Moorewood Family Rules

By Helenkay Dimon

If there is one word to describe this book, it would be “fun.” Right off the bat, I loved the authorial voice: It flowed easily and drew me right in with the funny remarks and quick immersion into the plot. The idea of the story was intriguing and unusual. It set up a lot of anticipation as to who, how, and what was going down. Because make no mistake, our heroine was going to see that the bad guys (her family) were, indeed, going down.

We meet Jillian, fresh from 39 months in prison, ready to literally and spectacularly descend upon her unsuspecting family who put her there. She debarks from her helicopter on the family mansion’s spacious grounds in the midst of a party where they are laying the groundwork to swindle and con their latest victims. They are not happy. But Jillian is less so. They had promised to go straight in return for Jillian taking the fall for them with the FBI. Now she’s back, she has their number, she holds all of the cards, and she’s had 39 months to contemplate her revenge. And maybe, just maybe, set them on the straight and narrow. Nah. Not happening.

It turns out that her family are not only professional grifters and con artists, but that in an emergency they will not stop at murder. And Jillian’s arrival is definitely an emergency. If some may balk at murdering a family member (that would be against the family rules) they won’t hesitate to send her back to prison. Enter Beck, a very grumpy, sexy, and intimidating bodyguard, hired by one of her loyal allies.

Although the romance is nice and provides a topper to the satisfying ending, the main focus is the battle of wits between Jillian and her family. In the process, we also get the occasional point of view of one of her half-sisters. There are, of course, some twists and turns and surprises. Some of her family are revealed to be truly perfidious, others not so bad in spite of themselves. The book did seem to lose a little steam about halfway through as we learn that Jillian is not quite so “together” as she first appeared. Having Jillian gaining insight and having to work on her own issues provided some depth and layers to her character. But it did seem to stall the narrative a bit. I missed the implacable focus of her mission to teach her family the lesson they so richly deserved to learn.

Fortunately, the sensational set-up was matched by a strong conclusion and the book regained most of the momentum it had lost towards the end. All in all, it was light and entertaining and I enjoyed it.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Avon Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 28, 2022

Bloomsbury Girls

Vivien had lost count of the number of times young female students and staff from the surrounding universities and museums had come into the shop asking for certain women authors, only to be met with an unexpected lack of success. Only Agatha Christie, Nancy Mitford, and Daphne du Maurier could reliably be found on the shelves, mostly because they continued to produce and sell and were therefore harder to ignore.

Bloomsbury Girls was a very pleasant read with a great ending but I didn’t like it as much as The Jane Austen Society. I think that maybe the small village bucolic setting gave me a Deja Vue nostalgia that called up so many gentle English countryside novels and cozy mysteries that I have read over the years. The very insularity appealed to me for whatever reason. Of course, the ties to Jane Austen and the shades of her novels in the characters and their relationships were also a plus.

This one is set in bustling post-war London. This is probably an advantage over JAS for most readers, and I was looking forward to the change of scene as well. It centers around 3 underestimated women working in a new, used, and collectible bookstore run by men. At Bloomsbury Books Daphne DuMaurier is referred to as “that romance writer.” Beautiful Vivien, whose fiance was killed in WWII is smarter, more talented, and more business-minded than all of the men in higher positions, but since she is a woman, she doesn’t get the opportunity to enact her progressive ideas. Until she does. Grace is Vivien’s friend and the secretary to the “shaky but iron-fisted” manager of the bookstore with his 51 inflexible rules. She sympathizes with Vivien, but she is a peacekeeper, not a rabble-rouser. She is trapped in a bad and emotionally abusive marriage, with seemingly no way out. And last but not least, we have Evie Stone, a favorite character from The Jane Austen Society. Evie is one of the first women graduates of Cambridge but has been denied a career in academia because of sexism and the political “old boy system”. She takes a job organizing and cataloging the huge and constantly growing rare books section of Bloomsbury books. But she has an ulterior motive. Thanks to her brilliant work with Jane Austen’s family library, she knows there is a book there somewhere that she has to find. Her ultimate dream is to see that long-forgotten and neglected works by women authors of the past are brought to light and properly recognized.

