Review: A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd + Giveaway

pattern of lies by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford #7
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 18, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

An explosion and fire at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill in Kent has killed over a hundred men. It’s called an appalling tragedy—until suspicion and rumor raise the specter of murder. While visiting the Ashton family, Bess Crawford finds herself caught up in a venomous show of hostility that doesn’t stop with Philip Ashton’s arrest. Indeed, someone is out for blood, and the household is all but under siege.

The only known witness to the tragedy is now at the Front in France. Bess is asked to find him. When she does, he refuses to tell her anything that will help the Ashtons. Realizing that he believes the tissue of lies that has nearly destroyed a family, Bess must convince him to tell her what really happened that terrible Sunday morning. But now someone else is also searching for this man.

To end the vicious persecution of the Ashtons, Bess must risk her own life to protect her reluctant witness from a clever killer intent on preventing either of them from ever reaching England.

My Review:

The title may be “pattern of lies” but the end result became a design for destruction. While this is a murder story, it is also, and more significantly, a story about the evil that men (and women) do, and man’s (and woman’s) inhumanity to their fellow humans. And that’s what makes this one so chilling. It’s not the original murder, it’s the mob mentality that takes over a small town and very nearly hounds an innocent man to his death.

As we have found out all too often in modern times, the cover-up is often nastier and more costly than the original crime. This particular instance takes that truism to new heights. Or perhaps that should be depths.

Something horrible happened in a small town in Kent. In 1916, the gunpowder mill exploded, killing over 100 men and putting a big dent in explosives production right after the Battle of the Somme. It was a heavy blow for the British Army to lose one of their best producing explosives factories, but it was an even bigger blow for Cranford, the small town that provided the workers for the mill. Not only did most families lose a breadwinner, but the mill’s production was moved elsewhere, and the town never recovered economically.

Kent is near the Channel, so the Army conducted an investigation into the cause of the explosion and the fire that followed it. They determined that there had been no sabotage, by the Germans or anyone else, and that the tragedy was just a terrible accident. At the time, everyone seemed saddened but satisfied.

Bess Crawford visits Cranford in 1918, two years after the tragedy, only to find that someone or something has revived all of the horror and all of the blame-seeking in this village. She visits one of her former patients, Mark Ashton, and his family. The Ashtons owned the mine, and suddenly, out of the blue, someone is conducting a malicious rumor campaign that places the blame for the explosion squarely on Mark’s father Philip’s shoulders. Philip Ashton is arrested for multiple murder while Bess is visiting.

The question is, who started up all the horrible rumors? And why? Who benefits from not just putting Philip Ashton in jail, but also terrorizing his family and even trying to get his poor innocent dog put down? There is a campaign of terror being waged against the Ashton family, and by the point that Bess becomes involved, every single person in Cranford is involved, including the police. Everyone lost someone in that explosion, and everyone has decided to blame the Ashtons for their grief. Whether that blame is justified or not.

Bess, with her dogged determination, follows the trail of heartless evil back and forth across the Channel, from the battlefields of France to the civilian warfare in Cranford. As more and more lies spring up in Cranford, more and more soldiers with even a tangential connection to the original tragedy turn up dead at the hands of their fellow British soldiers.

It is up to Bess, with a little help from her father and her network of former patients in the Army to track down the horrible truth – before it is too late for both Philip Ashton and for Bess.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles ToddEscape Rating A: I loved this book, but I don’t think it’s a good place to start the series. If you love historical mysteries or the World War I period, A Duty to the Dead would be a much better starting point.

But I love Bess Crawford. So often in historical fiction, when there is a female protagonist the author needs to invent a reason for the heroine to be atypically involved in the wider world. With Bess, those reasons are built into the period and her character organically, and it works so well.

Bess is a trained combat nurse during World War I. This provides a reason for her education and attitudes, while at the same time she acknowledges that there are still limits on her behavior and movements. While it seems strange to 21st century readers, Bess really does have to be concerned about the appropriateness of her behavior and appearance at all times, or she may lose her position in the nursing profession. She can be up to her elbows in blood and guts one day, and have to worry about whether the nursing service will think her accommodations unsatisfactory to the reputation of said service the next.

She is also more open-minded than we think of for the period. Again, some of that is her training, back to the blood and guts. Her sometimes cynical view of human behavior is born out of her actual experience in the war. She knows how badly people of all ranks behave because she has to sew up the results on an all too frequent basis. Also, her experience of the world is broader than most women of her class because her father has been a serving officer in the British Army for decades, and her mother “followed the drum” going with him and taking Bess to far-flung postings in the British Empire.

So when Bess sees something wrong, she looks for a way to right that wrong, whether it is a medical emergency or a miscarriage of justice. She doesn’t sweep things under the rug, because that’s where germs fester and grow. She brings things out into the light where they can be identified and if necessary, surgically removed.

The story in Cranford is one that tugs at her because she can see how wrong it is, and how hard it is to fix. Also, from her outsider’s perspective it makes no sense. That there would have been suspicion at the time, yes, that’s both logical and human. But that the suspicion has not just resurfaced but become pervasive two years later? There must be a reason and Bess, as usual, is determined to find it no matter how much danger she throws herself into along the way.

What sticks in the mind in this story is not the motive for the rumor campaign, but the way that everyone in the village jumps onto the bloody bandwagon. We see mob mentality at its worst, and it is both frightening and disgusting. But we know it is all too possible.

As glad as I was to see evil get punished and good triumph, I would have loved to have seen the aftermath. How does the falsely accused recover from all this enmity? One might manage to forgive, but forgetting would be impossible. How does life proceed in this small village where people have willfully torn the social fabric to pieces? It haunts. Good stories do that.

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

In the spirit of yesterday’s Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop, I am giving away my paperback ARC of A Pattern of Lies to one lucky U.S. commenter. I adore this series, and I’d like to share the love.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Moonlight on Butternut Lake by Mary McNear

moonlight on butternut lake by mary mcnearFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook, large print
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Butternut Lake #3
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: May 12, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Mila Jones has fled the big city seeking a safe haven on the serene shores of Butternut Lake. Her position looking after Reid Ford is more than a job. It’s a chance at a fresh start. And although her sullen patient does everything he can to make her quit, Mila refuses to give up on him.

But Mila isn’t the only one needing refuge. Haunted by the car accident that nearly killed him, Reid has hidden himself away. He wants Mila to just leave him alone. And he wishes the whole town would stop looking after his well-being.

