Mystery Feed

#RomBkLove Day 5: Romantic Elements

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 Romantic Elements Which ones do you love? How much romance do you need?

I came to romance from other genres. Whether I was reading mystery, fantasy or science fiction I was always drawn to books with a strong romance storyline. 

I read  a lot of Urban Fantasy with central romantic relationships, one of my favorites is Patricia Briggs' Alpha & Omega series. Charles and Anna's relationship beautiful and powerful and constantly tested but they persevere.

One of the things I love about the Alpha and Omega series is that while the stories are full of great crime solving/detective/action adventure elements, the stories in the end are really about Anna and Charles’s relationship.  Briggs does not flinch as she has portrays the many hurdles and difficulties pair have to overcome to be happy together.  Briggs strength in these books is that she has balanced the portrayals of conflict, pain, with those of growth and joy.  


#RomBkLove Day 1: Gateway Romance

 

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My Gateway Romances were Deanna Raybourn's  Silent in the Grave, Nalini Singh's  Slave to Sensation and yes, as heretical as it is to say it among some romance purists, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Before I found romance I read YA, Fantasy and Urban Fantasy for the romantic arcs. It wasn't till I became a romance reader that I recognized the pattern.

As I was finishing up Grad School and had time to read again I read Twilight at a friend's urging and later read her copy of 50SoG because she had read it and wanted someone to talk to about it. There was certainly more sex on the page than I had ever previously encountered with the possible exception of the Jean Auel books I had to sneak read in middle school. I read a ton of erotica and books with black covers and inanimate objects on the covers immediately afterwards looking for something that would capture my attention in the same way. Most of it it didn't click with me, even though they were certainly hot but I kept trying looking for that X-factor that had caught my attention. In the midst of all them I did find a couple of Charlotte Stein books that told me I was on the right track.

At about the same time I became aware of Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Book club's. I was drawn to the virtual bookclub because identified with Day and the rest of the VF crew as fellow geek girls,  women who had read a ton of SF/Fantasy and comics like I did.  For someone who never seriously considered reading romance, their enjoyment of genre romance novels was a powerful recommendation. I watched the first half-dozen episodes and  started checking out the books. The first two I read on Day's recommendation were Silent in the Grave and Slave to Sensation. They were immediately accessible to me. I had been a Austen and cozy mystery fan, so mystery series with a strong romantic core was in someways very familiar and it started opening the genre to me.  Slave to Sensation with its much more overt romantic arc was a bigger leap but Singh's fascinating world building and fast-moving and suspenseful action plot, eased me in.

I immediately read the rest of both those series and as I read them I realized the thing I was looking for was strong emotional conflicts.  Thankfully I had access to the NYPL and my local libraries eBook collections and they both had a wide variety of romance eBooks available. They had everything from Harlequins, e-rom, PNR and a gazillion regency romances. When I ran out of Psy-Changelings to read about I ended up trying Stephanie Laurens's Cynster books.  The bossy, over-protective heroes in those books had a lot in common with the Singh's changelings. They even worked as a pack, and they were essentially invulnerable. They made it possible for me to transition from binge-reading PNR, which I was still sort of classifying in my head as sexy SF to reading "real" traditional Historical Romances of which my library had hundreds. 

I eventually admitted to myself that I that I was a romance reader, not just a Mystery, Fantasy and SF reader crossing over Once I did I started exploring the RITA award winners, and seeking out romance blogs for recommendations.  It has been about 5 and half years and my reading preferences have evolved as I was introduced to new authors, tropes and trends but I will always have a fondness in my heart for the books that drew me into the romance genre.


Massive RT Review Catch-up Post

I just saw that a bunch of my reviews for RT are no longer behind the paywall!!

These are some of the books I've reviewed in the last few months for them:

 

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel: Taut Danish Mystery

Silverwolf: by Jacey Bedford: Disappointing fantasy sequel

Fury on Fire by Sophie Jordan:  Started strong and then sort of fizzled.

