Stacking the Shelves (405)

Stacking the Shelves

This week’s stack is surprisingly short. Or small. Or just not very tall. Which gives me a chance to include not just one but two cat pictures, featuring George as a tiny kitten and George just this past week. It is amazing how fast they grow!

But I do also have books. Ever since Galen played Ghost of Tsushima I’ve been looking for a book with a similar flavor. I read Lian Hearn’s marvelous books (both Tales of the Otori and Tale of Shikanoko) sometime in the way back, and I knew there was another from the same time period – publishing wise – as the Otori but I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I’m kind of ashamed of myself now, because it’s the Tomoe Gozen saga and one of the characters in Tsushima was named Tomoe. I should have remembered sooner!

For Review:
The Big Man’s Daughter by Owen Fitzstephen
Glamour Girls by Marty Wingate
In League with Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
Legacy of Steel (Legacy Trilogy #2) by Matthew Ward
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg
The Neil Gaiman Reader: Selected Fiction by Neil Gaiman
The Night Will Find Us by Matthew Lyons
The Sentient by Nadia Afifi
Shadows in Time (Kendra Donovan #5) by Julie McElwain
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (Singing Hills Cycle #2) by Nghi Vo

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Disfavored Hero (Tomoe Gozen #1) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
The Golden Naginata (Tomoe Gozen #2) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Thousand Shrine Warrior (Tomoe Gozen #3) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Review: The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart

Review: The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa HartThe Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Pages: 352
Published by Minotaur Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the acclaimed Li Du novels comes Elsa Hart's new atmospheric mystery series.
London, 1703. In a time when the old approaches to science coexist with the new, one elite community attempts to understand the world by collecting its wonders. Sir Barnaby Mayne, the most formidable of these collectors, has devoted his life to filling his cabinets. While the curious-minded vie for invitations to study the rare stones, bones, books, and artifacts he has amassed, some visitors come with a darker purpose.
For Cecily Kay, it is a passion for plants that brings her to the Mayne house. The only puzzle she expects to encounter is how to locate the specimens she needs within Sir Barnaby’s crowded cabinets. But when her host is stabbed to death, Cecily finds the confession of the supposed killer unconvincing. She pays attention to details—years of practice have taught her that the smallest particulars can distinguish a harmless herb from a deadly one—and in the case of Sir Barnaby’s murder, there are too many inconsistencies for her to ignore.
To discover the truth, Cecily must enter the world of the collectors, a realm where intellect is distorted by obsession and greed. As her pursuit of answers brings her closer to a killer, she risks being given a final resting place amid the bones that wait, silent and still, in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

My Review:

I adored this author’s Li Du series (start with Jade Dragon Mountain and prepare to be lost for several days), so when I noticed that she had moved from early 18th century China to early 18th century London for her latest, I couldn’t wait to see how that transition worked.

The fascinating thing about moving from Li Du to Cecily Kay and her former school friend Meacan Barlow is how strangely the two settings resemble each other. Li Du’s China in the early 18th century was a closed world – at least to the West. And Li Du is an outsider, an exiled imperial librarian on his way out of his own country.

The world of the scholarly, acquisitive, obsessive collectors of early 18th century London is just as much of a closed world, albeit in a completely different way. The collectors are a closed society, restricting membership, keeping all of their secrets locked up in their beautiful but often hidden presentation cabinets.

And Cecily and Meacan are also both outsiders to this world, which is exclusively male. They are both barely tolerated interlopers who exist on the fringes of this expensive and exclusive preserve.

Just like so many who are treated as outsiders in the worlds they inhabit, Cecily and Meacan are both keen observers of the situation in which they find themselves. They are ignored but intimate inhabitants of a world they are not believed to truly understand.

But of course they do. And frequently better than the men who are considered to be its prime movers and leading lights. Because they have no vested interest in maintaining the status quo – quite the reverse – they see situations and people with much clearer vision than the supposed cognoscenti.

And what they see is a confessed killer whose confession makes no sense whatsoever, and an investigation that is determined to pin the death of Barnaby Mayne on the most convenient suspect rather than seek out the real murderer – who must be one of the wealthy and influential collectors themselves.

A killer who is content to have the official investigation look elsewhere – but unwilling to countenance two amateurs poking their noses into his crimes.

Escape Rating A+: The world of the collectors was absolutely fascinating, just by itself. For context, this was the time period when the infamous Elgin Marbles were essentially looted from Athens and shanghaied to England.

While Lord Elgin’s looting of the Parthenon was on rather a grand scale, the society of collectors, of whom the late (and fictional) Barnaby Mayne was one of the leading lights, did the same thing, not quite on the same scale, all over the world.

Those that were capable went on their own expeditions of acquisition – or theft if you prefer – while others sponsored, basically, treasure hunters and tomb robbers to commit their thievery for them.

The entire concept manages to be both the start of the great museums we have today and utterly appalling at the same time.