Against all odds, Mila slowly draws Reid out. Soon they form a tentative, yet increasingly deeper bond with each other, as well as becoming part of the day-to-day fabric of Butternut Lake itself. But the world has a way of intruding, even in such a serene place . . . and when Mila’s violent husband forces his way back into her life, she and Reid are compelled to face down the past.

My Review:

up at butternut lake by mary mcnearButternut Lake is definitely second-chance lake. In the first book in the series, Up at Butternut Lake, both Walker and Allie get a second-chance at happy ever after in the wake of the loss of her husband in Afghanistan, and the death of his first child and the breakup of his first marriage.

In Butternut Summer (reviewed here), Jack and Caroline get a second chance at their marriage to each other. Jack is finally clean and sober and has grown into the man he should have been.

Now it’s Walker’s brother Reid’s turn. Reid has a second chance at life after a near-fatal car crash. Reid is just at the beginning of his extensive healing process, and is going to have a long and rough row to hoe to get back to health.

But it is early days, and at the moment, Reid is clinically depressed. He’s also being a complete and total jerk. He’s nasty and rude to every single home health aide who comes to stay with him while he’s still wheelchair bound. He’s just plain nasty to everyone near him, and wants to throw all of his care onto his brother Walker’s shoulders. Walker is already stretched thin, he’s covering for Reid in their boatyard business, and Walker and his wife Allie have just had a baby.

Walker and Allie can’t do it all, but Reid doesn’t care about anything except his own misery.

Mila Jones is his last chance to stay out of the rehab institution he hates. And Reid Ford is Mila’s last chance to escape her abusive husband and stay off the grid and out of sight for three months.

Something is bound to go wrong. And eventually it does, but not until Mila has a chance to shake off some of her very necessary fear, and Reid gets his head out of his ass. And those two things are definitely connected.

Mila’s husband is dangerous. Psychotic, possessive, obsessive, abusive. The entire sick package. Mila is right to be scared to death of him, and right to be paranoid about him finding her. Even though she has had help covering her tracks, all it will take is one slip up for him to find her. And we all know it’s going to happen before the end of the story, otherwise Mila will have to run again, and there can’t be a happy ever after in that situation.

But she, and we, need a resolution to her dilemma.

As Mila claws back her self-esteem, she finally gives Reid the comeuppance that he needs to get him living again. She stops taking his BS and tells him just what an asshole he is being to his family and to everyone who tries to help him. Because in spite of his current situation, which is temporary if he does his rehab, he is lucky.

Not just lucky that he survived in a situation that should have killed him, but lucky in that he has family and support and time and money to get back on his feet. All of which are things that a lot of people don’t have, and that Mila has never had.

Reid’s journey out of his darkened, locked room is every bit as slow as Mila’s journey from righteously scared rabbit to a woman who is willing to fight for her right to have a real life.

That they come out of the dark reaching for the light in each other makes for an awesome love story.

night before christmas by mary mcnearEscape Rating B: I have enjoyed this series tremendously, including Up at Butternut Lake, Butternut Summer, The Night Before Christmas (reviewed here) and now Moonlight on Butternut Lake. It’s not just that the lake is beautiful, but that the fairly remote town is pretty darn marvelous itself, with a great group of people living in it.

While I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to have read the rest of the series before diving into Moonlight, it does make the book that much more enjoyable when you know who all the people are and the struggles that they have overcome to reach their own happy endings.

Mila’s story is heartbreaking. She was exhausted and lonely and became the victim of a predator, because that’s what abusers are, predators. I understood completely why she went to the lengths she did to get away from the man who was killing her by inches.

But we see the story of Mila and Brandon in flashbacks, and I’ll confess that I just didn’t get why Mila married Brandon after the first time he beat her. How she talks herself out of leaving him at that point, and agrees to marry him instead, is not a place I could follow. I will also confess that I’m getting tired of the “abused woman flees stalker and needs man to rescue her” trope. It was done well in this story, but I liked the other stories in this series better because they did not go there.

Having gone there, however, Moonlight on Butternut Lake does a terrific job of showing Mila get past her own past, and come back to life. In that way, her story parallels Reid’s, who also needs to get past not just his accident but his own past traumas, in order to reach towards a new life that is different and hopefully better than the one that was interrupted by his accident.

Their romance was slow and sweet and often tentative, which felt right. Mila is held back, not just because she is still married, but also because she is certain that she can’t stay. And she keeps her secrets until the last possible moment. Without honesty, she and Reid can’t move forward together.

When they finally get there, it is almost, but not quite, too late. The terror that strikes is all the more devastating for having been anticipated through the entire book.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland + Giveaway

love and miss communication by elyssa friedlandFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available:
Genre: chick lit, women’s fiction
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: May 12, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

This unforgettable debut novel asks us to look up from our screens and out at the world…and to imagine what life would be like with no searches, no status updates, no texts, no Tweets, no pins, and no posts

Evie Rosen has had enough. She’s tired of the partners at her law firm e-mailing her at all hours of the night. The thought of another online date makes her break out in a cold sweat. She’s over the clever hashtags and the endless selfies. So when her career hits a surprising roadblock and her heart is crushed by Facebook, Evie decides it’s time to put down her smartphone for good. (Beats stowing it in her underwear–she’s done that too!)

And that’s when she discovers a fresh start for real conversations, fewer distractions, and living in the moment, even if the moments are heartbreakingly difficult. Babies are born; marriages teeter; friendships are tested. Evie just may find love and a new direction when she least expects it, but she also learns that just because you unplug your phone doesn’t mean you can unplug from life.

My Review:

Love and Miss Communication is an adorable fluffy, downy chick of a chick lit story, mixed with some multi-generational women’s fiction backbone and a loving but slightly stereotypical dose of Jewish grandmother guilt complex.

There’s also some interesting commentary on the fulfillment, or lack thereof, in our 24/7 always connected, always available technologically driven lives in the 21st century.

Evie Rosen starts out the story addicted to the internet, and it is not making her happy or fulfilled. Instead, it makes her discontented and consistently lowers her self-esteem at every turn.

It also gets her fired.

We all forget that our employers have the right to monitor anything we do on company computers and/or company equipment. Like Evie, for many of us, our jobs are who we are.

Evie is a senior associate attorney at a “white shoe” law firm in New York. She expects to make partner. She’s earned it, devoting all of her waking hours to her job and neglecting her friends, her family and herself in the process.