More than Anything by Kimberly Lang: Vacation fling that gets serious

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Fast pace and fun start to the Shifter War series.

Pursuing the Bear by Kerry Adrienne: Ugh, repetitive dialogue and messy plot

Don't Temp Me by Lori Foster : Bad timing, worst first impressions and second-thoughts.

Level Up by Cathy Yardley: Funny and nuanced and great rep for women in technology

 


A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

51NzMcKLDSL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I love historical fiction, mystery and adventure stories and this book had all of that and a touch of romance. This is the first book in a new mystery series set near the end of the Victorian Era, around the time of the Queen's Jubilee by Deanna Raybourn.  I loved Raybourn's Lady Jane mysteries and this series looks to be even more interesting.

Veronica Speedwell, a naturalist, who specializes in hunting rare butterflies, has just buried her last remaining relative, her adoptive aunt, in a small rural village. When she returns home to pack up her belongings and set off on her own she is attacked in her cottage by an intruder and rescued by a mysterious old German baron, who insists that her life is in danger and he is here to protect her. She reluctantly agrees to go with him to London (mostly to save herself the train fare) because he claims to have known her mother and might be able to tell her who her father was. He is however killed before he can tell her after leaving her in the care of a trusted associate, a gruff-disgraced former naturalist and adventurer, known as Stoker.

ACB-350Stoker and Veronica reluctantly team-up and they together and go on the run from those pursuing Veronica and work to solve the Baron's murder. The plot is twisty and the dialogue very clever and funny. Veronica and Stoker have great sexual/romantic tension as they forge their tentative partnership and I love the push/pull of their relationship. Neither of them are easy people, and both have lots of emotional baggage to overcome.  I enjoyed the colorful locations (a cluttered warehouse, a traveling carnival, a ramshackle ballroom stuffed with scientific treasure) where Veronica and Stoker take refuge and unusual  supporting characters  very much.  I am looking forward to reading Veronica and Stoker's future adventures.

I listened to this as an audiobook and the performance by the narrator, Angele Masters was fantastic, as she gave each character a distinctive voice without being distracting.


Gambled Away: A Historical Romance Anthology

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I loved this anthology. Rich characterization and intriguing stories about resourcefulness, resilience and redemption that are never repetitive despite sharing a common plot element.

As this anthology includes many of my favorite authors I hope many people take a chance and explore some of their other novels and that they team up again in the future.

All or Nothing by Rose Lerner: This story was surprising, engrossing and emotionally complex. It is a story about lust, longing, trust, hope and how important it is to hold on to truth.  Maggie da Silva's life is outwardly glamorous. She and her best-friend and lover Henny host a small gambling den, where together they charm aristocrats into emptying their pockets for chance to be singled out to gamble on winning Maggie's sexual favors.  Simon Radcliffe-Gould is a struggling architect and terrible gambler who can't resist coming every week because he is infatuated with Maggie. He is titillated and mortified when he wins Maggie. Torn between honorable intentions and desire, he persuades Maggie to pose as his mistress at house-party hosted by Simon's ex-lover, so he can complete a commission without getting sucked back into a relationship with him.  

Lerner is masterful in balancing the emotional tension in this story, as both Maggie and Simon have a lot they need to figure out about themselves, their needs and what they are unwilling to compromise on before they can even consider how to turn their temporary entanglement into something lasting. I don't think I will be done thinking about Simon and Maggie and the truths they hold on to for a very long time. I was particularly moved by Maggie determination to reclaim her Jewish faith. Maggie's feelings about her faith are rich and complex as she seeks away to live authentically despite the challenges of growing up without any access to those who might have taught her the traditions her family was forced to abandon because of religious persecution and forced conversion.

