It was 2014, and the world was small enough for me to pop over to any place I wanted to go: Madrid, Paris, Moscow, Venice and Florence, Scottish islands, rural India and London glitter. I even squeezed in a quick trip back to the States that year. All I had to do was buy a ticket and head to the next place I dreamed of. And I did a LOT of dreaming.
When I wasn’t traveling, I was writing blog posts. I started the blog because I needed to be a writer. So I wrote a book and plenty of clever people said novelists need blogs to provide shiny PR for their books. It should, they said, be full of content about books and writing as a process, and… and… And you know what? Talking about the process of writing is not only boring, but the only people who’d read it are other writers, not always potential buyers readers.
So I started writing about other people’s books. And I started reading other people’s book blogs. There was one in particular, written by Rosie Amber, that grabbed my attention. I did some reviews for her Book Review Challenge. I admired her style and her creativity. Basically, I wanted to be her when my blog grew up.
So when Rosie asked me to be part of her book review team, I thought it sounded easy, and fun, and a great way to get free books. But I didn’t realize I’d get so very much more. We’d just moved to Glasgow, where I didn’t know a soul. But through Rosie I met an entire community of bloggers and readers. We chatted online, read each other’s posts, and blogged our book reviews.
In the years since then, I’ve reviewed over 70 books as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, while my fellow team members reviewed hundreds more. And a wonderful, unexpected thing happened. Rosie’s bloggers turned from an online group into a team. We chatted, met up, shared our stories. We became friends.
Then the coronavirus hit and the world hit the “off” switch.
But there is one thing that hasn’t changed. Books. My online friends are still there, my book friends are still waiting to meet me, my old favorites are waiting for another read.
And there are new friends waiting too. Wouldn’t you like to be part of Rosie’s team? You won’t need a facemask, you won’t have to worry about social distancing. But you will get to read some great free books, and better still, you’ll get to be part of a team. You’ll get to be friends.
Hanging out with members of Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT
Barb has been reading Love In The Suburbs by D. E. Haggerty
My Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Knee Deep
When you’re looking for a great, funny, chick lit book that embraces almost every romance trope out there, you can count on author D. E. Haggerty to nail it every time.
Heroine with high-powered job but crap love-life? Check. Violet enjoys her job as an event planner. She thinks she’s moving on with her life after finally getting over her disastrous breakup with Luke. But Luke is friends with her boss and colleagues, and openly hostile to her. When she realizes she can’t avoid him or live with his antagonism, Violet decides her only option is to leave the job, friendships, and new life she loves.
Tries the Wrong Guy first? Check. The only problem is that she’s never gotten over the wrong guy. So she’s never gotten around to finding the right one.
Thinks she’s ugly (but every guy she meets falls madly in love with her)? Check. Well, kinda… Violet hasn’t allowed herself to feel anything since the disastrous end to her relationship with Luke.
Thinks she’s smart, but has the people-judging skills of the disposable blonde teen in a slasher movie? Sadly, Check. Violet has conquered her depression, finished her degree, and made a successful career with her best friends. Both she and Luke have jobs where their success depends on their ability to communicate with a variety of people. But somehow, they just can’t tell each other the most basic things.
Parent issues? Check. After his single mother dies, Luke is raised by his grandmother, who has also died. Violet’s parents have moved away, so she doesn’t have family nearby either. But both Luke and Violet have been adopted by “Grandma”—the hilarious, sex-obsessed grandmother whose (other) hobby is epic-fail matchmaking.
Posse? Check. Not only does Violet have her three best friends, but she has also inherited their partners—not to mention one extremely eccentric Grandma.
‘I had to ask the bartender for change,’ Grandma continues talking as if I hadn’t spoken.’
‘Change for what?’ I’m probably going to regret asking, but I have to know.
‘A vibrating penis ring. Never tried one of those.’
Funny? Okay, Check! Both Violet and Luke’s observations at the start of each chapter are occasionally laugh out loud funny and often painfully amusing.
Stay in your lane? What kind of bs is that? Get over to the right and get out of my way. ~Violet’s Secret Thoughts she might have accidentally on purpose yelled out the car window.
When I’m reviewing a book, I often go down a little list of things to consider. In Knee Deep, the pacing is sure, a brisk march to an obvious finish. The writing is terrific, often funny and entertaining, and with a great balance between dialog, the snarky comments in Violet’s head, and Luke’s total bafflement with his feelings.
‘To my horror, she starts crying. ‘Stop being sweet to me.’
‘You want me to be mean?’ Women are the most confusing creatures on earth.
The problem is one shared by Luke and Violet. While each might have grown into a career and friendships, they are emotionally frozen in time as two high school students who can NOT tell each other the most fundamental, basic things. I remember thinking when I rewatched Die Hard, that if Bruce Willis had a cellphone, the movie would have been about ten minutes long. “Hello, 911-operator? I’m in the bathroom of the Nakatomi Plaza and Snape has my wife, well actually I’m not sure she’s still my wife because she’s gone back to using her maiden name and all, but I’m sure we can work on that and have a swell Christmas with our adorable children as soon as you have a few snipers pick off the terrorists who are conveniently sitting with their backs to large windows. Ciao.” Roll credits.
