Grade A #AudioBookReview: Funny Story by Emily Henry

Grade A #AudioBookReview: Funny Story by Emily HenryFunny Story by Emily Henry
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Libro.fm, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Length: 11 hours and 23 minutes
Published by Berkley, Random House Audio on April 23, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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A shimmering, joyful new novel about a pair of opposites with the wrong thing in common.
Daphne always loved the way her fiancé Peter told their story. How they met (on a blustery day), fell in love (over an errant hat), and moved back to his lakeside hometown to begin their life together. He really was good at telling it…right up until the moment he realized he was actually in love with his childhood best friend Petra.
Which is how Daphne begins her new story: Stranded in beautiful Waning Bay, Michigan, without friends or family but with a dream job as a children’s librarian (that barely pays the bills), and proposing to be roommates with the only person who could possibly understand her predicament: Petra’s ex, Miles Nowak.
Scruffy and chaotic—with a penchant for taking solace in the sounds of heart break love ballads—Miles is exactly the opposite of practical, buttoned up Daphne, whose coworkers know so little about her they have a running bet that she’s either FBI or in witness protection. The roommates mainly avoid one another, until one day, while drowning their sorrows, they form a tenuous friendship and a plan. If said plan also involves posting deliberately misleading photos of their summer adventures together, well, who could blame them?
But it’s all just for show, of course, because there’s no way Daphne would actually start her new chapter by falling in love with her ex-fiancé’s new fiancée’s ex…right?

My Review:

This is not a meet-cute, it’s more like a meet-really-really-ugly. But it starts with a meet-cute. It’s just that the meet-cute is NOT between our protagonists Daphne and Miles. It’s between Daphne and her very suddenly ex-fiancé Peter. There may, or may not, have been another meet-cute between Miles and his equally suddenly ex-girlfriend Petra – but that really doesn’t matter by the time we meet all of the above.

Because of all of that VERY sudden ex-ing that happened. In the wee hours after Peter’s bachelor party, between Peter and his childhood bestie, the beautiful Petra. The woman he claimed had always been a platonic friend. Always.

At least until Petra confessed to Peter, when they were alone in the aftermath of that bachelor party, which of course Petra attended because she was, after all, his bestie, that she was in love with him and couldn’t watch him marry someone else without letting him know that.

The resulting mess – and was it ever a mess – left Daphne with one week to move out of the house that she and Peter were supposed to share, alone in the small town she’d moved to because that’s what HE wanted, with no support network because all of “their” friends were really his friends – and a job she loved and didn’t want to leave in a place she could no longer bear to stay.

Not too far away, in that same tiny little town, Petra’s ex Miles was left with an apartment he could only afford half the rent on, in a town that he felt like he’d made his own, with an utterly shattered heart.

Daphne, ever practical EXCEPT when it came to Peter, made Miles an offer he literally couldn’t afford to refuse. His need for a roommate dovetailed heartbreakingly and conveniently with her need for a place to live.

They may have agreed to be roommates out of their shared tragedy but they are definitely respectful of each other’s space and each other’s brokenness. At least until they both receive invitations to – you guessed it! – Peter and Petra’s upcoming nuptials. After a long and very drunken night of shared drinking, ranting and more than occasional sobbing, Daphne and Miles decide that living well – or at least the appearance of it – will be their revenge on their exes.

They RSVP to the wedding of the people they each once believed to be the love of their lives, together. And to back that up, they post a selfie that gives the unmistakable impression that they’ve found the new loves of their own lives – with each other.

Miles is certain that they can keep up the pretense of dating each other for the summer – just long enough to get past that dreadful wedding. Daphne isn’t nearly so sure – but she’s willing to try. She certainly expects it all to go terribly, terribly wrong long before they reach that Labor Day weekend disaster-ganza. And it very nearly does.

At least until it all starts going terribly, terribly right.

Escape Rating A: I started out listening to this one, and that’s probably what got me over the hump of the early chapters. This is one of those stories that, of necessity, has a very hard start. We meet Daphne just after very nearly the entire life she had planned crashed and burned. She’s wallowing in a whole lot of angst and regret and self-recrimination, nearly buried by the weight of her emotional baggage piling up all around her. Listening to the excellent narrator makes the listener feel like they are literally inside Daphne’s mostly despairing head and it’s a realistically well-portrayed terrible place to be.

Fortunately for the reader/listener and Daphne, it really does get better – mostly thanks to Miles – who very nearly crashes and burns it all around her again.

The thing that keeps the whole meet-ugly/meet-cute of the thing from going over the top is that Peter in particular may be the villain of this piece – which he definitely turns out to be – but he isn’t evil. He’s certainly awful, and he displays all of his awful bits over the course of the story – but he’s not actually, technically, evil. He’s just selfish and self-centered and more than a bit spoiled.

Daphne was willing to continue spoiling him because he represented something she’d never had – stability. Her dad was mostly absent and generally in the midst of his next big score that never materialized. Her mother was the very best in Daphne’s eyes, but they moved a LOT in pursuit of financial security and Daphne stopped bothering to make connections because she knew they’d never survive a move. Peter, his large, loving family and his wide circle of lifelong friends is a situation she wants to be adopted into wholesale so she lets herself be surrounded and subsumed into it.

Only to be confronted with the fact that it was never really hers – and neither was Peter. (Although that turns out to have been dodging a bullet she never would have seen coming.)

The fun part of this story – and it mostly is fun after that first long, deep and totally justified wallow – is watching the way that Miles courts Daphne by getting her to fall in love with tiny, slightly touristy, totally scenic, Waning Bay Michigan. He loves the town that he’s adopted and been adopted by, and does his damndest to share that love with Daphne. That he makes the town irresistible makes him irresistible and their hesitant steps toward a relationship turn this story into a marvelous kind of dance of a romance.

That, at the very same time, Daphne uses the foundation of having a job that she totally loves – even if it barely pays the bills – to put herself out there in the sense of opening herself up to the possibilities of deep and true friendship and fellowship – is what makes this story so much her journey to happiness and fulfillment. Whether or not, in the end, either of those things includes Miles, or Waning Bay, or both, or neither.

That Peter ultimately gets the shaft all the way around turned out to be merely the icing on a very tasty cake of a book – or perhaps that should be the slathering of cheese and jalapenos on a fresh, hot serving of Petoskey fries. The part that makes a good thing just that much better.

My favorite of Emily Henry’s books is still Book Lovers, but Funny Story definitely moved into the runner-up slot. I loved that Daphne was a librarian, and she definitely read like “one of us” while her Waning Bay Library read as both realistic and on the good side of places to work – except for the poor salary which was equally realistic – dammit.

I’ve read all of the author’s adult books except for People We Meet on Vacation, which I can feel climbing the virtually towering TBR pile as I type this. It looks like a perfect book to pick up later this summer – when we’re on vacation!