“The Liar’s Dice” by Jeannie Lin

Set during the Tang Dynasty, Lin's novella is part of her fantastic Lotus Palace series and features many familiar characters as secondary characters while still being completely accessible to those who have  not be lucky enough to read the previous books.

Wei-wei, Lady Bai, has always been a dutiful daughter but she has grown restless and seeks to experience a little of bit of the freedom that would have been hers if she had been born a boy. After borrowing her brother's scholar's robes she sneaks into her sister-in-law's tea house to experience for herself what she has only ever read about. On her way back home she runs into Gao a shady acquaintance of her brother  and together they stumble upon murder victim. Worried that the murder might be connected to her brother's recently uncharacteristic behavior and could inadvertently destroy her brother's newfound joy, they team up to solve the murder.

The Liar's Dice was essentially a mystery novella with a touch of romance. Wei-wei tests the limits of her freedom, confronts her brother and gets to know a mysterious but unsuitable man in Gao. The ending of their flirtation is hopeful but far from assured. As a mystery novella it was highly enjoyable, full of fantastic and fascinating detail but as romance it left me somewhat unsatisfied.

“Raising The Stakes” by Isabel Cooper  As Okies stream into 1938 California, desperate as dust storms and drought push them off their land, Sam, a card-shark, wins a magical flute that allows her to summon a otherworldy fae warrior to come to her aid.  After the initial shock wears off, the clever and shrewd, Sam enlists Talathan's aid in conning a greedy revival preacher in order to save her family farm from foreclosure. Sharp, cunning Sam bewilders and tempts Talathan with her forthrightness and hidden vulnerabilities and makes them both long for something more than temporary team-up.

Cooper grounds her fantasy with great period detail and sells the partnerships between the nomadic gambler and fairy warrior through humor and snappy dialogue, but the romance between them still felt tentative by the end.

“Redeemed” by Molly O’Keefe 

Guilt-ridden Dr. James Madison is struggling to figure out how to rebuild his life, camping out in a brothel and turning away his friends. Addiction has wrecked his career and nearly destroyed the life of his assistant, but it is the daily grind of recovery and re-integration into society that is wearing him down. 

When Helen Winters, the caged singing star of the titillating traveling "Northern Spy" act  arrives in to town, James can't decide if he should intervene when it seems that Helen is being drugged and possibly held against her will by her manager and guardian. 

Like the previous stories in O'Keefe's fantastic post-Civil War western series, Into the Wilds, Redeemed explores the complicated legacy of the Civil War on its survivors.  All the characters are richly drawn and the romance was emotional and heart-wrenching.

“Gideon and the Den of Thieves” by Joanna Bourne When Gideon Gage a trader and mercenary infiltrates the lair of London's most powerful crimelord,  Lazarus, he finds unlikely allies in Hawker and Aimee, two of Lazarus's most loyal subjects.

Hawker and Aimee are conspiring to protect the ailing Lazarus from challengers, through a campaign of distraction and misdirection  because they know that Lazarus's perceived strength is all that keeps their little band of street urchins and waifs from utter destruction. Lazarus might be the devil but he is the devil they know and count on.

Bourne's novella is set is near the very beginning of her Spymaster's series chronology.  A very young Hawker, at his most  vicious, sarcastic and feral and Aimee, french refugee who works as Lazarus' s fence, is everything her heroines usually are, independent, resourceful and deeply scarred by her past.  I enjoyed the novella's focus on Aimee and Hawker's friendship and their relationship with Lazarus.

 

The anthology is currently available for free through Kindle Unlimited but it is more than worth its regular $2.99 price tag.  I received advance copy from the authors for review consideration.