Ditto for Violet and Luke’s relationship. They claim to have been in love, but are incapable of telling each other the things they seem to have no problem sharing with friends, partners of friends, and Grandma. Of course, if everyone told the truth, the fields of romance, politics, and used car sales would collapse entirely. But even so, you have to suspend the urge to send both Violet and Luke to timeout until they pull on their big kid panties and just fess up.
But overall, I do recommend Knee Deep as a humorous, entertaining, and fast-paced if predictable romantic comedy. The amusing and entertaining banter—and the completely entertaining Grandma—makes it the perfect escape from pandemics and problems. I’d happily reach for another book by this author.
Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out – BOOM! – in walks trouble.
It’s taken me years, but my life is finally back on track – new job, new friends, a complete new Violet! I don’t even cry myself to sleep every night anymore. But then he walks through the front door of my new workplace. How dare he come in here and ruin everything for me – again!
Luke Freaking Bauer. Not the boy who got away. Nuh-uh. Not even close. The boy who tossed me aside when I needed him the most.
But when I look deep into those hurt eyes, I forget I’m the one who was wronged. Oh boy. I’m knee-deep in trouble and sinking fast.
Barb has been reading Madam Tulip And The Serpent’s Tree by David Ahern
My Review: 5 stars out of 5
She’s baaaack! I can’t binge on the absolutely bingeworthy Madam Tulip series because I obsessively grab each new book the second I can get my hands on it. Then I make a bowl of popcorn, pour my annual Guinness, and head back to Ireland with some of my favorite fiction friends. As I said in my review of Book 3, they include the (attractive of course) young actress, Derry O’Donnell—permanently broke and scratching for the next job in the Dublin theater scene, consistently dating the wrong flavor-of-the-week, while waiting for The Big Break—and her alter ego Madam Tulip, celebrity psychic and fortune-teller. (*That’s Madam without an “e”, because she’s not married to Monsieur Tulip.)
Derry’s supporting cast includes her mother Vanessa—successful American art gallery owner, artist’s agent, and force of nature. Vanessa is divorced from (but still agent to) Derry’s father, Jacko—famous Irish artist whose painting skills are second only to his ability to gamble (and lose) money. Then there are Derry’s acting friends, Bella (black, Belfast-born actress with catch-phrase ‘Say No to Negativity!’), and Bruce (gay ex-Navy Seal, actor, computer expert, and total eye-candy). [note: and in case you didn’t get the gay part, his remarkably prescient parents did, in fact, name him “Bruce”.]
In the team’s latest adventure, Derry is (as usual) caught between her ever-competing parents as her father Jacko prepares his tell-all, career-destroying autobiography while her mother Vanessa bemoans the inevitable loss of his career (and, of course, all those lovely commissions).
But Derry has bigger problems. Her uncomfortable relationship with alter ego Madam Tulip doesn’t stand a chance against her even more troubled bank balance when she accepts a gig as member of a rock star’s entourage. As usual, Madam Tulip has barely started telling her first fortune when murder attempts and accusations begin to pile up.
“Derry wondered if the source of her inspiration wasn’t her years spent in Ireland, where believing anybody’s motives are anything but self-serving, dishonest, and probably criminal was universally viewed as the sign of a half-wit.”
But two things are different this time. First, this is a darker adventure in every way. Events are already set in motion, but Madam Tulip’s very real gift is quick to shed light on a cauldron of seething motives. And second, unlike the past events where Derry was always aware that Madam Tulip was just another character she’s playing as an actor, this time she finds the character taking over. ‘This time, Madam Tulip felt more real than I did. As if she were acting me, like she was the one truly alive. Am I crazy?’
Madam Tulip and the Serpent’s Tree has all the pieces I’ve loved so far. Derry and her friends’ backstory and characters continue to become more complex and rounded. Her parents continue to provide comic relief. The affectionate yet honest descriptions of Dublin and surrounding countryside are beautifully written.
New characters are introduced with author David Ahern’s usual brilliant descriptions, such as Pat Kelly, band manager and aspiring nightclub developer, “He was short and overweight, his pudgy face strongly tanned, like he spent long hours on a sunbed or had just returned from a winter vacation. His hair was black and curly, longer than fashionable. His clothes were youthful, obviously designer, though his socks were white and his shoes were black slip-ons, cheap-looking and too shiny. His shirt gaped over his belly, straining the buttons.” We probably know everything we need from just those white socks and too-shiny shoes.
As Derry has already discovered, interpreting Madam Tulip’s intuition isn’t an exact science. Take the serpent symbol, for example. Is it a warning, as it seems when Derry first sees a mysterious bracelet? Is it a symbol of the end of the world, as her Viking-loving new friend Nils tells her? Perhaps it’s part of the message from the tarot cards, or even an incomprehensible vision beckoning her to safety in her single moment of greatest danger? Derry never decides, and maybe we won’t know either.
For anyone who enjoys plenty of wisecracking banter, a cast of offbeat characters willing to risk their lives for each other—even if not in ways I could have predicted, as when Bruce brings Derry back from brink of hysteria by insisting she recite Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy—and a rollercoaster thriller plot, I can’t recommend this series enough.
