REVIEW: C. S. Harris’s WHAT THE DEVIL KNOWS

What the Devil Knows is C. S. Harris’s 16th Regency-set Sebastian St. Cyr mystery. Always leery of a series losing its reading-lustre, I’m amazed how each one keeps me in thrall for the one or two days in which I devour it. Part of it is thanks to Harris’s rich historical setting, focussed on the injustices of a society where the privileges of wealth and birth are in turn the exploiters of the poor, vulnerable, and low-born. Most of it, however, is due to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin; wife, Hero (adorable son, Simon), a slew of sleuthing-helpers (among my favourites, Irish surgeon Paul Gibson and Sebastian’s “tiger,” Tom) who care: they care about justice being done, they care about the downtrodden; they care about the precarious lives of the ordinary people who make up Regency London. If you come looking for the verve and froth of Bridgerton‘s London (I loved it, but this is a different animal), you won’t find it. Instead, the steadiest, most loving of couples and Harris’s meticulously researched world, more in service of great fiction than exactitude (always read the author’s note). In What the Devil Knows, London’s port and the publicans who serve her is her setting; past murders and mysteriously connected new ones set Sebastian on the path to untangling past and present:

It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect–a young seaman named John Williams–was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question–who was and why are they dead set on killing again? Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marnie Blue’s MISTLETOE KISSES

Mistletoe_KissesAs winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.

Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s A BRIDE AT HIS BIDDING

Bride_At_His_BiddingI adore Michelle Smart’s category romances. The HP is my romance-ice-cream-tub of choice, so good while I’m reading it and then, disoriented and nauseous from melodramatic hangover. My forehead-slapping reaction: “Did I really just read that?” Yes, dear reader, I read them: the romance guilty pleasure, outlandish, overblown, eye-rollingly breaking every smidgen of feministic progress the genre has made. Some HPs are out there and so badly written, they’re easy to ridicule. Some are written with elegance and humour: I’m looking at YOU, Sarah Morgan. Smart’s HPs usually elicit the latter response, but A Bride At His Bidding? Well, this is one of the strangest HPs I’ve ever read … and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot if you’re one of the category’s aficionados as I am. I’m having a hard time making up my mind whether A Bride At His Bidding is a laughable mess, or brilliant. Maybe both? All I know is that its idiosyncratic narrative and character about-faces gave me reading whiplash, goggle-eyed reactions of gasping disbelief, derision, and heart-clenching delight and enjoyment.  
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Review: Cathy Pegau’s BORROWING DEATH

borrowing_deathCathy Pegau’s second Charlotte Brody historical murder mystery, Borrowing Death, is set between two colossal mistakes: the Great War and the enacting and enforcing of American Prohibition. While the Great War remains a definitive Canadian event, Prohibition figures prominently in the social rifts and conflicts of Pegau’s early-twentieth-century-Alaska-set novel. But Pegau’s journalist-amateur-sleuth heroine, Charlotte Brody, embodies an equally important historical moment. As Charlotte says, she’s not as interested in the 18th Amendment as she is in the 19th.

Charlotte is an independent, idealistic young woman, working as a journalist, deeply committed to causes near and dear to her, women’s suffrage and rights. Though only in her early twenties, Charlotte has done some living. She travelled from afar to the frontier town of Cordova. In the series’s first book, we learn Charlotte survived a fraught love affair. Her relationship with former lover Richard left her with a sour view of men and relationships and a diminished sense of her ability to understand and judge people. When she refused to follow her lover’s demand for a conventional end to their romance, that is, marriage, children, and Charlotte as home-maker, wife, mother, he turned on her. As a result, Charlotte made painful, irrevocable decisions, one that haunts her still. Moving to Cordova, reuniting with her brother Michael, is how Charlotte will lay the past to rest. Her writing and sleuthing, curiosity and intelligence, restore Charlotte’s faith in herself. If she can only find some way to restore her faith in romantic love.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Rula Sinara’s THROUGH THE STORM

through_the_storm(With this Miss Bates’s 299th review, she confesses to a slight and temporary change of direction. Miss Bates has taken new professional responsibilities at the day-job and must curtail her reading and blogging activities. The plan is to post a mini-review once-a-week. Gone, for the present, Miss Bates’s deliciously loquacious review-posts. In their place, what Miss Bates hopes will be shorter reviews, still helpful and interesting to her readers.)

Through the Storm is Rula Sinara’s third From Kenya, With Love romance. Miss Bates loved and reviewed the first, The Promise Of Rain. Heroine Tessa is married to Brice Henning and bringing up her nephew, her sister’s son, Nick. Maria and husband Allan were killed in an airplane crash. Brice offers Tessa what she’s craved since a child, stability, safety, security. Growing up with environmentalist-sailing parents, Tessa lived a childhood of fear, always apprehensive her parents would never return from their dangerous missions. With the loss of her sister, Tessa’s fear are re-awakened. When she suspects her husband of taking part in the unethical ivory trade, she must expose him. But first, she must ensure Nick’s safety.  Continue reading