Instead, she is fired. She’s a great attorney, but she is also the company’s single biggest user of the company internet for personal business. She constantly checks Facebook to find out who is doing better than she is, and she Googles everyone she meets.

She’s obsessive. She’s so obsessive that when she Googles her famous chef ex-boyfriend to find out what he’s up to now, she discovers that the man who said he didn’t believe in marriage has, in fact, gotten married.

Barfing all over her laptop is the last straw. Google-induced vomiting destroys her computer. And after a few hours searching New York for a safe place to log on, Evie finally decides that enough is enough. It’s time to stop living vicariously through her computer and start living in real time. With real places and real people.

Of course, she goes a bit too far the other way, but that’s Evie – obsessive and compulsive about it.

While her friends and family are busily exchanging emails and evites and unthinkingly leaving her out, Evie has to deal with a family crisis. Her beloved grandmother Bette, who has equally obsessively been pushing Evie to find a husband and get married, is diagnosed with breast cancer. Evie is forced to deal with the fact that her time with her grandmother is finite, and possibly ending even sooner than she hoped.

Little does Evie know that her grandmother is using her very real and very scary diagnosis to make one last effort to get Evie’s head out of her own ass and recognize that there is someone out there for her – if only she can be herself long enough to make a real connection – without the false expectations raised by technology to steer her wrong.

Escape Rating B: I liked Evie a lot. It’s easy to sympathize with her desire to disconnect. Technology is ubiquitous and its ability to create and foster tiny niches is separating us from each other. And it is SO easy to get obsessed chasing every connection and driving ourselves crazy that everyone else seems to be doing so much better than we are.

And Evie’s “aha” moment over the keyboard was epically tragicomic.

However, one of the cornerstones of the story is Evie’s relationship with her grandmother Bette, or more obviously, Evie’s relationship with Bette’s desire to see her married, and if possible to a “nice Jewish boy”, albeit a grown up one. Evie is 34 at the beginning of the book, a boy would be a bit young.

But the cultural markers that define Bette, her use of Yiddish in an attempt to weed out the goyim, the extreme way that she wields guilt, all seem as if they belong to an earlier generation. Bette acts and sounds like someone from my own grandmother’s generation, but I’m more contemporary with Evie’s mother.

The guilt-tripping Jewish mother/grandmother is a stereotype that while funny and even endearing for those of us who had one, seems a bit dated. While it is true that in this story, Evie would be happier if she found the right person, the drumbeat that she must at all costs gets a bit wearing.

What was more interesting was Evie’s internal conflict, that she always wants what she can’t have, to the point where it almost costs her what she really wants. Again, she has an “aha” moment that is slightly tragic and slightly funny, and also nearly results in more vomit.

Evie is person who lost someone important to her, her father, at a relatively young age, and is afraid to let herself love again out of fear that she will lose again. So she keeps fixing herself on the unattainable, in the impossible hope that she won’t get hurt again. Except that she does, and she hurts herself most of all.

When she finally gets it all together, it’s cathartic both for Evie and for the reader. But after Evie’s life balancing and society rejecting year of eschewing technology for real connections, I wish that her happiness had embraced some elements that weren’t totally traditional.

Which does not mean that I didn’t enjoy following Evie’s journey to her authentic happiness. Because I certainly did.


The publisher is graciously providing one copy of Love and Miss Communication to one lucky winner. To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert

last night at the blue angel by rebecca rotertFormat read: ebook borrowed from the Library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 328 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Set against the backdrop of the early 1960s Chicago jazz scene, a highly ambitious and stylish literary debut that combines the atmosphere and period detail of Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility with the emotional depth and drama of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, about a talented but troubled singer, her precocious ten-year-old daughter, and their heartbreaking relationship.

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is a city of uneasy tensions—segregation, sexual experimentation, free love, the Cold War—but it is also home to one of the country’s most vibrant jazz scenes. Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years. Finally, her big break arrives—the cover of Look magazine. But success has come at enormous personal cost. Beautiful and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercely ambitious yet extremely self-destructive woman whose charms are irresistible and dangerous for those around her. No one knows this better than Sophia, her clever ten-year-old daughter.

For Sophia, Naomi is the center of her universe. As the only child of a single, unconventional mother, growing up in an adult world, Sophia has seen things beyond her years and her understanding. Unsettled by her uncertain home life, she harbors the terrible fear that the world could end at any moment, and compulsively keeps a running list of practical objects she will need to reinvent once nuclear catastrophe strikes. Her one constant is Jim, the photographer who is her best friend, surrogate father, and protector. But Jim is deeply in love with Naomi—a situation that adds to Sophia’s anxiety.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, their powerful and wrenching story unfolds in layers, revealing Sophia’s struggle for her mother’s love with Naomi’s desperate journey to stardom and the colorful cadre of close friends who shaped her along the way.

Sophisticated yet poignant, Last Night at the Blue Angel is an unforgettable tale about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have. It is a story ripe with surprising twists and revelations, and an ending that is bound to break your heart.

My Review:

There were points in this story when I wavered between the knowledge that it was centered around Naomi Hill’s very last night at the Blue Angel, and the unfolding story of what happened last night (and last week and last month) at the Blue Angel.

There’s a sense that every night brings the same set of crises and triumphs to Naomi’s life and career, at least as it is viewed from the perspective of her 11-year-old daughter Sophia.

While this is in Chicago in the mid-1960’s, it doesn’t feel like the wider world of the city. Admittedly, the early 60s were not the best time in the life of the city, but also, Naomi and Sophia’s world is a very insular one. It’s their small neighborhood around the club, and the collection of friends that they have turned into a family-of-choice.

The story in the present day is told through Sophia’s eyes. She is 11, but in the tight little world created around her mother’s career as a possibly has been but also wannabe famous jazz singer, Sophia is the only child in a world of adults. As all the adults around her enable Naomi, Sophia has become a little adult herself. Her knowledge of the outside world is a child’s knowledge, but her ability to manage her mother’s mood swings, drinking and general using of people becomes more adult by the day. It’s a survival mechanism that has turned her into a little adult much too early.

Interwoven with Sophia’s perspective of the weeks and months leading to Naomi’s last night and last performance at the Blue Angel, we see Naomi’s version of how things got to be the way that they are. It is Naomi’s story, and possibly the one she tells herself, of how she has gathered the collection of people who surround her in 1965. It’s how Naomi Hutnik of Soldier, Kansas became Naomi Hill of Chicago, and all the people she either dragged along with her or pulled into the gravity of her orbit along the way.