Evie often found herself frustrated by the discrepancy between the archival preservation of male writing and that of their female counterparts—how every sketch of a twig that [famed 18thc. Botanist] John Loudon had ever even whimsically composed was being carefully safeguarded by several British museums, while an entire novel by his wife had become only a minor footnote in the record of her husband’s work.

Real Life historical figures in the book world of the day all play a part in how the women achieve their dreams, with an assist from another important (fictional) character from The Jane Austen Society. And it is pretty spectacular how the three women escape from the bonds of tradition, sexism, and stagnation. It’s pretty clear that Natalie Jenner was inspired by real-life events and women who moved the needle forward for female empowerment. Towards the end, the series of events which by cause and surprising effect upend the bookstore, the opportunities for our heroines, and the academic establishment itself is tightly woven and immensely satisfying. But getting to that end was at times a bit too slow-moving and meandering, which the fast-paced and well-constructed last quarter of the book only highlighted.

Of course, I rarely read a book that doesn’t have at least a little romance. And two of the three stories were charming in that regard. The third started out very promisingly but was stymied by the irritating character traits and bad behavior of the couple. Although I wasn’t bowled over by the book as a whole, many aspects kept my interest going, and the way it all ended made up for most of the more frustrating aspects.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

September 17, 2022

Beginner’s Luck (Chance of a Lifetime, #1)

By Kate Clayborn

**Spoilers**

I’ve read Kate Clayborn before and enjoyed her writing. Unfortunately, this one was marred by a heroine I didn’t care for. It wasn’t a case of a character arc situation where the protagonist starts off weak, victimized, flaky, selfish, man-crazy, or whatever and grows and learns in the course of the plot, eventually gets her head on straight, and demonstrates how she has changed. This one stayed in her lane until the very end. I became more and more frustrated and hostile toward her as the book went on.

Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, our heroine, Kit, a scientific genius in the field of metallurgy is bound and determined to remain a lab research assistant so she can stay in her community and her new home and not be separated from her two best friends. She craves stability. If she fulfilled her potential, including just taking credit for her work, it would disrupt her life. Ok. You know what? I can relate to and even respect someone who prioritizes home, community, and personal life over career and money. But here’s the thing. Except for her two best friends, who have lives of their own, she doesn’t really have a family or a personal life. She has no hobbies, causes, or interests other than her work and fixing up her old house which winning the lottery allowed her to buy. The premise of this little series: 3 friends who win the lottery and how it changed their lives sounded intriguing and fraught with possibilities. But despite this novel’s marketing, winning the lottery doesn’t change Kit or her life at all. It just gives her something to do and a bonafide neighborhood to live in. She would still have the same “maintain the status quo at all costs” attitude she has now, but would be living in an apartment with nothing to do after work. I am re-reading a book now, A Spring Affair by Milly Johnson, in which a downtrodden woman sorely in need of a new lease on life transforms her circumstances by moving all the detritus of years out of her house. As she “cleans house”, she gets out from under the thumb of her husband, re-establishes a relationship with an old friend, starts a business, loses weight, and falls in love with the bin-man. And a lot of other things as well. It is a slow but very sure progression throughout the novel. It provided a real contrast and insight into why this plot didn’t do it for me. Anyway, back to Kit. As far as family, she has a beloved globe-trotting photojournalist brother who brought her up and loves her, but whom she rarely sees. And that is because she has all but alienated him by her constant nagging to accept part of her lottery winnings as a gift. As soon as he comes home for a visit, she starts in on him again, forcing him to be harsh with her to get her to stop. He cuts his visit short leaving her bereft but none the wiser.

