Barker really is under the persona he has created for himself, where he comes from, and who and what he holds dear. As well as how many rules, regulations, laws and ethics he is willing to bend if not outright break to see this thing through.

Those revelations rock Llewelyn to his foundations but don’t change his mind one single bit about following the man he refers to as ‘the Guv’ anywhere he leads – even into the jaws of hell.

So, there’s the case. Then there’s the deeper dive into Barker’s secrets – a set of revelations that should continue as the series progresses.

Last but not least there’s the resonance to the now in this story that is very much steeped in the ‘then’. Because while the case may be about the Mafia, what’s behind their advent into London is a debate about immigration and immigrants and just how easy or difficult it should be and just how much enforcement is necessary and which way and upon whom the economic impacts have and will fall.

And doesn’t all of that sound bloody familiar?

I’m here for all of the above, but even if just one part of that appeals to you, the fully realized historical setting, the whodunnit, the network of ‘Irregulars’ that Barker and Llewelyn are developing, Llewelyn’s continued training, OR the way that the past links to the present, this series is utterly fan-damn-tastic every single step of the way.

The deeper I read into this series, the better it gets. Each book in the series has been tight, taut, thrilling and compelling, all at the same marvelous time. They’ve just been awesome so far, and I can’t recommend the whole thing highly enough – although I plan to keep trying. I also, of course, plan to keep reading, and suspect that it won’t be long before I pick up the next book in the series, Fatal Enquiry.

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

Because I’ve enjoyed this series so much so far, it was an obvious choice for one of this week’s Blogo-Birthday giveaways – especially as the latest book in the series, Death and Glory, is coming out later this month!

Drumroll please! On this third day of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, today’s giveaway is the winner’s choice of ANY book in the Barker & Llewelyn series in any format, up to $25 (US) which should be enough to get even Death and Glory if you’re already caught up!

Good luck with today’s giveaway and remember that there’s more to come!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee MohamedThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
Narrator: Eva Tavares
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 158
Length: 4 hours and 49 minutes
Published by ECW Press on September 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

In post-climate disaster Alberta, a woman infected with a mysterious parasite must choose whether to pursue a rare opportunity far from home or stay and help rebuild her community.
The world is nothing like it once was: climate disasters have wracked the continent, causing food shortages, ending industry, and leaving little behind. Then came Cad, mysterious mind-altering fungi that invade the bodies of the now scattered citizenry. Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to get away - to move to one of the last remnants of pre-disaster society - but she can't bring herself to abandon her mother and the community that relies on her.
When she's offered a coveted place on a dangerous and profitable mission, she jumps at the opportunity to set her family up for life, but how can Reid ask people to put their trust in her when she can't even trust her own mind?

My Review:

There’s a deep, dark chasm between “the end of the world as they know it” and “the end of the world”. It’s a badly carved gorge where the steps going down are slippery, steep and riddled with stretches that have been completely washed out and strewn with sharp rocks and trail-obstructing boulders. The steps going up the other side are much too far away to see – and might not even exist at all.

In movies – one of the many, many things from the “Before Times” that no longer exist in Reid’s broken world – and books – of which there are some but not nearly enough – the end of the world is a catastrophic EVENT, a thing that happens or more likely that the brave heroes of the fictional narrative manage to stave off by luck, by ingenuity, by miracle, or all of the above.

But that’s not what happened in the world that Reid lives in. There was no singular event, no one, overwhelming catastrophe, no nuclear or meteor strike. Just a long, slow slide down the side of that chasm, as birth rates fell and climate change got more extreme and power sources dried up or died out or became too remote to access as the world fell back into its constituent parts.

Reid lives in a world of scarcity, in a ‘city’ that barely hangs on from year to year and from disaster to disaster, as a parasitic ‘disease’ ravages her body and her mind and increases its hold on the dwindling population year by year.