 


Mini-Reviews: Reaper's Fall, Glory in Death, Fool Me Twice and A Midnight Clear

24582414Reaper's Fall (Reapers MC #5) by Joanna Wylde:  Levi "Painter" Brooks, is the king of mixed messages. While he undeniably lusts after her, he pushes Mel Tucker away at every opportunity. Their romances becomes a complicated  on-but-never-quite-off five year plus slog, as these two dance around each other, failing to trust or communicate. She fears being abandoned, and Painter is a master at being wishy-washy.  I think I am pretty much over these books.  There were really good moments in this, but I skimmed the long involved biker politics plot, I didn't like the sexual dynamics between Mel and Painter (he continues to sleep with who ever he wants while claiming to be with Mel, and trying to interfere in her dating life).   It honestly read more like a cautionary tale, "don't sleep with possessive but wishy-washy bikers"

268601Glory in Death (In Death #2) by JD Robb  Eve faces off against a serial killer targeting prominent and powerful women, while questioning her increasingly serious relationship with Roarke and her fear of learning more about her past.  Once again I figured out who the murder was very early on, and I once again didn't care. I am here for the romance and watching Eve struggle with figuring out how to let herself have normal emotions and relationships while continuing to be good at her job. There were some odd and uncomfortable depictions of people of color and racial dynamics in this one.  I wasn't sure what Robb was going for but it made me uncomfortable and sad.

18143986Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless #2) by Meredith Duran  Olivia Mather goes undercover in the recently-widowed and reclusive Duke of Marwick's house in order to steal some incriminating information the Duke has on a man that has been threatening her life for almost a decade.  Her plans are complicated when she discovers that the household is in utter disarray with the Duke refuses to leave his room. I hate listened to the first half of this book. I really couldn't stand how Olivia became infatuated with the dangerously gaunt Alistair. The book didn't begin to click for me till around chapter 10, when Alistair discovers why Olivia has been in his house.   The book really picked up steam for me at that point, and I really found the second half very very strong, with great conflict and characterization.

27505814A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner: This novella is set in Annapolis in 1949, a dozen years before Star Dust and is the story of Joe Reynolds (another Perseid astronaut) and Frances Dumfries.    Frances is an Admiral's daughter, who constantly must fend of the attentions of ambitious midshipmen who want to rub shoulders with her father.  Joe, while ambitious and dedicated only has eyes for Frances.  The novella is sweet and romantic, as Joe sets out to impress Frances with his desire to seek her happiness above his own.  The conflict and resolutions both seemed real and believable. Barry and Turner did a wonderful job developing a great supporting cast without stealing any time from the young lovers.


My Favorite Books Published in 2014

I read a lot of good books this year, some really great ones, and a lot of okay ones. This is purely subjective list of  some of my favorite books from this year. Not all the book on this list were 5 star books for me, but they are books that I still think about & I am genuinely glad I read in 2014.

  • Private Politics by Emma Barry: 
    Friends (or friend of a friend) to lovers story, Liam is a beltway blogger who has unrequited crush Alyse a fundraiser for girls' literacy non-profit. He tries to hide the extent of his crush so he can help her unravel a possibly dodgy donation scam at her non-profit without it getting truly awkward.

    Why is it a favorite? Liam was my favorite hero this year. He is shlubby, earnest, smart and hugable. His quiet competence is  the anti-dote to every alphahole hero out there.

  • Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry.
    Maggie has never had an orgasm & wants to use Rafael for sex and is scared of wanting more with him since he might not be over his ex.

    Why is it a favorite? It has one my favorite romantic scenes. I just loved that Rafael wanted read the heroine's favorite book (a romance) because he wants to get to know her better. My husband did the same when we first started dating. We still trade recommendations 20 years later.  

  • Think of England by KJ Charles:
    Opposites attract, historical romantic suspense where country-house mystery tropes are up-ended.

    Curtis has come back from the war maimed and determined to find out who responsible. When he first spots DaSilva he can't stand him, seeing in him everything he mistrust as Daniel is dark, jewish, gay & a modernist poet, but as the novel progresses Curtis comes to realize that DaSilva is a true hero of great worth and has to rethink ing his prejudices and assumptions about himself. 