Kit’s genius and accomplishments have come to the notice of a huge corporate research laboratory. Ben, our hero, has been sent to recruit Kit to Houston Texas with promises of a big salary, top-of-the-line equipment, fabulous working conditions, fame, fulfillment, and prestige in her field. Of course, it’s a big “NO” from Kit. She is happy where she is. She doesn’t want the pressure or hassle, would have to move, and is afraid that her work will be used to do bad things like making weapons. (That I can respect, but she doesn’t even entertain the possibility that her talents could also contribute to the good of mankind as well.) Anyway, while attempting to woo her to his company, Ben and Kit fall in love. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Ben’s father, whom he is temporarily caring for, owns a salvage yard in her home town which has lots of cool stuff for Kit’s House.

It doesn’t take long for Ben to realize that Kit is deadly serious about not moving, and he quits trying to make her. The love story precedes predictably until the big misunderstanding that drives them apart. Kit’s nice boss who Kit loves and esteems is offered his sorely needed funding by the corporation Ben works for if Kit comes to work for them. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that Ben used her private confidences to blackmail her into changing her mind. Of course, he is not capable of any such thing. Kit ignores what a good person Ben has proven himself to be, believes the worse, and doesn’t give him any chance to defend himself or deny her accusation. She just coldly freezes him out.

When her derelict addict father has a stroke in another state, he drops everything to jump on a plane to be by her side in the hospital. Nope. She is not having it. She will not even listen to him. To her shock and dismay (!), she learns her father has gotten sober, stopped gambling, got a job, and is in a relationship with a nice lady, Candace, whom he met at an AA meeting. He has been saving all of the money that Kit has been sending him to supposedly keep body and soul together in order to pay it back on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety. Her reaction? She is angry and resentful. “Given that Alex and I both have been sending checks, it would’ve been nice to know that Dad himself could have supplemented…Maybe this should make me feel warm and fuzzy inside…But it makes me mad…to hear he has been going along, getting better at his life, making some grand gesture…when all we’d really want was a bit more kindness.” She looks at his sweet intention as self-indulgent. I just didn’t get the reaction and was even more fed up with her. Plus she was snippy with Candace, who, though she lived in a trailer park (horrors!), was a peach.

In the end, Kit gets tired of waiting for heartbroken Ben to come back to try to change her mind, realizes he is not, and finally takes action. No big epiphany, no growth, no lessons learned, she just got tired of waiting for him to beg her for another chance (to not do anything wrong.) In the epilogue, we find out that she has finally decided not to waste her talents career-wise and flies up and down the east coast consulting and training. Why? Search me.

So it’s another case where protagonists make themselves miserable and almost ruin their lives for no good reason until they choose otherwise for no good reason. I am weary of that but I can put up with it if the protagonists have enough redeeming qualities or a good heart underneath all the flaws. Kit is not a bad person. She had a tough childhood. But she’s not a great person either. So this was a fail for me.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 3, 2022

The Happy Ever After Playlist (The Friend Zone #2)

By Abby Jimenez

This book started out so good, I was barely 6% in when I downloaded the first one in the series from the library to read it right after this one. I really loved the writing, and the way it started: A nice likable woman still trying to recover from her fiance’s death two years prior, her funny supportive friend, and the adorable dog. The promise of the dog’s absent owner, an up-and-coming acoustic rock star showing up to claim him was the carrot on the stick. Unfortunately, it went south pretty quickly. They text and talk being very cute and flirty before they ever meet in person. The getting to know each other stage was sweet and nice. They find each other online. “ Jason was hot. No, he was beyond hot. He was bearded, thick brown hair, sexy smile, blue eyes hot. Six-pack abs on the beach hot.” I can only take so much of that. When they finally meet and see how hot and gorgeous they both are and how cool and nice, well, it’s a done deal. End of. I’ve read a few reviews of this and this is the part people seem to really like. It’s light and funny and romantic. But I’m sorry, I was just bored with all of the sweetness, perfection, and adorableness. Had I but known.