But there’s a light at the end of Reid’s dark tunnel – a light that’s just for her. A few places, former enclaves of the rich from back in the day when money still mattered – closed the gates of their domes, their pockets of science and tech and ‘civilization’ from the ‘Before Times” and kept the barbarians and the diseases and the wildlife OUT of their pristine sanctuaries.

One of those enclaves is Howse University. Every year, Howse sends out invitations to a privileged few graduating students in the remote cities to come to Howse and enter the next class. To enter a world where electricity still functions, where books are still printed and not merely preserved, where science still happens and knowledge is passed from teacher to students in the lap of safe, well-fed, climate controlled luxury.

A place where Reid might be able to find a cure for the disease that is taking over both her mother’s body and mind – and her own.

All Reid has to do is reach the assigned meeting place in the limited time available. All she has to do is get her mother to forgive her for leaving, for possibly turning her back on everything and everyone Reid has known and loved, on the people and the place and the community that has sheltered her for her entire life.

Traveling all alone through an unknown wilderness is going to be much, much easier than getting her mother – and the parasite that lives within her – to accept that their daughter is leaving them behind.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up this book because I read the sequel to this, We Speak Through the Mountain first and it felt like half a story. A very good half, but still a half and reading the second half without the first I felt like I was missing something. Which, as it turned out, I was. Not enough to prevent me from liking the other book, but enough to keep me from getting as invested in Reid’s journey as I did this time around – although I do feel that investment in the second book now in retrospect.

In other words, don’t do what I did. If the premise of this book or We Speak Through the Mountain speaks to you, read The Annual Migration of Clouds first. They’re both novellas, so even together they are not a big read, but they are a deep one, and deeper when read together in the proper order.

I listened to most of this book, but had to finish in the ebook because as the story got closer and closer to its ending I felt compelled to discover how Reid managed to get to where we first met her in We Speak Through the Mountain – particular the disaster that her brain kept shying away from during that story.

However, the narrator for The Annual Migration of Clouds was excellent and did a terrific job of portraying Reid’s oh-so-real combination of angst and anger as she works her way through her present situation, the history she’s forced to inherit, the unfairness of the world to which she was born, her love for her mother and her community and her NEED to discover as much as she can of what’s been denied her. Even as her internal voice rants and rails at the parasite that influences her thoughts and controls her behavior to a degree that she only becomes conscious of when she fights it. Because it punishes her when she does.

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a coming-of-age story AND it’s a story about the survivors of the end of the world, making their way down that slippery slope of retreating technology and regressive knowledge, just trying to get through another day and another year in the hopes that someday it will all be better for someone – even though they all know that better day will not come for them.

If this part of the story, this description and setup of a world in decline in a way that is in no way the fault of anyone or anything mired in it grabs your imagination, if the way that Reid’s community has managed to survive, along with the many ways in which they demonstrate, as best they can, that survival is insufficient, reads as fascinating and entirely too plausible – as it did to this reader – there are other stories that take this same concept and follow it in different directions – or are nearer to or farther down the road from that initial slide – such as Lark Ascending by Silas House, The Starless Crown by James Rollins, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel may also appeal – and vice versa as well.

Reid’s experiences at Howse University, as related in We Speak Through the Mountain, ask a different set of questions, questions about what the haves owe to the have nots, and what happens when an outsider, repeatedly and often, challenges the smug elitism of their safe, secure, patronizing privilege. Now that I know how Reid came to those experiences, I may go back and experience them again for myself to see how much that story has changed now that I have more of this one.

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #2
Pages: 380
Published by Embla Books on October 26, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
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When the wedding of her oldest friend ends with a shocking murder, Dr Nell Ward is once again caught up in a web of subterfuge, secrets and lies...
When her childhood friend Percy announces she's engaged to handsome businessman Hawke McAnstruther, Dr Nell Ward rashly offers to host the wedding at Finchmere, her family's estate. But she hadn't anticipated Percy's parents' fiery disapproval of the groom.
The ceremony is barely over before Hawke's shady personal and professional life starts to unravel, and tension ripples through the assembled guests. When the wedding night ends with a shocking death, Nell, best-friend, Rav and DI James Clarke all find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie.
Surviving a terrifying threat to her own life, Nell has to face up to the truth. Not just about murder at Finchmere, but about where her heart truly lies...