A- #BookReview: People in Glass Houses by Jayne Castle

A- #BookReview: People in Glass Houses by Jayne CastlePeople in Glass Houses (Ghost Hunters, #16) by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #16
Pages: 313
Published by Berkley on May 7, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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Dive into the alien world of Harmony in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author Jayne Castle.
His name is Joshua Knight. Once a respected explorer, the press now calls him the Tarnished Knight. He took the fall for a disaster in the Underworld that destroyed his career. The devastating event occurred in the newly discovered sector known as Glass House—a maze of crystal that is rumored to conceal powerful Alien antiquities. The rest of the Hollister Expedition team disappeared and are presumed dead.
Whatever happened down in the tunnels scrambled Josh’s psychic senses and his memories, but he’s determined to uncover the truth. Labeled delusional and paranoid, he retreats to an abandoned mansion in the desert, a house filled with mirrors. Now a recluse, Josh spends his days trying to discover the secrets in the looking glasses that cover the walls. He knows he is running out of time.
Talented, ambitious crystal artist Molly Griffin is shocked to learn that the Tarnished Knight has been located. She drops everything and heads for the mansion to find Josh, confident she can help him regain control of his shattered senses. She has no choice—he is the key to finding her sister, Leona, a member of the vanished expedition team. Josh reluctantly allows her to stay one night but there are two rules: she must not go down into the basement, and she must not uncover the mirrors that have been draped.
But her only hope for finding her sister is to break the rules…

My Review:

We all know the way that phrase ends, don’t we? “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” It’s a somewhat more potentially kinetic way of talking about the “pot calling the kettle black.” Or putting it yet another way, people who have the same faults should resist poking at each other along the same fault lines.

As it turns out, this particular story is also a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – although Joshua Knight and Molly Griffin want to be much more than friends the moment they meet, in spite of both of them living in the glass house of having extremely high levels of paranormal talent that they keep under wraps.

Because too much power can be extremely dangerous – especially when all the power is encased in the fragile mind of a human. Any human.

Although at the moment they meet, both Joshua and Molly do happen to be rather fragile humans – particularly in the context of the not-totally-explored and still all too frequently dangerous lost Terran colony on Harmony. A planet where high-resonating crystal artifacts left on the planet by aliens have caused, raised and enhanced the psychic powers of the humans who have occupied the planet for more than two centuries.

Joshua Knight is considered to be psi-burned. He was a talented guide and navigator to Harmony’s fascinating but treacherous underworld, and he lost ALL the members of his last expedition.

An expedition that included Molly Griffin’s sister Leona. Molly needs Joshua to lead her to where he lost her sister. Joshua needs Molly to help him regain his lost memories of where he lost the expedition in order to have even a chance at making that happen.

Lucky for them, their talents dovetail in a harmony that neither of them ever expected. But not lucky at all for the mastermind who set Joshua up to take the fall and did not reckon, at all, on the dogged persistence of the Griffin sisters.

And not that the villain doesn’t have a plan B to take care of all of those new, pesky, loose ends that Molly and Joshua have managed to unravel in the crystal palaces hidden under Harmony.

Escape Rating A-: Once upon a time, a historical romance author writing under the name of Amanda Quick introduced an organization of physically adept practitioners and mad scientists into her Victorian Era set romances – and the Arcane Society was born. In one of her other personas, Jayne Ann Krentz, the author carried the Arcane Society in the 20th and 21st centuries. Under a third name, Jayne Castle, she created the lost Terran colony world of Harmony and eventually admitted that the original colonists included a considerable number of members of, you guessed it, the Arcane Society.

It’s been over two centuries since Harmony was cut off from Earth. The population has evolved to include paranormal talents, many of which have become specialized in response to the resonating crystal artifacts that aliens left behind on their new home world. Their society has also evolved into the close-knitted, family oriented, relatively stable structure that we see in this series.

The population also still throws out the occasional mad scientist.

Which is part of Molly and Leona Griffin’s background, although it’s not really part of this story – except in the trust issues that background left in both women – although the next book in the series will be going there – and I’m seriously looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, this book is focused in Harmony’s present, and follows directly after the events of Guild Boss while putting brand new characters in the literal hot seat – along with another of Harmony’s adorable, scene-stealing predators, Newton the intrepid dust bunny.

As is often the case in the entire extended Arcane Society/Harmony series, there’s both a crime to solve and a talented person to save from what seems like the brink of madness. Molly’s sister is missing, the search has been called off. Molly is determined to pursue the only lead she has left, the supposedly burned out has-been navigator, Joshua Knight.

Joshua is the one who needs saving – he’s pretty sure he’s going mad, and the crazy house he’s squatting in is helping to finish the job that the mess of that lost expedition merely started. Joshua and Molly are each other’s last chance, so they grab onto that chance – and each other – with both hands.

That they manage to find the lost expedition – as wonderful as that is – opens up an entirely new can of worms so that the chief worm can finally get squashed. Only to open the way for yet another and even more dangerous worm – or perhaps that should be wyrm – to emerge from the shadows.

The romance between Molly and Joshua is as hot as the energy they both channel, but the way that their mutual needs and insecurities keep bumping up against one another keeps the relationship from feeling like insta-love. They also have a lot more in common than just their tangling insecurities, leaving the reader to believe that they really do have a good chance at an HEA even after the adrenaline of this case evens out.

To make a long story – or review – short; Harmony is a fascinating world, the paranormal powers keep everything and everyone involved tuned up to the max, the dust bunnies are both adorable and deadly, the romances are scorching, and the tension of whatever wrong needs to be righted or case that needs to be solved has been keeping this reader on the edge of her seat from the very first and this entry in the series continues that happy trend. Visit Harmony and settle in for a long, highly charged, utterly captivating binge-read.

And, also very much to the good, the way that the resolution of this adventure hints so tantalizingly at the next gives this fan of the series a lot of high-rez hope for the next – which doesn’t appear to be coming nearly soon enough!

A+ #BookReview: What Cannot Be Said by C.S. Harris

A+ #BookReview: What Cannot Be Said by C.S. HarrisWhat Cannot Be Said (Sebastian St. Cyr, #19) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: regency mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #19
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on April 16, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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A seemingly idyllic summer picnic ends in a macabre murder that echoes a pair of slayings fourteen years earlier in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Who Cries for the Lost.
July 1815
: The Prince Regent’s grandiose plans to celebrate Napoléon’s recent defeat at Waterloo are thrown into turmoil when Lady McInnis and her daughter Emma are found brutally murdered in Richmond Park, their bodies posed in a chilling imitation of the stone effigies once found atop medieval tombs. Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy immediately turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help with the investigation. For as Devlin discovers, Lovejoy’s own wife and daughter were also murdered in Richmond Park, their bodies posed in the same bizarre postures. A traumatized ex-soldier was hanged for their killings. So is London now confronting a malicious copyist? Or did Lovejoy help send an innocent man to the gallows?
Aided by his wife, Hero, who knew Lady McInnis from her work with poor orphans, Devlin finds himself exploring a host of unsavory characters from a vicious chimney sweep to a smiling but decidedly lethal baby farmer. Also coming under increasing scrutiny is Sir Ivo McInnis himself, along with a wounded Waterloo veteran—who may or may not have been Laura McInnis’s lover—and a charismatic young violinist who moonlights as a fencing master and may have formed a dangerous relationship with Emma. But when Sebastian’s investigation turns toward man about town Basil Rhodes, he quickly draws the fury of the Palace, for Rhodes is well known as the Regent’s favorite illegitimate son.
Then Lady McInnis’s young niece and nephew are targeted by the killer, and two more women are discovered murdered and arranged in similar postures. With his own life increasingly in danger, Sebastian finds himself drawn inexorably toward a conclusion far darker and more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

My Review:

Most readers, myself included, read mysteries for what one author has called “the romance of justice”. What we love about the genre is that no matter how dark the deed, the investigator is able to figure out ‘whodunnit’, justice triumphs and evil receives its just desserts, followed by the reader’s catharsis that order has been restored to the world.