He takes her to meet his parents (they love her-who wouldn’t) and they finally have sex. Of course, it is mind-blowing. She says “I always considered myself immune to that kind of frenzy.” among many other things. So sex with beloved dead Brandon was not as good as with Jason? I didn’t like that she even implied that, and I didn’t even know Brandon or their love story from the first book. TMI, Sloan. The last half is all drama and angst all of the time. At first, I actually found this to be a relief from all of the perfection. They have really got themselves in a pickle, and I had to keep reading to see how they would get out of it and achieve a happy ending. To make a long story short, Sloan is sick and miserable on the road and Jason is miserable because she is miserable. It was a constant litany of what a miserable life it was and how it was going to last a whole decade so they can’t have kids or a home and Sloan has to give up her career as an artist. He finally sends her to his parents’ house so she can paint and not be miserable, but they are miserable without each other. Maybe he should have sent her to Sting and Trudy, or BonJovi and Dorothea, or Ozzy and Sharon, to see how they did it.

They have a big fight over Jason being a dick without her and Sloan can’t take the separation either so she surprises him by rejoining him. She has decided that the whole being miserable with life on the road was just her attitude problem and vows to make it work with a positive “can-do” approach. Meanwhile, though, Jason finds out that the record company he is tied to is even eviler than he thought it was and if Sloan stays with him, her very life will be in danger since the record company wants him with his crazy ex-girlfriend Lola for publicity purposes. Now I know record companies only care about the money, but it was pretty hard to swallow that they would maim (and maybe kill?) an inconvenient girlfriend. I mean wouldn’t that kind of thing get out? Anyway, Jason lies to her making her believe he is the worst person on earth so she will leave him and be able to lead a normal safe happy life. The other alternative would have been to just have a conversation, but I guess he just didn’t think it through. Or maybe he just likes the dramatic approach. So naturally, they are sick and miserable without each other. Jason says this:

It had been ninety-four days since I’d last seen her, and I was nothing but a husk of myself now. My world was dim. All was faded. And the more time that passed, the darker it got. Life without her was a sensory deprivation of my soul.

This is not the foundation for a healthy relationship, folks. No one should be that dependent on another for not only joy and happiness but not to be an empty shell with no soul. Sloan is actually trying to move on and is pretty successful, except she will never love again and spends her days in ‘various states of numb confusion,” so no, not really happy. They finally do get back together again after Jason overshares his personal business with a stadium full of people and all of the roadblocks are miraculously removed. But one of the things he says in his self-indulgent blubbering under the spotlight is this:

“Yeah. She’s on a date tonight. I saw her. Went down to her art gallery and saw her with some guy when I was about to come out. It fucking killed me,” he whispered. “I thought breaking up with her was hard. But seeing that…”

So in other words his 3-month separation from her was not as painful as seeing her moving on from him and trying to be happy in a nice relationship? And don’t forget, he purposely broke her heart just so this exact thing could happen. That is just messed up.

So there were even more problems for me with this one, as well as some good things. The redemption of Lola was well done. Abby Jimenez can be very funny-loved Kristen. Despite my difficulties, she is an engaging writer if a little over-wrought at times. I tried to skip ahead but had to go back. Life on the road with a rock star was something new for me, It was thought-provoking and educational. I even like that hunting was not demonized. It is told, and told well, from two alternating first-person viewpoints. Despite the bipolar nature of the plot, I might give her another try with a different story and not-so-problematic characters.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 24, 2022

The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner

And the society itself sounded like a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.

I really really like this one. I started it on Audible read by Richard Armitage and finished it on Kindle. As many have pointed out, it has a lot in common with a book that really spoke to me, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. England recovering from the devastation of WWII…an outsider welcomed into a small community of the like-minded… gentle romances…bookish conversations. It also reminded me of the work of the 20th-century English novelist, D. E. Stevenson. And this one has a Hollywood Movie Star and Jane Austen!

Winding through the story of the diverse group of society members are shades of some of the plots and characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Particularly PersuasionEmma, and a cad straight out of Sense and Sensibility. Or is it Mansfield Park? Or Pride and Prejudice? Or Northanger Abbey?)
The novel is character-driven, but the characters would probably not be all that interesting to many people. But I felt like I was drawn in and a part of their small world. I cared about them and their sufferings, secrets, and fates. I was invested in their mission to save Jane Austen’s house and the library, which was full of secret priceless treasures revealed thanks to a scholarly teenage housemaid. I was anxious and concerned because their chances of success looked pretty slim at times. Then we are given hope in a surprise twist I did not see coming.