As fascinated as I was by the setting for this story, it was Cecily and Meacan who really captured my attention and held it to the end. The way that their minds worked, and the way that they worked together to solve the murder, felt like it ripped the veil off of the usual portrayal of women of this period – a time period which borders on the Regency. Because in this story we see both how the men of this closed society – and the men of officialdom – see these two women and are able to contrast that with how they perceive themselves and the world around them..

On the one hand, they often play the roles that the world expects them to play. They are quiet and decorous and studying subjects considered fit for ladies – if barely. While on the other hand they see a great deal, know even more, and are caught in the position where they have to pretend to be one thing while secretly being another.

And while earning a living in Meacan’s case or maintaining a fragile independence in Cecily’s. They inhabit their era in a subversive way that allows us to see ourselves in them – and rail at the limitations they face.

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne manages to be both an atmospheric and immersive piece of historical fiction, every bit as meticulously detailed as the labels on Barnaby Mayne’s cabinets, while also giving us two marvelously drawn female protagonists in Cecily and Meacan. All wrapped around an intricately twisted mystery that holds the reader’s attention to the very end.

Review: Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Review: Drowned Country by Emily TeshDrowned Country (The Greenhollow Duology, #2) by Emily Tesh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, M/M romance, mythology
Series: Greenhollow Duology #2
Pages: 160
Published by Tor.com on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Drowned Country is the the stunning sequel to Silver in the Wood, Emily Tesh's lush, folkloric debut. This second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known.
Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea―a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.

My Review:

This is a story about the magic that lingers in the hidden corners, in the dark and secret places of this world. It’s also about the magic that lives in the deepest reaches of the heart – whether that heart is more-or-less human – or so very definitely not.

When I finished Silver in the Wood last year, I thought that it was utterly lovely. Also that while it was complete in itself, I really wanted there to be just a bit more. Drowned Country is that bit more, and it is every bit as lovely as its predecessor.

But it is also a very different story. And probably doesn’t stand well on its own. Howsomever, even combined the Greenhollow Duology is short enough to be just an afternoon’s jaunt to a world that both is, and is not, our own. (The duology is even short enough that the listening time for the combined audiobook is just under 6 hours!)

When Silver in the Wood opened, Henry Silver was a young scholar, determined to find the truths behind the old myths and legends of not just the Greenhollow, but of all the legendary, magical and mythological creatures that still haunt the hidden places. He doesn’t want to believe that they are all merely the dangerous monsters that his mother has made a living out of hunting down and destroying.

When the Drowned Country opens, it opens in the aftermath of the events of Silver in the Wood. Two years after Henry traded places with Tobias Finch, the former “caretaker” of Greenhollow, Henry himself is now the Wild Man of the woods and Tobias is now Henry’s rather formidable mother’s assistant.

But Tobias had few difficulties with his centuries of solitude as the Green Man, while Henry is more than a bit lost in his new role. Or he just plain misses his friend and lover, Tobias Finch.

So when Henry’s mother arrives at what has increasingly become the ruin of his house, Henry is both appalled and energized. He may not want to deal with his mother, but he needs to put himself back out into the world – and he needs to beg forgiveness of the lover he lied to and lost.

Henry also hopes that his mother has finally recognized his skills and his value to her work. After all, he is both a published folklorist and a powerful nature avatar. But Adele Silver does not think that much of her son. She just wants to use him as bait for a vampire with a predilection towards handsome young men.

What Henry finds is a woman who might be the sister of his heart, if he can just manage to save her from the fairy who plans to install her as the queen of an ancient and dead realm. He can manage to save the girl, assist his mother, and gain his lover’s forgiveness. In order to do so he’ll have to fully embrace the role that he stumbled into with little thought for the future.

The magic he has at his fingertips might be just enough to save everyone else if he is willing to fully inhabit a role that fits him nearly as badly as the too-large coat that Tobias left behind.

But there is still magic in the world, and it might be just enough to save them all.

Escape Rating A: Silver in the Wood linked back to a lot of different stories, particularly those that revolve around nature spirits like the Green Man – meaning characters like Tom Bombadill and Tam Lin. It also nicely – or rather evilly – ropes in all those stories about evil spirits that never die without great sacrifice.

The story in Drowned Country feels more like it hearkens back to Rip Van Winkle and all of those stories about the magic of fairy rings, that they are gateways between our world and the land of the fae, and that those who wander between can disappear for centuries only to return after all their loved ones are long dead but believing that they’ve only been away a short time.

At the same time this story has a feeling of “the magic goes away” in that the Greenhollow is smaller than it once was, that its magic doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, and that the magic places in the worlds are dying.

Plus there’s that connection to the supernatural stories that became so popular in the late 19th century – the time period when this slightly alternate history feels like it belongs. The vampire that Adele Silver plans to lure out of his lair is quite real. Also quite dead and not merely undead.