That’s not what happens in this case – because it can’t. This is a case where there can be no justice. Even though the investigator does manage to figure out ‘whodunnit’ there is no catharsis to be had and it would be wrong if there were.

Two bodies are discovered in Richmond Park, a mother and her 16-year-old daughter. That they are cut down in the prime of – or even worse at the beginning of – their lives is unjust enough. Then the situation gets worse.

The bodies are posed in repose, in exactly the same way that the bodies of another mother and daughter were found in that same park, near that same spot, fourteen years previously. It’s the grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter that put Magistrate Henry Lovejoy on the road that led to his first case with Viscount Devlin nearly a decade later, and could be said to have changed both their lives.

Seeing these two bodies – so like his own wife and daughter – make Lovejoy question whether in his zeal to bring SOMEONE to justice all those years ago he pushed for the wrong man’s conviction and execution. In his reinvigorated grief, his crisis of conscience is profound. Yet he still soldiers on in a case that he should have passed on to another Magistrate. Because someone else might get it wrong – as he might have fourteen years ago. He has to see this through – even if – or especially because – he may have apologies owing now, at the end, that won’t begin to redress the damage he caused at the beginning.

Devlin has a crisis of another kind, as the more he delves into this case, both the past tragedy and the present conundrum, the less ANY of it makes sense. The mother had enemies. The daughter had indiscretions. There are plenty of people with motive to kill the mother and even a few who might wish to eliminate the daughter but seemingly no one with this deep an animus for them both – although the husband/father certainly comes closest. As those closest to the victim or victims often do.

It’s only when Devlin sets aside his initial assumptions that logic forces him to reckon with the maxim later attributed to Sherlock Holmes, that “when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In this case, a truth that is so heinous, so previously unthinkable, that no one who confronts it with him can even conceive of a just punishment.

But one desperate man can see – if not justice – at least an ending.

Escape Rating A+: This was, as is usual for my reading in this series, a one-night read that wouldn’t let go of me until it was over. Which doesn’t mean that I’m over it. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, certainly was not at the story’s end.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about this series is the way that even though the murder is always solved, the amount of justice available to be served along with that solution is always limited.

Not that this era didn’t punish its criminals harshly – and as is often shown during the course of the series – unjustly. Rather, it’s that Devlin investigates crimes among the highest and mightiest, and as the saying has always gone, “the rich are different from you and me”.

In other words, Devlin often finds himself in the middle of cases where many of the suspects and even the perpetrators are above the law and protected, as is the case of one suspect here, by someone even higher.

Also, in investigating the dark and dirty underbelly of the glittering Regency, Devlin all too often finds practices that, while perfectly legal, turn both his stomach and ours. As is true in this particular case, as his wife, as well as the murder victim, were pushing hard for reforms in the commonly abused apprentice system – not to mention the vile practice of baby farming – and ruffling plenty of important feathers along their reforming way.

That feather ruffling could have been a motive for one of the murders, but not both. A big part of what keeps the reader turning pages in this one is watching the normally indefatigable and unflappable Devlin flag and flap because the pieces of this puzzle don’t add up – not even badly.

And not that we ALL don’t hope that the husband did it and that Devlin can make THAT stick. Alas, that hope is in vain – which is good for the story in a peculiar way because that would have made things much too easy and considerably less unsettling for both Devlin and the reader.

In the end, this is a story about bringing the unthinkable into thought, and just how much justice is even possible in a case that is indubitably true that absolutely no one will want to believe. Those are hard questions, and they are just as valid in contemporary mystery as they are in this historical iteration.

This series, centered on the riveting character of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and the equally compelling cast of friends and  enemies – definitely the enemies! – that have gathered around him and his “poking his nose into situations where many believe it does not belong” has had this reader caught in its unshakeable grip since that very first book, What Angels Fear, so very long ago. The fascination hasn’t let go yet, and I don’t expect it to.

What I, maybe not expect but certainly hope for, is yet another page-turning story in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, hopefully this time next year!

A- #BookReview: Always Remember by Mary Balogh

A- #BookReview: Always Remember by Mary BaloghAlways Remember (Ravenswood #3) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Ravenswood #3
Pages: 366
Published by Berkley on January 16, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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Lady Jennifer Arden and Ben Ellis know that a match between them is out of the question. Yet their hearts yearn for the impossible. Discover a new heartwarming story from New York Times bestselling author and beloved “queen of Regency romance” Mary Balogh.Left unable to walk by a childhood illness, Lady Jennifer, sister of the Duke of Wilby, has grown up to make a happy place for herself in society. Outgoing and cheerful, she has many friends and enjoys the pleasures of high society—even if she cannot dance at balls or stroll in Hyde Park. She is blessed with a large, loving, and protective family. But she secretly dreams of marriage and children, and of walking—and dancing.When Ben Ellis comes across Lady Jennifer as she struggles to walk with the aid of primitive crutches, he instantly understands her yearning. He is a fixer. It is often said of him that he never saw a practical problem he did not have to solve. He wants to help her discover independence and motion—driving a carriage, swimming, even walking a different way. But he must be careful. He is the bastard son of the late Earl of Stratton. Though he was raised with the earl’s family, he knows he does not really belong in the world of the ton.Jennifer is shocked—and intrigued—by Ben’s ideas, and both families are alarmed by the growing friendship and perhaps more that they sense developing between the two. A duke’s sister certainly cannot marry the bastard son of an earl. Except sometimes, love can find a way.

My Review:

At the beginning of the Ravenswood series, back in Remember Love, I compared the late and more or less lamented Earl of Stratton, Caleb Ware, with the late and entirely unlamented Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, the discovery of whose marital perfidy kicked off that series, and found both of them wanting in only slightly different ways and degrees.

As that earlier series continued through the stories of all the family members impacted by the lies that were shockingly revealed upon Westcott’s death, the man was never redeemed – not even in memory. In fact, as the impacts of his lies rippled out in the years after his death, the worse a character he became.

Therefore, one of the fascinating things about Caleb Ware, Earl of Stratton, is the way that his memory has been redeemed in the years after his death. Not that he wasn’t unfaithful to his wife from the very beginning of their marriage, and not that he didn’t constantly seek love, approval and attention wherever he went, but the reasons behind his actions become clearer with each book – even though that book is centered around another character entirely.

That is especially true of this third book in the series, after Remember Love and Remember Me, because the male protagonist of this story is Ware’s illegitimate oldest son Ben, whose mother was, as it turns out, truly, the love of Ware’s life.