Mini-Review: Manda Collins’s GOOD DUKES WEAR BLACK

Good_Dukes_Wear_BlackManda Collins’s (a new-to-Miss-B-romance-writer) Good Dukes Wear Black is third in her Lords of Anarchy series. Though Miss Bates hasn’t read the first two, she can safely say there’s nothing anarchic about Good Dukes Wear Black‘s hero, Piers Hamilton, Duke of Trent, from hereon referred to as Trent (Miss B., and thankfully, Collins, dislikes the name Piers). Au contraire, Trent is a sublime hero: generous, understanding, with just the right amount of protective bluster to endear him to reader and heroine. Our heroine is Miss Ophelia Dauntry, journalist on all things needlecraft at the Ladies Gazette. Collins ensures Trent and Ophelia’s acquaintance by making them friends to the heroes and heroines of the first two Lords of Anarchy novels. Though long acquainted, Trent and Ophelia are only aware of each other as attractive, available young people when circumstance bring them even closer. Ophelia’s fellow journalist, Maggie Grayson, is taken by two thugs (Maggie trying to fend off the brutes and getting a good boink to the head in the process) ostensibly on her husband’s orders because Maggie’s gone mad. Maggie’s husband, George Grayson, was one of Trent’s soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. When George disappears and Ophelia discovers that Maggie may have be taken because of her investigative work into the mental institution’s unethical practices, Trent and Ophelia set out, as friends, to find Maggie and George and bring the culprits who took them to justice.
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MINI-REVIEW: Cathy Pegau’s MURDER ON THE LAST FRONTIER

Murder_On_Last_FrontierMiss Bates had every reason to want to read Cathy Pegau’s Murder On the Last Frontier: feminist-writer heroine, wintry setting (MissB’s favourite!), blue-eyed deputy hero, and that gorgeous hat! Sailing from her native Yonkers, journalist Charlotte Brody arrives in 1919 Cordova, Alaska, to join her doctor-brother, Michael. Charlotte’s plans are to write about northern frontier life as it confronts twentieth century American concerns: financial boom-times, women’s changing roles, mechanization, and the “soon-to-be-voted” Volstead Act. Charlotte is a proponent of women’s rights, especially the struggle for suffrage, and writes from that unique perspective, sending dispatches to Yonkers’s Modern Woman Review. Cordova is a small, but growing northern frontier town with sufficient amenities and a population, especially its upper echelons, who prides itself on its successes and attractions. Michael introduces Charlotte to  the Kavanaughs, town mayor and wife, his fiancée Ruth and her most respectable father, the Reverend Bartlett and his missus. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Hank Phillippi Ryan’s WHAT YOU SEE – Isn’t Always What You Get

What_You_SeeMiss Bates read Phillippi Ryan for the first time, having noted time and again Phillippi Ryan’s name on the Agatha Awards nominee or winner lists. Phillippi Ryan’s murder-mystery-thriller-police-procedural narrative structure brings a wheel’s hub and spokes to mind. The novel opens, most dramatically, with a back-stabbing murder in the midst of a hot, tourist-laden June day in Boston’s Curley Park. This central incident radiates outwardly to a number of characters and situations, which come together in a masterful dénouement. The Curley Park murder scene draws hero and heroine, Jake Brogan, BPD detective, and Jane Ryland, unemployed journalist and Jake’s secret-lover. Jane freelances for a local TV station, working to resurrect her defunct career. A student-photographer claiming to have pics of the murder waylays Jane. Jake and DeLuca, his partner, run into an alley to discover a security expert wrestling the perp to the ground. Jane and her new photographer-friend follow. The scene is chaotic; neither Jane, representing the media, nor Jake and his partner, representing law enforcement, can tell the crime’s why or who. Meanwhile, in the mayor’s offices above Curley Park, teen-age Tenley Siskel, whose mom, Catherine, Mayor Holbrooke’s chief of staff, got her a job working the security video, may or may not have recorded the murder. Moreover, Jane responds to a call from her sister Melissa who’s frantic with worry over the disappearance of her nine-year-old step-daughter-to-be, Grace.
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MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ SHEIKH’S DESERT DUTY

Sheikh_Desert_DutyIn E. M. Hull’s horrific Sheikh, Ahmed kidnaps, rapes, and imprisons Lady Diana to avenge his mother’s abuse at his English father’s hands. Thank you, Wikipedia, Miss Bates didn’t have to read it to learn this. Maisey’s Yates’ Sheikh’s Desert Duty winks at Hull’s premise. Though the resemblance ends there, it is still a clever nod to one of the most controversial of the romance’s genre’s predecessors.

Yates’ Sheikh’s Desert Duty, part of the elaborate, convoluted and to Miss B uninteresting Chatsfield series, opens with Sheikh Zayn Al-Ahmar of the desert kingdom of Surhaadi and James Chatsfield. James is the nasty who has dishonoured Zayn’s sister, Leila, by abandoning her pregnant. When Zayn calls James out for his actions, James responds, ” ‘You’re positively biblical, Al-Ahmar.’ ” Zayn is all about the old-fashioned virtue of protecting his family and country. When Zayn leaves London’s Chatsfield Hotel, he discovers Sophie Parsons lurking among the garbage cans. Sophie, in turn, is there to help out a friend, Isabelle Harrington, whose family hotel business is threatened by Spenser Chatsfield. As a reporter, Sophie hopes to find some delicious Chatsfield scoop to use in aid of her loyal, loving friend. What she finds instead is a tall, dark, handsome stranger, who assumes she’s going to snoop around long enough to expose his sister’s dilemma. To protect his sister’s and country’s reputations, Zayn kidnaps Sophie. Sounds awful? In premise, yes, but Yates is a clever and tongue-in-cheek writer when she’s at her best. Evidence: James’ cool, sly “biblical” retort to Zayn’s sombre, serious need to protect his family. Zayn: the desert patriarch, the tribal leader under whose wings everyone is succoured.  Continue reading