My Review:

It really couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for whoever did the world a favor by bashing Hawke McAnstruther over the head before he could do any further damage to Nell Ward’s best friend Percy and her family.

Which is also, come to think of it, Nell Ward’s family – just at a bit of extension.

It IS too bad, however, that whoever eliminated Hawke from the gene pool before he could contaminate it further, the arsehole (they’re all Brits, only arsehole will do) did the deed at Nell’s family estate, Finchmere, just hours after the conclusion – the epically awful conclusion at that – of Percy’s wedding to the bastard.

Luckily for Percy, she wised up to her new husband’s evil ways in those few scant hours between the ceremony and his spectacular fall from grace onto the floor two or three stories below. So it’s good riddance to bad rubbish – and at that point it might really have been a drunken accident.

The wealth, influence and titles of both Percy’s AND Nell’s family are more than enough to ensure that the official verdict reads exactly that.

The only person who will really miss Hawke is his mother Linda. But not for long, as sometime in the wee hours of the morning someone savagely slit her throat and impaled the murder weapon in her chest to make sure that the job’s been done.

HIS death COULD have been an accident. HER death absolutely could not be accidental, nor is there any scenario where it could have been self-inflicted. Even the police are able to draw the obvious conclusion that there is at least one murderer on the premises – and possibly two.

There are plenty of suspects for Hawke’s murder, as the man was a charming, conniving slimeball who left a trail of ruined companies and broken people in his wake – and clearly planned to do the same to Percy, her family, and her family’s properties.

Motives and suspects abound for HIS murder, but for HERS, not so much. Leaving the police flailing, caught between compromised crime scenes, endless possibilities for sneaking around the stately pile without being seen, and more motives than they can shake a truncheon at.

But Nell Ward, as demonstrated in her first, and all-too-personal, investigation in A Murder of Crows, just can’t keep her nose out of the investigation. She might not be in the frame this time around, but her best friend and her extended family certainly are.

Even if that puts her on the opposite side of the investigation from her current boyfriend, Detective Inspector James Clark, and pushes her straight into the arms of her work partner and best friend Rav.

Exactly the place that Rav has always wanted her to be.

Escape Rating B+: The latest book in this series, A Trace of Hares, is coming out today. I’m reading this series from the beginning, so I’m not there yet, but I wanted to mark the day so here we are. I’m enjoying this series because I really like the protagonist, Nell Ward, and her geeky love of bats and owls as well as her personal and professional advocacy for ecology in general. Although, at least so far, she does seem to have a bit of Midsomer-itis.

Admittedly, from where I’m reading, the series is only two books in and so far she’s been intimately involved with both murders. And based on the blurb for the next book, A Mischief of Rats, that streak of unbelievably bad luck is not running out any time soon. Which it really needs to, as no one’s luck is this bad.

But that’s more of an overall issue that will hopefully resolve itself later down the series. This particular entry in the series, however, was a whole lot of murder-y fun, in spite of the personal consequences for Nell. It’s pretty easy to be a bit gleeful in this one, as the first murder victim was an arsehole, the second murder victim, the arsehole’s mother, proved that his apple didn’t fall all that far from the tree, and frankly the eventual third victim wasn’t all that great an excuse for a human being either even if he was a member of Nell’s extended family.

The family of the suspects may not have been nearly as despicable as the Thrombeys in Knives Out, but comparisons could certainly be drawn.