And overtop of all of this is a combination of a quest and a romance. Henry isn’t sure whether he really plans to rescue the girl or he really hopes to follow her into Fairyland. She reminds him of himself, with that same sense of undying and something unthinking curiosity. But Henry also wants to win Tobias back for however long he can keep him. As an avatar of the wood, Henry will live for centuries, but Tobias is now mortal.

The only problem is that he has to first get Tobias to talk to him, and second to forgive him. Both are easier said than done, with all of the puns implied.

At the end, I was blown away. I expected the ending of Silver in the Wood, the whole story was leading straight towards it. I was NOT expecting the end of Drowned Country. It was beautiful, and breathtaking, and a complete surprise. It was also a perfect and fitting ending to the entire story..

Review: Weapons Master by Anna Hackett

Review: Weapons Master by Anna HackettWeapons Master (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #6) by Anna Hackett
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #6
Pages: 214
Published by Anna Hackett on August 9th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

A grumpy cyborg weapons master collides with a feisty mechanic from Earth who turns his ordered existence upside down.

Abducted from her exploration ship and enslaved on a desert world, mechanic Bellamy Walsh has fought for her survival. She’s had to fight for everything in her life, and she doesn’t ever expect things to be easy. After being rescued by the tough, deadly cyborgs of the House of Rone, she is shocked to find herself drawn to a grumpy beast of a cyborg. A genius weapons master who prefers his solitude. A man with scars of his own. A man whose brawny arms are the only thing that chase away Bellamy’s nightmares.

Maxon Shaye likes to be left alone to work. He doesn’t mind his fellow cyborg brethren, but he finds people annoying and chaotic. He’s disconcerted by his growing need to keep Bellamy Walsh safe, and thinks she’s irritating and brash. The woman keeps invading his workshop, getting in his space, and…the even more infuriating thing is that he’s actually starting to like her there. What he doesn’t like is her burning need to throw herself back into danger.

Bellamy is determined to help bring down her captors—the metal-scavenging Edull and their deadly desert battle arena—and that makes her a target. She knows too much and the Edull will stop at nothing to silence her. Maxon will do anything to keep her safe, even if that means threatening the growing bond between them. But in order to destroy the Edull’s arena once and for, Maxon and Bellamy will put everything on the line—their desire, their love, their lives.

My Review:

This is the final book in the House of Rone series, and it’s a doozy of an ending. While the final book in a series is NEVER a good place to start, this is a GREAT place to finish!

The House of Rone, with their allies in the House of Galen, have finally managed to lock down the whereabouts of the illegal arena being operated by the sand-sucking Edull. The Edull don’t literally suck sand, but they do make the Tusken Raiders of Star Wars seem as cuddly in comparison. The Edull are tinkerers and engineers, actually rather like the Jawa. But the Edull have turned their engineering talents into the creation of weapons of mass destruction, and they hone their skills making battle-bots that seem to be as lethal to their riders as they are to any enemies.

As this story opens, the last refugee from the ship Helios has been rescued and brought to the House of Rone for healing, because that’s where most of the Helios survivors have wound up. But the healing Bellamy needs is to fight back and face her former captors – no matter how dangerous it might be.

No matter how much Maxon, the House of Rone’s genius weapons master, wants her to stay safe back in the city. Even if he can’t figure out why he’s so protective of this one, particular, and particularly annoying human.

It’s not so much a beauty and the beast romance as it is a grumpy vs. snarky romance. Maxon wants life to go back to the way things used to be, before all these humans invaded the peace of the House of Rone and brought all of the cyborgs back to life. He doesn’t want to feel all of the emotions his cybernetics have suppressed. Because they hurt.

Bellamy pulls Maxon out of his self-imposed isolation. He manages to both make her feel safe and to understand the restlessness inside her that requires payback and closure – not that he ever got any for the wrongs that led him to the House of Rone.

But their shared interest in and genius for engineering and weapons creation leads to a whole lot of emotions that neither expected to feel again.

And to the deadly, shattering conclusion to this kick-ass series.

Escape Rating A-:Weapons Master is a fitting wrap up to this marvelous epic science fiction romance series. It manages to both close out this particular subset of the Galactic Gladiators series, finish rescuing all of the refugees from the Terran ship Helios, set all of the cyborgs in the House of Rone on their way to their well-earned happy ever afters AND provide just a teasing hint of what might happen next in the space lanes around Carthago.

It’s been a wild ride so far, from the rocky beginning – for the survivors – when that errant wormhole opened up near Jupiter and spit out a whole horde of Thraxian ships intent on taking prisoners back to their home base in far, far away Carthago – as slaves for the Kor Magna Arena. Or for whomever is willing to buy.

The wormhole closed behind them when they reached Carthago space. It’s a one-way trip.

Both the House of Galen, the heroes of the original Galactic Gladiators series, and the House of Rone have spent blood, sweat and tears, as well as time, money and expertise, to rescue every single one of the Terrans who were brought to Carthago. Or at least, they’ve rescued every single one they even have a hint about.