    Why is it a favorite?
    I smiled so much reading this book, loved the wit and language in the book. I loved that we only had Curtis POV, and that he had to grow and rethink his whole life.

  • The Kraken King serial by Meljean Brook:
    I am just going to be honest and say that I have yet to read a book by Meljean that I haven't loved.

    Zenobia is spinster writer, who has decided to go on the run, traveling the world under an assumed name to stay ahead of kidnappers who would love to use her against her brother, Archimedes Fox, a treasure hunter whose adventures she has made famous in her books. When Ariq, the Kraken King, rescues her from her sinking ship, she is launched into her greatest adventure. 

  • Why is it a favorite? Action, Adventure, Romance! I love that Meljean keeps expanding her sprawling, diverse & vibrant world.

  • Hard Time by Cara Mckenna:
    Anne Goodhouse is a outreach librarian in a depressing Michigan small town. Every week  her job brings her to the Cousins Correctional Facility where an inappropriate infatuation with an inmate turns into secret scorching epistolary relationship that neither is sure can survive once he is released.

    Why is it a favorite?
    The letters! They are simply amazing. Anne was sure she couldn't want or desire again, but Collier reawakens her. The letters are beautiful,romantic, raw, intimate and hot.

  • Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett:
    Winter Magnusson is a bootlegger, rich, powerful, & dangerous in 1920's San Fransisco. But when an unknown rival curses him with a plague of ghosts, he turns to Aida, a nomadic medium, who can see ghosts and repel them, to save him. Together they must figure out who is trying to kill Winter before they succeed.

    Why is it a favorite? 2014 is the year where I tried to and tried to fall back into love with historicals, which meant I read a lot of non-regency historicals. I loved the time period, setting & multicultural cast. I also enjoyed Grim Shadows (Book 2) & I can't wait for the 3rd book coming next year, with a Chinese American hero.

  • Countess Conspiracy & Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan.
    Both this novel and novella featured women who have passions for science & math but work in obscurity and the men who recognize how brilliant they are & do all they can so they shine. The obstacles these couples face are huge, the stakes felt real and I was very invested in their HEAs.

    Why are these a favorite?  Loved Sebastian in Countess Conspiracy, his patient/sacrificial devotion for Violet was so romantic. Rose Sweetly was a fascinating character, smart, guarded & determined. I loved that the book gives us a glimpse of a little featured segment of British society, the black Victorian middle class.

  • Code Runner & Binary Witness by Rosie Claverton:
    Book 1 & 2 of the Amy Lane Mystery series, the books are set in modern-day Cardiff and follow Amy, an agoraphobic hacker and consultant for the Cardiff police force and Jason Carr her house-cleaner/Guy Friday, who is a  former street tough and felon. They have a gentle and unlikely partnership.

    Why is it a favorite? The mysteries are smart and engaging. But what sold me on the series was the relationships. I loved watching Jason and Amy grow to depend on each other and how their relationship challenges and strains their relationships with others. I can't wait to read more from Claverton because I don't think she is scared of letting the relationships continue to grow and change.
  • Into the Shadows (The Associates #3)by Carolyn Crane:
    Nadia, the daughter of a deposed crime-boss, is searching for her mother by raiding her father's former holdings with the help of her former bodyguard and some mercenaries. Thorne is her former lover, a double agent within the most dangerous of the gangs who claimed her father's crime empire.

    Why is it a favorite? I was trying to break up with tortured heroes and then Crane upped the ante, with Thorne & sucked me into a secret baby story  (which I normally hate). Nadia and Thorne are broken in such interesting ways. They are both looking for redemption while fearing they can never earn it.  I couldn't help but root for these two souls to find love & acceptance with each other.

  • The Others by Anne Bishop.
    This is sort of a cheat because only one of the three The Others novels I read this year was actually published in 2014, Murder of Crows, Book #2, (Written in Red, was published March 2013 & Vision in Silver will be out March 2015) but I loved this series too much to leave it off my list.