Some of it may be objectively true, but it feels as though it’s the way that Naomi has decided to remember her own story of country girl moves to the city to strike it big – even though it takes years, and everyone around her has nearly given up hope.

Sophia, on the other hand, is better off (for certain very unusual definitions of better off) when her mother is still struggling and needs her. When Naomi finally ascends to the stratosphere, she leaves her old life behind – including Sophia.

Even though it is the help and support of the circle she drew in, and casts aside, that finally allows her to become a star.

Escape Rating B+: It is easy to get caught up in Sophia’s story. On the one hand, not a lot happens, until it suddenly does, but at the same time, her young/old perspective reveals a lot about the way she lives, the way her mother is, and what life is like for a child in the years when fear of the bomb was still real.

Sophia lives an unpredictable life of ups and downs – of being the most important person in her mother’s world, and a burden that weighs Naomi down – sometimes in the same day. Everything in Naomi’s world serves Naomi’s art, which means that everyone revolves around attempting to keep Naomi stable and making sure that she gets to the club and sings her heart out.

It’s possible that Naomi doesn’t have much heart left.

It’s certain that the instability of her life makes Sophia fear that it can all disappear in an instant. She projects that fear into her fear of the bomb, but it’s more about the people she loves and the life she knows. That her mother regularly disappears in the emotional sense means that Sophia isn’t wrong to be afraid.

The fascinating part of the story revolves around Naomi’s origin story. Absolutely nothing is as it seems, and no one is quite who they present themselves to be. These truths are revealed slowly and carefully, as Naomi tells her story and constructs the world around her one person at a time. And it all comes together just at the same time it all falls apart.

This is a story about one woman who defied the expectations of her time and gender, but it is also about her equally unconventional daughter, who is already defying the very different social conventions of hers.

If this story sounds appealing, I think you might also enjoy 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie Helene Bertino. The time and place are different but the elements of a young girl telling the story of a jazz club feel similar. As I read Blue Angel I couldn’t stop thinking of the Cat’s Pajamas, both about little girls with big stories to tell.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

trigger warning by neil gaimanFormat read: eARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss and published hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy, horror
Length: 310 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction–stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013–as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In “Adventure Story”–a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience “A Calendar of Tales” are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year–stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale “The Case of Death and Honey”. And “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

My Review:

Fair warning, if you have an eARC of this book, it probably does not include the last story, Black Dog. I’m lucky I had a published print copy too. (This warning probably does not apply to purchased ebooks.)

Speaking of warnings, there’s that title: Trigger Warning. As the author says in his introduction, the phrase “trigger warning” has taken on a specific meaning in social media. If a piece has been labeled with a trigger warning, the context of the warning usually follows. If a story or article concerns a subject that some people might be upset to read, that is listed under the trigger warnings. While many of those warnings involve either death or sex (sometimes both) there are also trigger warnings for assault, abuse as well as every kind of kink imaginable.

The concept of trigger warnings derives from a specific issue for sufferers of PTSD. Things that remind a person of their original trauma can literally trigger a re-experience of that trauma. (For more details, see the NIMH page on PTSD)

There has been some talk in social media regarding whether the author should have titled his collection with a term that has so much specific meaning for people. (To see an thoughtful example, take a look at Kameron Hurley’s post on SciFi Now) The author’s contentions are laid out in his introduction, which, unlike introductions in many books that are easily skippable, provides interesting context for both the individual stories and the collection as a whole.

There’s a question asked: Do adults need to be warned about the possible “triggers” in fiction? Or is part of being an adult the responsibility of choosing such things for one’s own self?

Trigger Warning is a collection of mostly short stories, with a few poems sprinkled in for spice. Or in context, possibly for body. Or bodies.

This is a collection of various kinds of speculative fiction. Some are fantasy, some are extensions of fairy tales. Many are horror of the Twilight Zone type, where the story seems to be heading in one direction, and then takes a sudden twist at the end into the macabre or at least the strange and lethal.

As a collection, it suffers from the issue common to almost all collections, every reader’s milage varies wildly. There are some stories I really liked, a couple did not work for me at all, and some just were just OK.

There were five stories that stood out for me: Black Dog, Nothing O’Clock, The Case of Death and Honey, The Thing About Cassandra and A Calendar of Tales, which is cheating in a way because Calendar itself is a short collection of extremely brief stories.

American Gods by Neil GaimanOnly Black Dog is original to this collection. In other circumstances, it would be slight, and slightly eerie, story, But the protagonist of this particular tale is Shadow Moon, whom we first met in American Gods. Because we know who and what Shadow is, the story has multiple layers, and like American Gods, makes you rethink the entire story at the end.

The Case of Death and Honey is a Sherlock Holmes story. It was previously published in A Study in Sherlock, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, and reviewed here. This is a story that I wish were true. It would explain much.

Nothing O’Clock is a Doctor Who story. Even though Matt Smith was not my favorite Doctor (they say you never forget your first Doctor, and mine was Tom Baker) this is still very much Who. The solution to the very creepy dilemma is something only the Doctor could do. And as is so often the case, while the baddies think they are playing him, he has been playing them all along.

The Thing About Cassandra is a story with a twist. I knew something bad was going to happen, but at the end of the story, all of the shoes are on other feet than the reader expected.

A Calendar of Tales is itself a mini-collection, with one story themed for each month. Some border on SF, but the ones I really enjoyed had a touch of romance to them.

Escape Rating B+: The stories I enjoyed, I liked a lot. It helped that three of them were linked to things that I was not just familiar with, but am a definite fan of. The ones that left me cold, like Orange, left me completely and utterly cold.

I will say as my very own trigger warning for this collection that it is probably not a good book to read just before bedtime. I had some interesting and downright scary dreams last night that I am grateful not to remember. Which says that either I am terribly susceptible, or that the stories did their job. Possibly both.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush hush by laura lippmanFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook
Genre: mystery, suspense
Series: Tess Monaghan #12
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The award-winning New York Times bestselling author of After I’m Gone, The Most Dangerous Thing, I’d Know You Anywhere, and What the Dead Know brings back private detective Tess Monaghan, introduced in the classic Baltimore Blues, in an absorbing mystery that plunges the new parent into a disturbing case involving murder and a manipulative mother.