And for you lucky ones who are not (yet) addicted, Madam Tulip predicts a treat in store for you: the first three books in her series are now available as a box set at special savings. What could you possibly be waiting for?
Actress Derry O’Donnell, moonlighting as fortune-teller Madam Tulip, finds herself in a famous pop singer’s entourage. But at the star’s glittering birthday party in the Dublin mountains, Derry finds a band riven by rivalries and feuds. Behind the trouble is a mysterious Russian guru, a shaman hated by everyone but the singer whose life she dominates.
When the shaman mysteriously disappears, suspicion threatens to tear the band apart. Was she victim or poisoner? Guilty or innocent? Dead or alive?
Two brilliant and beautiful musicians; an ambitious band manager with a shady past; a sax player entranced by Vikings–each has a secret to share and a request for Madam Tulip.
Barb has been reading The Latecomers by Rich Marcello
My Review: 5 stars out of 5
I’ve been struggling with this review. According to the blurb, The Latecomers is about—“…what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society.”
Except I don’t think it is. Or at least, that’s only the beginning.
At first, the breakdown of Maggie and Charlie Latecomer’s love story does seem like any other relationship crisis tale involving aging lovers. Both had children by earlier failed marriages, meeting when they were prosperously established in professional careers. Their twenty-year relationship has survived job loss, infidelity, and reinventing their lives as a couple sufficient unto themselves—a smaller, more private world of art and music where Maggie paints and Charlie builds custom guitars. So as Maggie prepares to celebrate Charlie’s 60th birthday, she’s stunned by his announcement that he has to leave her.
As the layers peel back on this first part of the novel, we find out more about both Charlie and Maggie. To Charlie, Maggie personifies The Goddess—actually, a variety of them. Aware of this, Maggie allows him to believe in this view of her, without ever demanding that he accept her real person. But unknown to either of them, Charlie’s goddess has a sell-by date. His world view is skewed by his mother’s death—at age 60—and he can’t see beyond that.
At the same time, Maggie’s determination to fit them into a perfect two-person unit isn’t working either, as evidenced by her inability to paint the last canvas of her Charlie series, the one she calls Charlie’s Moai. They’ve defined their relationship by the Okinawan word moai, which means (to them anyway) “…a circle of people who purposefully met up and looked out for one another.”
After reinventing herself to the limited version of Charlie’s goddesses, Maggie doesn’t know how to cope with Charlie’s departure.
But what happened after your husband no longer saw the goddesses in you…
Both Charlie and Maggie turn to old friends and new relationships. And—if the book really was going to be about the whole aging gracefully theme—we would soon realize that Maggie would always be ultimately successful, while Charlie would have to battle his past.
Only… that’s not what happens. First, there’s the not-so-secret ghost in their private moai—Charlie’s dead mother Sabina who intrudes in Maggie’s portrait attempts. Her necklace, rejected by Maggie and a poor fit in his new relationship, becomes the noose beckoning him to join Sabina in death.
In the second part of the book, everything changes. With little fanfare, the lovers move into a world of magic. Magic realism is a genre I usually like better before and after (as opposed to during) the experience. Actually reading Gabriel García Márquez or Thomas Pynchon is hard work. Or maybe the hard work happens at the beginning, when you have to turn off all the ways you normally look at and think about the world.
But The Latecomers is different. Unlike the Banana Massacre by the United Fruit Company that could only be told in a fictionalized version such as Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, or like Thomas Pynchon’s 400-plus character “intro” to modern times in Gravity’s Rainbow, magic realism in Charlie and Maggie’s story is more accessible, perhaps because it occurs on a more intimate stage.
Traditional two-person family units won’t work anymore, Maggie realizes. When she reunites with Charlie, she proposes their new relationships and old friends be joined into a new and larger moai. But the pivotal event that changes all of them forever is about to occur. Following shocking acts of violence, their expanded moai experiences a magical event that changes their worldview, leaving them poised to possess secret knowledge that can literally change the world.
Again, it’s a necklace that represents this change. As each member of the new moai struggles to understand and accept the altered world view along with an incredibly precious gift symbolized by a new necklace, an unthinkable decision must be made.
The Latecomers is an onion of a book, which demands willing suspension of disbelief in favor of the slow reveal of answers to questions about the human condition. Flawed, strong, weak, murderous, loving, and above all human characters are asked to come to terms with that hardest of all questions:
What are you willing to give up in the name of remaining human?
This isn’t an easy book to read. But despite its symbols, indulgent self-examination, willful blindness, homage to SciFi classics, unwilling heroics, and super-annoying (to me anyway) foreign terms defining “new” relationship categories, The Latecomers is a stunning achievement. Getting to know Maggie is like meeting the Queen and realizing she’d be fun to grab a coffee with—and that the guy she hangs out with might be charming and attractive, but she’s the one who needs to be in charge. The writing is beautiful, the flawed characters are three-dimensionally human, the plot both surprising and inevitable.
Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more.
When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.
A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.
