Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice Davidson

Guest Review: Derik’s Bane by MaryJanice DavidsonDerik's Bane by MaryJanice Davidson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Erotica, fantasy
Series: Wyndham Werewolf #3
Pages: 298
Published by Penguin on January 1, 2005
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Derik's a werewolf with alpha issues--and a body to die for.

Sara is the personification of unspeakable evil--and smells like roses.

Now if they could just stop drooling over each other long enough to save the world.

Okay, okay. I said in my review of Davidson’s Sleeping With the Fishes a while back that I didn’t care much for paranormal romances with werewolves in them. I may have to rethink my position, at least in the case of this series.

Guest review by Amy:

Derik has a problem, you see – he’s an alpha, born to it, and now that he’s coming into his own, it makes it really hard to get along with his pack’s alpha, Michael. There can only be one, of course, so things are tense right from the get-go. The seer in the group, though, has seen a solution. Out on the west coast, there is a woman who is a reincarnation of an ancient evil. Taking care of her will prevent the destruction of the world. Aha! A quest!

The ancient evil, however, is reincarnated into a really ditzy, unbelievably lucky, stunningly gorgeous woman. And…she’s really not that evil. Derik tries to kill her, and fails, of course. Derik and Sara embark on a cross-country trip to find and prevent the end of the world, and along the way, they get a little bit crazy for each other.

Escape Rating: A-. I had such a good time reading Sleeping With the Fishes last year that when I saw this book at my used bookstore, I had to pick it up. Davidson gives us another really fun romp of a read, complete with Milk Bone jokes from the snarky Sara that had me laughing until I wheezed.

I’ve spotted a pattern with Davidson’s supernatural characters: they’re real people. In Derik’s case, he’s a real guy, who just-happens-to-be a werewolf, and has to deal with that. No big drama, no woo-woo mystical magic-ness in them; they’re just…people, of a different species, who must necessarily deal with who they are, living in a world full of homo sapiens. I’ve gotta say, I like that feature in both of these books. One of the things that’s been so off-putting to me about paranormal romance in the past is the near-fetish status of the supernatural character. People make a Big Deal about that lycanthrope in their life, or worse, the lycanthrope in their life fetishizes themself. Davidson’s “we’re all just people here” aesthetic really lets me fall into the story, suspend disbelief, and enjoy it, without the distraction of the otherworldliness of one or more characters.

Derik’s Bane gives us a comedy-of-errors, North by Northwest kind of frenzied trip from coast to coast, and, like many road-trip stories, the characters end up way closer to each other than they originally planned on. The quality of the story in that part of the book was so good that the ending, where our hero and heroine discover the awfulness that will end the world if they don’t stop it, comes as a tiny bit of a disappointment. I won’t spoil it for you, but imagine the Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene where the knights come to a cave, and the horrid guardian of the cave turns out to be a rabbit. The semi-heroic battle that followed picked things back up a bit, and what the clairvoyant tells our happy couple after the fact makes it clear that, of course, things were never quite as they seemed to Derik all along.

It’s official: MaryJanice Davidson is going on my list of read-for-fun authors. There’s no way to call this “serious” fiction, for any construction of that term, but Derik’s Bane gives us another rollicking read, with rich, entertaining characters. No deep thinking required, just enjoy!

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: Untouchable by Jayne Ann KrentzUntouchable (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas, #3) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on January 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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A man's quest to find answers for those who are haunted by the past leads him deeper into the shadows in this electrifying novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell.

Quinton Zane is back.

Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace.

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

My Review:

“They say you can buy anything online these days.” In this case, the “they” in question are the two protagonists in Untouchable. Certainly one of the “anything” you can buy is a good book.

Unfortunately, while Untouchable isn’t a bad read at all, it just doesn’t quite live up to the thrill-a-minute pace of its predecessors, When All the Girls Have Gone and Promise Not to Tell. But anyone who has read the first two really needs to read this one as well. Because Untouchable is where we finally get the closure that we’ve (along with Max Cutler, Caleb Sutter and Anson Salinas) have been waiting for.

Jack Lancaster is the “fourth Musketeer” of the private investigations firm of Cutler, Sutter and Salinas. He’s one of the children that retired police officer Anson Salinas rescued from the fire that was intended to tie up all of the loose ends at Quinton Zane’s cult headquarters. It almost worked. The fire covered Zane’s tracks and killed all the adults in the compound, including the mothers of all three boys.

And it left those boys, along with their foster father, with a burning desire to bring Quinton Zane to justice – no matter how many times Zane managed to fake his own death, or how long it might take.

The cases that Max Cutler (When All the Girls Have Gone) and Caleb Sutter (Promise Not to Tell) have solved have led the team to the conclusion that Quinton Zane isn’t just alive, but that he’s back in the U.S. after years abroad.

Now it’s Jack’s turn to do what he does best – put all the nebulous pieces together and solve the ice cold case that began in so much fire.

Escape Rating B-: I’m putting the rating in early in the review so that I can talk about the story in a bit more detail.

I’m in a bit of a quandary, because the closure provided by this story is really necessary after the first two books in the series. But in the end, it just doesn’t live up to them. I’m not sure that’s a big problem, because it also can’t be read as a standalone. So much of the tension in this story revolves around Jack’s (and his foster father and brothers’) lifelong obsession with Quinton Zane. If you weren’t there for the first books you’re not going be interested in this one.