On a searing August day, Melisandre Harris Dawes committed the unthinkable: she left her two-month-old daughter locked in a car while she sat nearby on the shores of the Patapsco River. Melisandre was found not guilty by reason of criminal insanity, although there was much skepticism about her mental state. Freed, she left the country, her husband and her two surviving children, determined to start over.

But now Melisandre has returned Baltimore to meet with her estranged teenage daughters and wants to film the reunion for a documentary. The problem is, she relinquished custody and her ex, now remarried, isn’t sure he approves.

Now that’s she’s a mother herself–short on time, patience–Tess Monaghan wants nothing to do with a woman crazy enough to have killed her own child. But her mentor and close friend Tyner Gray, Melisandre’s lawyer, has asked Tess and her new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, to assess Melisandre’s security needs.

As a former reporter and private investigator, Tess tries to understand why other people break the rules and the law. Yet the imperious Melisandre is something far different from anyone she’s encountered. A decade ago, a judge ruled that Melisandre was beyond rational thought. But was she? Tess tries to ignore the discomfort she feels around the confident, manipulative Melisandre. But that gets tricky after Melisandre becomes a prime suspect in a murder.

Yet as her suspicions deepen, Tess realizes that just as she’s been scrutinizing Melisandre, a judgmental stalker has been watching her every move as well. . . .

My Review:

This is a gripping psychological thriller of a story about the past catching up with the present. Also that those who do not learn from history are doomed, or perhaps condemned, to repeat it. Along with a dose of the one about all happy families being alike, but every unhappy family is miserable in its own unique way.

For the Dawes family, that unhappiness is uniquely awful. Or at least there are a minority of families that face their particular brand of unhappiness, and thank goodness for that.

Melisandre Dawes’ narcissism is not the unusual bit. Unfortunately, there are probably lots of families where someone is that totally self-absorbed. As far as Melisandre is concerned, the world, no, the universe revolves around her. And it’s actually true for her, because she makes it so, either by using her startling beauty, her mercurial temper, or her family wealth.

But her 2-month-old baby couldn’t be swayed by any of those things. Isadora’s colic never ended. And Melisandre, admittedly, had a history of postpartum depression. So when she drove her baby to the boathouse and left her in the car to bake, Melisandre was found not guilty using an insanity plea. And possibly a lot of money, but no one ever proved it.

It’s 12 years later and double-jeopardy applies, so Melisandre has come back to the U.S., back to Baltimore, and is making a “documentary” film about women who kill their own children as a way of getting back into the lives of the two daughters she left behind. But now Alanna is 17 and Ruby is 15 and they have spent most of their lives wondering if their mother intended to kill them too.

The girls don’t seem interested in a reunion.

Tess and her partner Sandy become involved when they are hired as security consultants for Melisandre. It’s not what they do, but it turns out that a reunion with her daughters is not the only idea up her well-tailored sleeve. Tess’ former rowing trainer, Tyner, is a lawyer who regularly hires Tess to do investigative work for him. Tyner is also married to Tess’ aunt Kitty.

Melisandre assumes that she can get Tyner back along with her daughters. They used to be together, once upon a time. She broke it off because, at the time, he didn’t want marriage or children. With Kitty, he’s only changes his mind about the marriage part, but Melisandre is sure she can get him back and on board with any new plans she might have.

She claims to want him back, but whether that’s really true or she’s just looking for more people to use is a bit hard to judge. Melisandre is an impossible person to like, so it is a good thing she isn’t the protagonist. Tess, definitely on that other hand, is a much more likeable person to follow.

The crime that Melisandre committed 12 years ago, her possible motivations and her possible pathology, are fascinating.

But things take a strange turn in the present, as someone is stalking Melisandre with creepy threatening notes, and someone poisons her trainer in an attempt to get to her.

Someone is also stalking Tess, but whatever it is about, it can’t be the same person. Or can it?

In her complete self-absorption, Melisandre doesn’t understand the consequences of her own actions. Her ex-husband is killed after meeting with her, and she is the first, best suspect. After all, she’s killed before. Then she is confronted with the possibility that either or both of her daughters may have followed in mommy’s footsteps.

Or have they?

baltimore blues new cover by laura lippmanEscape Rating A-: I’ve read the first book in this series, Baltimore Blues (reviewed here) and now the last one. I got so wrapped up in Hush, Hush that I carried it around with me for a day, squeezing in moments where I could read a few more pages.

Now that I’ve seen where Tess ends up, I have to read the books in between. While this book is definitely accessible for people who have not read the rest of Tess’ series, I enjoyed her journey so much that I want to find out how she got to where she is now.

Also, the cases she gets involved in are absolutely fascinating.

During the first half of Hush, Hush it felt like there was a shoe waiting to be dropped. And once it dropped, it thudded and reverberated everywhere.

Melisandre is a woman we love to hate. It’s not just that she uses people, it’s that she doesn’t really see the people she uses as people. She’s the only real person in her world. And she’s a bitch. She compares herself to the evil interpretation of Malificent and thinks that Malificent’s towering evil ambition is “magnificent”.

I think it is also impossible, both for the reader and for the involved characters, not to wonder about what happened when she killed her baby. Was she insane? If so, how is she sane now? Or did she just use her money and her husband’s influence to buy herself a not guilty verdict. Others who have gone that route at least stay in psychiatric hospitals, but Melisandre is completely free.

It’s not really a surprise that someone is stalking her and wants her dead, it’s only a surprise that it hasn’t happened before.

That Tess is also receiving stalking notes gives them something in common, but at the same time, what is happening to Tess feels real and frightening, where the same event in Melisandre’s life feels like a stunt.

Because it is. But the death of her ex-husband is not a stunt, although Melisandre certainly turns it into one – because that’s how she treats everything.

This is a story where there are no innocents. Everyone who even gets near Melisandre’s case ends up guilty of something. Only little Isadora was immune. Melisandre tarnished everything she touched, and either never realized it or never gave a damn because it wasn’t really about her.

Waiting to see Melisandre finally get her just desserts was suspenseful, and in the end, utterly marvelous.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

baltimore blues new cover by laura lippmanFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: ebook, large print hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Mystery
Series: Tess Monaghan, #1
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: October 13, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Until her paper, the Baltimore Star, crashed and burned, Tess Monaghan was a damn good reporter who knew her hometown intimately — from historic Fort McHenry to the crumbling projects of Cherry Hill. Now gainfully unemployed at twenty-nine, she’s willing to take any freelance job to pay the rent — including a bit of unorthodox snooping for her rowing buddy, Darryl “Rock” Paxton.