Barb has been reading Loud Pipes Save Lives by Jennifer Giacalone
My Review: 5 stars out of 5
During filming of the Bogart/Bacall classic, The Big Sleep, the plot was so convoluted that neither the director nor the cast knew who committed at least one murder. A cable was sent to author Raymond Chandler, who told his friend Jamie Hamilton in a March 21, 1949 letter: “They sent me a wire … asking me, and dammit I didn’t know either”. It didn’t matter. It was the chemistry and banter between the lead characters which made it a classic detective noir.
That’s how I feel about Loud Pipes Save Lives. Despite the fact that the large cast lives in New York City along with roughly nine million other people, their lives intersect constantly. Girl motorcycle vigilantes rub shoulders with the mayor whose chief of police knows the newspaper publisher whose sister is a detective who is being manipulated by the district attorney who has a big beef with the deputy mayor who knows where the bodies are buried and whose brother is friends with the brother of the girl motorcycle ganger…
Don’t worry if you missed any of that because it doesn’t matter. The banter is so much fun, the pace so rollercoaster, the characters so very flawed, that I raced through the book in one caffeine-fueled late night session. Author Jennifer Giacalone had me with her first quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. She cemented my love with her characters’ joyful embrace of the variety of relationships that every New Yorker encounters before they get their first coffee of the day—gay, multi-ethnic, asexual, stupid, smart, handicapped, cross-religious, and of course, liberally laced with obscenities.
And she ensured her automatic-buy place in my book-heart with her combination love affair with New York—“The city didn’t care. It lay serene as they all loved and teemed and scrambled and strove. And then it was morning.”—and just plain wonderful writing. “The lights had been lowered in the room to that level where everything looked like it was covered in a layer of honey and everyone was twice as attractive.”
So sure, this book has all the tropes of any damaged detective/police procedural. There is the cop who naturally distrusts her superiors, journalists, and politicians. She’s got a past full of trauma, a family who are frankly even more messed up than she is, and a city to clean up. The villains aren’t all bad and the good guys are pretty flawed. But just as with Bogey and Bacall in The Big Sleep, none of that matters. Because… women motorcycle vigilante gangs, a LOT of leather, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance quotes, New York City, the kind of True Love that ruins your life and the kind that saves it, and serious amounts of world-class snark. Hell, yeah!
If you’d like a fresh voice with attitude, great writing, flawed characters, and a completely convoluted story I’d recommend Loud Pipes Save Lives.
New York City Detective Lily Sparr is stunned when she is inexplicably moved to the very same precinct that once upon a time handled her own father’s murder. There, she is assigned to the case of a women’s motorcycle club which has been committing acts of violence all over the city. Despite missing her former partner, Miri, and fighting the ghosts of her past, Lily dedicates herself to the case, unaware that her own sister is mixed up in the swirl of violence and chaos.
After secretly reopening the file on her father’s death, Lily slowly unravels threads of history, discovering that both cases lead to corruption and betrayal at the highest levels.
Featuring an ensemble of characters as diverse as its New York City setting, Loud Pipes Save Lives is a thriller-mystery with a twist of queer representation.
As long as there have been stories, we’ve had tales of people making bargains with gods and deals with demons. Occasionally it works out for them, but far more often it works the way we expect. The devil has been at this for a looong time and there’s a reason why he’s one hell of a contract lawyer.
What’s so interesting about the deal with a devil trope as it plays out in Dark Magic is that in one sense, you don’t even need it to be actual magic. We’ve all looked at people who are so much more successful than we are, and in our hearts we know a dark truth: we could be better than them. They just have a couple of advantages—more attractive/ richer/ younger/ luckier.
In this novella, the stage magicians of the Maestros of Magic show have mastered their craft, done all the heavy lifting, paid all the dues. But somehow, they are still playing grotty provincial venues, barely making ends meet. So they’re mystified about how their competitors, the Carnival of Conjurers, are successfully pulling in the crowds at their West End gigs, while still just performing time-honored illusions.
It’s not as though the Conjurers are doing anything all that original. Their material is familiar to all stage magicians. They just do it… better. Their technique is so foolproof, so audacious that it almost seems like well… magic. Debbie, a young woman who mysteriously joins them as a potential Magician’s Beautiful Assistant, is the first to say it out loud.
I had a friend who used to work with them. She quit because she was scared. She said they were messing around with real magic — black magic.
The other Maestros scoff at this and wonder if they should rethink offering her a position. But despite their overt skepticism, they wonder… And when a pattern emerges that points to accidents and deaths among audience members, their skepticism turns to concern and then fear. Again Debbie steps in to encourage more investigation, and to provide a dangerous path for further discoveries.
Like the time-honored magic tricks both groups use, Dark Magic doesn’t offer a new take on the deal with the devil trope. It remains a classic example of the genre, right down to the predictable twist at the end. But what makes this such a fun read is the author’s ownership of the world of stage magic, and complete familiarity with stage magic as a physical skill. Because they know how the tricks and illusions are done, the magicians are the people least likely to believe in real magic. Their competitors’ use of actual magic is almost an embarrassment for the Maestros, a form of cheating.