A woman of his own class who he would have married if he could have, but that would have made her guilty of the same sin as Humphrey Westcott. It would have made Lady Janette Kelliston, who her son only knew as plain ‘Jane Ellis’, a bigamist.

But this is, after all, Ben’s story and not the story of his parents, although his discovery of the truth about that relationship and so much more is a central part of his story. While he does not discover those truths until well into this story, it does set the stage for the things he already does know about himself.

That in spite of his complete and thoroughgoing acceptance by Caleb Ware’s legal family for all of Ben’s life, he is, and always will be, the Earl’s bastard. And therefore, not eligible to marry any of the girls – and now women – he meets as part of his membership in the Ware family.

Which means that when widowed Ben and his three-year-old daughter Joy come to Ravenswood Hall to celebrate the revival of the annual Summer Fete, even though he has marriage on his mind he does not expect to find anyone who would consider him suitable among his family’s aristocratic guests.

Because he is NOT suitable, as the rest of the world is all too willing to remind him. The question is whether he, and the woman with whom he falls in love in spite of all the whispers against it, are willing to damn the consequences and the social opprobrium likely to follow in their wake.

Escape Rating A-: I came into Always Remember with high hopes after a bit of disappointment with Remember Me. I liked the characters of that book well enough, but Lady Philippa Ware was a bit TOO perfect and too privileged to identify with and that affected my reading of her story quite a lot.

The heroine of this entry in the series, Pippa’s now sister-in-law Lady Jennifer Arden, is far from perfect – although she fakes it well. Not the perfect beauty that Pippa absolutely does have, but rather, a perfect amiability – or at least the appearance of it – that allows her to find as much happiness and fulfillment in the life that the lifelong disability that remains after a childhood illness (most likely polio) has left her with as is possible. Which is quite a lot if one puts their mind to it, which Lady Jennifer absolutely does.

So this is a romance between an unconventional hero – at least for a Regency romance – and an equally unusual heroine – for any romance at all. That it is their differences from the others around them that brings them together – even as their differences in social position pulls them apart – that made even the possibilities of this story something I was definitely looking forward to.

Ben Ellis and Lady Jennifer Arden find a bond because they are able to see behind each other’s masks to find the real person within. Both are in positions where they ‘should’ be grateful. He because his father’s family took him in and made him their own – as much as they could and considerably more than he knew he had any right to expect. Lady Jennifer’s entire family has rearranged itself, and continues to do so, in order to make sure that she is taken care of, has as much freedom and opportunity as they believe is safe for her, and in general has a good, well-privileged life with friends and opportunities and someone always available to take care of her.

But they are both in pursuit of the missing pieces in their lives. Ben needs to know about his mother’s family, for the sake of his own identity as well as that of his daughter. Lady Jennifer is twenty-five years old, she needs to find out what her OWN limits are. From her perspective, she has one blighted leg but the rest of her, including most definitely her heart and her brain, are just fine. She is an adult and needs to forge her own path – even if that path is navigated on crutches or in a wheelchair.

Ben sees possibilities for her. She sees answers for him. Together, they forge a path that no one expected, and that some would have preferred they not even begin to try. I half expected the author to contrive a solution that would make Ben legally legitimate no matter the actual circumstances of his birth in order to clear that path, but it made for a much better story that the easy solution was not taken after all, making this a deeply earned HEA that kept me up late because I had to find out how it ended.

Speaking of endings, this could be the ending of the Ravenswood series, but I sincerely hope that it is not. The late – and now reasonably lamented – Earl of Stratton and his Countess had several more children who have yet to find their own HEAs. I’d LOVE to see their stories added to this series!

#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris Yamashita

#BookReview: Village in the Dark by Iris YamashitaVillage in the Dark (Cara Kennedy, #2) by Iris Yamashita
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Cara Kennedy #2
Pages: 288
Published by Berkley on February 13, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Detective Cara Kennedy thought she’d lost her husband and son in an accident, but harrowing evidence has emerged that points to murder--and she will stop at nothing to find the truth in this riveting mystery from the author of City Under One Roof.
On a frigid February day, Anchorage Detective Cara Kennedy stands by the graves of her husband and son, watching as their caskets are raised from the earth. It feels sacrilegious, but she has no choice. Aaron and Dylan disappeared on a hike a year ago, their bones eventually found and buried. But shocking clues have emerged that foul play was involved, potentially connecting them to a string of other deaths and disappearances.  Somehow tied to the mystery is Mia Upash, who grew up in an isolated village called Unity, a community of women and children in hiding from abusive men. Mia never imagined the trouble she would find herself in when she left home to live in Man’s World. Although she remains haunted by the tragedy of what happened to the man and the boy in the woods, she has her own reasons for keeping quiet. Aided by police officer Joe Barkowski and other residents of Point Mettier, Cara’s investigation will lead them on a dangerous path that puts their lives and the lives of everyone around them in mortal jeopardy.

My Review:

Just as once-and-future Anchorage PD Detective Cara Kennedy wrapped up the murder cases at Point Mettier in City Under One Roof, a monkey wrench was thrown into the case nearest and dearest to her heart. Cara has been, honestly not surprisingly, unwilling to let the case of her husband’s and her son’s deaths go, to the point where the Anchorage PD’s psych evaluation put her out on disability.

Not a good place for a detective with nothing to do but dwell on the ‘might have beens’ to be. Particularly not when a picture of her late husband, her dead son, and herself, taken just before the ill-fated trip that left her a widow, was found on the cell phone of one of the gang members responsible for the deaths in Point Mettier in that first adventure.

Making Cara in this second mystery the equivalent of a dog with a very large bone to chew on. A bone that is made just that much bigger when she has her family’s bodies exhumed and discovers that, whoever they are, and whatever the Anchorage PD told her, the bodies she buried under her husband’s and son’s names were not, in fact, the bodies of her husband and son.

Although it certainly looks like one of those bodies was the victim of murder. Adding yet more questions to the pile of unanswered ones that she already has. And not just questions about who the now unidentified bodies were, and who are the other missing, presumed dead people in that gang member’s cell phone photo roll.

Because if the two bodies she buried weren’t her own loved ones, then where the hell are her husband and her son? Are they dead by some other misadventure lost in some other remote part of the Alaskan Bush? Or are they alive and in hiding?

Or worse, does her husband have something to do with the long list of missing and presumed dead faces in that photo roll? Cara can’t rest until she finds out the truth – whether it sets her free or gets her killed. Or both, not necessarily in that order.

Escape Rating B: Part of what made City Under One Roof work so well was the claustrophobic nature of its setting. Whittier, like the city modeled after it in the story, really is a city under one roof. That a significant chunk of that first story takes place while Point Mettier is literally cut off from the rest of the world – as really does happen in Whittier – gives the story a kind of ‘locked room’ vibe, complete with time running out as the tunnel will eventually open and the bottled up suspects will have the opportunity to escape.

The story in Village in the Dark spreads itself out in both time and space, as the action shifts from Point Mettier to Mia’s temporary refuge outside Willow to Anchorage and back again. It’s also a bigger story, in that it begins with Cara’s seemingly never-ending quest to find out what really happened – or who really happened – to her husband and son but loops in one of Point Mettier’s more colorful residents, that woman’s search for the events that led to her own son’s death, and then seemingly tacks on one mysterious young woman attempting to hide in plain sight.