This book also has a feel that reminds me a lot more of the author’s Arcane Society books. Jack’s talent for lucid dreaming, and the way that it is expressed, reads a lot like the way that Arcane talents manifest in the Dreamlight trilogy, and Jack himself reads a lot like one of the hunters from Harmony.

Winter Meadows’ master of hypnotism also fits right into the Arcane Society. As does the conspiracy theorist Arizona Snow. Both Snow and the little town of Eclipse Bay feature in Running Hot, a story in the Arcane Society series. There’s also a nod to Burning Cove – the location of her currently in-progress historical romantic suspense series under her Amanda Quick pen name.

So this story contains a lot of nods to other places and scenarios that this author has created. Not enough to pull readers unfamiliar out of this story, but certainly enough to put a smile of recognition on the face of those who ARE familiar.

As romantic suspense, Untouchable needs both a mystery/thriller plot and a romantic element. The mystery is provided by the cat and mouse game between Jack and Quinton Zane. The romance is provided by the relationship that springs up between Jack and Winter Meadows.

And while their love scenes are plenty hot, there’s not enough emotional build-up to “sell” the romance. Not that we don’t want them to find their HEA, but we don’t feel with them enough. Or at least I didn’t. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

In the end the wrap up of the series was satisfactory, but the individual entry in it was not. I usually love this author and wish that I’d liked this book better. I’m now very curious to see how her next book, Tightrope, third in the Burning Cove series written as Amanda Quick, works for me – and everyone else.

Review: Someone to Trust by Mary Balogh

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No sandpaper in this romance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry ThomasThe Hollow of Fear (Lady Sherlock, #3) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #3
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 2, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlotte Holmes, Lady Sherlock, returns in the Victorian-set mystery series from the USA Today bestselling author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia and A Study in Scarlet Women, an NPR Best Book of 2016.

Under the cover of “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don’t.

Moriarty’s shadow looms large. First, Charlotte’s half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte’s close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram—and a number of malevolent forces…

My Review:

This was the book I wanted to read, so in spite of being a couple of weeks early, I did. And in the end, I’m glad I did. Even if I found this entry in the series every bit as frustrating – as well as every bit as captivating – as the first two books, A Study in Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia.

And yes, that’s a hint. This is a series where you really need to read them in order. Holmes’ situation in this series is so singular that the reader really needs to start from the beginning for it to make the sense that is required. Particularly as the case in The Hollow of Fear is directly related to events that took place in A Conspiracy in Belgravia – even more of those events than at first appears.

By this point in the series, we are well acquainted with Charlotte Holmes and her lucrative masquerade as her invalid “brother” Sherlock. Charlotte has found a rather unique solution to the restrictions placed on genteel Victorian womanhood by arranging to have her virginity rather publicly taken by a married man, making her a scarlet woman and removing herself from her parents’ household and restrictions.

She’d rather be disowned than respected. Which does not mean that she does not still care for her family, or at least for her two sisters, Livia and Bernadine. Bernadine, the oldest sister, has been kept away from society since she was a little girl. Based on the descriptions of her behavior, it seems as if Bernadine has a severe form of autism – but of course that was not recognized at the time.

To their unloving and extremely profligate parents, Bernadine is an embarrassment and an expense they would rather dispose of.

Charlotte, as we have learned to know her better, quite possibly has Asperger’s Syndrome. She certainly has some of the hallmarks of the syndrome, notably the high intelligence, the hyper focus on one particular topic, and a considerable amount of difficulty with social skills.

Livia is the closest to what their society classes as “normal”, but she also has no desire to rescue her parents’ terrible financial situation by marrying someone who will stifle her creativity. It is Livia in this Sherlock Holmes pastiche who is the author of the stories.

The case in The Hollow of Fear is a complex one – and it is a case that both strikes close to home and reaches towards the halls of power. In A Conspiracy in Belgravia, Holmes discovered that her friend Lord Ingram’s estranged wife was not merely a mercenary bitch, which was already well known, but was also an agent of Moriarty (of course there’s a Moriarty) and therefore a traitor to the Crown for which Lord Ingram is an agent.

At the end of that story, Lady Ingram supposedly flees to the Continent, but at the beginning of this story her corpse is found on Lord Ingram’s estate, stuffed rather unceremoniously into the icehouse.

Of course Lord Ingram is the prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Not just because police always look at the spouse first, but because Lord Ingram has so very many motives to want his wife permanently out of the picture.

Including the exceedingly well known fact that Lord Ingram is in love with Charlotte Holmes.

But it will be up to Sherlock Holmes, with the assistance of a host of both real and imaginary relatives, to unravel the trap that Lord Ingram has so obviously been placed in. Without revealing either her own identity or the secret workings that caused this mess in the first place.

Escape Rating B+: I always have mixed feelings about the books in this series. The author has done an excellent job of conveying just how restricted women’s activities were at this particular period, and how much difficulty Charlotte has in working her way around those restrictions.

The advent of “Sherrinford” Holmes in this story was a fascinating way of working around the conundrum this time – as well as the creation of quite the character in his own right.