    This Urban Fantasy/Alternate History series,  this is the story of Meg Corbyn, a blood prophet who flees an institution where rich and power humans cut into her for profit, claiming a name and life for herself. She is taken in by a community of Terra Indigene, the elementals and shape-shifters who rule vast portions of Thasia. Her interactions with the Terra Indigene, and with Simon Wolfguard in particular will change the history of humanity in their world.


    Why it is a favorite? The friendship and budding romance between Simon and Meg is lovely. I have no assurance they will have a HEA but I have grown deeply attached to them, and I love seeing Meg curiosity and desire for life transform her world.

 I hope you had a wonderful year of reading in 2014 and I hope you find books that inspire, comfort and awaken you in 2015.


The Secret Heart & The Lover's Knot by Erin Satie

The Secret Heart:


In The Secret Heart, we are introduced to Caroline Small, a mercenary debutante, the daughter of a dissolute Viscount. Caro was raised by his mistress Giselle, a former ballerina he had installed in their home as governess. She armed Caro with a cynical world view, coquettish charms and the exacting discipline of ballet. Caro is determined to secure a wealthy husband so she can provide for her younger brother Robin and herself in the ways her father hasn’t. She is flinty, determined but honest in her intentions. She has been invited to spend time with Daphne, niece to the Duke of Hastings at the family’s country estate. The visit is welcome respite from depredations she experiences in her father’s home, and when she meets Adam Spark, Lord Bexley, the Duke’s son alone one night, she sets her sights on him, but first she runs from him frightened by his thuggish appearance.

Bexley is not tall but he is imposing and brutish. Secretly a bare-knuckle boxer, Bexley buries the pain of his sister’s disappearance and presumed death and the betrayal of his best-friend by training as boxer and pounding into laborers at late-night fights under an assumed identity.

Caro and Bexley’s romance is not at all straightforward. Adam has grown up under the thumb of the Duke of Hastings, a power-hungry manipulative man who seeks to control everyone dependent on him, and Adam has made it his life’s ambition to financially free himself from him. He has saved every penny and it is on the verge of achieving it, when Caro enters his life. Caro is a grasping opportunist and sees in Adam first someone she can blackmail, later someone to entrap to win herself the comfort she has always wanted before she comes to see him as person whose hopes and dreams she can crush. Adam is initially disgusted by her machinations as much as he is attracted by her beauty and attentions. He plays along with her games of seduction hoping to scare her off, before he can no longer resist her lure. While incredibly angry at her he eventually able to recognize the vulnerability & fear that drives her and to see her as a treasure not a trap. The panic and dread Caro feels as she realizes that Adam is not simply a mark to be manipulated & that she has started to fall in love is perfect.

In some ways, The Secret Heart felt like historical NA because both Caro and Adam, have to wrestle with their fathers’ emotional baggage in order to become better adults than any one intends them to be. For their happy ending to be believable and achievable, Caro and Adam first learn to stand independently, and figure out how to get the better of all who will try to control them without playing the same destructive games. Their victory in the end depends on the fact that they gamble on each other and win.

While I loved th whole novel, one element in which Satie excelled in was in her world-building. She pours beautiful detail into this book, showing obvious care and research as she presented Caro and Adam’s passions for boxing and ballet. It is in all the little details she drops in to highlight Caro’s relative poverty (her need to sponge hems, rather than being able to change into new dresses like Daphne does) and how she describes the estate and surrounding community. The details ground the novel in a specific time and place and remind us that that these characters are not modern people playing dress up.

5 stars


The Lover’s Knot

The second novel in the No Better Angels series is only loosely connected to the first through the appearance of a supporting character from the first book and the mention of another. Initially I was dismayed by this as I had just finished the Secret Heart and didn’t want to leave those characters behind. But I shouldn’t have worried. Once again the heroine completely caught my attention because she doesn’t behave like a romance heroine should. The story also departs from the usual romantic narrative arc. It is as much a murder mystery, and novel of memory & grief as it is a romance novel.