One of the beauties of this series is that it’s all too easy to imagine that in addition to Jupiter Station and the ship Helios, the Thraxians or some other bunch of intergalactic low-lifes might have brought other groups back that the gladiators don’t know about – yet.

I have it on good authority (Thanks, Anna!) that we’ll be back to visit this part of the galaxy sometime next year. And I’m definitely looking forward to that return trip!

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeachy Scream (Georgia B&B #2) by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #2
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on August 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To die or not to die? Georgia B&B proprietor Nina Fleet struts and frets to bring the curtain down on a Shakespearean actor's killer.
It's nothing short of inevitable that Cymbeline, GA, hosts an annual Shakespeare festival. But stage-struck Nina Fleet is about to learn that putting on an amateur theatrical production can be murder. Nina's anticipating showbiz glamour and glitz when a community Shakespearean troupe arrives for a two-week stay at her B&B. But the lights dim when she learns the company's director is her nemesis, struggling actor Harry Westcott--who still claims to be the rightful heir to Nina's elegant Queen Anne home.
Meanwhile, the troupe members are not content to leave the drama upon the stage. Accusations of infidelity and financial malfeasance make a shambles of rehearsals. And then, two days into the troupe's stay, the lead actor is found dead in Nina's formal Shakespeare garden. Murder most foul!
Worse, it seems every member of the amateur troupe has a motive--including wealthy construction company owner Marvin Jeffers, who seems to have a personal interest in Nina. But when the sheriff arrests the supposed boyfriend of the slain actor's widow, Nina suspects that the wrong troupe member is in jail. She and her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda, join forces (none too happily) with Harry to sleuth out the murder plot.
Will they find the real killer before someone else shuffles off this mortal coil? Find out in Anna Gerard's delightful second Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

The first book in this series, Peach Clobbered, was just the quintessential first book in a cozy mystery series. The location was marvelous, the characters were appropriately quirky, the dog was adorable and the mystery was properly twisty while the story had a lot of heart – and a superfluity (that’s the correct word, I looked it up) of surprisingly with-it elderly nuns.

I miss the nuns. (Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write!)

Not that Nina Fleet – and her still adorable dog Mattie – aren’t still operating the Fleet House B&B in lovely Cymbeline Georgia. And not that I still wouldn’t love to find the place that inspired it once travel is safe again.

But I miss the nuns. They brought something to the first book that isn’t present in the second one. Making Peachy Scream more of a typical cozy than one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The story in Peachy Scream is still plenty charming – although the murder victim certainly is not.

When Nina’s nemesis, jobbing actor Harry Westcott, returns to her B&B with a troupe of amateur Shakespeare players in tow, Nina is certain that Harry is up to something. Again.

After all, when Nina and Harry first met, it was over his lawsuit to vacate her ownership of his great-aunt’s house. The place that Nina had just bought and just started setting up as a B&B in touristy Cymbeline. Not that Nina didn’t buy the house fair and square, rather that Harry’s contention was that the seller had no rights to sell because his great-aunt promised to leave him the house in her will. Which she didn’t – or at least no such will has ever been found although I expect it to turn up at some point later in the series. (That is a guess on my part and not a spoiler. I could be totally wrong. Time will eventually tell. Hopefully.)

Still, Harry’s back and Nina’s suspicious. As she should be.

But Cymbeline, named for Shakespeare’s play, is just about to open its popular, profitable and annual Shakespeare Festival. Harry and his troupe are the contracted acting company for this year’s play, Hamlet. And every other possible place for the players to stay was booked long ago. The festival is very popular!

Which means that Nina, rightfully suspicious as she is, can’t afford to throw Harry out on his rather delectable ass. Not that she’s noticed. Much.

It’s clear to Nina from the moment that she is introduced to Harry’s troupe of players that, to quote the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” or at least in the state of the company. When the man whom everybody seems to hate – including his trophy wife – turns up his toes in the middle of Nina’s Shakespeare garden, there’s a bushel of suspects, a peck of motives and no end in sight. But the show must go on.

And so must Nina’s and Harry’s reluctant collaboration in investigation. But this time, it’s not the play that’s “ the thing to uncover the conscience of the king”, it’s the play within a play within a play that catches the murderer.

Escape Rating B: Anyone who has spent their school years being endlessly compared to an older sibling or cousin and always failing to measure up will understand my reaction to Peachy Scream. I absolutely loved Peach Clobbered and picked up Peachy Scream because I was hoping for more of the same – or hopefully even better – in the second book in the series now that the setting and characters had been established.

I just didn’t realize how much of the charm of the first book was owed to the nuns. Without them, Peachy Scream doesn’t have quite the same charm. It’s still a good cozy mystery, but the nuns made the first book rise in a way that this one doesn’t.

Not that the story doesn’t have its own charms. The troupe of players, their surprisingly convoluted relationships and the almost internecine warfare amongst them certainly adds plenty of drama to a scenario that is already fraught with it. After all, these are actors – albeit amateur ones – and drama is their natural state.