Like many, I struggled to understand “the vote” of the society regarding how to advise one of their members. But I think it had something to do with this perspective from Mimi, the Hollywood star.

“…we are lucky if we get to live in places where so many people care—the trick is understanding why they care. Here, what I love, is that you care because you have a history together. You have known each other’s parents and grandparents…In Hollywood, it’s quite the opposite. Everyone comes there to start new and makes up a history—…Anyway, in a town where no one even knows your real name, let alone where you come from, what is tethering you to anything? What is there to keep you on the ground?

But I still didn’t like it, agree with it, or really fully understand it.

It won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with Jane Austen that in this book, so closely aligned with that great author, it all works out in the end. And I will add that the epilogue was everything an epilogue should be. Even though this is a fictional treatment of a real Society, the Knight Family, their home, and Chawton, it was loosely tethered enough to reality that I learned a lot.
And I agree with Adeline about Emma.
**4 1/2 stars**

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

August 19, 2022

Big Sky River

A Parable for Step-Parents.

This was a low-key pleasant way to pass the time while also serving as a cautionary tale for loving step-parents. There’s not a whole lot of action, but then again it also avoided a lot of tired tent pole scenes and tropes that Hallmark is famous for. This was on Hallmark Murders & Mysteries, and those usually have something a little more to offer than the usual stuff that Hallmark churns out like an assembly line.

Tara is a recent divorcee whose ex-husband wants to distance her from his daughter, her step-daughter, Erin, so she can bond with his new girlfriend without Tara in the way. Tara and Erin love each other dearly. Of course they do. Tara is the only mother Erin has ever known, and Erin has been Tara’s daughter for 10 of her 13 years. But Tara has no rights now that she is divorced from Erin’s father. This is a sad and scary situation for both of them, but being a mature, reasonable woman Tara respects James’ wishes (not that she has much of a choice) and is leaving for the summer. As a young girl, she spent a vacation at a dude ranch in Parable, Montana with her parents and she has always thought back on that time fondly. No, surprisingly, this is not a Dude ranch story. The dude ranch is now defunct but she is renting a house nearby.  

While in her summer home she takes care of the resident chickens, rides horses, makes friends, and dances, but more importantly meets a handsome next-door neighbor who is also the local sheriff, and his two boys. They form a connection right away, but being parents they are cautious and careful. And, as they both know, Tara will be leaving at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, the ex-husband, Hallmark’s longstanding never-the-romantic-lead-and-also-director Peter Benson, is not having a smooth time with his daughter. She has chased off 4 nannies and the agency won’t send anymore. He basically wants to just get rid of her and she won’t go to camp. He calls Tara and asks her to take Erin for the rest of the summer. Both Tara and Erin are thrilled and Erin happily joins her mom and makes herself at home in Parable.

And that’s about it until the big crisis. I won’t go any further, but it results in Tara finally putting her foot down with James and James caving in immediately. It was the highlight of the movie.  By the end, Tara and Erin will be together in Parable with Tara and Boone pursuing their promising relationship and hopefully forming one big happy family.

I appreciated late 30 and 40-somethings dealing with age-appropriate situations. Too often, Hallmark has their 40-year-old actors dealing with life situations more common to twenty-somethings. The moral, or parable, if you will, of this story is, that if you’re the loving parent of a stepchild, better go ahead and adopt them. Marriages are not always forever but parenthood is. Don’t lose your rights to your child.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 18, 2022

Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3)

By Candice Fox

“So you didn’t do it?” “No,” Amanda said. “But I’m going to. I’m gonna smack that bitch so hard her grandkid will be born with my handprint on its face.”…“Aman-duh,” she imitated me. “You’re the one who told me I wasn’t angry enough about her pushing my bike over. I don’t get angry, Ted. I just sear my visage deep into my enemy’s brain with the flaming cattle brand of my devilish trickery. Then, in their nightmares, it’s my name they hear whispered on the winds of darkness.”