The book opens with the arrival of a new Duke. Julian Swann is an unlikely heir to a dukedom, once a ward of the Duke, he was seventh in line to inherit, but all the other men ahead of him have died without leaving sons or other heirs. The previous duke did leave a suicide note that Julian immediately recognizes as a fake. He runs off to confront Sophie Roe, his former fiancee and the only person in the vicinity with the skills to forge the letter.


Sophie Roe was once a lady, a young woman with a promising future and doting fiancee. Now is she is small business owner, a tradeswoman much to the embarrassment of her aunt and uncle. She distills ink and sells custom nibs to customers all over England out her small shop, Iron & Wine. Her hands are ink-stained, her clothing plain and her face scarred & tattooed. She hasn’t seen Julian since the night of their engagement ten years before, a night she barely remembers, but that left her indelibly marked, the night when she was injured, discovered her fortune had been lost, and she forsook Julian.


The Lover’s Knot centers on memory and fictions and how we can come to believe in lies more deeply than truth. Sophie is an orphan who can’t rely on her memory. While she can remember her distilling recipes and techniques, conversations and events start fading almost as soon as they happened. She obsessively journals, and sends herself letters written in her parents handwriting to comfort herself. These false letters mingle with her faint recollections to utterly muddle her memory. But Sophie is not the only one carefully self-deluding herself, just the most obvious. Julian deludes himself constantly about Sophie’s interest, motivations and intentions, The Duke’s daughter, his widowed second-wife, his old friends, all choose to dwell on one memory or fiction to justify their actions in the wake of the Duke’s death.


Julian is determined to uncover the truth about the Duke’s too convenient death, convincing Sophie that she has inadvertently aided a killer. He also hopes that through their work together he can finally learn why she rejected him and put it behind him.


Like in The Secret Heart, the secondary characters’ relationships and motivations are not secondary to the plot. The complexity of familial relationships, the ties of duty and fealty are essential to unraveling not only the mystery of the duke’s death but what happened on the night Julian and Sophie’s relationship was destroyed.


I really liked Sophie even when she was less than sympathetic. I liked her independence and single-mindedness, even if it made her blind to Julian’s needs. I enjoyed Julian’s frustration with her at her inability to behave how he expects her to, although I struggled with his destructive rages. I had a harder time with Julian. He is ruthless, angry, haunted and lonely, isolated by his physical beauty, and self-destructively obsessed with Sophie. He prefers a crumb of her attention to the full focus of anyone else, all the while building up resentment that for a great deal of the novel Sophie is fails to recognize. Their relationship is deeply unbalanced for a great part of the novel, because Sophie doesn’t realize how much he needs and wants from her and how much he does for her, that her success is not quite as independent as she thought.


After I finished this book I spent a lot of time thinking about unbalanced relationships, a theme in both novels and how people can try to earn love (Julian), manipulate it (Caro), avoid it (Adam), abuse it (Sophie) and how other seek to use money and power to force devotion perverting families ties, all the while being convinced of the rightness of what they are doing. It is one of the many interesting themes present in these novels and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

5 Stars


Disclosures:

I’ve been following Erin Satie on Twitter for more than a year and she follows me. I started following her before I realized she was working on self-publishing her novels, because I enjoyed her responses to twitter conversations I was participating in. When her first novel The Secret Heart came out I ordered it almost automatically, but didn’t read it right away (my TBR is huge). I was caught off guard when I saw that her second novel was on Netgalley soon after that and ready for release. The premise of the second story caught my interest more than the first, so I requested it and decided to read  the novels back to back.

I am incredibly happy that I did.