The whole concept of the play within a play within a play really works here, especially as it seems completely natural for Cymbeline to host a Shakespeare Festival. It would be more of a surprise if they didn’t!

And the hidden agendas of the players make for an appropriate tipping of drama into melodrama, while the strange and strained relationship between Nina and Harry adds an element of farce.

There’s one element of the story that, while in some ways it’s done very well, in one particular aspect adds to some discomfort while reading. It was a common device in several of Shakespeare’s plays, for example in As You Like It, for the Bard to play with gender roles and gender stereotyping by having one or more female characters spend much of the play masquerading as male characters, with all of the dramatic and comedic possibilities for mistaken identities and misplaced affections on full display.

So the concept that one of the members of the troupe is a woman pretending to be a man fits right into the Shakespearean milieu that Cymbeline plays homage to with its festival.

But Nina’s reaction to discovering the possibility that the Chris that presents themselves as male may be female made for a very uncomfortable read. In 21st century terms, when this story is set, it is entirely possible that Chris is in transition rather than in disguise. Nina’s waffling about how to refer to Chris inside her own head, her seeming compulsion to hang herself up on knowing Chris’ gender felt so wrong that it literally dropped the grade of the book from a B+ to a B. The point where Harry just tells Nina to get over herself and use the gender nonspecific “they” in reference to Chris made ME heave a sigh of relief. And it should not have been necessary.

That being said, there was a lot about Peachy Scream to enjoy. The cast was even quirkier, in their own way, than the previous book. The town of Cymbeline is filled with a terrific bunch of folks, and while the Reverend Dr. Bishop, local minister, funeral home director and county coroner, wasn’t as much fun as the nuns; he was a fascinating character in his own right and I hope we see more of him in the series.

And Nina’s relationship with Harry, as weird as it already is, got even weirder at the end of the book. I’m terribly curious to see how THAT plays out in future books in the series!


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Review: Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis

Review: Enemies at Home by Lindsey DavisEnemies at Home (Flavia Albia Mystery, #2) by Lindsey Davis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Flavia Albia #2
Pages: 352
Published by Minotaur Books on July 15, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“There are rules for private informers accepting a new case. Never take on clients who cannot pay you. Never do favours for friends. Don’t work with relatives. If, like me, you are a woman, keep clear of men you find attractive. 
“Will I never learn?”

In Ancient Rome, the number of slaves was far greater than that of free citizens. As a result, often the people Romans feared most were the “enemies at home,” the slaves under their own roofs. Because of this, Roman law decreed that if the head of a household was murdered at home, and the culprit wasn’t quickly discovered, his slaves—all of them, guilty or not—were presumed responsible and were put to death. Without exception.
When a couple is found dead in their own bedroom and their house burglarized, some of their household slaves know what is about to happen to them.  They flee to the Temple of Ceres, which by tradition is respected as a haven for refugees. This is where Flavia Albia comes in. The authorities, under pressure from all sides, need a solution. Albia, a private informer just like her father, Marcus Didius Falco, is asked to solve the murders, in this mystery from Lindsey Davis.

My Review:

The past is another country, they do things differently there – or so the saying goes.

In my reading of this particular book, the saying can be interpreted more than one way. The Flavia Albia series is set in Imperial Rome in the year 89 AD, during the reign of the emperor Domitian. And I first encountered Flavia, or at least her adopted father Marcus Didius Falco, in the first book in his series, The Silver Pigs, 30 years ago, at a time when I had a one hour plus commute to and from work each day, and good, unabridged audiobooks were still pretty thin on the ground. Falco’s world-weary voice made a long journey shorter and considerably more entertaining.

I welcomed Flavia Albia back into my reading life with all the enthusiasm of greeting a long-lost and much-missed friend. After all, she is a chip off the disreputable old block in all the best ways!

Both Flavia and Falco were private informers and inquiry agents, in other words, private detectives, in an imperial Rome that for all of historical trappings feels a lot more contemporary than most readers probably expected. One of the things that this author does so well is to emphasize the things that we have in common, rather than the details that differentiate that time from our own.

After all, Flavia and Falco are both paid to investigate wandering spouses and uncover criminal activity. While technology has changed a lot in the intervening millennia, it’s not difficult to get caught up in the writer’s interpretation that human nature hasn’t changed much, if at all, in that same period – if ever.

But the setting does play its part. In this case, Flavia is hired by an up-and-coming official that she’s worked with before, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, on a case that she has to break all of her own rules to take – and almost immediately wishes that she hadn’t.

Faustus has hired Albia to determine which, if any, of the slaves from the household of burgled and murdered newlyweds were culpable in the crime. If she can’t determine that some of them neither participated in the murder, nor the theft, nor sat back and allowed it all to happen while they stood idly by, they’ll all be killed in the Coliseum – as public fodder for the beasts.

It’s clear from her initial interviews of the potential subjects that they are all hiding something. The question that Albia has to figure out is whether they’re merely covering up a bit of spiteful backbiting and petty thievery, or whether they are responsible for theft of a staggering – in more ways than one – amount of silver serving ware and the murder of their masters.