In a city where someone is murdered almost everyday, attorney Michael Abramowitz’s death should be just another statistic. But the slain lawyer’s notoriety — and his noontime trysts with Rock’s fiancee — make the case front page news…and points to Rock as the likely murderer. But trying to prove her friend’s innocence couls prove costly to Tess — and add her name to that infamous ever-growing list.

My Review:

Even though the two books were written a decade apart, I found myself comparing Baltimore Blues, the first book in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, to One for the Money, the introduction of Stephanie Plum.

In both books, we have a relatively young woman who is currently down her luck – her career has stalled and died, and she is left putting the rent money together through freelancing, odd jobs, and falling back on the refuge of her family. Both women are firmly in the middle to lower middle class. Neither expects or even dreams of rescue by billionaire.

Both families have some less than savory dealings in their immediate history. Vinnie’s Bail Bonds seems to operate at the edge of legality, and Tess’ uncle is a time-server in the Baltimore City Government because he wasn’t quite bad enough to indict.

And Stephanie works for Vinnie, while Tess works for her uncle. In both cases, the jobs are charity. No one really believes that Stephanie will become a bail bond agent, and Tess’ uncle is paying her out of his own pocket so that he has an excuse to give her money and someone to keep him company in his empty office a couple of hours a week.

Both women get thrown into private investigating through a back door. Stephanie really does become a bail bonds agent, no matter how crazy or accident prone. One of Tess’ friends is sure that her failed career as a newspaper reporter give her all the tools she will need to investigate whether his girlfriend is cheating on him or up to a different kind of no good.

Of course, Tess’ involvement makes things worse. She does find proof that Rock’s fiance is cheating on him – also that she is a shoplifter. But Tess discovers that she can’t do the really hard part of being a P.I. – she can’t bear to give her friend the bad news. So she tries to blackmail the girlfriend into a confession.

Tess has only made things worse. Because the girlfriend will do anything to get to Rock’s bank account, including lie. Let’s face it, she already cheats and steals, so lying is all that’s left. Instead of having an affair with her boss, what she tells the poor sap is that her boss threatened her job if she didn’t screw him.

If only any of this had actually been about sex, it would have been a LOT easier for Tess to sort out.

The boss is found dead, and Tess’ friend is the only suspect. His lawyer hires Tess to help her friend find a way out of the mess that Tess has gotten him into.

Instead, it takes a long time and the following of a lot of red herrings for Tess to zero in on who and what got the lawyer killed. And what connects the trail of bodies that turn up in his wake.

Escape Rating B+: While I compared Tess to Stephanie at the beginning of the review. I’ll say now that I like Tess better, at least in her first outing. While there isn’t as much of the zany madcap in Tess, her adventures turn out to be less hilarious and more grounded in a universe closer to reality.

Admittedly, a reality where your friends end up murdered and being murder suspects in the same case.

Tess is in a life that has been on hold since she was laid off in a newspaper consolidation. This is something that feels real, both in that the newspaper industry is shrinking at an astonishing rate, and that she can’t find something she loves anywhere near as much as she loved being a reporter. She can’t move on.

Her love life, so far, also has one of those familiar aspects to it as well. Tess can’t get past her relationship with Jonathan, one of the star reporters at the surviving newspaper. She hasn’t found anyone she wants more, so she lets him stop by for a booty call whenever he feels like it, in spite of his having a fiancée somewhere in the suburbs. After the death of her newspaper career, Tess just doesn’t think enough of herself to boot Jonathan out of her life. Until circumstances force a final decision.

Tess does solve the case. Not by being stupid and lucky, the way that Stephanie often is, but by being persistent and dogged and not letting go. Also by using every resource available to her in her own experience, her friends and colleagues, and when necessary, her family.

So Baltimore Blues is the portrait of a young investigator in a blue-collar city who falls into this new gig by accident and does get her friend cleared of all charges. Sometimes by doing the right thing, and sometimes by doing the wrong thing the right way. Tess is worth following.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie

monogram murders by sophie hannah and agatha christieFormat read: ebook borrowed from the library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Hercule Poirot #43, New Hercule Poirot #1
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: September 9, 2014
Purchasing Info: Sophie Hannah’s Website, Agatha Christie’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hercule Poirot’s quiet supper in a London coffeehouse is interrupted when a young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered. She is terrified – but begs Poirot not to find and punish her killer. Once she is dead, she insists, justice will have been done.

Later that night, Poirot learns that three guests at a fashionable London Hotel have been murdered, and a cufflink has been placed in each one’s mouth. Could there be a connection with the frightened woman? While Poirot struggles to put together the bizarre pieces of the puzzle, the murderer prepares another hotel bedroom for a fourth victim…

My Review:

I enjoyed reading The Monogram Murders quite a bit. Enough to finish it in a single day.

However, for all the purists out there, my primary introduction to the works of Dame Agatha is through the TV series; I have read a very few of the actual books, but mostly, I have enjoyed the various performances of her work.

David Suchet as Poirot
David Suchet as Poirot

I could hear David Suchet as Poirot in many of his lines in The Monogram Murders. Which does not make the book the epitome of Dame Agatha’s, work, but does make it seem in keeping with his TV portrayal of Poirot. So perhaps a good adaptation of an adaptation?

The entree to The Monogram Murders certainly seemed to fit Poirot; he takes a vacation to rest his “little grey cells” by pretending to leave London. Instead he takes a room at a boarding house within sight of his apartments.

He also finds a mystery where at first there doesn’t seem to be one; the mysterious and seemingly frightened “Jennie” who interrupts his dinner to announce that someone is trying to murder her and that she deserves it. The scenario is guaranteed to garner Poirot’s interest. As it was intended both by the author and by Jennie herself.

All of Poirot’s mysteries are complicated and convoluted, and this one proves to be no exception.

Meanwhile, Poirot’s erstwhile friend, the police detective Edward Catchpool, has left the scene of not one, but three murders in an upscale hotel. Although the victims initially seem to have nothing in common, all their bodies were formally laid out in the same ceremonial manner, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they were all murdered by the same person.

When Poirot and Catchpool relate their evening activities to each other back at the rooming house, Poirot immediately jumps to the conclusion that his mysterious Jennie is somehow involved with Catchpool’s three murders.