If you like a well-told classic short story with dark humor and even darker magic, if you enjoy an inside look at a skill set whose whole purpose is to fool the eye, and if you see the looming iceberg but you still enjoy the view from the deck chairs on the Titanic, then I recommend Dark Magic.
Baby’s blood… Virgin’s tears… Chainsaws… It’s remarkable what some magicians keep back-stage.
Two magic shows: the Maestros of Magic touring the country, playing provincial theatres; the Carnival of Conjurors successful in the West End. When the Maestros learn that the Conjurors are using real magic – Black Magic – to do their tricks they decide that they must use their own, distinctly unmagical, stage skills to stop them. Soon people are dying on stage – but can the Maestros really beat a team that has the devil on their side?
Barb has been redaing Intrigue & Infamy by Carol J Hedges
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars
One of the biggest problems for authors of a detective series is moving a story forward, allowing your detective and cast to evolve, but still retain the world you’ve built. In Book 7 of her Victorian Detective series, Intrigue & Infamy, author Carol Hedges gives a master class in just that.
Detective Inspector Leo Stride, protagonist of the early books, is now trapped in an administrative role, the victim of his own success. “Detective Inspector Stride is a long-standing officer, now reduced to an officer of long sitting.” The only mystery now facing Stride is how a certain green folder documenting thefts of barnyard animals keeps ending up on his desk, the only conflict his longstanding skirmishes in the neverending war with journalism in general and reporter Richard Dandy in particular.
It is Stride’s colleagues at the Metropolitan Police—later known as Scotland Yard—Detective Sergeant Jack Cully and Detective Inspector Lachlan Grieg who take on the real crimes facing the Detective Division. At the same time, the detectives are dealing with very real issues in their personal lives—Cully as a sleep-deprived young father, and Grieg, a newly-minted Detective Inspector whose courtship is dramatically different from the minutely-planned society alliances.
At the same time, the hallmarks of the earlier books provide the bones of the new one. As before, author Carol Hedges employs the tropes of Dickens, but avoids the wordy sentimentality of the original. Still present are the myriad of twisting plots so beloved by Dickens, that have Cully and Grieg investigating murder, assault, burglary, and pure bloody-mindedness.
Side-by-side with these are the social observations so often central to Dickens. The upper classes’ pursuit of each other’s wealth via the London Season and its attendant Marriage Mart, the political realities that make “justice” into very different things depending on social caste, the barely concealed racism and misogyny bubbling beneath the surface—all are described in a way that acknowledges their ongoing existence and echoes our disturbingly-similar present.
‘I thought we’d consigned this sort of thing to history,’ Stride says disgustedly.
‘Ah well, maybe history isn’t just something that is behind us; it also follows us,’ Grieg says thoughtfully.
There are also flashes of humor which echo Dickens at his very best, but also the sharp dry wit of Jane Austen at her most socially sarcastic:
Beautiful young debutants working tirelessly at their assigned role of achieving a socially advantageous marriage observe the lessons of one wrong step. Choose the wrong partner? “As far as anyone knows, poor Rosamund is now a governess in some faraway barbaric location. Possibly Yorkshire.”
Senior officers at the fledgling Metropolitan Police optimistically trying to professionalize the young police force? “It is from one of the night constables, for whom spelling and punctuation are optional extras.”
Following clues in depths of London? “The Rat & Bottle is the sort of low dive that gives low dives a bad name…It is the sort of pub where nobody will know your name because frankly, they can’t be bothered to ask it.”
Romance for young girl? Juliana—“Tonight Juliana is absolutely and quite deliberately irresistible.”
Romance for young man? Harry—“It is hard work living up to everybody’s expectations, though admittedly, the expectations of his father are so low he probably couldn’t even crawl under them, let alone live up to them.”
Young love? “The guests look on fondly, because young love, even if it has been planned and carried out like a military manoeuvre, is still delightful to witness.”
Society? (My personal favorite as it deliberately echoes the traditional marriage service, evoking the force of divine providence into the pursuit of ensuring social position, power, land, and especially keeping all that lovely money in the family.)
A ball, as everybody knows, is like a marriage. It should never be entered into lightly or frivolously, but soberly and reverently, considering the purposes for which a ball is intended. Firstly, it is intended to show off the finery and figures of single young women, thus indicating that they are available for suitable alliances with single young men. Secondly, it is for the mutual encouragement of the Mamas of the single young women, whose one desire is their happily married future. And thirdly it is to ensure the papas of the single young women dispense as much money as is necessary to show off the finery and figures, and secure the happy marriage.
Carol Hedges’ intricate plots show off a deep knowledge of London, both past and present. But she also conveys a love of her city so tangible, London itself emerges as a main character—beautiful, terrible, flawed, and wonderful.
It is a clear night, the vast scoop of velvet black sky full of pin-bright sars. The air smells of damp and soot and horse shit, the familiar London smells. Cully walks the silent streets in search of the nearest post box, while the Sleeping beauty city murmurs and shifts, mutters and groans, waiting for the rough kiss of dawn to wake her and the jingling clattering morning carts to fill her streets once more.