It takes a bit of time for the “case” to truly begin in this one, and those opening chapters don’t move at nearly a fast enough pace. At the same time, they are absolutely crucial for setting up the scenario and getting all the clues in place for the main event – which is a doozy.

This is a case where, in the end, nothing is quite as it seemed. The switch between the events as they appeared from the outside and the reveal at the end felt a bit abrupt, but once the story switches from what everyone “sees” to what is happening under the surface it all falls into place quite satisfactorily.

But while it is all going on, the author does a good job of ramping up the tension. The situation, particularly for Lord Ingram, seems bleak. We expect that “Sherlock” is going to save the day, but not even Charlotte herself is willing to promise that all will be well. Like the characters in the story, particularly Livia Holmes, we find ourselves hoping without any certainty that all will be well.

That there is so much that cannot be revealed because it will unmask governmental secrets just adds to the tension. We know Ingram is innocent, but we don’t know whether it will be possible to prove his innocence when there is so much that absolutely cannot be told.

The reveal of the villain at the end is a surprise to the reader and many of the characters as well. And it does a beautiful job of setting up the possibilities for the next story in the series. There are at least two more books coming, and as much as the descriptions of just how much Charlotte has to work around and how appalling difficult many women’s situations are, I can’t wait!

Review: Ocean Light by Nalini Singh

Review: Ocean Light by Nalini SinghOcean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity, #2; Psy-Changeling, #17) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Psy-Changeling #17
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley on June 12, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh dives beneath the surface of her Psy-Changeling world into a story of passionate devotion and selfless love...

Security specialist Bowen Knight has come back from the dead. But there's a ticking time bomb in his head: a chip implanted to block telepathic interference that could fail at any moment--taking his brain along with it. With no time to waste, he should be back on land helping the Human Alliance. Instead, he's at the bottom of the ocean, consumed with an enigmatic changeling...

Kaia Luna may have traded in science for being a chef, but she won't hide the facts of Bo's condition from him or herself. She's suffered too much loss in her life to fall prey to the dangerous charm of a human who is a dead man walking. And she carries a devastating secret Bo could never imagine...

But when Kaia is taken by those who mean her deadly harm, all bets are off. Bo will do anything to get her back--even if it means striking a devil's bargain and giving up his mind to the enemy...

My Review:

One doesn’t read a book in the Psy-Changeling series so much as one immerses oneself in the fascinating world that the author has created. One doesn’t just read, one dives back into something that is already there.

And those are perfect metaphors for this particular entry in the series, Ocean Light, as the plot centers around a group of changelings that have remained as mysterious as the ocean depths that they call home.

We’ve been deeply enmeshed in with the wolves, the cats and even the bears, but this is the first time we’ve visited the Black Sea Base and had the chance to seriously get to know this most diverse and most far flung group of changelings – who come from all of the many species that populate Earth’ oceans.

The action in Ocean Light picks up where Silver Silence left off. And that’s a hint that this is not a good place to start this series. The first book in the series is Slave to Sensation, but starting anywhere within the first few books could probably work. One warning – Slave to Sensation reads more like a typical paranormal romance than the later books, and barely hints at the depths of worldbuilding yet to come. I bounced off it the first time I read it, and only returned after some serious prompting from a friend. She was right, this series is awesome.

At the end of Silver Silence, the fledgling Trinity Accords between the changelings, the psy and the original recipe humans are under threat from a mysterious consortium that finds war between the groups much, much, MUCH more profitable than peace, and will do anything to make sure that peace does not stick around.

Because the humans are crucial to making the alliance work, the consortium targeted the leader of the Human Alliance, Bowen Knight. It would have been possible to open Ocean Light the same way that Dickens’ Christmas Carol opens, “Bowen Knight was dead: to begin with.”

Except of course he’s not. He is, however, very definitely dying, just not the way that his would-be assassins expected.

Shot through the heart by a sniper, Bowen should be dead. Instead, the miraculous medical team at the Black Sea Base replaced his flesh-and-blood (and very, very destroyed) heart with a metal heart that will probably outlast the rest of him. This isn’t out of altruism, or at least not out of altruism towards him.

The head scientist at Black Sea wants to study the other thing that’s killing him, because she thinks she might have a cure. And her clan is more than willing to indulge her wish to conduct the experiment.

Once Bowen is awake and aware of the risks and the consequences, he is more than willing to sign up for an experiment that gives him a 95% chance of ending up in the midst of his worst nightmare, leaving him as a vegetable with little or no brain function.

But that 5% chance of a full, normal life is worth fighting for – and even dying for if the research helps to save the lives of his sister and the other humans who implanted themselves with an experimental chip to prevent psy interference in their minds – because the side-effects of that experiment are definitely lethal.

After meeting Kaia Luna, the Black Sea’s head chef and part-time medical tech, Bowen discovers that he has finally found a reason not to just to survive, but actually to live – even if he only has a couple of weeks to squeeze a lifetime of living into.

Escape Rating B+: This is a difficult book to rate. I love this series. The world that the author has created is amazingly deep and rich and nuanced and just keeps getting bigger and better with every entry in the series.

But this particular entry moves a bit slowly through the first half of the story. While it is fascinating to get to finally see the Black Sea Base, the base itself is both remote and underwater – it does not get a lot of incidental contact from anyone or anywhere else.