In the first book, Nell displayed the geeky professional persona of Dr. Nell Ward, while keeping her aristocratic background – among other secrets – hidden for as long as she could. It wasn’t until the local police went so far as to actually arrest her for murder with only vague suspicions and circumstantial evidence that her alter ego of Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, niece to the Duke of Aveshire, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, and heir to Finchmere came out – along with her family’s expensive and effective legal counsel.

Not that any of the above stopped Nell from investigating her way out of a rather well-placed frame and clearing her own name. Both of them.

This time around it’s Nell’s ‘lady of the manor’ persona that’s on display – although Nell the ecologist peeks out frequently and eventually manages to solve this murder as well – to the consternation of the police. Again.

I found Nell to be a likable amateur investigator, and certainly felt for her inability to keep herself out of the investigation. After her previous experience, I wouldn’t have trusted the police either – which makes her decision to date the man who investigated her the first time around a bit questionable. While the ‘torn between two (potential) lovers’ dilemma that Nell is in the midst of isn’t my favorite, it was certainly an interesting twist on the theme to experience it more from one of those two lovers’ points of view instead of Nell’s. I’m hoping that she sticks to the choice she made in future books in the series, but we’ll see.

I’m certainly planning to see that for myself as I continue my reading of this series. I’ll be picking up A Mischief of Rats the next time I’m in the mood for a cozy-ish, Midsomer Murders-type mystery. I may not have caught up with the series in time to read and review A Trace of Hares on its publication date, but I have a chance of being ready for the following book, A Swarm of Butterflies, by the time it comes out in August!

A- #BookReview: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

A- #BookReview: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de BodardThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls (Xuya Universe) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction, science fiction mystery, space opera
Series: Universe of Xuya
Pages: 164
Published by Jabberwocky Literary Agency on September 12, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The Citadel of Weeping Pearls was a great wonder; a perfect meld between cutting edge technology and esoteric sciences-its inhabitants capable of teleporting themselves anywhere, its weapons small and undetectable and deadly. Thirty years ago, threatened by an invading fleet from the Dai Viet Empire, the Citadel disappeared and was never seen again. But now the Dai Viet Empire itself is under siege, on the verge of a war against an enemy that turns their own mindships against them; and the Empress, who once gave the order to raze the Citadel, is in desperate needs of its weapons. Meanwhile, on a small isolated space station, an engineer obsessed with the past works on a machine that will send her thirty years back, to the height of the Citadel's power. But the Citadel's disappearance still extends chains of grief and regrets all the way into the fraught atmosphere of the Imperial Court; and this casual summoning of the past might have world-shattering consequences... A new book set in the award-winning, critically acclaimed Xuya universe.

My Review:

I wasn’t expecting to go down the “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” rabbit hole again after yesterday’s book, but here we are all the same. Only further back and further forward, with MUCH bigger consequences, even though the motives for the time travel are every single bit as personal and emotional as they were in before.

I’ve been nibbling at the vast, sprawling Universe of Xuya ever since I read The Tea Master and the Detective and fell hard for the way that the author dips in and out of a vast history and galaxy-spanning empire that takes root in a version of Earth’s history that simply managed to go down a different leg of the trousers of time.

If China founded a colony on the west coast of North America in the 15th century and started growing both eastwards and southwards, shoring up the Aztec, Maya and Incan regimes in Central and South America, bringing the scourge of smallpox to the continent early enough that immunity has developed before the conquistadors and the pilgrims invaded, the world changes. A lot.

As with all alternate history SF, once the butterfly has flapped its wings in a different direction, the changes ripple out in all directions, resulting in the universe we find in this amazing saga. A universe where human expansion from Earth is based on Chinese and Viet traditions – because they became different types of world powers than they did – or did not – in our history. (The author goes into the history and how it changed in quite a bit of helpful and fascinating detail on her website. An explanation I’ve been staring at for several days that probably had more than a little bit to do with my picking this book up now instead of the other things I had planned.)

