Author: Miss Bates

Audio-Book Review: Jane Harper’s EXILES (Aaron Falk #3)

ExilesMy sole regret in listening to Exiles‘ twelve hours is that I neglected to read The Dry and Force Of Nature, both still nestled in my TBR. Gah, this was good, though I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why for the first oh ten or so hours. As I listened to the final two, it hit me: I had experienced one of the most elaborate, meandering premises I’d ever read, taken in, bamboozled, yet the whole time I was smugly making assumptions about who, what, where, and why. Having come to the end, I have to decide: did I just read something I can throw the “contrived” criticism at, or something utterly clever, brilliant, and compelling? For starters, let’s offer the publisher’s blurb to get some narrative details out of the way:

Federal Investigator Aaron Falk is on his way to a small town deep in Southern Australian wine country for the christening of an old friend’s baby. But mystery follows him, even on vacation.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Kim Gillespie’s disappearance. One year ago, at a busy town festival on a warm spring night, Kim safely tucked her sleeping baby into her stroller, then vanished into the crowd. No one has seen her since. When Kim’s older daughter makes a plea for anyone with information about her missing mom to come forward, Falk and his old buddy Raco can’t leave the case alone.

As Falk soaks up life in the lush valley, he is welcomed into the tight-knit circle of Kim’s friends and loved ones. But the group may be more fractured than it seems. Between Falk’s closest friend, the missing mother, and a woman he’s drawn to, dark questions linger as long-ago truths begin to emerge. What would make a mother abandon her child? What happened to Kim Gillespie? (more…)

Review: Darcie Wilde’s THE SECRET OF THE LOST PEARLS (Rosalind Thorne Mystery #6)

Secret_Lost_Pearls“A spinster woman in reduced circumstances was likely to be underestimated in any well-to-do household.”

Given the name of this blog, this phrase, from Wilde’s The Secret of the Lost Pearls, struck me. Wilde’s sixth of a series is dedicated not to Austen’s heroines, but her spinsters…with a nice dash of romance to give a nice little twist. After reading Wilde’s Lost Pearls, I am sorry I didn’t read the series from the start: it is well-written and offers an engaging, easily-liked heroine, hero, and best friend. It doesn’t have the ensemble “feel” of Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane series, but that is not a discredit. Set in a similar era, Wilde, in a way, does a better job of integrating historical detail, without Penrose’s penchant for long, ponderous, historically-dense paragraphs. Maybe this makes Wilde somewhat “lighter”? I’m not sure, she makes up in characterization, however, what she may lack in historical detail. I certainly enjoyed Wilde’s latest more than Penrose’s. Enough speculation, here is the publisher’s blurb for premise et. al.:

Rosalind Thorne may not have a grand fortune of her own, but she possesses virtues almost as prized by the haut ton: discretion, and a web of connections that enable her to discover just about anything about anyone. Known as a “most useful woman,” Rosalind helps society ladies in need—for a modest fee, of course—and her client roster is steadily increasing.

Mrs. Gerald Douglas, née Bethany Hodgeson, presents Rosalind with a particularly delicate predicament. A valuable pearl necklace has gone missing, and Bethany’s husband believes the thief is Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister. Nora made a scandalous elopement at age sixteen and returned three years later, telling the family that her husband was dead.

But as Rosalind begins her investigations, under cover of helping the daughters of the house prepare for their first London season, she realizes that the family harbors even more secrets than scandals. The intrigue swirling around the Douglases includes fraud, forgery, blackmail, and soon, murder. And it will fall to Rosalind, aided by charming Bow Street officer Adam Harkness, to untangle the shocking truth and discover who is a thief—and who is a killer.   (more…)

Audiobook-Mini-Review: Helena Hunting’s MAKE A WISH (Spark House #3)

Make_A_WishOnce again I’m enjoying romance more via ears than eyes. Impatience is my middle-name when it comes to romance-reading and while I am sometimes impatient at the  length of a romance audiobook, it doesn’t compare to how finger-drummingly ho-hum I feel when I’m eyeballing it.

I certainly both enjoyed and grew impatient with Helena Hunting’s contemporary romance, Make A Wish. It has a cutesy cartoon cover (not a fan) moments of rom-com-ish humour (weak ones), a touch of women’s fic psychologizing (better than I thought it would be), and a fairly standard romance, not too passionate, or compelling, but in the context of its two other qualities, solid. There’s a handsome single dad, aspiring child-care expert, soupçon of May-to-December, and saccharine plot poppet; the publisher’s blurb offers further details:

Ever have a defining life moment you wish you could do over? Harley Spark has one. The time she almost kissed the widowed father of the toddler she nannied for. It was so bad they moved across the state and she never saw them again.