For a good chunk of the story, Bowen is also recovering from a coma and heart surgery. And he’s being experimented on a bit by the medical chief. Even though the author has invented interesting medical breakthroughs that have kept Bowen from waking up as a wet noodle that has to recover muscle tone and physical capacity there is still some recovery time that keeps him occupied plus he needs time to learn how Black Sea operates.

Even his romance with Kaia gets off to a bit of a necessary slow start.

So there isn’t a lot of this series trademark breakneck action and suspense until the second half of the book, when Bowen is in the midst of a countdown on any possibility of life and the threats to both Black Sea and the Alliance ooze out of the woodwork.

As always, it’s the characters in the story that make it work. In this case Bowen and Kaia. We’ve met Bowen before, but he’s always been a mysterious figure, because he has deliberately worked to make himself so. Watching him take a chance at not just life but actually living was eye-opening.

Kaia is a marvelous heroine. While she is both scared and scarred, she has forged a life for herself after much trauma, and its a life where she is both loved and appreciated as much as she can be. The way that she wrestles with her fears in order to help Bowen is wonderful to watch.

All in all, I enjoyed this entry in the series, even though it wasn’t quite as compelling a read as this series usually is. I’m grateful as always that it is clear from the ending of Ocean Light that this series is far from over. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda QuickThe Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #2
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on May 8, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Knew Too Much sweeps readers back to 1930s California--where the most dazzling of illusions can't hide the darkest secrets...

After escaping from a private sanitarium, Adelaide Blake arrives in Burning Cove, California, desperate to start over.

Working at an herbal tea shop puts her on the radar of those who frequent the seaside resort town: Hollywood movers and shakers always in need of hangover cures and tonics. One such customer is Jake Truett, a recently widowed businessman in town for a therapeutic rest. But unbeknownst to Adelaide, his exhaustion is just a cover.

In Burning Cove, no one is who they seem. Behind facades of glamour and power hide drug dealers, gangsters, and grifters. Into this make-believe world comes psychic to the stars Madame Zolanda. Adelaide and Jake know better than to fall for her kind of con. But when the medium becomes a victim of her own dire prediction and is killed, they'll be drawn into a murky world of duplicity and misdirection.

Neither Adelaide or Jake can predict that in the shadowy underground they'll find connections to the woman Adelaide used to be--and uncover the specter of a killer who's been real all along...

My Review:

Now that I’ve finished the second book in the Burning Cove series, after last year’s terrific The Girl Who Knew Too Much, I still want to know if Burning Cove is just down the road from Scargill Cove.

While this series does not have the same paranormal elements that the author’s Arcane Society series(s) do, it still has a lot of the same feel. In the case of The Other Lady Vanishes, that feeling includes a surprising touch of the Gothic, particularly for a book set in the 1920s and not the Victorian Era.

The Gothic influence is provided by remote Rushbrook Sanitarium, designed as a creepy Gothic Victorian castle, but situated in a small town in California. And the awful things that happen there are enough to give anyone nightmares.

We meet Adelaide Blake on the night of her desperate escape from Rushbrook. Adelaide is pretty sure she knows exactly why she’s in Rushbrook, and it’s not because she’s crazy. And not in the way that people in asylums say they’re not crazy when they really are.

She is a bit paranoid. But then again, they really are out to get her.

Her parents, a botanist and a chemist, created a hallucinogenic drug that they called “Daydream”, even though its effects turn out to be more of a nightmare. And anyone it is administered too certainly sees nightmares. But while under the influence of Daydream people not only experience terrible hallucinations, but are also highly suggestible – and incapable of lying.

Adelaide was kidnapped and locked up in Rushbrook so that someone could get hold of the fortune she inherited, and so that no one would look too carefully at her parents’ deaths in a lab accident. And so that the unscrupulous people who stole their research would have a guinea pig on whom to test the drug and who would not be missed.

Her escape screws up everything – at least for everyone involved except Adelaide. She may be on the run, nervous and rightfully afraid, but she’s also free. At least as long as she avoids detection by her pursuers. And her paranoia is certainly justified, because she is being pursued.

She’s made a good life for herself, and made friends, in the small town of Burning Cove, where Hollywood stars come to play at the resort and casino. Adelaide has even become a minor local celebrity, developing medicinal tea blends not just for the stars but also for the residents.

And businessman Jake Truett, supposedly in Burning Cove to calm his shattered nerves, comes to her tea room every day for a cup of calming green tea and the opportunity to watch the beautiful waitress with the shadows in her eyes.

When their first date results in the two of them being lured to the scene of a grisly murder, they discover that there’s something rotten in Burning Cove – and that whoever is behind it wants to add both of them to the list of victims.

Escape Rating B+: The Other Lady Vanishes has a much darker tone than The Girl Who Knew Too Much – even though they both begin with fairly grisly death scenes and feature heroines on the run for their lives.

Rushbrook is a very dark place. It sounds like it would make a marvelous setting for a horror movie, one that I personally would not want to watch. Everything that happens there, and not just to Adelaide, is terrible beyond description – even at the beginning where we don’t know the half of it.

The circumstances that placed Adelaide in Rushbrook have left her with a great many doubts about herself and her own judgment. At the beginning of the story, she constantly second guesses herself about her own sanity. And she rightfully fears that if she attempts to contact anyone to investigate her claims, or worse, if she is located by her pursuers, that no one will believe her because she was a patient in a mental institution. And she’s right to worry.