But human is as human does, which ties back to those “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey bits” and the all too human regrets of an Empress who faces the threat of war and wishes she had not exiled her brilliant, untraditional, defiant heir many years ago, a daughter who has carried on sailing the same sea of regrets and recriminations, and a young girl grown up without the mother who was lost in that same explosion of fear, love and war.

In this SFnal universe, however, lost does not necessarily mean dead, and advanced engineering makes entirely too many things possible – including some that it quite possibly should not. Like time travel, even if, as in yesterday’s book, it’s not possible to change the past – only to visit.

And perhaps, just a little bit more.

Escape Rating A-: The more times I dip into this series and to the author’s work in general, the more I realize that all her stories are SF mysteries to some extent, and that most of them were published ahead of the current trend for that fascinating blend.

In Citadel, the mystery begins when a famed scientist and engineer disappears just as she is getting results in her greatest and most speculative experiment. She was searching for the Empress’ heir, Bright Princess Ngoc Minh, who disappeared into deep time, or the space between the stars, or somewhere believed to be utterly mythical – and took her entire rebellious colony of ships and orbital stations, collectively known as the Citadel of Weeping Pearls, along with everyone aboard them with her wherever it is she went.

With war on the horizon, the Empress needs her daughter’s genius and the weapons and technologies it created. But the promising trail has winked out of existence along with the missing engineer, only to reappear in the hands of a pair of amateurs on a far distant orbital station.

A station that seems to be in the process of going to join the Citadel though a time portal – with someone trapped on the other side.

But nothing is quite as it seems, as the possibility of going back and bringing the Citadel forward forces everyone who has been touched by its disappearance to rethink what they did then, what they’ve felt in the absence of the shooting star that is/was Bright Princess Ngoc Minh, and what they might do with a second chance.

Whether that’s a chance for closure, a chance to say goodbye, the possibility of reconciliation or the question of whether a miracle will be enough to save an empire rests in the minds, and the hearts, of every compelling character in this glimpse into the workings of the Universe of Xuya.

I’ll certainly be back the next time I have a flail and bail week like this one. Either with On a Red Station, Drifting which looks like it might be a bit of a direct prequel to The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, or Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight because it gathers together so many of the early stories in the series that were published in a scattered array over the years.

A- #BookReview: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

A- #BookReview: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu KawaguchiBefore the Coffee Gets Cold (Before the Coffee Gets Cold, #1) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Narrator: Geoffrey Trousselot
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, magical realism, relationship fiction, time travel
Series: Before the Coffee Gets Cold #1
Pages: 272
Published by Picador on September 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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What would you change if you could go back in time?

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer's, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .
Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful, moving story explores the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time? More importantly, who would you want to meet, maybe for one last time?

My Review:

We all have regrets. Things we wish we’d said or done differently. Words spoken in the heat of a moment that can’t be unsaid. Things we would have said or done if we’d known that this moment would be the last chance we’d ever have to say or do those things.

This book is a collection of stories, first in a series of such collections, that features a Potterverse-type Time Turner in the form of one single seat in a tiny Tokyo cafe. Just as in Harry Potter, the rules for turning back time are very specific.

The would-be time traveler can’t change the present, no matter what they or anyone else does in the past. Which is actually a rather limited slice of that past, as they can’t leave the cafe – they can’t even leave their seat – and they can only remain in the past for the length of time it takes for one cup of coffee to get cold – which they also must drink before it does.

Just getting the opportunity to try is a cautionary tale, as the seat they can’t leave is occupied nearly, but not quite, 24 hours a day by the ghost of a woman who didn’t follow all the rules. A solid ghost who will curse anyone who tries to move them forcibly but needs to get up and go to the bathroom once every day.

So the opportunities are very definitely limited. Which doesn’t stop people from trying, and even – occasionally – succeeding. After all, just because you can’t change the present – just as in the Potterverse you couldn’t change something that you already KNEW had happened – there is a loophole.