Albia finds herself caught between the officials who want a quick solution, a criminal gang unwilling to take responsibility for a job they didn’t do, her own meddling uncles, neighbors who seem to have seen nothing and heard less, and a group of people who seem to be lying at every turn.

Just as she decides that this is one case that she’s never going to solve, there’s another body. A body that can’t be laid at the feet of the original suspects, as Albia was interviewing them all at the time!

Once the case breaks wide open, with Albia squarely on the scene this time, she finally has a chance to figure out what really happened the first time around. Before anyone else winds up dead – justly or not.

Escape Rating A-: Slipping back into Albia’s world was like slipping into a warm bath or under a comfy blanket – in spite of the story being just chock full of lying witnesses, murder suspects and dead bodies. Mystery is a comfort read because it’s the romance of justice. More or less. It may start with a dead body, whether much lamented or completely unlamented, but it ends with good triumphing, or at least normal order prevailing, while evil, or at least misguided criminals, receive their just desserts.

There are two things that make this series, as well as its predecessor featuring Albia’s father Falco.

One is the first-person, cynical, sometimes world-weary voice of the protagonist. Admittedly, Falco was a bit more world-weary than Albia, but by the end of his series in Nemesis he was a bit older than Albia is here. Not that Albia is a newbie in either her work or her life, as this story opens she is 29, a widow with no children, and has been working in her father’s old profession for a number of years.

She’s had plenty of time and experience to observe human behavior in all its ugliness to earn the wry cynicism in her perspective. Also, her world is a bit darker than her father’s and not just because there are more obstacles in her way as a woman doing a man’s job, or any job at all. The Emperor Vespasian, who Falco worked under and occasionally worked for, was a much different man than Domitian, the emperor of Albia’s time.

For one thing, Vespasian was a soldier, a realist, and generally not insane. A condition that Domitian is heading towards by this point in history. Falco had friends in high places when he was a private informer, while during Albia’s time no one would want to have friends in those same places if they had any sense. Which she certainly does.

The other thing that makes this series work is the way that the author brings the commonalities of life in Imperial Rome to life. It’s a big, complicated city, a center of government, a hive of activity. And in the complexities of life in a major metropolis, we see that some things are the same. People gossip about their neighbors. Divorces are more often acrimonious than friendly. Some people rub other people the wrong way. Life in a big city is portrayed as not all that different once you get past 20th or 21st century technology.

Even though Albia doesn’t have contemporary forensics to help her solve this case, the things she does have to work with haven’t changed all that much. She has to examine the crime scene, interview the witnesses, interrogate the suspects, establish a timeline, pull together the evidence she does have and determine who is innocent and who is guilty.

And we get vicarious pleasure in watching her do so, as well as observing the tentative steps she takes towards a relationship with Manlius. Something that we’ll see develop in later books in the series. I’m looking forward to Albia’s next case, Deadly Election, the next time I need to see someone receive their just desserts!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 8-9-20

Sunday Post

Today’s cat picture represents that moment when a sweet kitty cuddle turns into an all-out kitty tussle. Not quite in the blink of an eye, but almost. They looked so adorable laying together, with Freddie as the big spoon and George as the little spoon, but the second I got my iPad into focus, the claws came out. Literally. George likes to pose for the camera but Freddie is more than a bit camera-shy, and this time he took it out on poor George – who admittedly gave as good as he got. The days when the big cats had to pull their punches to play with the little one are long past.

This week was another week where the reality of “safer at home”, along with the signature weirdness of this year dropped by for a couple of visits. Last weekend would have been when we were supposed to be in New Zealand for Worldcon, and this week the American Library Association announced that the Midwinter Conference, scheduled for late January in Indianapolis, had officially been moved to an all-virtual conference. This is absolutely necessary with the current state of affairs. And it absolutely sucks.

Current Giveaways:

Return to Learn Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A- Review: Search the Dark by Charles Todd
Return to Learn Giveaway Hop
A Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite
A Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
B+ Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh
Stacking the Shelves (404)

Coming This Week:

Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis (review)
Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard (blog tour review)
Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone: Weapons Master by Anna Hackett (review)
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh (review)
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart (review)

Stacking the Shelves (404)

Stacking the Shelves

Today’s cat pictures are of George and Hecate. Together. This one is either George practicing yoga or showing off to Hecate just how long his legs are. When he grows into them he’s going to be ginormous! I swear his legs get longer every time he takes a nap, because when he gets up he has to stumble around a bit adjusting to the new length.

Today’s shelf-stack, on the other hand, is a bit shorter than the past few – in spite of finally getting covers for a few things I’ve been carrying over week to week.