It’s a bigger story but it’s a whole lot less tight and taut in the way that City Under One Roof was, and that mysteries are at their best. In other words, I got lost a bit whenever we switched to young Mia’s point of view because she started out WAY out there compared to the central axis of the story. Not that she didn’t finally move to the center of things, but it certainly took a while.

In the end, it’s a story about drugs and money. About corruption and temptation and dirty deeds done dirt cheap in the service of people who will never pay the price for the deeds done in their name – even if that name is a false one hidden behind multiple go-betweens.

But the further the story spread out, the less it hung together until the rapid-fire denouement. And then it was, quite literally, gangbusters.

At the end, the story that brought Cara into this series has been resolved. Whether it will be the jumping off point for more, and less personal and more procedural investigations, is a mystery yet to be solved.

One final note, the subtext in this entry in the series is the ease with which the police dismiss missing persons cases and crimes against women, particularly, in the Alaskan setting, indigenous women. The same horrifying subtext also underlaid the suspense in last year’s The Way of the Bear by Anne Hillerman. Coincidentally, or perhaps a commentary on the pervasiveness of the issue, the book I am currently listening to, Glory Be by Danielle Arceneaux, has an entirely too similar tragedy at its heart, yet again exploring and decrying the ease with which police discount and dismiss crimes against black women in that book’s Louisiana setting.

The pervasiveness of this all too real problem is considerably more chilling than the suspense in ANY mystery.

#BookReview: Remember Me by Mary Balogh

#BookReview: Remember Me by Mary BaloghRemember Me (Ravenswood, #2) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Ravenswood #2
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on June 20, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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Can Lady Philippa Ware forgive the man who once shattered all her youthful dreams? Discover the passionate and heartwarming new novel on the redemptive power of love from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.
Philippa, elder daughter of the Earl of Stratton, grew up eagerly anticipating a glittering debut and a brilliant marriage. Then her brother caught their father out in a clandestine affair and denounced him publicly. The whole family was disgraced, and Philippa's hopes grew dim, then were fully shattered when she overheard the dashing, handsome Marquess of Roath viciously insult her upon learning of her father's identity. Only years later does Philippa find the courage to go to London at last to meet the ton. She is an instant success and enjoys a close friendship with the granddaughter of a duke. Only one man can spoil everything for her, but surely he will not be in London this year.
The Duke of Wilby is nearing death and has tasked his grandson and heir, Lucas Arden, Marquess of Roath, with marrying and producing a son before it is too late. Lucas, who usually shuns London, goes there early in the Season in the hope of finding an eligible bride before his grandparents come and find one for him. He is instantly attracted to his sister's new friend, until that young lady asks a simple question: "Remember me?" And suddenly he does remember her, as well as the reason why the daughter of the Earl of Stratton is the one woman he can never marry--even if his heart tells him she is the only woman he wants.
Unfortunately for Philippa and Lucas, the autocratic duke and his duchess have other ideas and believe them to be perfect for each other. They will simply not take no for an answer. Telling Philippa the full truth is the hardest thing Lucas has ever faced, and the discovery of it will change them both before they discover the healing power of love.

My Review:

The elderly Duke of Wilby may be the most aptly titled character to ever grace the pages of a Regency romance. Because his will has been done, generally to his satisfaction, for most of his long life, and he fully intends that his will be done one last time before the end that his doctor has predicted comes to pass.

On the whole, Wilby is a rather benevolent dictator when it comes to his family, but he seems to have never been faced with an opposition implacable enough to stand against him that couldn’t be overcome. With the possible exceptions of time, old age and death. Although even there he’s negotiating for better terms – or at least terms of his own choosing.

He has only one surviving heir, his grandson Lucas. Lucas’ father died of recklessness years before, there was no spare, the old Duke had no brothers and the next heir is a cousin that frankly neither he nor Lucas believe is worthy of the title. Someone they know will have no care for the many female members of the family who will be left to his dubious mercy if Lucas dies before he has his own ‘heir and a spare’.

The elderly Duke – and his redoubtable Duchess – are determined that Lucas, now twenty six, will spend the coming Season in London, scouring the Marriage Mart for a bride they all find suitable – whether he wills it or not. For that matter, whether SHE wills it or not as well.

The seemingly immovable object standing in the way of Wilby’s plan is Lady Philippa Stratton, daughter of the late Earl of Stratton. Her brother now holds the title. Pippa is twenty two, wealthy in her own right, and her brother is no longer her guardian. She can do as she pleases when it comes to the Season and the Marriage Mart.

She does not please to marry Lucas Arden. Because once upon a time, just a few years previously when they were both a bit younger and a whole lot less cognizant of the effect a few careless words might have on the people around them, Pippa heard Lucas refer to her as ‘spoiled goods’. Not for any action of hers, but for her father’s indiscreet, utterly scandalous, behavior.

A scandal that touched Lucas every bit as closely as it did Pippa. But eavesdroppers seldom hear anything to their credit, and that was the case here. He owes her an explanation AND an abject apology. But it is water very much under the bridge at this point. That she let his words blight the next four years of her life isn’t ALL on him. Although she still doesn’t owe him the time of day.

But the Duke of Wilby is certain that Pippa and Lucas are perfect for each other. And he’ll move heaven, earth and everything in between in order to get them to see it too. Before his negotiations with his Maker come due.

Escape Rating C+: I had intended to read the third book in the Ravenswood series, Always Remember, this week but when I realized that I’d skipped this second book, Remember Me, I switched things up. I’ll get to Always Remember sometimes in February because it’s still the right month for a LOT of romance.

Howsomever, I ended up with a lot more mixed feelings about Remember Me than I expected after the first book in this series, Remember Love – which I liked rather a lot.

There were a couple of things that kept me from falling quite as hard for this second book in the series, one of which was the sheer proximity to yesterday’s book. Part of the reason I enjoyed A Body at the Séance so much was that I found Mabel Canning’s whole, entire life easy to identify with. She’s not rich, she’s not privileged, she’s a woman making it on her own and her life and times are just close enough that it’s easy to step into her shoes. Possibly except for the murder investigations she keeps falling into but still, she’s someone I’d love to have tea with.

Lady Philippa Ware is certainly a good character, as well as a decent human being, but in comparison with Mabel she’s too rich, too privileged, too beautiful and just too damn perfect to be anything other than a fairy tale princess character – including the title. I liked her, I could see why all the other characters warm to her, but she’s got it so easy in so many ways, in a time and place where so many people did not, that I didn’t love her nearly as much as I did Mabel – or as Lucas and his whole, entire family came to do.

I also need to confess that the conflict in this story, the engine moving the plot forward, the way that the Duke of Wilby in his role as benevolent tyrant pushed so hard to have his will be done, to make all the characters move on his chessboard without ever listening to a word they said about their own lives, is triggering for me in ways I can’t explain. And I fully recognize this is a ‘me’ thing and likely not a ‘you’ thing.