This is the third in the trilogy. I skipped the second one and cut right to the chase. I loved the characters and wanted more of Ted and Amanda, but the anxiety of Ted being unfairly hated and hounded by virtually the whole country of Australia took too much away from my enjoyment. In the second one, that I skipped, the true perpetrator of the heinous crime that Ted was imprisoned for was caught and Ted is no longer a suspect. Since the pervert was killed by the father of the girl though and was not tried in the courts and the court of public opinion, his innocence is not cut and dried. But it was enough to officially remove Ted as a person of interest. Even though he still has to deal with some ignoramuses, much of the cloud has been removed from over his head so I was able to concentrate on the case Ted and Amanda are investigating and enjoy them as characters and the side stories that involve them. Amanda on the other hand got herself into some hot water in the second one, so the tables are turned as far as being a target of the local police force. She is not vulnerable like Ted was so it wasn’t a huge worry.

The case that Amanda and Ted are called in to assist with was much more interesting and suspenseful than the case in the first book. An 8-year-old boy is missing so the stakes are high. As in the first book some aspects of the case were pretty outlandish or just wrong.

A character is arrested for going to the police for reporting a crime against children and in the process told them he too was a pedophile. But he never acted on his impulses. Can you be arrested in Australia for just wanting to do something illegal? I don’t think so.

**a little spoilery**

The crime is planned out in advance but the perpetrator has to rely on his/her ability to brainwash a group of children. A child psychologist with that deep knowledge of child behavior might know this might be possible, but there would be no way for even them to be sure enough to bet their life on it. It would only take one kid’s refusal to go along with the crowd to ruin everything. Yet the culprit has no doubt or worry about it. 

Towards the end of the book after a shocking event, the author gets mixed up as to who was a witness to it and who wasn’t. 

**big spoiler**

Ted saw the croc take Sara. Ted was the witness, not Amanda. Amanda was nowhere near. But Ted is allowed to go home and Amanda is kept at the scene to help the cops look for her body “because you know exactly where Sara disappeared from.” **end spoiler**.

This has huge consequences as to how everything played out.

As in the first book, the police obstinately ignore logic and evidence, (proof actually) that contradicts what they want to believe. And boy are they sorry in this one.

So apparently Candice Fox really really does not like local law enforcement. But for one exception, every one of them was either the scum of the earth and/or really really stupid. Especially as they are the bane of our dynamic duo’s existence, not to mention a menace to everyone else. Ted and Amanda keep getting work throughout the series because of their incompetence. It was bothersome and I think the books would have been better if there was some balance there.

But the mystery of the missing probably dead boy, Amanda’s relationship with the bikers, her confrontations with a crazed policewoman, the investigation itself, and the shocking twists and turns carried me through the book. Amanda is fascinating and priceless. Ted makes a sympathetic hero most of the time. Although justice was not fully served for everyone in the end, it was served enough to satisfy me. If this is the last in the series, I will be sorry. But it does make a fitting conclusion if it is. It looks like things are going to work out pretty well for both Ted and Amanda, and I wouldn’t want a continuation of the series to ruin that hope.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August 14, 2022

The Secret Quest (Judy Bolton # 33)

By Margaret Sutton

Always there was some bright hope there, like the sun itself, lighting the way. Mysteries would puzzle Judy for a time and then be solved…But always the quest would go on.

Still in Washington D.C., Judy and Honey, who is on “vacation” from her job as a fabric designer, get involved in industrial espionage involving solar energy-fueled rockets. After picking up the wrong suitcase at the airport the girls pursue the owners, two old-fashioned elderly ladies to return it and get Honey’s clothes back. Inside the old ladies’ suitcase is an antique coffee mill with some mysterious diagrams hidden inside. Peter recognizes something fishy is going on. Also fishy is Honey thinking she saw a shifty new co-worker with the ladies. We find out that Honey’s career might be in jeopardy. Finally, they figure out that the sisters have returned to their home near Roulsville with Honey’s suitcase.