But it makes for a bit of rough reading at the beginning.

It’s only when Jake enters the picture that Adelaide really starts reclaiming her authentic self. But in order for them to have any kind of relationship, even the partnership necessary to investigate all the deadly chaos that surrounds them, they will have to accept each other’s truths.

For Adelaide to reveal her true story feels fraught with as much peril as her pursuers are attempting to drive her into. And it turns out that Jake is in Burning Cove under multiple false pretenses, not just about who he is, but also about why he’s there and what he’s after.

He’s pursuing a blackmailer – she’s running from a conman who locked her up to control her fortune. Those two cases do not seem to be connected – until they are. And while I didn’t totally buy the romance in this one, I certainly enjoyed the way that they worked together to wrap up everything that had gone wrong – for both of them.

At every turn, Adelaide and Jake are confronted by one twist after another. Just when they think they’ve figured everything out, they discover that they haven’t. Just when they, and the reader, think it’s over – it isn’t.

Those twists and turns will keep you turning pages until the very last word.

Review: Someone to Care by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Care by Mary BaloghSomeone to Care (Westcott, #4) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Westcott #4
Pages: 384
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Once the Countess of Riverdale, Viola Kingsley throws all caution to the wind when adventure calls in the form of a handsome aristocrat. . . .

Two years after the death of the Earl of Riverdale, his family has overcome the shame of being stripped of their titles and fortune--except for his onetime countess, Viola. With her children grown and herself no longer part of the social whirl of the ton, she is uncertain where to look for happiness--until quite by accident her path crosses once again with that of the Marquess of Dorchester, Marcel Lamarr.

Marcel Lamarr has been a notorious womanizer since the death of his wife nearly twenty years earlier. Viola caught his eye when she herself was a young mother, but she evaded his seduction at the time. A prize that eluded him before, she is all the more irresistible to him now although he is surprised to discover that she is as eager now for the excitement he offers as he is himself.

When the two defy convention and run away together, they discover that the ties of respectability are not so easily severed, and pleasure can ensnare you when you least expect it.

My Review:

Who are we when we are no longer who we thought we were?

That’s the question that is initially before Viola Kingsley, who spent over 20 years believing that she was the Countess of Riverdale, only to discover that her marriage, an unhappy union that had produced three children who are the light of her life, was never valid.

The man she thought was her husband was already married. While the discovery of this fact after his death made her children bastards-in-law, her not-quite-husband was certainly a bastard-in-deed. His sisters still want to dig him up just so they can kill him again.

The previous books in this series, Someone to Love, Someone to Hold and Someone to Wed, have told the stories of the other people affected by the late Humphrey Westcott’s assholishness. At least three stories were left to tell. One is that of the youngest of the disinherited children, a story that I hope we get to see. Another is that of the young man who believed he was the son-and-heir of Riverdale, only to find out that he wasn’t.

The third story is Viola’s. She believed she was Countess of Riverdale. She discovered that she was not, and never had been. If she is not who she thought she was, then who is she?

Polite society immediately cut her and her children. They are none of them to blame, but they are the ones who will suffer the consequences. But Camille, Harry and Abigail are just barely, or in Abigail’s case, not quite, into adulthood. While their lives have been irrevocably changed, they still have those lives before them, and can make of them, if not what they originally expected, at least whatever they will.

Viola is 42 at the time of Someone to Care, and the scandal is two years behind her. Well, the scandal feels ever present, but the breaking of it is in the past. Her children are grown or nearly so. While she is financially secure, she is no longer part of society and happy not to be so. But what does she do with the rest of her life?

Her family wants her to be happy. And they keep smothering her in their care, in the hopes that they can make her happy, or see her happy. But even smothering with love is still smothering, and Viola has finally had enough. She needs time to herself, to figure out who she is and where she goes next.

And into that question steps Marcel Lamarr. Marc has a well-earned reputation as a rake and a libertine, but once upon a time, when they were both a bit younger, the “fearsomely” handsome Lamarr and the beautiful young mother Viola embarked on a flirtation. Merely a flirtation, because Viola remained faithful to her vows and Marc did not dally with married women.

Which does not mean that they were not sorely tempted to break all the rules. But they did not, and when Viola felt her heart to be in too much danger, she told him to go. And because he felt his own heart to be equally at risk, he went.

In the middle of a journey that neither of them planned to take, they meet again. But the rules are different now. Viola is no longer married, not that she ever was. And they discover that their unresolved feelings for each other are still there. And they believe that no one will miss them if they take a little time for themselves, outside of their regular lives, with each other.

They are both wrong. And so very, very right.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely loved the first half of this book. And I was so very disappointed with the second half.

The first half was so much fun at least partially because we seldom see romance that feature women “of a certain age”. Viola is 42, she’s been married (well at least she thought she was married) she’s been widowed (sorta/kinda), she’s the mother of grown children who love her but no longer need her, and she’s suffered a tremendous reversal of fortune through no fault of her own and is doing her best to soldier on.

But she has no idea who she is now that she is no longer any of the things she thought she was. While it’s a problem that was thrust upon her, it is one that we can all sympathize with. Anyone who has ever taken their identity from their career faces this loss if they get laid off or when they retire. And many parents go through “empty nest” syndrome when their children grow up and move away.