Catchpool is a reasonably good detective; his version of Occam’s Razor tells him that while the three murder victims must have something to do with each other, Poirot’s Jennie, while possibly in trouble, couldn’t possibly have anything to do with his case.

Of course Catchpool is wrong, or this wouldn’t be a case for Hercule Poirot.

Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp
Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp

Poirot takes it upon himself (doesn’t he always?) to insert himself into his friend’s case. Catchpool is savvy enough to know that while he will get the official credit (or official blame if it goes wrong) it is really Poirot’s case and Catchpool is just there to give Poirot official standing. He’s also aware that he isn’t senior enough to be left a case this big on his own without Poirot. He feels slightly trapped a good chunk of the time. (I wonder how Inspector Japp used to feel?)

The murders seem like the kind of overdone melodrama that is also designed to get Poirot’s attention. The three victims not only knew each other, but were involved in a long-ago scandal that resulted in two suicides. It’s no wonder that someone killed them, it’s just a question of who.

And whether or not there will be another victim before Poirot figures things out.

Escape Rating B-: As I said at the top, I could practically hear David Suchet reading Poirot’s dialog, so the story felt like it captured his “voice” pretty well.

On the other hand, and while this seems off-topic it wasn’t for me; Edward Catchpool’s name reminded me all too much of Eric Catchpole, the assistant on Lovejoy. Eric is not the brightest bulb in the pack, so that resemblance was not a good thing. (I digress)

I did wonder why the author created an entirely new sidekick for Poirot instead of using any of the familiar faces. Where was Japp? Has he retired by the time of this story? (I miss the original crew of Japp, Hastings and Lemon.)

One of the things that struck me in the book, that is often swept along by the action in the TV series, is just how convoluted the mystery turns out to be. Naturally, the perpetrator is never the obvious person, or Poirot’s help would not be needed, but still, the way that this particular crime reached back into the distant past felt a bit contrived.

Also, the originating scandal was one that may have been reasonable at the point where Christie was writing, but the behavior of the people in that small village 16 years previous to this story just didn’t feel true-to-life. Or it may be that times have changed just too much. Your mileage may vary.

monogram murders by sophie hannah international edAlthough speaking of the times changing, the international cover of The Monogram Murders captures the art deco feeling that one associates with Poirot much better than the US cover. Again, mileage definitely varies.

None of these quibbles change the fact that I had an absolutely marvelous time reading The Monogram Murders. It reminds me more than a bit of Jill Paton Walsh’s re-creations of Lord Peter Wimsey; it may not be the original, but it is the best we’ve got. If it’s an echo of Christie’s genius, it is still a lovely echo to hear.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Butternut Summer by Mary McNear

butternut summer by mary mcnearFormat read: paperback provided by the publisher
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: women’s fiction
Series: The Butternut Lake Trilogy, #2
Length: 401 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Summer at Butternut Lake—a season full of surprises . . . and life-changing choices.

Preparing for her final year of college, Daisy is crazy busy now that she’s back at Butternut Lake. She’s helping her mother, Caroline, run their coffee shop and trying to build a relationship with the absentee father who’s suddenly reappeared. She never expected to fall in love with Will, the bad-boy from high school who works at the local garage. With every passing day she and Will grow closer to each other . . . and closer to the day they will have to say goodbye. As summer’s end looms, Will and Daisy face heartbreaking choices that might tear them apart.

Caroline already has her hands full trying to make ends meet at the coffee shop without having her no-good ex suddenly show up. Now that Jack is back, he’s determined to reconnect with the family he walked out on twenty years ago. But with the bank pounding on her door and Jack’s presence reminding her of the passion they once shared, Caroline’s resolve begins to crumble. As Daisy’s departure looms and her financial worries grow, Caroline just may discover the support she needs . . . in the last place she ever imagined.

My Review:

up at butternut lake by mary mcnearAfter having read both Butternut Summer and the first book in the series Up at Butternut Lake, I believe that Butternut Lake should be renamed “Second-Chance Lake”. A lot of people get some marvelous second chances at love in tiny Butternut, Minnesota.

We met Caroline and her daughter Daisy in the absolutely lovely Up at Butternut Lake. Caroline owns the local diner, Pearl’s, and everyone in town comes for breakfast (and lunch) at the place that serves the best blueberry pancakes anywhere.

In the first book, Caroline was just dealing with Daisy’s move to Minneapolis for college, and the empty nest syndrome was hitting her pretty hard. Even though that first book is someone else’s story, Caroline has a pretty big role to play, and we learn a lot about Pearl’s and Caroline’s life in Butternut. Caroline was a divorced single-mother, after Daisy’s boozing, gambling, floozy-chasing father left one morning and never came back.

He’s back. He’s also sober and wants a second chance with Caroline. She, of course, has damn good reasons for never wanting to see Jack Keegan again, but he seems to be back in Butternut to stay. Caroline doesn’t believe him.

While Caroline is trying to keep Jack out of her life, she’s also trying to eject Daisy’s new boyfriend Will from her daughter’s life. Will, one of the bad boys when Daisy went to high school, reminds Caroline much too much of a younger Jack. She wants to make sure that her daughter doesn’t make any of the same mistakes that she did.

But it’s a truth that you can’ t really keep someone from learning their own lessons and making their own mistakes. Gandalf was right, “The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart.”

And while it is also true that you can’t make someone change, they can decide they want to change for themselves. Will in high school was a bad boy, but Will the adult is capable of changing, with the right incentive. And so is Jack. It’s just a question of whether Caroline can see it, before she damages her relationship with her daughter.

Escape Rating B+: Butternut Summer starts out as Daisy’s story (mostly) but becomes Caroline’s story somewhere in the middle, and it works really well. While Daisy’s romance with Will is similar to a pattern of “bad boy reforms with the love of a good girl”, it’s a little more than that.

Not so much that Daisy and Will start out on opposite sides of the tracks, because neither family is wealthy, but that they start out with very different sets of expectations in life. Daisy is focused on studying and making a career for herself. She’s expected to go to college and achieve.

No one seems to have ever given much of a damn about Will, and he’s drifting through life with no goals. He’s not actually bad in any material way, but he’s not exactly good either. But when he meets Daisy again, he starts looking to become something more than he has been, and do something with his life. He wants to be worthy of Daisy, of being her first love, her first everything. He wants to become someone she can build a life with.

Daisy changes from overachiever with only one purpose to a more rounded individual. She still wants her career, but she also wants to have a real life to go with it.