Fast forward seven years and she’s totally over it. At least she thinks she is. Until Gavin Rhodes and his adorable now nine-year-old daughter, Peyton, reappear at a princess-themed birthday party hosted by Spark House, Harley’s family’s event hotel. Despite trying to avoid the awkwardness of the situation, she can’t help but notice how unbearably sexy he looks in a tutu. Add to that a spontaneous hives breakout, and it’s clear she’s not even remotely over the mortification of her egregious error all those years ago.

Except Gavin seems oblivious to her inner turmoil. So much so that he suggests they get together for lunch. For Peyton’s sake, of course. It’s the perfect opportunity to heal old wounds. Or it could just reopen them. This is one of those times Harley wishes she could see the future…

(more…)

Mini-Review: Claire Keegan’s “Foster”

Foster“All you need is minding.” (Keegan’s “Foster”)

One of the best books I read in the past few years was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. Nothing in Keegan’s “Foster” connects the two except time, “The Troubles”, and loosely, place, given Radden Keefe’s is set in Northern Ireland and Keegan’s Ireland “proper”. One small detail tethered the story to Say Nothing: one character, a wife, tells her husband one of the strikers died and the reader immediately realizes it’s Bobby Sands, which factors in Keefe’s narrative and lets us glimpse the historical tragedy to Keegan’s domestic one.

“I am in a spot where I can neither be what I always am nor turn into what I could be.” 

Keefe’s book is sweeping, broadly and lengthily developped, and Keegan’s is short, barely encompassing the space of a summer, but what links them is a theme of loss. Keefe writes about what it means to die for a cause and never question its rightness and Keegan writes about children, where they are valued and where they are not, how one can be an unbearable loss and another, an unwanted burden. So that “Bobby Sands” moment in Keegan encompasses grief and loss in that act, not of the actor, but of those who had to live with the act. I’ve now gone ’round and ’round and have yet to offer details of  what “Foster” is about; in the publisher’s nutshell, please: 

It is a hot summer in rural Ireland. A child is taken by her father to live with relatives on a farm, not knowing when or if she will be brought home again. In the Kinsellas’ house, she finds an affection and warmth she has not known and slowly, in their care, begins to blossom. But there is something unspoken in this new household—where everything is so well tended to—and this summer must soon come to an end. (more…)

Mini-Audio-Book Review: Kate Bateman’s A WICKED GAME (Ruthless Rivals #3)

Wicked_GameMay I say how much I enjoy listening to romance over reading it? Or at least that’s what I’ve preferred lately. If a romance doesn’t tax me intellectually, or emotionally, then listening to an engaging narrator read to me about a funny, lovable hero and heroine, while I cook, bake, or walk, is a great way to fill my head while engaging hands and feet! Bateman’s Wicked Game did exactly this: it amused and gave me the romance fuzzies. To start, the publisher’s description: 

Shipwrecked and imprisoned thanks to an inaccurate map, Captain Morgan Davies has returned to London to exact sweet revenge on the cartographer responsible for his suffering. He’s also vowed to claim the winner’s prize—three kisses—in the bet he made with his long-time nemesis, the prickly, smart-mouthed Harriet Montgomery. His time in prison has made him realize his feelings for her, but convincing the infuriating woman he wants to marry her is going to be his greatest challenge yet. When Harriet’s revealed to be the very mapmaker he seeks, Morgan decides revenge and seduction can be combined into one delightful package…

Harriet’s always wanted witty scoundrel Morgan, and now he’s back; as sinfully handsome as ever, and apparently determined to make her life a living hell. She has enough on her plate dealing with her father’s failing eyesight and a rival mapmaker copying her work to play wicked games with a Davies—however tempting he might be.

But when a threat from Morgan’s past puts them both in danger, Harry discovers that she and Morgan might not be enemies at all…

(more…)

Mini-Review: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE (Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #6)

Murder_Serpentine_BridgeWrexford and Sloane #6 sees Lord Wrexford and his now Lady Charlotte once again chasing villainy. Though married contentment permeates Penrose’s latest, the honeymoon is definitely over when Wrexford and the Weasels pull a body from the Serpentine. The publisher’s description lays out the mystery’s stakes for Charlotte, Wrexford (what the heck is his first name?), the Weasels, their friends, and a lovely new addition to their found family: 

Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.