Viola, after a chance meeting with an old flame, decides to take a little time to live just for herself. She’s going to be selfish, and it’s something that she’s never done in her life. They are both adults, they are neither of them married or otherwise encumbered, who is to care if they choose to spend some time together? Who should it matter to if they have an affair, as long as they both understand that the entire situation is temporary?

When they are discovered, the story moves from its delightfully unpredictable path to a predictable one, and one that I personally always find annoying in the extreme. Because once they are discovered, the entire story descends into a giant misunderstandammit, a misunderstandammit that seems obvious to everyone except the protagonists, and that takes half the book to finally resolve.

He believes that she was through with him, because he didn’t listen to what she actually said or give her a chance to explain. Then he compounds that error by declaring to both of their families that they are betrothed, when in fact he was about to let her go, however reluctantly.

And, of course, they have fallen in love with one another, even though they are both way too stubborn to admit it. Meanwhile, Viola, and rightfully so, is unwilling to enter into another loveless marriage, but is equally unwilling, because of the way that women have been trained, to make either a scandal or a fuss, or to hurt all of the people who suddenly want them to marry by declaring that it was never so.

The mess goes on, and on, and unfortunately on. They do finally talk to each other again, at least enough to resolve the tangle and reach their happily ever after, but it was torture getting to it.

I would have loved this book if they had continued being as unconventional as they were in the first half. That would have been different – and oodles of fun.

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. HarrisWhy Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr, #13) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #13
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the newest mystery from the national bestselling author of Where the Dead Lie, a brutal murder draws Sebastian St. Cyr into the web of the royal court, where intrigue abounds and betrayal awaits.

London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . .

My Review:

Every book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series of historical mysteries, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, begins with a question word. The words that inform the investigation of any mystery. Who? What? When? Where? Why? And every book ends with an answer to that question. In the middle, there is a chilling mystery.

But none quite as chilling as the mystery in Why Kill the Innocent, which takes place during the deadly frozen winter of 1814, the last time in recorded history that the Thames River froze over – solid enough for a Frost Fair to be held in the middle of the river, out on the ice.

That winter there was a killing cold, but the cold is not what killed Jane Ambrose. It is up to St. Cyr, with the able assistance of his wife Hero, to discover the cause of that particular mystery.

As in all the books of this series, Sebastian St. Cyr finds himself, or rather feels compelled to insert himself, into a mystery that explores the dark underbelly of the glittering Regency. An underbelly that is very dark indeed, and usually rotten.

The story begins with Hero Devlin and midwife Alexi Sauvage discovering a frozen corpse in the streets of Clerkenwell, a down-at-heels district at the best of times. And these are far from the best of times.

They recognize the body, and they can all too easily determine the cause of death. And that’s where all the problems begin. Jane Ambrose was a talented composer and a gifted pianist, but as a woman, the only acceptable outlet for her talent was as a piano teacher. As one of her students was the Princess Charlotte, heir-presumptive to the throne of England, they are certain that the palace will want to hush the crime up as quickly as possible.

That there is a crime to investigate is all too clear. Jane Ambrose was found with the side of her head bashed in, but there was no blood in the surrounding snow. She did not die where she was found, and she did not stagger to the site after she was struck. Someone put her in the street, making her death at least manslaughter if not murder.

And the palace will not want anyone to talk about a murder of someone so close to the Princess, no matter how much her father the Regent hates and despises both his only child and her mother. There’s a tangled web here even before the body is discovered.

After that gruesome discovery, St. Cyr takes it upon himself, with help from Hero and their friends and associates, to discover everything he can about the last days of Jane Ambrose. And whether she died as the result of something in her own life, or because of secrets she was privy to as a member of the Princess’ inner circle.

And whether or not Hero’s father, the manipulative, powerful and secretive Lord Jarvis, might possibly lie at the center of this web.

Escape Rating A+:The St. Cyr series is deep, dark and marvelous. If you like your historical mysteries on the grim side, where the detective and the reader get to dive deeply into the nasty, smelly side of the glittering past, this series is like the finest dark chocolate, mostly bitter, just a tiny bit of sweet, and absolutely delicious.

Why Kill the Innocent, like the rest of the series, is set in the Regency, but it is definitely not the sparkling Regency of Georgette Heyer. St. Cyr is a troubled soul, suffering from PTSD as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. He feels compelled to search for justice as a way of paying back, not just for his privileges, but also as a way of dealing with a heaping helping of survivor’s guilt.

St. Cyr is a member of the aristocracy, which gives him entry into places that other detectives cannot go. Not just the gentleman’s clubs, but also the halls of power, including the households of the Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte.

He is also in a position to say what other people fear to say, or are punished for. The Regent, the future George IV, is a profligate spendthrift who treats both his wife and his daughter abominably and leaves the actual governance of his kingdom to men like Lord Charles Jarvis, who flatter the Regent’s massive ego while they accumulate power by any means available, no matter how nefarious.

The series as a whole does not shy away from the darkness that lay beneath the glitter. Hero, in particular, is a social reformer, and a tireless investigator. She finds Jane Ambrose’s body because she was in Clerkenwell writing a story about the wives left behind in extreme poverty after their husbands had been “impressed” by the British Navy. (This same practice became one of the foundational causes of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and her recently independent and frequently obstreperous colonies in the Americas).