But before they cut short their D.C. trip to follow them, they run around Washington and, at The Smithsonian, they meet a young solar scientist that Honey is attracted to (She is irritated with Horace), go to a very progressive Unitarian Church (The sermon is about the sun-worshiping Akhenaten, the first monotheist), and are waylaid by President Kennedy and Jackie’s (“Isn’t she beautiful?”) motorcade. On the way home, they visit Gettysburg, where they have to lure the ever-present Blackberry out of a cannon with some sardines which Judy just happens to have handy. When they get home they find Honey’s workplace on fire and learn that Horace has gotten attacked and beaten up. Goodness!

When they get to the big old isolated house of the elderly sisters, Dorcus and Violetta Jewel, they are not exactly welcomed with open arms. The old ladies are being victimized by their nephew who is an imposter, of course. Because their real nephew is the shy nice scientist, Henry Jewel, whom they met in D.C. This guy is on the F.B.I.’s 10 most wanted list! After convincing the women that the creepy guy upstairs is not their nephew, outsmarting him, and narrowly avoiding disaster (violent poltergeists, getting shot, and drowning) everything works out. In the end, the Jewel family is re-united, the scientific diagrams are safe in the hands of our government, Honey’s job is secure, and she is “almost” engaged to Horace. Peter gets to work from home and is put in charge of rounding up the gang responsible for all of the mayhem, which, surprise, includes Honey’s scary rival at work.

This one had some positive aspects but it kind of made my head hurt. I liked that some of the characters from the last mystery (The Whispered Watchword) were seamlessly incorporated into this one. There was lots of science and history which I liked, we briefly meet up with Lois and Lorraine back in Roulsville, the Horace/Honey courtship was advanced a bit, and the wrap-up at the end was nice. The characters were well developed. However, there were too many crazy coincidences. Four men (five if you count the imposter) in or talked about in the story had the same name, which was confusing. There were a lot of perplexing and nonsensical decisions made and developments that occur.

After New York City, a cross-country road trip to Yellowstone Park, and two books set in Washington D.C., I hope we can just stay home for our next adventure, The Puzzle in the Pond.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 8, 2022

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1)

by Candice Fox

I bunked the pedophile trend in every possible way, and that frightened people. The Australian public had convinced themselves that they knew what child sexual predators looked and sounded and smelled like. They thought they had a handle on things. And then along comes Ted Conkaffey. A wholly new, and more sophisticated, breed of monster.

This is the first entry of a trilogy. I vetted the series carefully since there wasn’t a guaranteed “happy ending.” By which I mean, in a book that is not a romantic comedy or chick lit, that justice is done and closure is achieved. The little I read about it satisfied me that this would be a good bet.

Ted Conkaffy’s life is virtually destroyed by a false accusation of brutally raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He was imprisoned for 8 months until the charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. To everyone, including his now ex-wife, this means he was guilty but got off on a technicality. He has to flee Sydney from the constant hounding by the press and the public for his own mental and physical health and also to protect his ex-wife and their baby daughter. Literally everybody hates him.

He settles in a very small town a few miles north of Cairns and, on the advice of his attorney, contacts Amanda Pharrell for employment. Amanda is a brilliant private investigator and Ted was a detective before he lost his job so he is well-qualified to work as a P.I. Unfortunately, no one is qualified to work with Amanda. She is an eccentric piece of work with some mental health issues who spent 8 years in the pen after being convicted as a teenager of stabbing a friend to death. She’s kind of impossible to describe, so I’ll stop there. I was very engaged with both of the main characters and their fates. They were interesting and likable. While working on their first case together, we also learn about their pasts and the crimes which brought them down. We know that Ted is innocent, but are not so sure about Amanda especially since she confessed and happily (really!) served her time.