Binary Witness & Code Runner (Amy Lane Mysteries 1 & 2) by Rosie Claverton

There was a time in my life where mystery and detective novels dominated my reading. I loved Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, PD James & Patricia Cornwell. I read everything from hard-boiled noir to cozy cottage mystery. But I reached my breaking one night with a particularly gruesome Ian Rankin novel that had me spending too much time in the serial killer’s head (Red Right Hand). After that my mystery novel reading tailed off, and while I still pick up a mystery story from time to time, and I still addicted to Masterpiece Mystery if I read a mystery now, I've picked it up for its romantic elements. Last month when Sunita and others recommended Binary Witness on twitter, at the time priced at only  .99 cents, I took a gamble and order it and requested the sequel Code Runner from Netgalley. I loved them both. 

 

Binary Witness (Amy Lane Mysteries #1) is set in Cardiff and opens with a young woman stalked and attacked outside her house. We are then introduced to Jason Carr, an ex-con former street tough trying to pull his life together. He is unwelcome in his old neighborhood and has strained relationships with his mom Gwen and sister Cerys with whom he lives. He has secured a low-paying job as a cleaner. The work is hard and disgusting but it is honest. Jason doesn't have a lot of opportunities in his life, never has had, but he can't return to his former life and he isn't content to live on welfare.

One of his first assignments brings him to Amy Lane’s doorstep. Amy is a reclusive & neurotic hacker who works as un-official consultant to the Cardiff police force. Her sister in Australia has arranged for the house cleaning service to come and check in on Amy, knowing she often forgets to eat and maintain her house. None of the other cleaners has made it into her house but Jason convinces her to let him in. Once in he sets out to disinfect Amy’s lair, and make her eat. Jason is there when the Cardiff police officers Bryn and Owain arrive to ask for Amy's help in finding a pair of missing girls.  Amy who only has fuzzy awarness of the what Jason's actual job duties should be starts treating him as pseudo-assistant and errand boy, and since Jason is captivated by the case as is all of Cardiff he rolls with it. Jason’s street connections and gift of gab become valuable assets to Amy, helping her when she hits dead-ends in her digital sleuthing. Both Amy and Jason frequently over-step legal boundaries in their investigations while Detectives Bryn and Owain look the other way in mild-horror but deep pragmatism.

While the mystery is top-notch what really drew me to the story were the genuine relationships. Amy and Jason’s friendship and partnership is fascinating. I loved how they watched out for each other, their crabby bickering and value they give to each other’s lives. I particularly loved Bryn's suspiscious, hostile yet  eventually grudgingly admiration he develops for Jason. While I was completely satisfied with the resolution of the mystery, I was very happy I had Code Runner to jump right into because I wanted to spend more time with Amy and Jason.

 

4.5 stars to Binary Witness

 

Code Runner (Amy Lane Mysteries #2):

Code Runner starts several months after the events of Binary Witness. Amy and Jason have found new routines, thriving when busy with cases but struggling with the changes when not caught up in cases. Jason is now employed full-time as Amy’s live-in assistant, and the change in expectations and schedule has caused more than a few conflicts.

Jason takes a couple days of holiday away from Amy to camp at the beach with his mother and sister and stumbles upon a dead body. His first instinct after calling the police is to take pictures for Amy and that nearly gets him arrested. Amy and Jason can’t resist an open case and Jason ends up investigating against the wishes of the police force. In this case Jason’s old gang world and his new world intersect in ways he never anticipated. Framed for the murder of the younger brother of one of his old associates, Jason is arrested and imprisoned. Jason will have to trust Amy to solve the crime without him and do his best to stay alive. Amy has to work without his assistance, outside the usual channels, deprived of her best tech & without the approval of her usual associates.

I read Code Runner in one sitting, once I started I couldn’t put it down. The relationships established in Binary Witness were complicated and tested in Code Runner. I loved that the more Jason and Amy are drawn together the more they are keeping from each other out of fear of destroying their partnership. I really hope there are more Amy Lane Mysteries on the way.

4.5 stars to Code Runner