At the risk of spoilers, I have to say one of my favorite parts of Intrigue & Infamy is the inspired ending. When the flexing of powerful society muscles threatens to allow a murderer to walk free despite the brilliant detective work of Cully and Grieg, Detective Inspector Leo Stride takes completely unprecedented action. I wanted to stand up and cheer.
This continues to be one of my favorite series. Not only does the writing contain a degree of clarity that—for me anyway!—sets it well above the Dickens it channels, but the subtle humor, social commentary, character growth, and clearly salutary references to current events in both the US and UK makes Intrigue & Infamy a must-read even as a stand alone. But do yourself a huge favor: if you haven’t read the earlier books, now is your chance to enter a wonderful, funny, thoughtful, and above all beautifully written world. You’re so lucky!
It is 1866, the end of a long hot summer in Victorian London, and the inhabitants are seething with discontent. Much of it is aimed at the foreign population living in the city. So when a well-reputed Jewish tailoring business is set aflame, and the body of the owner is discovered inside, Detective Inspector Lachlan Grieg suspects a link to various other attacks being carried out across the city, and to a vicious letter campaign being conducted in the newspapers.
Can he discover who is behind the attacks before more people perish?
Elsewhere, Giovanni Bellini arrives in England to tutor the youngest son of Sir Nicholas Haddon, ex-MP and City financier. But what are Bellini’s links to a dangerous Italian radical living in secret exile in London, and to beautiful Juliana Silverton, engaged to Harry Haddon, the heir to the family fortune?
Romance and racism, murder and mishap share centre stage in this seventh exciting book in the Victorian Detectives series.
Barb has been reading Jennifer Brown Is Moving on by Angie Langley
My Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Remember when we loved Bridget Jones? Wasn’t her obsession with her weight, search for a man, and drinking really funny? If you miss her, you’re going to love Jennifer Brown. You know this because everyone in the book tells you that you’ll love her, from her (obligatory gay) BFF to the rich, dashing, er… Jonathan Dashwood-Silk.
‘Because being you—being Jennifer Brown—is…’ her eyes were glistening now. ‘…is the best thing to be. The best thing anyone could be.’
I haven’t read the first volume in this series, but I’m told that we meet Jennifer as an inept admin who can’t spell or type. In almost no time and despite a total lack of experience, she has gone from being a typist who couldn’t spell to managing a country estate and returning it to profitability. From there, she enters the rarified ranks of high-end wine merchants, with an international portfolio of rich, famous clients. Oh, and despite a lifetime of drinking the cheapest plonk possible, she has developed “…a very discerning and educated palate.”
Who is Jennifer? Yes, she’s the Mary Sue—that character so totally, incredibly perfect that instead being the focus of the plot, she bends the laws of physics to make the rest of the universe revolve around her. If spoilers didn’t prevent it, I would tell you about an ending so fantastical, even the most sentimental of victorian children’s stories wouldn’t dare attempt it without a godmother on some serious fairy steroids.
And yet…I like Jennifer. She’s just so sweet and warm and funny that I can’t help liking her—even though I have the distinct feeling that if you pitched her against a wall, she would just stick there a bit, perhaps oozing down slowly until an incredibly handsome and rich person happened by, fell in love at first sight, and whisked her off to their beach mansion in fairyland or Malibu to recover. Even then.
Jennifer is a giant step backward for feminism (as, we must admit, was Bridget Jones). Hardly the “everywoman” claimed on the cover, Jennifer Brown is instead polar opposite to current young women characters such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s semi-autobiographical Fleabag.
And that’s okay. If you’re in the mood for a fairy tale, if you have a superhuman capacity for the suspension of disbelief, if you just want a bit more Bridget Jones—then Jennifer Brown is perfect for you. You won’t have a moment’s worry, you know all will be spectacularly OTT-well, and you’ll feel like that happily-ever-after is well and truly job done.
Five feet one and full of fizz, Jennifer Brown has learned to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever life throws at her. It’s thrown plenty in the past and she’s had to use her steely core to reinvent herself, first as cook and housekeeper to a saucy sexagenarian, then as manager of a tumbledown country estate with sensitive secrets. In Jennifer Brown On The Move, this Bridget Jones with knobs on is taking charge of her life again, showing the world she can move in the most exalted, high-power circles and lose not an ounce of her gutsy, down-to-earth charm. Her hilarious cross-dressing confidant Will is on hand once again, with pearls of caustic widsom, and her old boss Jonathan Dashwood-Silk breezes in and out of her life, still dripping charisma but still needing our heroine to dig him out of the odd hole. As she crosses continents and breaks bread with the world’s movers and shakers, Jennifer Brown finds her mind still troubled by thoughts of the quiet man with the warm eyes and the velvet vowels. Then that daydream is torpedoed when she’s invited to his wedding.
But you know Jennifer. She never gives up!
Devin Mahoney, the descendant of kings, lay on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin, waiting for Death to take him by the hand and lead him out of this world of misery.
It’s not exactly the first line of Andrew Joyce’s new generational saga Mahoney, but I’m betting it was the one he wrote first. Mahoney is a coming of age story in three parts, both for the three generations of an Irish immigrant family it encompasses, and even more for America, the country they help to shape.