But still, I found myself utterly conflicted between the fact that ‘dammit he was right’ and just how much I wanted someone to push back against him and make it stick that it spoiled the story for me. There are so many ways his pushing and shoving could have and should have gone wrong that I wanted to scream at someone the whole way through.

Your reading mileage may definitely vary. In fact, I hope it does because I think a LOT of people are going to love this book. I’m just not one of them although I certainly expected to be.

Which leads me back around to the NEXT book in this series, the one I thought I’d be reading this week, Always Remember. I’m looking forward to that story because Lucas’ sister, Lady Jennifer Arden, has faced hardships and tragedies in spite of her wealth and status, and it looks like she’ll be finding a life-partner in spite of all the predictions that a woman with a fortune who can’t walk and can only get around in a push chair has no chance to marry anyone who will not be more invested in her fortune than herself. I have high hopes that Pippa’s older half brother Ben, the child of one of her father’s many, many scandals, will prove everyone wrong. Because Jenny deserves her own happy ever after and I’m looking forward to seeing her get it!

Review: The Night Island by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: The Night Island by Jayne Ann KrentzThe Night Island (The Lost Night Files, #2) by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, romantic suspense
Series: Lost Night Files #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on January 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The disappearance of a mysterious informant leads two people desperate for answers to an island of deadly deception in this new novel in the Lost Night Files trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz.   Talia March, Pallas Llewellyn, and Amelia Rivers, bonded by a night they all have no memory of, are dedicated to uncovering the mystery of what really happened to them months ago—an experience that brought out innate psychic abilities in each of them. The women suspect they were test subjects years earlier, and that there are more people like them—all they have to do is find the list. When Talia follows up on a lead from Phoebe, a fan of the trio’s podcast, she discovers that the informant has vanished.   Talia isn’t the only one looking for Phoebe, however. Luke Rand, a hunted and haunted man who is chasing the same list that Talia is after, also shows up at the meeting place. It’s clear he has his own agenda, and they are instantly suspicious of each other. But when a killer begins to stalk them, they realize they have to join forces to find Phoebe and the list.   The rocky investigation leads Talia and Luke to a rustic, remote retreat on Night Island in the Pacific Northwest. The retreat promises to rejuvenate guests with the Unplugged Experience. Upon their arrival, Talia and Luke discover guests are quite literally cut off from the outside world because none of their high-tech devices work on the island. It soon becomes clear that Phoebe is not the first person to disappear into the strange gardens that surround the Unplugged Experience retreat. And then the first mysterious death occurs…

My Review:

All of The Lost Night Files begin before the first book in this ongoing series opens to its very first page in Sleep No More. In fact, it’s starting to look like The Lost Night Files begins at the same time and with the same perpetrators – yes, let’s go with perpetrators – as the Fogg Lake series that began with The Vanishing.

All of which began with a top secret government project codenamed Bluestone. A project that absolutely went where the X-Files did but left considerably more damage – both direct and collateral – in its wake. A project that the government CLEARLY didn’t bother to clean up after. They just mothballed the whole thing in various situs and hoped that no one would dig into their dirty little paranormal secrets.

Like things EVER work that way.

In this second book, or rather this second case for the Lost Night Files podcast, the founders of the podcast; Pallas Llewellyn, whose story was featured in Sleep No More, Amelia Rivers, who will probably be the central character of a third book that had better be happening, and Talia March, the protagonist of THIS story, have a lead on why and how they were targeted for the experiment that ramped up their various strong intuitions into full-blown psychic talents.

They all took a test that measured psychic ability back in college, and they all scored high on that test. That test WAS the only link between them before their ‘lost night’ at the dilapidated Lucent Springs Hotel.

Now Talia is running down a lead on someone who is selling copies of the results of that old, supposedly long-forgotten test. Talia has high hopes that the list will lead to others who lost a night just as they did, giving them a trail they can hopefully follow back to the source of this mess.

What Talia finds first is another ‘victim’ of the experiments. Prickly and justifiably paranoid Luke Rand also took that test, also lost a night in eerily similar conditions to the Lost Night Files crew, and also woke up with newly enhanced paranormal talents and no memory of what was done to him.

Although Luke has one memory that Talia and her friends are fortunate not to have. The first thing he remembers after his lost night is standing over two dead bodies with a scalpel in his hands. He thinks he did it.

Talia’s not so sure about that. What she is sure about, because her talent is finding things, is that the person who was supposed to be selling them that list isn’t at the rendezvous – and neither is the list. What Talia does find is a talisman that links her to the would-be seller, and clues to where the woman was taken.

For experimentation, just as they were.

Reluctant and temporary allies, Luke and Talia band together to follow the trail of the seller, the list itself, and whatever operation is experimenting on would-be psychics. What they find is a huge con, a nightmare garden, and a series of murders that make Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None look like a walk in the park on a beautiful sunny day.

What Talia and Luke also find, in spite of themselves and their mutual antipathy and distrust – is a partnership that will save them, both from the monsters that haunt the Night Island, and from the demons conjured up by the experiment within them both.

Escape Rating A-: The thing about the ‘Jayneverse’ is that everything connects up – EVENTUALLY. Howsomever, that doesn’t stop a reader from jumping in pretty much anywhere and getting sucked right in. The Lost Night Files is an excellent case in point.

It might be better to start The Lost Night Files with ITS OWN first book, Sleep No More, but this series doesn’t depend on any knowledge of the greater whole, or even the smaller whole of Fogg Lake, to be easy to get into and a whole lot of fun to read.

It’s more that if you ARE familiar with some of the background there are bits that you read with a bit of a smile at the old memories – even as you make new ones.

The Night Island is clearly a middle book in its own series. In Sleep No More, we first met the crew of the podcast and were with them as they continued their investigation into WTF happened to them at the old Lucent Springs Hotel. AND discovered that they weren’t the only ones to have been experimented on, resulting in Pallas’ finding her HEA with fellow experiment subject Ambrose Drake.

In and on the Night Island, the investigation gets a few steps closer to the truth – or at least A TRUTH – about the nature of the experiments and their purpose. The reader gets a glimpse of the perpetrators, while Talia and Luke get merely a hint in that direction. Which moves the series as a whole along quite teasingly, but doesn’t detract or distract from the events of this book.

Events that are centered around Talia and Luke’s investigation of the Night Island itself, the way the bodies keep dropping like flies and the bizarre nature of the experimental flora on Night Island and how they seem to be evolving their way to fauna at a dizzying rate.

So there are oodles of puzzles to solve in this compelling story of paranormal romantic suspense and plenty of tasty red herrings to swallow on the way to solving them – as well as the descriptions of the chef’s yummy-sounding vegetarian cuisine. Talia and Luke turn out to be the perfect investigators for this case of con artists, psychic assassins and lost things, plans and people.

I can’t wait to see how The Lost Night Files wraps up all the mysteries that face them, hopefully in the next book in this series. And hopefully this time next year if not a bit sooner!

Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise Ryan

Review: Death in the Dark Woods by Annelise RyanDeath in the Dark Woods (Monster Hunter Mystery #2) by Annelise Ryan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Monster Hunter Mystery #2
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on December 12, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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A potential Bigfoot sighting is linked to a vicious murder, but skeptical cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is on the case in this new Monster Hunter Mystery by USA Today bestselling author Annelise Ryan.
Business has been booming since Morgan Carter solved the case of the monster living in Lake Superior. The Odds and Ends bookstore is thriving, of course, but Morgan is most excited by the doors that were opened for her as a cryptid hunter. 
Recently, there have been numerous sightings of a Bigfoot-type creature in the Chequamengon-Nicolet National Forest area of Bayfield County, Wisconsin. After a man is found dead from a vicious throat injury in the forest, the local sheriff asks Morgan to investigate. 
When Morgan and her dog, Newt, go there to investigate, they uncover a trail of lies, deception, and murder. It seems a mysterious creature is, indeed, living in the forest, and Morgan might be its next target.

My Review:

“Sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage,” or so proclaimed a tour guide on the way to Loch Ness a few years ago. Not that cryptozoologist Morgan Carter is looking for Nessie, or even any kin she might have in the Great Lakes, but that quote does rather sum up Morgan’s attitude towards the cryptids that fascinate her – even though she doesn’t expect to find one.

Morgan is a scientist first, a bookstore owner second, and a professionally trained cryptozoologist third. Her scientific training tells her that finding a real cryptid, either in the present day or in a formerly hidden bit of the historical record, is unlikely at best.

Then again, coelacanths weren’t discovered until 1938. So an aquatic ‘sea monster’ whose remains have all fallen into the deep is still possible if not likely. Bigfoot, a land-based primate cryptid – not so much.

So when her friend, local police chief Jon Flanders, brings a conservation officer from Bayfield, Wisconsin to her door with a tale of two mutilated dead bodies, one scared witness and the possibility that Bigfoot is on the loose, Morgan is intrigued – but far from convinced. It’s far more likely, as that tour guide claimed, that either the weather conditions in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest were foggy with a chance of cryptid sightings, or that the witness was either blind drunk or just plain blind.

After all, whether or not Bigfoot is responsible, there are two dead bodies. Someone, or something, or someone posing as something, killed them. And Morgan is determined to find out who, or which, or both.

And she’s all too aware that there are more than enough two-legged monsters to go around – and get around – without needing to hunt for Bigfoot.

Escape Rating A-: So far, at least, the Monster Hunter Mystery series is cozy with a side of gruesome. Considering the series title, the gruesome part is kind of expected. It’s the cozy setting that throws things a bit for a loop, but in a very interesting way.

I liked this second book in the series better than the first, A Death in Door County, for reasons that I’m, of course, about to get into.

This second book does a great job of giving the reader enough logic and especially science to understand exactly why Morgan finds Bigfoot to be considerably further down the “plausible existability” without getting nearly so far into the weeds, or seaweeds as the case may be, as she did in that first book.

Also, the villains of this piece were all more or less in plain sight from the beginning, it was much more a question of what, precisely who was guilty of, and why. The red herrings were all mind-catchingly presented and really tasty. There were also plenty of them to serve as appetizers until the main course was revealed. And no, I didn’t guess which of the many possibilities was the actual killer until the end – because there was just so much guilt to go around. Just not the same guilt.

The resolution of the Bigfoot sightings was handled in a way that was entirely within the bounds of possibility and dove deeply into a bit of Wisconsin history that has lost a great deal of its luster over the decades, but once upon a time was something quite special.

And briefly is again, albeit in an entirely different way.

We’re also getting to know the ‘Scooby Gang’ that Morgan has gathered around herself, including her frenemy turned friend – if not more – Police Chief Jon Flanders. There’s a will they/won’t they relationship going on there that is moving at a glacial pace – for good and solid emotional reasons that it’s going to be fun to see thaw over the books ahead.

Plus there’s an EvilEx™ lurking in the background, the cause of the glacial pace of Morgan’s side of the relationship, just waiting to jump out of the shadows. I think I’m even more invested in seeing him get his just desserts than I am in Morgan and Jon’s relationship. And that’s definitely saying something!

There’s also a big plus to this series in the person of Morgan’s amazing dog, Newt. Rescuing Newt in the beginning of A Death in Door County marked the beginning of Morgan’s healing process AND Newt and his amazing nose are the perfect partners for Morgan’s monster hunting adventures.

I’m looking forward to more in this monstrously cozy, quirky mystery series. Because they just keep getting better and better!

Review: Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris

Review: Where the Dead Lie by C.S. HarrisWhere the Dead Lie (Sebastian St. Cyr, #12) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #12
Pages: 334
Published by Berkley on April 4, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The gruesome murder of a young boy takes Sebastian St. Cyr from the gritty streets of London to the glittering pleasure haunts of the aristocracy . . .
London, 1813.Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is no stranger to the dark side of the city, but he's never seen anything like this: the brutalized body of a fifteen-year-old boy dumped into a makeshift grave on the grounds of an abandoned factory.
One of London's many homeless children, Benji Thatcher was abducted and tortured before his murder—and his younger sister is still missing. Few in authority care about a street urchin's fate, but Sebastian refuses to let this killer go unpunished.
Uncovering a disturbing pattern of missing children, Sebastian is drawn into a shadowy, sadistic world. As he follows a grim trail that leads from the writings of the debauched Marquis de Sade to the city's most notorious brothels, he comes to a horrifying realization: someone from society's upper echelon is preying upon the city's most vulnerable. And though dark, powerful forces are moving against him, Sebastian will risk his reputation and his life to keep more innocents from harm . .

My Review:

The dead lie in multiple meanings of the word AND in multiple places in this twelfth entry in the long-running, utterly marvelous Sebastian St. Cyr series.

The dead, and their deaths, circle around three points: a serial killer, a supposedly lost work from the pen of the late Marquis de Sade, and lost, missing or abandoned children. Those are three topics that sit uneasily in the mind separately, together they are a nightmare.

Or rather, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin’s nightmares – and he already has PLENTY of those to keep him awake on entirely too many nights.

It begins with a child’s dead body, as a midnight burial is interrupted by an old soldier with a long-standing grudge. But it’s only the first body that’s found in this frequently macabre tale of murder and privilege. Benji Thatcher, abandoned, abused, stabbed, raped and killed, was not the first body to be murdered in such a heinous manner – only the one whose accidental discovery leads to more.

Too many more as Devlin discovers. Even more horrific, there are also too many people in the circle he is supposed to be a part of who don’t give a damn. Along with at least one who is adding to the body count even as Devlin does his damndest to see him hanged.

That he fails isn’t on Devlin, but rather, on the privileges of a society that protects both him and the killer – even as it fails to protect those without that privilege. Those like the children abandoned on London’s streets because their parents have been transported to remote penal colonies such as Georgia, or Botany Bay.

As well as those who have the misfortune to have been born female – no matter their class – not even the most privileged. Not even Devlin’s own niece who could still be saved – but refuses to let herself be.

Escape Rating A-: This one is a really hard read. It’s excellent, just as the entire St. Cyr series is, but this one is difficult because there’s just so much tragedy and horror uncovered within its pages.