Throughout Why Kill the Innocent St. Cyr and Hero are fighting an uphill battle. There is no one who wants this death investigated. That they keep doggedly on compels the reader to follow them, as they piece together the victim’s last days. And find not one, but multiple cesspools still stinking. And while the stink may rise all the way to the top, the rot that they are there to uncover lies much closer to the bottom – and much nearer to home.

Although the mystery is, as always compelling, the success of this series relies on the strengths of its two main characters, St. Cyr and Hero. Their unlikely match has resulted in a partnership of equals, which is always marvelous to read. But it is their flaws that make them so fascinating to watch.

Why Kill the Innocent could be read on its own. The crime and the investigation of it are complete in this story. As St. Cyr and Hero follow the clues and we meet their friends and enemies, characters who have appeared before in the series are given just enough background to keep a new reader engaged in the story. But for those who have read more of this marvelous series, there is added depth to the characters and the story. If you want to get in on this series from its beginning, start with What Angels Fear.

I’ll be over here, waiting for next year’s installment, tentatively titled Who Slays the Wicked.

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda James

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda JamesThe Silence of the Library (Cat in the Stacks, #5) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #5
Pages: 308
Published by Berkley on January 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He’s returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but a celebrated author’s visit draws an unruly swarm of fanatic mystery buffs…and one devious killer.

It’s National Library Week, and the Athena Public Library is planning an exhibit to honor the centenary of famous novelist Electra Barnes Cartwright—creator of the beloved Veronica Thane series.

Charlie has a soft spot for Cartwright’s girl detective stories (not to mention an extensive collection of her books!). When the author agrees to make a rare public appearance, the news of her whereabouts goes viral overnight, and series devotees and book collectors converge on Athena.

After all, it’s rumored that Cartwright penned Veronica Thane stories that remain under wraps, and one rabid fan will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get hold of the rare books…

My Review:

I opened The Silence of the Library immediately after I finished Out of Circulation. I was still looking for comfort reads, and I found Diesel, Charlie Harris and the fine people of Athena Mississippi very comfortable to spend more time with.

But as comfortable a read as this was, it also confirmed my opinion that series like this are not meant to be read back to back (to back). Some of what is cozy for one book at a time starts to feel just a bit cloying when repeated.

And the central theme of this mystery just wasn’t quite as interesting as the classic mystery theme of Out of Circulation. On that, one’s reading mileage may certainly vary.

The Silence of the Library of the title does not refer to an actual silent library. I think the librarian-sleuth of the series, Charlie Harris, would agree that few 21st century libraries are ever silent – except possibly when they are closed. The days of the shushing librarian are far in the past, if they ever existed at all.

Instead, the title is reminiscent of those of classic juvenile mystery series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys. The first Nancy Drew story was The Secret of the Old Clock, Trixie Belden’s first outing was in The Secret of the Mansion, while the Hardy Boys first adventure was The Tower Treasure. All the titles of all the series sounded a lot like The Silence of the Library, as intended.

Many people read (and still read) those old series, and a lot of us have fond memories of the books. The old books, the original copies that is, have become collectibles. Hasn’t everything?

Like many people, Charlie Harris has fond memories of reading those old series, including local author Electra Barnes Cartwright and the young detective she created, Veronica Thane. But unlike most people, when Charlie inherited his aunt’s house in Athena, he also inherited her extensive collection of all of those old series, including a series of first-edition Veronica Thane.

And that’s where the story begins. The Athena Public Library plans to feature all of those beloved series as part of their National Library Week display, so when they discover that Electra Barnes Cartwright is still alive (at nearly 100), lucid, and living near Athena, they make plans to invite her to the celebration for as much of the event as she’s willing and able to handle.

News of her first public appearance in decades brings all the crazy collectors out of the proverbial woodwork – and exposes the mercenary nature of EBC’s relatives. Everyone seems to want a piece of the old lady while she’s still around to take pieces out of.

It’s all fun and games (well, not really fun for Charlie or the library) until the dead bodies start piling up. Then it turns into a case for Veronica Thane herself. But since she’s not available, librarian and amateur detective Charlie Harris will just have to step in and solve the mystery in her place.

Escape Rating B: This was fun and I enjoyed it, but there were a few too many crazy people and not enough Diesel to make me as happy about this one as I was Out of Circulation.

Part of what I love about this series is that Charlie Harris feels like a real librarian (because his creator IS a real librarian). Charlie reads like someone I’d meet or hear speak at a conference. However, the downside of that verisimilitude is that the situations he gets into, except for the actual investigations, also feel really close to home.

There are crazy collectors just like the ones he meets in the story. Unfortunately, part of the reality of dealing with the general public is that all sorts of behaviors appear at our public service desks, including every nasty thing that happens in this story – except the murders. In other words, I didn’t like most of the characters introduced for the purposes of this story, but I have met all too many like them in real life.

The fanaticism of the collectors and the insularity of their world also reminded me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb – although this time it’s not the author who is so nasty that everyone expects them to be the victim long before it happens. But there’s a similar flavor.