When we meet Devin Mahoney in Part One of the saga, he’s dying of hunger during Ireland’s potato famine, probably around 1846. The mixture of absentee landlords, repressive taxes, and remnants of feudal land systems combines with crop failure to create a perfect storm of economic devastation. Devin has already lost his family to the rampaging diseases of the workhouse when the landlord’s agent informs him he’s being evicted from his family farm and sent to America.
The nineteen-year-old’s journey across the ravaged landscape of Ireland, followed by the horrific passage on a “coffin ship” are personal glimpses into the slow-moving train wreck that was Ireland. Devin’s determination to return to his homeland as a rich man after making his fortune among the supposed ‘streets paved with gold’ in America slowly matures into a resolve to make a life for himself and his young family in the new land. In the best generational saga tradition, Devin’s life in America is a clean slate, written in a new country.
Devin Mahoney arrives at a pivotal moment in the history of the young United States. Through hard work, he builds a life and home in America. He becomes a husband and a father. But Devin remembers the virtual slavery of his youth, and feels he owes it to the past and his dead family in Ireland, as well as the future and his new family in America, to join the fight against slavery when the country heads into Civil War.
Part Two of takes up the tale of Dillon Mahoney, Devin’s son. If Part One resonates with my own family history, it’s in Part Two that Andrew Joyce settles into his comfort zone, writing confidently about a western landscape and period he’s researched extensively and knows intimately. While Dillon’s father’s story was of America on the brink of Civil War, the son’s tale embraces that most pivotal of American self images, the Wild West. Never mind that the actual “wild west” only lasted about thirty years (roughly 1865-1895). Revolvers were newfangled inventions that only were accurate to about 50 feet, and (at least in the earlier models) would burn the shooter’s hands. The famous Shootout at the OK Corral occurred when Sheriff Virgil Earp, along with his deputized brothers and Doc Holliday, enforced Tombstone’s anti-gun ordinance. The only things that occurred less frequently than shoot-outs were bank robberies—probably less than ten across that period.But even though history (and Hollywood) got so much of it wrong, there’s still something compelling about that period that defined so much of what we Americans believe ourselves to be—adventurous, brave, and entitled as hell.
Not a stetson between them… [“Fort Worth Five Photograph.” –Supposedly taken after Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang robbed the bank in Winnemucca, Nevada and sent to the bank manager along with a thank-you note from Cassidy. Front row left to right: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy; Standing: Will Carver & Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry; Fort Worth, Texas, 1900. Source: From the studio of John Schwartz.]
It would have been easy for author Joyce to plunk his young hero down in the middle of the stereotype: the cowboy on a cattle drive, the quick-draw sheriff in gun duels with bank robbers and cattle rustlers. But unlike his father’s story, Dillon’s tale is told in the first person, offering readers an intimate look at the next pivotal period in America history, the westward expansion. Hearing Dillon’s voice and sharing his thoughts both makes his story more immediate and compelling, and also keeps him from becoming another stereotypic hard-eyed hero of the Wild West.
I looked down at my still-smoking gun as if I had never seen it before. ‘Keep ’em covered, Bob. I’ll be right back.’
Still holding my gun, on unsteady legs, I walked to the back of barn and emptied my gut, splashing my boots in the process.
On that fiery-hot day in the middle of nowhere, in a godforsaken patch of desert, I learned that it is not easy to kill a man. It’s not easy at all, even if the man needed killing.
Dillon’s is the essential middle generation role, successful owner of his position in the world, fully assimilated and at home in a way his Irish immigrant father never could have been. At the same time, America as a country is coming of age, accepting and embracing its role in the world.
Part Three tells the story of Dillon’s son, David. In a generational saga, this third generation Mahoney’s rebellion against the preceding generation’s values and restrictions echoes his grandfather’s disgust with the past—a similarity only made possible by David’s confidence of belonging to his father’s world.
Again, this coming of age is an echo of America itself as it’s thrust from the glitter, self-satisfaction, and excesses of the 1920s into the grim reality of the Great Depression. In keeping with that loss of identity and confidence, David’s tale is again told in the third person, like that of his grandfather Devin. For example, David watches his world collapse after the stock market crash with the same fatalistic passivity as his grandfather lying on his dirt floor in Ireland waits for death. But David is also the product of his own father’s successful assimilation and confident place in his world. David’s encounters on the road, and especially with survivors of an actual horrific racial attack in Rosewood Florida, awaken the same disgust at injustice and determination to do something about it that connect him firmly to his father and grandfather. Or, as Dillon puts what is essentially the theme of the book,
If good men don’t stand up to evil, the bad men will win, and this land will never be tamed.
David, the grandson of immigrant Irish Mahoneys, is a synthesis of the preceding two generations—a mirror of America’s own struggles to accept a place on the world stage while still coming to terms with a past and present that include slavery, discrimination, and intolerance.