Just because you can’t change the present, it doesn’t mean that you can’t grab the opportunity for just a little bit of closure. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that having a second chance to say the right thing then doesn’t mean you can’t change the future that proceeds from now. Even if all you do is change a heart, that might very well be enough – even if it’s just your own.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up – in fact I bought the whole series so far – because I’ve enjoyed several books recently that used this one as a pattern; Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, The Kamogawa Food Detectives, and Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop. I’m also in the middle of listening to What You Are Looking For Is in the Library, which also follows a similar pattern.

Each book is a collection of several “slices of life” stories linked by a central theme or location, or even better, both. In each case, the protagonists of the individual stories are changed in some way by their interactions with the place and its proprietor(s), with each story having its own little catharsis while the framing story carries the reader from one to the next.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a lovely little collection – to the point where its easy to see why it started this trend.

In this particular case, the stories start out at a remove from the central characters. Nagare, Kazu and Kei own and run the little cafe, which has been in business for a century-plus and has been frustratingly popularized as the place where you can step back in time but only if you follow those pesky, persnickety rules to the letter.

The first time-travel ‘customer’ that we meet is a woman who broke up with her boyfriend in the cafe – and wants to take it all back a week later after he’s moved to America. They’re discouraging, she’s driven, we get a full explanation of the quirks of the operation, and she does her best to say the things she wished she’d said – and is pretty sure that she fumbled so much she just made things worse. But it’s enough to shift her future the tiniest bit and gives the reader the possibility of a happy ending.

What makes the collection as a whole work is that the remaining stories move the time travel further back and forwards in time, but step by step – or story by story – closer to the cafe’s proprietors and from that sweet possibility of a happy ending to something much closer to the bitterness of the coffee they serve. With just a hint of sugar to help the poignancy to go down.

These are comfort reads, in the sense that each story’s resolution, even if it isn’t exactly happy, provides the relief of closure, the possibility of change and a sense of catharsis and resolution. The stories are each charming and lovely in their own right and make a surprisingly harmonious whole.

I needed just this kind of comfort read this week and this ‘sad fluff’ book filled that niche perfectly. I’ll certainly be back for the next book in the series, Tales from the Cafe, the next time I have a taste for something just the right side of bittersweet.

A+ #BookReview: The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will Thomas

A+ #BookReview: The Hellfire Conspiracy by Will ThomasThe Hellfire Conspiracy (Barker & Llewelyn, #4) by Will Thomas
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Barker & Llewelyn #4
Pages: 338
Published by Touchstone on July 10, 2007
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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In the latest adventure in what is "fast becoming one of the genre's best historical-mystery series" (Booklist), roughhewn private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn must track down London's first serial killer.
When Barker and Llewelyn are hired to find a girl from the upper classes who has gone missing in the East End, they assume her kidnapping is the work of white slavers. But when they discover five girls have been murdered in Bethnal Green, taunting letters begin to arrive in Craig's Court from a killer calling himself Mr. Miacca.
Barker fears that Miacca might be part of the Hellfire Club, a group of powerful, hedonistic aristocrats performing Satanic rituals. He must track the fiend to his hideout, while Llewelyn confronts the man who put him in prison.
Dodging muckrakers, navigating the murky Thames under cover of darkness, and infiltrating London's most powerful secret society, The Hellfire Conspiracy is another wild ride that "brings to life a London roiling with secret leagues, deadly organizations, and hidden clubs" (Ron Bernas, Detroit Free Press).

My Review:

This fourth entry in the marvelously absorbing Barker & Llewelyn historical mystery (after The Limehouse Text) will grab the reader by the throat and not let go until the end – even as one’s gorge rises more than a bit at the nature of the crimes committed.

A young girl has been kidnapped in Bethnal Green, a down-at-heels neighborhood that seems to be on the cusp between gentrifying and falling straight down into hell alongside its infamous neighbor, Whitechapel.