For Review:
Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Atomic Love by Jennie Fields
Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig
The Bookstore on the Beach by Brenda Novak
The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler
Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan
A Fatal Lie (Inspector Ian Rutledge #23) by Charles Todd
The Patient by Jasper DeWitt
Remember Me by Mario Escobar
Return to Virgin River (Virgin River #21) by Robyn Carr
Seven of Infinities (Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Waiting for a Scot Like You (Union of the Rakes #3) by Eva Leigh
We Lie with Death (Reborn Empire #2) by Devin Madson
Weapons Master (Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone #6) by Anna Hackett

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O’Neal
There Before the Chaos (Farian War #1) by K.B. Wagers

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva LeighWould I Lie to the Duke (Union of the Rakes, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Union of the Rakes #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke...

Jessica McGale's family business desperately needs investors, and she's determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London's elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he'd have on her.
Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there's a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She's brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible...
As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel's expense breaks Jess' heart. He doesn't just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

My Review:

If the title is a question, then the answer is definitely “yes” for Jess McGale, as is her answer to the question “would I lie with the duke?”. The problem is that Jess is still lying TO him while she’s lying WITH him, and that’s very nearly too much for anyone to forgive. Particularly a duke.

Jess is doing her best to save her family’s business and her family’s home. After a disastrous fire wiped out most of McGale and McGale’s soap making and packaging equipment, that business, a manufacturer of very-high quality honey-based soaps, is in dire straits. Jess and her two siblings don’t have enough money to replace the equipment, and with replacing the equipment the business can’t make enough soap to stay afloat.

As the eldest, Jess feels like the whole mess was dumped on her shoulders when their parents died not long before the fire. Even though, as both her brother and sister remind her frequently, neither of them are exactly in leading strings. One gets the impression that they are all somewhere in their 30s, making them all well into adulthood.

But Jess, having taken all the responsibility – whether rightly or not – also takes on all the desperation of figuring out one last chance to get them back on their feet. Her initial idea is to bring in money by serving as a paid-companion to an eccentric but well-heeled widow.

While preparing said widow’s London house for her imminent arrival, Jess decides to wager everything on one grand throw of the dice. She uses her own business acumen as well as her employer’s extensive wardrobe to inveigle herself into entrance to the exclusive investment club known as the Bazaar. She captures the attention – and the sexual interest – of the Duke of Rotherby, the enabling “Pygmalion” figure of the previous book in this series, My Fake Rake.

Noel may play the rake and the debauched aristocrat, but there’s a shrewd mind and a compassionate heart behind that air of lazy insouciance. Noel participates in the Bazaar to find ethical companies in which to invest his vast holdings. In “Lady Whitfield”, the part that Jess is playing to the hilt, he finds a woman whose mind is every bit as penetrating as his own, attached to a body that seems made for sin. A sin that Jess is more than willing to explore with him.

But she knows that the lie she is living can come between them at any moment, considering that she entered the Bazaar with the intent of surreptitiously acquiring one or more investors for her family’s business.

She just didn’t count on losing her heart in the process.

Escape Rating B+: I liked the first book in this series, My Fake Rake, I enjoyed Would I Lie to the Duke quite a bit more. I think because this story doesn’t fall into the kind of romantic misunderstandammit that the first book did.

Not that Noel and Jess don’t have an epic falling out before they reach their happy ever after, but the reason behind that falling out is one that is worth all the problems it causes. Jess has, after all, been lying to Noel for the entire story by that point. And while she should have told him the truth at least before they fell into bed together – or on any other flat surface that happened to be around – it’s understandable why she didn’t. She is, after all, protecting her family.

Another refreshing thing about this story is a trend that we’re seeing more and more of, and it’s one I really like. Jess isn’t herself part of the aristocracy. She’s not a titled lady. Jess is someone who works for her living, and works hard and professionally at that living.

Part of the reason I picked this book up this week was to see if it was in dialog with this week’s other historical romance, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows. And it is, a bit, in that both Agatha and Jess are women who have always worked, and are business owners or co-owners who make their own decisions and don’t conform to the aristocratic expectations of women not involving themselves in either the business or the politics of the day. And who have to grit their teeth and bear it every time a man talks over them or acts like they can’t possibly make the best decisions for themselves or understand the oh-so-terribly-complicated world in which they live and work.

At the same time, this is also a much more traditional romance, not just because Jess’ paramour is a man but also because he’s a duke, the traditional hero of historic romance.

And yet, Noel is not traditional at all in his probing interest in investments and in his search for ethical companies in which to invest. While this isn’t the first historical romance to feature lords who use their minds as well as their capital to nurture new companies (Christy Carlyle’s Duke’s Den in the marvelous A Duke Changes Everything also features an investment club) this one is still a bit different in that the Bazaar and its denizens, while fascinating in themselves, are not the same people as the hero’s group of childhood friends who form the backbone of the series.

All in all, this was a delightful historical romance that had a lot of fun with its disguised heroine in plain sight as well as a bit of deliciously naughty romantic role-reversal.

And speaking of the members of the Bazaar in conjunction with Noel’s childhood friends, there’s certainly going to be an explosive meeting of members of those two groups in the next book in the series, Waiting for a Scot Like You, which is scheduled to warm up a winter’s night or two this coming February.

Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona DavisThe Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Dutton Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A Good Morning America Book Club Pick!
“A page-turner for booklovers everywhere! . . . A story of family ties, their lost dreams, and the redemption that comes from discovering truth.”—Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Shoemaker's Wife

In nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis's latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces.
It's 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn't ask for more out of life--her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village's new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club--a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women's rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she's forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she's wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie's running begin disappearing from the library's famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage--truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library's history.

My Review:

Once upon a time, there really were apartments built into at least some of the branches of the New York Public Library, including the branch on 5th Avenue – the one with the lions. So the apartment that Laura Lyons and her family live in really did exist, and was occupied by the real-life family of the first Superintendent, John Fedeler, who had an interesting history but thankfully no stories of stolen books – not that THAT doesn’t happen in plenty of libraries in real life. As the source material the author lists at the end demonstrates all too clearly.

While NYPL’s iconic Schwarzman Building is nearly as much of a character in the story as Laura Lyons and her granddaughter Sadie Donovan, the heart of this timeslip story revolves around the ways that family legacies and family stories shape our lives for both good and ill.

The story runs on two parallel tracks, both wrapped around the enigma of a series of thefts of rare, collectible books from NYPL’s rare book collection. And the way that both series of thefts implicate the Lyons family, past and present, and call into question their honor, their honesty and their service to a beloved institution.

Laura Lyons story is both the most difficult, and the most dynamic, as she starts her story in 1913 as a traditional wife and mother, albeit with a rather unusual address, an apartment on the Mezzanine level of the 5th Avenue branch of NYPL. Her journey is the longest and the hardest, as she struggles to make her own place in a world that expects her to stand quietly and respectfully behind and not beside her husband, the first Superintendent of the grand, new, library building.

But Laura wants to be more than a wife and mother. She wants to be a full participant in the rapidly changing world around her, and even more, she wants to help lead those changes. In her quest to become a journalist, she steps out of her husband’s shadow and away from her traditional role to find her own voice and her own life.

The gap left by her frequent absences causes a rift in her family, a rift that leaves a crack through which her son falls – into the clutches of an unscrupulous young thief and conman. Someone who gives the boy the attention and direction that is missing from his own family. Leading to the destruction of her husband’s career and his legacy – but to the making of Laura’s own.

In parallel, we see her granddaughter Sadie Donovan in 1993, the new and temporary curator of the now-famous Berg Collection – a collection that includes a walking stick that once belonged to her grandmother, the famous, and occasionally infamous feminist essayist Laura Lyons. When Sadie’s new position is threatened by another series of thefts from the Berg Collection, thefts that strikingly parallel the events that destroyed her grandmother’s family, history repeats as the granddaughter is under exactly the same suspicion that her grandfather was so long ago – that she is the insider responsible for the thefts.

In her quest to exonerate herself by finding the thief, Sadie investigates the events of the past – a past that her mother refused to discuss – ever. But in that search Sadie finds the link between her now and Laura’s then, and a truth that gives her all the answers she never knew she needed.

Escape Rating A: I have to say that this story had me at library. The idea of living in a big library like NYPL is probably every booklover’s dream. So the story of Laura and her family being fortunate enough to live inside that iconic building would have captured me if the story had been all sweetness and light. Which it isn’t, and that’s what made it so good.

I also have to say at this point that I am a librarian, and have to say that the description of Sadie’s career and day-to-day working life rang a lot of bells for me. What she did, how she got there, how she felt were all very reminiscent of my own working life. I was a working librarian in 1993 just as Sadie was, and her experiences were similar enough to my own that she was easy to identify with.

On my third hand, there are parts of Laura’s story that feel like they are in dialog with yesterday’s book, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, in spite of the stories taking place on opposite sides of the Atlantic and nearly a century apart. Both Laura and Agatha were women who straddled the line between being traditional wives and mothers and wanting more for themselves and more from their partners. That so little had changed about traditional women’s roles and how much censure women received when they deviated from those roles makes the century that separates them seem much shorter than the 80 years that separates Laura from her granddaughter. Laura’s messages about women’s lives and women’s labor and women’s need for both true partners and real independence has resonance because there’s still so far to go. There was in 1993 and there still is today.

But the heart of this story is the secret. The secret of how to steal from the locked cages of the Berg Collection. It’s a secret that is discovered by one generation and taught to another. A secret that breaks Laura Lyons’ family. A secret that reaches down through the generations. A secret that taints the life of her daughter and very nearly ruins the life of her granddaughter, just as it did her husband’s life.

The investigation of that secret, an investigation that fails in the past but finally succeeds at the end is so simple that you’re surprised no one figured it out sooner – including the reader. It’s also complicated by the weight of the secrets and lies that accreted around it, and so devastating that it nearly claims another generation of victims.

Sadie doesn’t so much uncover the secret as stumble over it, but the way that her stumbling takes her through her family’s history is absolutely captivating every step of the way.