At its heart, this is a story about lost children, and all the ways that society (not just his but also, frankly, ours) allows children to be lost, abandoned and abused. These children are being preyed upon because no one will miss them and the killer knows it.

And has exploited their position, over and over again, because they know they are so privileged and so protected that even if they are suspected, which they are and have been long before St. Cyr becomes involved, few will believe they could possibly be guilty of such heinous crimes and even then there are people in very high places who will guarantee they never pay.

Wrapped around the ongoing horror of finding not one but three mass burial sites, there’s a story about a lost child who is found, an adult child who loses a parent to an untimely death, a formerly lost child who recognizes that he has found a home, and a lost child who finds his way back to a home he once rejected.

With one child’s, as well as their mother’s, tragedy yet to come in the later books in the series.

This entry in the series is of the ‘read ‘em and weep’ variety, as everyone in Devlin’s true circle is as harrowed and horrified as the reader – which is made infinitely worse by the people who are informed but simply refuse to care. If “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” then there is more evil in the world than even Devlin can fix – and he is made all too aware of that in this entry in the series.

My reading of Where the Dead Lie completes my ‘catch-up’ read of this series, so I’ll be waiting with the proverbial ‘bated breath’ for the forthcoming new entry, What Cannot Be Said, currently scheduled for publication in April of 2024. And in the meantime, I have the readalike Wrexford & Sloane series to catch up with, as it reads quite a bit like the St. Cyr, series would read if we were viewing the Regency from Hero Devlin’s perspective rather than Sebastian’s.

Review: Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Buries the Dead by C.S. HarrisWho Buries the Dead (Sebastian St. Cyr #10) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #10
Pages: 338
Published by Berkley on March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The grisly murder of a West Indies slave owner and the reappearance of a dangerous enemy from Sebastian St. Cyr’s past combine to put C. S. Harris’s “troubled but compelling antihero” (Booklist) to the ultimate test in this taut, thrilling mystery.
London, 1813. The vicious decapitation of Stanley Preston, a wealthy, socially ambitious plantation owner, at Bloody Bridge draws Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, into a macabre and increasingly perilous investigation. The discovery near the body of an aged lead coffin strap bearing the inscription “King Charles, 1648” suggests a link between this killing and the beheading of the deposed seventeenth-century Stuart monarch. Equally troubling, the victim’s kinship to the current Home Secretary draws the notice of Sebastian’s powerful father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, who will exploit any means to pursue his own clandestine ends.
Working in concert with his fiercely independent wife, Hero, Sebastian finds his inquiries taking him from the wretched back alleys of Fish Street Hill to the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair as he amasses a list of suspects who range from an eccentric Chelsea curiosity collector to the brother of an unassuming but brilliantly observant spinster named Jane Austen.
But as one brutal murder follows another, it is the connection between the victims and ruthless former army officer Sinclair, Lord Oliphant, that dramatically raises the stakes. Once, Oliphant nearly destroyed Sebastian in a horrific wartime act of carnage and betrayal. Now the vindictive former colonel might well pose a threat not only to Sebastian but to everything—and everyone—Sebastian holds most dear.

My Review:

Whenever I flail around looking for a comfort read, I end up back in Regency England, following Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, as he investigates yet another murder that touches upon the high and mighty of his time and place – whether the high and mighty like it or not.

Especially, and sometimes just a bit gleefully, whether his powerful father-in-law, Lord Charles Jarvis, likes it or not. Devlin enjoys discomfiting his father-in-law, while Jarvis would just as soon see Devlin dead, and is more than capable of arranging it. The only thing keeping the two men from killing each other is that they both love Hero Jarvis, Lord Jarvis’ daughter who is, much to the consternation of her father, Devlin’s wife.

The case in this 10th outing of the series begins with a murder. Not just the usual garden-variety murder, either. Stanley Preston, a man who loved collecting memorabilia related to the famously dead, is found not merely dead but decapitated much like the late King Charles I. Or, to be a bit more accurate, like Oliver Cromwell, whose body was decapitated after death – and whose head is part of Preston’s ‘cabinet of curiosities’.

The late, mostly unlamented Mr. Preston was one of those people who are so cantankerous and so outspoken about all the many and varied things they are cantankerous about that it’s not hard to imagine that someone killed him. In fact, it’s all too easy and potential suspects are legion.

Or would be if not for that grisly, gruesome and downright difficult to accomplish decapitation. Not that plenty of Preston’s enemies weren’t more than wealthy enough to hire it done. Including, quite possibly, his daughter. Or one of her long-suffering suitors who believed that her father stood in the way of their happiness.

Bow Street would love to pin the murder on Miss Preston’s most objectionable suitor – at least the most impoverished one. Devlin hopes that the crime can be laid at the door of one of his own enemies, newly returned to London.

Unless the whole thing comes back around to Preston’s cantankerousness combined with his inability to keep his objectionable opinions behind his teeth. And a man who with a secret that he can’t afford to have exposed.

A secret not all that different from Devlin’s own.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up this week because yes, I was having a comfort read flail, and Sebastian St. Cyr always delivers – or rather whisks me away from my time to his. Which got me to thinking about the nature of comfort reads in general, and why this works for me in particular.

I had originally hoped this week that Blind Fear, being the third book in a series I’m definitely enjoying, would scratch some of that comfort read itch – but it didn’t – leading me straight to questions about why and why not.

What makes mysteries in general so much of a comfort is the romance of justice. If a story is a mystery and not purely a thriller, then it’s guaranteed that in the end the crime is solved, evil is punished and justice triumphs.

The Finn Thrillers have a mystery component, but they are exactly what it says on the label. They’re thrillers. At the end of the whole series, it seems highly probably that justice will triumph and evil will get its just desserts. But it hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon. And in the meantime Finn is dealing with a lot of injustice, directed at himself as well as others, and wading all too frequently in some of the nastier cesspits of human behavior as he searches high and low – mostly low – for that justice.

In a historical mystery like the St. Cyr series, the historical setting adds to the comfort. Not that the past was any better, easier or safer than the present, but rather that its problems and its evils are not open-ended. We know what got solved or resolved, which situations improved and which are still plaguing the world today.

Not that justice writ large always triumphs in the St. Cyr series, but writ small it generally does. Even if the evils of the socioeconomic issues of the day are frequently appalling. Devlin and Hero attempt to do some good with the money and power they have, and often succeed if only a bit.

Bow Street may attempt to rush someone to judgment because it’s convenient for the high and mighty, but Devlin is always successful at standing in their way on that front, at least. The official story that gets into the papers may sweep things under the rug that shouldn’t be, and some of the rich and powerful escape the full range of justice they deserve, but no one is successfully railroaded to the hangman’s noose who hasn’t earned that punishment, at least not on Devlin’s watch.

And that is most definitely a comfort to the reader. Or at least this reader.

Who Buries the Dead was the penultimate title in my quest to catch up with the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I have one book left, Where the Dead Lie, and I’m pretty confident at this point that I’ll have that read long before the 19th entry in the series, What Cannot Be Said, gets said, done and published in April 2024.

After that, if I get desperate for a comfort read that is very like St. Cyr, I’ve got more of the Wrexford & Sloane series to look forward to. And I am!