But the girl is not a resident of the area, she’s just a bored little visitor forced to tag along with her do-gooding mother as she volunteers at one of the many charitable institutions in the area. If Gwendolyn DeVere had been a local girl, it’s sad to say that no one would have cared and the police would have paid no attention whatsoever. Girls and women come to bad ends in Bethnal Green every single day.

Middle and upper class children are an entirely different matter. The police ARE interested in the disappearance of the child of one of the Queen’s elite Life Guards. Howsomever, as Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn do their best to bring the girl’s abductor to justice, it seems as if the police are not merely one step ahead of them, but actively hindering their investigation.

Whether because they resent Barker working on their patch, whether it’s merely inter-agency warfare between Scotland Yard and the Thames River Police or even if they are protecting a potentially guilty party out of respect or loyalty is just one of many things that stick in Barker’s craw.

The case, as heinous as it is, looks to be the work of a serial killer. But Barker’s investigation turns up an even more disgusting angle – albeit one not quite as gruesome. Because the death of one well-to-do child has kicked off a hornet’s nest in the middle of the internecine war between privilege and reform.

The reformers want to raise the age of legal consent to 16, because too many young girls are forced in prostitution at much too early an age. The nobility want to retain their privilege to ‘buy’ 13 year old girls and ‘keep’ them until the girls are no longer young and fresh faced, and then have the right to get another – and another.

And it’s a privilege that some of them, at least, are willing to kill for. Including Llewelyn’s old nemesis.

More than one reckoning is due, and Barker and Llewelyn intend to deliver. Whatever it might cost them.

Escape Rating A+: I just wasn’t getting into the book I planned to read, I flailed, I bailed, and found myself back in Victorian England with Barker & Llewelyn, and fell right into The Hellfire Conspiracy.

Which, now that I think about it, is a bit of a pun of a title – although not a funny one. The original club operated about a century before this one, but it’s all in the family. Literally, as the most infamous earlier incarnation was organized by the current reprobate’s grandfather, took place in the same location, and was just as disgusting as this one. And there certainly is a conspiracy of silence regarding their membership and the depraved practices those members engage in, but it’s not the actual conspiracy at the heart of the actual crime spree. Although in a way, it sorta/kinda is.

That the Hellfire Club in either version is not the actual murderer is a bit of a surprise twist, because they are utterly disgusting, and so are their aims and practices. Yet they are able to operate pretty much in plain sight because of their immense privilege.

Part of what makes this series so fascinating is that it takes place at around the same time as the Sherlock Holmes stories, but it operates in an entirely different sphere. Barker and Llewelyn are both middle-class at best, are able to blend in with ‘the quality’ when necessary, but their hearts and their sensibilities are with people of their own class and further down the economic scale.

What made this particular case so absorbing was that it happens at the intersection of so many things, both historical and fictional.

Fictionally, we get a bit more information about both Barker’s and Llewelyn’s still obscure pasts, which is being revealed in tiny bites in each book. HIstorically the political infighting between the Reform Movement and the aristocracy, along with the somewhat exaggerated but real fears of so-called ‘White Slavery’ made the reform cause that much more urgent even as the nobility dug in their heels and the muckraking newspapers of the day breathlessly reported on both sides adds even more hair-raising facets to a case that was already sensational.

But it’s the characters of Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn themselves that keep the reader turning pages. Especially in a case like this one, where they go in knowing that the odds of a happy ending are very much against them, but determined to bring as much justice as can be had to all the victims of this atrocity; the living and the dead.

This series has turned out to be THE BEST comfort/go to series, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the dark and terrible places that they have to go to in order to find some measure of justice. Even though, very much like in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, that measure is seldom as full as one would like it to be because some of the perpetrators are above the investigator’s touch.

But that means I will certainly be back for the next book in this series, The Black Hand, the next time I flail, need to bail, and have to find a compelling story to take refuge in.