Mahoney isn’t a perfect book. Having just three men embody a hundred years of history meant they had to do too much, be too many places, and sometimes coincidence seemed too forced. But if you look at it as a generational saga of an entire country, as viewed through a small intimate family mirror, the overall effect is mesmerizing.
I already knew Andrew Joyce as a terrific storyteller (in the best Irish tradition?), but in Mahoney I see him as a terrific writer as well, from the overarching vision to the minute details of the story. He gives just enough detail to allow readers to build a scene in our own mind, while allowing his characters to grow, to change, and to learn, and above all, to make their new land into a better place for those who follow.
In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a story of determination and grit as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America. From the first page to the last, fans of Edward Rutherfurd and W. Michael Gear will enjoy this riveting, historically accurate tale of adventure, endurance, and hope.
In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.
John F. Leonard’s little story of Doggem is a sweet tale of a little boy, a favorite toy, murder, horror, and (possibly) the end of the world. Narrated by the toy dog Doggem—whose job is to go home with the five-year-olds in Mrs. Snady’s class and inspire them to practice their fledgling writing skills by writing up Doggem’s diary—we soon realize that the recently sentient toy is an unreliable narrator at best. His vocabulary and observations are far removed from those of his tiny guardians’ abilities, while he himself freely admits to ‘many failings’:
I’m already digressing. I fear that will be one of my many failings. Acquiring a voice when muteness was your original condition tends to engender a certain garrulous quality.
If I have any complaint about the story, it’s just that it too short. The genre demands a slow buildup, and I think the questions raised by the unreliable little narrator would have been even more devastating with a little more description behind them. With such a short story, descriptions of people and settings are necessarily pared back to the minimum needed, but are nevertheless razor sharp. Describing George’s mother, for example, Doggem observes, “There was a certain sharpness to Cath Gould’s features that meant her face eluded true beauty. As if God had taken his eye off the ball at the last minute and allowed something snappish to creep into the mix. She was a strikingly attractive woman nonetheless, never more so than when she was charming her way through a difficult subject.”Despite our immediate suspicions, Doggem’s observations and comments convey an intelligence that is both clueless and timelessly jaded. We start to get small hints that George is such an unusual child that he was actually the source of Doggem’s change from toy to sentient being. “Some strange and unknowable energy smeared across the universes and settled behind my glassy eyes.” But almost immediately we realize that something else is going on as the still innocent toy and child overhear troubling adult comments.
Or as the little family, Doggem in tow, heads for a reluctant and ominous visit to his grandmother, we hear about menace in the surrounding woods. “How heavy the branches sat against the sun. As if they were tears in the fabric of reality rather than vibrant, growing things.”
But as the story swiftly develops into malice, evil, and death, we realize how unreliable Doggem’s observations really are. Is he reporting what actually happened? Is George a strange child or the pivotal result of untold years of plotting with evil? Is Doggem, who owes his awareness and “real” self to George, also part of that growing evil? Or even, is the entire tale something made up by the retired schoolteacher recording the events?
I have my theories, but you’ll have to read this elegantly simple and elaborately confusing little jewel of a cozy horror tale and decide for yourself.
All the kids adore Doggem, the class cuddly toy. They each get to take him home. Hug him and love him and show him their world outside of school. All they have to do in return is write his diary. It’s George Gould’s turn and he’s going to introduce Doggem to a rather unusual family. Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that both the stuffed toy and little boy are far from ordinary. Doggem is no longer your run-of-the-mill snuggle doggy. Designed to fall apart after a few years. Perfect for squishing and squashing into a comfort blanket. He’s a million miles from that now. Doggem has just become a living creature. Thinking and reasoning. Trying to make sense of an unexpected existence. Strange places and scary experiences are in store during this sojourn with his latest custodian. Things no respectable fluffy dog should ever have to witness. It might end up in deadly territory. Make no mistake, there is magic here. Some of it as black as a starless night. And George? Well, George is descended from decidedly dicey stock. There are folk in delightful George’s lineage who have indulged in practices of a somewhat shadowy nature. The ramifications of which aren’t ready to be consigned to history. They want to spill out of the past and have their say in the future.
DOGGEM is a spooky little tale about toy dogs and dark doings. A gently disturbing horror story. But beware, this charming cocktail of witchcraft, imagined folklore and paranormal fantasy might just bewitch you. Not easy to pin down genre. Without doubt it has a certain heart-breaking beauty to it. Maybe it’s a modern fairytale. A scary one, flavoured with a dash of the occult, written for an adult audience. After all, fairy tales feature the supernatural and have a magical aspect to them. They often have old cottages and eerie, unnerving woodland settings. Wickedly enchanting women and innocent children. Ancient evil and everyday greed.
Doggem is a short story, one in a series of sinister tales from the Dead Boxes Archive. The Dead Boxes? Some objects are frightening things and the Dead Boxes definitely fall into that category. They can be easily overlooked. Ordinary on the surface. At first glance anyway. A mobile phone, a piece of art …a child’s plaything. Take a closer look. You’ll see something unique. You could very easily have one and not know it. Exercise caution. They hold miracle and mystery. Horror and salvation. None are the same. Except in one regard. You don’t need one. You might think you do, but you really don’t. Believe me.