One of the scenes I enjoyed was when Will tells Daisy that her ideas of him following her around were great in Butternut, but that he has to be more and do more for them to be together. They both grow up.

At the same time that Daisy is experiencing first love, her mother Caroline has to deal with the love that never really died. Daisy has been in contact with her runaway father, Jack, and he has changed since he ran. He still loves Caroline, but she is rightly skeptical that he’s any different than he was 20 years ago.

The difference for him is that he’s admitted he’s an alcoholic, and has been participating in AA for two years. His first hurdle is to get Caroline to see that he was an alcoholic when he left, and that his terrific job at covering up created some of the bad behavior she experienced.

And that he was a cowardly ass who needs her forgiveness.

Jack’s struggle is hard, as it should be. It takes a lot for Caroline to forgive him, and she’ll never forget. Nor should she. But his redemption makes their second chance very sweet.

If you love small-town romances, you’ll definitely want to take your own trip to Butternut Lake.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: An Unwilling Accomplice by Charles Todd

unwilling accomplice by charles toddFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, paperback, audiobook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Bess Crawford, #6
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Date Released: August 12, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Home on leave, Bess Crawford is asked to accompany a wounded soldier confined to a wheelchair to Buckingham Palace, where he’s to be decorated by the King. The next morning when Bess goes to collect Wilkins, he has vanished. Both the Army and the nursing service hold Bess negligent for losing the war hero, and there will be an inquiry.

Then comes disturbing word from the Shropshire police, complicating the already difficult situation: Wilkins has been spotted, and he’s killed a man. If Bess is to save her own reputation, she must find Wilkins and uncover the truth. But the elusive soldier has disappeared again and even the Shropshire police have lost him. Suddenly, the moral implications of what has happened—that a patient in her charge has committed murder—become more important to Bess than her own future. She’s going to solve this mysterious puzzle, but righting an injustice and saving her honor may just cost Bess her life.

My Review:

One of the things that makes the Bess Crawford series so interesting is the way that Bess manages to get herself into trouble. Naturally, she has to investigate what went wrong in order to get herself out of trouble.

maharanis pearls by charles toddIt’s clear that Bess has been doing this pretty much all her life, based on the story The Maharani’s Pearls (reviewed here) which has Bess at age 9 investigating an attempted assassination. Well more like making sure that her parents and the indefatigable Simon Brandon pay attention and investigate for her. After all, she’s only 9.

But in An Unwilling Accomplice, Bess is not the instigator of the particular trouble she has to investigate. Someone else puts her into the soup, and it takes all of Bess’ ingenuity and downright pig-headedness to find the answer that gets her out of it.

It was a thundering great honor for a soldier to receive his medal directly from the King. So when a Sergeant Wilkins requests that Bess accompany him to the ceremony, while she’s puzzled, she complies with her orders. Sergeant Wilkins is both a hero and an invalid, and her nursing services might be required. And, she gets to extend her leave a few more days.

But Bess doesn’t remember Wilkins, nor can she figure out why he’d ask specifically for her. In the cold light of morning, it unfortunately looks like Wilkins picked her specifically because she didn’t know him. During the night, he tossed off all his bandages and walked out of his hotel under his own steam.

In other words, a decorated war hero goes AWOL on her watch. Bess is under suspicion as his accomplice, and her nursing career is in extreme jeopardy.

Just like Caesar’s Wife, the Nursing Sisters of Queen Alexandra’s Nursing Service must be above reproach. And Bess suddenly isn’t.

As if things couldn’t get worse, while Bess is still under house arrest and waiting for a verdict on her own future, Scotland Yard is presented with evidence that her deserter went north and committed a murder. The mystery gets murkier, but Bess is seen as a bit less culpable–based on witness statements, she wasn’t present at the murder and hasn’t been further involved.

Whatever this is, it is way more than a simple case of dereliction of duty, either Bess’ or Wilkins’.

So what is it? That’s what Bess is determined to uncover. Until she can find Sergeant Wilkins and either turn him in or get him to make a clear statement to the police and the Army, there will always be the shadow of suspicion on her otherwise clean record.

With the assistance of Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon, her friend and her father’s attache, Bess sets out to trace the route that Sergeant Wilkins seems to have traveled across country. Along the way she finds deceived nurses, irreproachable eye-witnesses, and a multiplicity of closed-mouth villages protecting too many men who seem to be temporarily on leave from their senses or the Army, or possibly both.

At the end, she has more than enough motives for murder; and too many potential suspects.

Escape Rating B+: The Bess Crawford series does a terrific job of letting readers experience English life in the World War I period. Yes, there is a slight resemblance to Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, but only because of the period setting. Bess Crawford is no debutante, she’s an Army nurse and the daughter of a career officer. She works, and she works hard.

As the daughter of a serving officer, she also has had experience living in India. Her perspective is more cosmopolitan than most gently-bred women of her time. Sybil Crawley she isn’t.

But there are tons of interesting commentaries on how much life has changed for young women since the war. Bess is still subject to some of the strictures, especially while she’s on leave, but at the same time she is a professional who expects to perform up to, and even past, her capacity.

This is still a time when young ladies’ reputations were expected to be protected at all costs in order to save them for marriage. The contrasts between Bess’ nursing practice on the field and the behavior required of her at home can sometimes be jarring, but feels real.

The action of this particular story takes place entirely in England, so Bess often feels those differences. And the impetus for the quest that is the heart of the story exists because her reputation must be spotless for her to serve as a nurse; a restriction that didn’t apply to officers or doctors.

Bess sets off on a cross-country journey to find the man who put her under so much suspicion. She needs to have her name cleared, but equally, she needs to find out why he deserted and why he committed murder.

As Bess hunts down her quarry, she is faced with all the changes that have occurred in England. The war is nearly over, but as a battlefield nurse, she hasn’t yet experienced that for sure. There are still plenty of wounded men. But she will have to come home when peace breaks out, and so much has changed.

While it is definitely interesting to follow Bess along, the journey did double-back on itself several times, especially as Bess and Simon found themselves chasing more than one man and following up more than one red herring. It will be part of Bess’ ongoing development to see how she handles peacetime, but this story rambled a bit while Bess did.

Her relationship with Simon Brandon is hard to pin down. They are friends, and they rely on each other. Without Simon’s assistance, Bess’ journey would not have been possible, and would have also been more dangerous.

They are so very comfortable with each other.

The reader can’t help but wonder if their relationship will evolve into something else after the war. They get closer with each adventure!

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