The look back at those well-loved juvenile mystery series will be fascinating to any bibliophile, even one like me who dipped their toes into the series but didn’t fall head over heels. At the same time, the story within a story, where Charlie is reading one of the Veronica Thane books and discovers parallels between the story and “real life” will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers those books fondly.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlayBooks Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1) by Jenn McKinlay
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on July 5th 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered-and Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person.

My Review:

I discovered this series as a read-alike for the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James, and it certainly. Both feature real-seeming librarians in almost-real libraries in small towns that are just perfect. Although I did miss Diesel, the librarian’s very large cat from the Cat in the Stacks series.

But where the Cat in the Stacks series is set in Athena Mississippi, the Library Lovers mysteries hail from Briar Creek Connecticut. Let’s just that the autumns are obviously a lot blustrier in coastal Connecticut than in the landlocked parts of Mississippi.

Unlike Charlie Harris at the beginning of the Cat in the Stacks series, Library Director Lindsey Norris is the relatively new director of the small town Briar Creek Public Library. She is also female, single, unencumbered and in her mid-30s – very different from widowed, 50-something Charlie with his grown children – and Diesel.

Lindsey on the other hand, is still feeling her way professionally and personally. Briar Creek is her first posting as the library director, and it’s not a career turn she had planned on. She had been an archivist at one of the Yale University libraries when budget cuts forced her to look in other directions. She found the position in Briar Creek because her best friend from grad school is the children’s librarian there.

Being a new, first-time director has its challenges. But no one plans on having one of their staff, particularly a friend, accused of murder. It’s difficult to tell which is worse, that Beth had both the motive and the opportunity for murdering her ex, or that the local sheriff is so determined to take the easy way out and place the blame on the “woman scorned” that he isn’t even looking for any other suspects.

He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, either, and his bull-headedness is clearly driving the detective from the state Bureau of Investigation bonkers.

But with the local sheriff doing his level best to make sure Beth is found guilty, and the local press more than willing to stir up trouble just for the ratings, it’s up to Lindsey to focus her research skills on the late and not very lamented, to see if there’s someone else who might have a motive to end his existence.

The problem is that Lindsey’s research skills, as formidable as they are, barely keep her one step ahead of the killer – a step that closes faster than she expected.

Escape Rating B: I came down with the flu, and was looking for comfort reading again. As this will be posted just before I run off to the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, yet another library mystery seemed like a good fit.

Lindsey Norris does seem like “one of us”, much as Charlie Harris does. And for the same reason – her creator is also a library worker. But where I’d love to sit down and have coffee with Charlie, Lindsey reminds me much more of the “road not taken”. I often thought about becoming a library director but when I was interested I wasn’t able to make the leap, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t my calling in the profession.

Seeing what Lindsey deals with, even in a fictional and perfectly imperfect library reminds me that I was right.

This story is the introduction to the series, the characters and the town of Briar Creek, and it does put the reader firmly into the middle of the action. Lindsey, as a transplant from somewhere else, is still warming up to the little town, and vice-versa, which makes her a good point of view character for the reader.

As is often the case, the case itself, the murder at the heart of the mystery, is just a bit over the top, but the scenes of small town life and Lindsey fitting herself into it are well done. The reader can certainly see why she’s fallen in love with the place.

A lot of what happens in the Briar Creek Public Library is very true to library life, both the good and the bad. Every library, big and small, has patrons just like those in Briar Creek, the good, the bad, the loud, the demanding, the weird and the obstreperous.

The staff, while occasionally a bit too good to be true and sometimes a bit too bad or weird to be true, is also quite  true-to-life. And unfortunately that includes the nasty character of Ms. Cole, the head of the circulation department and the disapprover of everything that Lindsey, Beth and anyone not the previous (and deceased) library director. That Ms. Cole can’t let go of her resentment of change and the advent of the 21st century is unfortunately all too plausible. I’ve worked both with and for people like her in my career (and supervised a few), and saying that it is never fun is a serious understatement.

But Lindsey is the new director of the library. That makes her Ms. Cole’s boss, whether either or them likes it or not. That Lindsey, with just about six months tenure under her belt, has not figured out what to do about Ms. Cole yet is not surprising. The woman is a fixture in the library and the community – even if a frequently resented one. The problem isn’t just that Ms. Cole challenges Lindsey’s authority at every turn, although that is a problem.

What I found questionable, to the point where it threw me out of the story, is that Lindsey isn’t even thinking about what she should do about Ms. Cole. While the reality is that the answer may be very little, she’s at the point in her job where she should be at least thinking about some changes. This disturbed me because Lindsey makes it clear at one point that she is aware that part of the joy of the job from Ms. Cole’s perspective is to torment and browbeat the library shelvers, who are usually teenagers in their very first job. While life isn’t fair, and bad things happen to good people, etc., etc., etc., for Lindsey to be aware of this and not even be thinking about what to do about this aspect of Ms. Cole’s performance of her duties is problematic.
And now I’ll get down off my soapbox.

But if you like cozy mystery series like Cat in the Stacks, or other small town mystery series that feature the mainstays of the town, Books Can Be Deceiving is a lot of fun. I have the other books in the series and I’m looking forward to returning to Briar Creek the next time I need a comfort read.

Reviewer’s Note: One of the reviews listed in Goodreads for this book was written by a dear and departed friend. I knew that if she liked it, I would too. I wish I could talk about it with her, because I’d love to hear the snark that she left out of her review!