But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.

Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . .  (more…)

Recent Wintry-December Reading

The school term came to a close with exams and a tradition of “winter games”. I was assigned to supervise a vigorous round of musical chairs to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” which I like well enough, until I hear it for the umpteenth time to accompanying squeals of adolescent enthusiasm. Still, it was nice to see young people off their phones and having some “old-fashioned fun.” As old-fashioned as reading, I guess.

I read three books in an attempt, quite successful I might add, to avoid grading essays. Hurrah. (If ChatGPT is going to end the “essay,” I say bring it on…maybe English class can be reading books. What could be better?)

I desultorily read three books. December is a low-energy month: winter is settling in, I have endless anxiety about what my commute will be like on any given day (snow, sleet, freezing rain, or arctic temps alone or in combination). The books were good, none enthralling; weather, appalling. I’ll have to let these titles settle before any final verdicts, but, for now, here are initial impressions of:

Menachem Kaiser’s Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure

Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha At Last

Robert Harris’s Enigma (more…)

The Best and Worst of 2022

Dear readers and friends, it’s been ages. What can I say? Work, obligation, and plain old fatigue. I’ve read a lot, but haven’t felt inspired to write about any of it. I haven’t read much romance, though a recent read, Mimi Matthews’s “A Holiday By Gaslight,” by no means stellar, but comforting in that finely-written-lovely-protags-way Matthews has, will see me mix romance into the reading pool again. I’m glad: I’ve missed its hope in life and love.

I read mediocre books, great books, and forgettable books: it’s been a good reading year, not a terribly good blogging one. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction, in English and French, novels, histories, and memoirs. You won’t see a best rom of the year because I needed a break from the genre, but hope to offer some romance reviews in 2023. Here are some of the books you might want, with holiday reading time hopefully at a maximum, to try. If you follow me on Goodreads (my sole SM indulgence these days, with the rom-fun Twitter days ne’er to return) some might sound familiar. (more…)

TBR Challenge Theme “Animals” and Marion Lennox’s MISTY AND THE SINGLE DAD

Misty_Single_DadMeh, I wish I could have loved this. Lennox writes good banter, employs light, wry humour, usually has a wonderfully atmospheric setting and characters who are fundamentally good, but not flat. Certainly Misty has those elements, but there was a problem in the execution that, sadly, coming in the second half, left yours truly with reader-disappointment. First, to the back-cover blurb:

Teacher Misty Lawrence has lived her whole life in Banksia Bay, cherishing a secret list of faraway dreams. Just as she’s finally about to take flight, Nicholas Holt; tall, dark and deliciously bronzed turns up in her classroom with his little son Bailey and an injured stray spaniel in tow.

Misty soon falls head over heels for all three but her scrapbook of wishes keeps calling. Misty must decide: follow her dreams, or her heart? Because a girl can’t have it all or can she?

I do confess I chose Misty and the Single Dad out of the TBR because the cover screamed Wendy’s “animals” theme and it’s true “Ketchup”, the dog pictured, brings these two together and offers cute gamboling-dog scenes. He’s joined by another pooch, “Took,” and the two provide even more of those. So: animals, favourite category romance author, school-marm heroine, handsome single dad, and adorable plot moppet. What could go wrong? (more…)

REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE

Killers_Of_A_Certain_AgeI’m a Deanna-Raybourn fan-girl and would read her napkin doodles, but I wasn’t sure about Killers of a Certain Age. I do love me older-women-kick-ass heroines and in this case, there are four, but I’ve never been able to stomach making heroes out of assassins, or heroines for that matter; as the narrator quips, “It was the Wild West with no law but natural justice”. Um, no, vigilante justice is problematic whether men or women exact it. In the end, Killers of a Certain Age entertained me, but wasn’t powerful enough to dispel my niggling ugh-assassins conscience. But a premise is a premise is a premise and it’s Raybourn’s, so I can’t fault her for it. If this were to be a series, I’d not follow Raybourn to the next book, but it looks, at least to me, it’s a standalone (I’d still argue the ending had a whiff of sequel-bait to it, though). But onwards to the merits and demerits of Killers. First, a bit of a synopsis courtesy of the publisher’s back-cover copy:

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills. When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death. Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman–and a killer–of a certain age. (more…)