Despite the occasional flashes of humor and the wry first-person voice, this was pretty dark. Ted’s lawyer is the only one who believes in him as the novel begins, and we never even meet him. Besides Amanda, who really doesn’t care either way, through most of the book he only gains one other ally. By the end he has one more, and we gain some measure of hope for Ted’s eventual exoneration. He is abused by the police, hounded by violent vigilantes and the tabloid press, and hated by old friends and complete strangers. When we think we see some light at the end of the tunnel it is quickly dashed. I just couldn’t stand it.

I didn’t find the case that Ted and Amanda were working on particularly interesting and the solution, I thought, was implausible. The pace was interrupted by the insertion of a nutcase’s fan letters to the author whose disappearance Ted and Amanda are investigating. They were necessary to the mystery, but were repetitive and got boring. In addition, I still don’t understand why Ted was not exonerated by law enforcement before his life was ruined. The evidence, though strong, was circumstantial, and forensics of his person and his vehicle should have shown he couldn’t possibly be guilty of the horrific crime. It’s never laid out how this could possibly have happened, and Ted is too passive and accepting of the situation. And the case against Amanda was just as weak.

The writing was engaging and entertaining, and it is an exciting book with very likable protagonists. There were just too many aspects that didn’t make sense, and that frustration brought my rating down.**3 1/2 stars**

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

August 3, 2022

The Identicals

By Elin Hilderbrand

I listened to this on audio because I wanted to give this author a shot but my time is always a consideration. I’m always looking for a shining star and her name is always popping up, especially in the summertime, and most people seem to really love her. I chose this one because twin stories always seem to be stuffed with possibilities. Two twins, Tabitha and Harper were separated as children when their parents divorced. Harper won rock paper scissors and stayed with her easygoing fun father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha had to go with her cold controlling mother to Nantucket. Tabitha’s unreasonable resentment of Harper getting to stay with the Dad laid the groundwork for their estrangement. It was taken to another level when Tabitha (again) blamed Harper for a personal tragedy that was not her fault. Though only 11 miles apart, they had not seen each other for 15 years when Billy the father dies and the two sisters, their mother, and Tabitha’s out-of-control teenage daughter meet for his funeral.

Frankly, soon after the drama of the funeral, I was all set to give up on this, which would have been a first for me for an audiobook. Since I always listen while doing something else, it is just so easy to go along with them even if the book isn’t that enjoyable. There was not one likable main character. And the sisters in particular were both pretty contemptible. Harper was an immature, irresponsible underachiever who thinks nothing of carrying on an affair with a married man while two-timing him with another guy who is serious about her. Tabitha is such a bitter woman and “piss-poor parent” to teenage Ainsley, that I really questioned whether she cared about her own daughter at all. Ainsley is a mean girl whose teenage angst was just exhausting.

But soon after the funeral, They decide to change places. Harper will go to Nantucket to look after Ainsley and the family dress shop, and Tabitha will take care of renovating and selling Billy’s ramshackle house on the Vineyard. I thought that maybe this would be the turning point in the story that would result in healing their relationship and the evolution of their characters. In some ways, it did eventually but not before the sisters continued to reveal their awfulness, especially Tabitha. With both of them, every time I started to gain some liking and even respect, they disappointed me. Especially Tabitha. It was very frustrating. The difference between them was that although Harper made awful decisions she was essentially good-hearted and sensible. But towards the end, she did something so heartless that I couldn’t forgive her. Tabitha was just awful. The love interests were weak as well. I don’t even want to get started with those guys. There was one decent man introduced who was a possibility for a while for either of the sisters, but he got kicked to the curb and disappeared. The most positive thread was Ainsley finally maturing and getting herself together after being a horror throughout most of the book. This was thanks to the one nice and admirable character who needed a lot more pages and a story of her own.

The one really enjoyable part of this book was the last chapter in which everything was tied up into a happy ending (no accountability here!) and told from the perspective of Harper’s pet dog, who was the other unobjectionable character in this book.

Hilderbrand is a good writer and most of the book was pretty engaging. I might try another one someday. Surely not all of her protagonists are so flawed. **not quite 3 stars**

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 2022