Book Review: The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery by Amanda Cox

  • Title: The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery
  • Author: Amanda Cox
  • Genre: Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes, if you’re a fan of a clean story with family at its heart and a little bit of romance (and maybe a tear or two at the end).

From Goodreads:

Present Day. After tragedy plunges her into grief and unresolved anger, Sarah Ashby returns to her childhood home determined to finally follow her long-denied dream of running Old Depot Grocery alongside her mother and grandmother. But when she arrives, her mother, Rosemary, announces to her that the store is closing. Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, make a pact to save the store, but Rosemary has worked her entire life to make sure her daughter never follows in her footsteps. She has her reasons–but she’ll certainly never reveal the real one.

1965. Glory Ann confesses to her family that she’s pregnant with her deceased fiancé’s baby. Pressured into a marriage of convenience with a shopkeeper to preserve the family reputation, Glory Ann vows never to love again. But some promises are not as easily kept as she imagined.

This dual-timeline story from Amanda Cox deftly explores the complexity of a mother-daughter dynamic, the way the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of others, and the healing power of telling the truth.

My review:

Amanda Cox’s first book, The Edge of Belonging, was one of my favorite reads of 2020. I had high expectations for this, her latest. She met them in fine style.

I enjoy a good dual-timeline story, and this one is very well done. We see the story unfold through the eyes of three women: Glory Ann, her daughter Rosemary, and her granddaughter Sarah. In 1965, Glory Ann finds herself in the family way, and her sweetheart is presumed dead in the war. Her parents, determined not to see their child and their family name ruined, find a young man, Clarence, who agrees to marry Glory Ann and raise the child as his own.

In the present time, Glory Ann and her daughter, Rosemary, are on the outs about the Old Depot Grocery. Rosemary insists it’s time to sell off the store, citing the shiny new supermarket in town as her reason to get while the getting is good, and Glory Ann is equally determined that it is not. Sarah hoped to come home and take up where she left off, running the store with her grandmother and mother. But now she fears that may not happen.

The main theme of the story is secrets. All three of our main characters have them. They keep their secrets to themselves, even when it would benefit them to let others in on what they’re trying to hide. Sometimes I wanted to smack Rosemary, or Sarah, or Glory Ann, for not letting people who might need to know in on their secrets. But the frustration I felt with them for keeping mum on things didn’t lessen the fact that I liked them as characters. Because honestly, haven’t we all kept secrets when it would have been smarter not to?

The men of the story weren’t the main focus, but they were just as important. The whole thing would have fallen apart without Clarence. I mean, imagine agreeing to marry a pregnant young lady and raise her child with someone else as your own. And you stick to your word, and you work to create a family where once just awkwardness existed. I wanted to hear more of Clarence’s story. Bo, Rosemary’s husband, played only a small role, but he was also a good example of a gentle and good man, loving his wife as best as he knew how. And Clay. My goodness, he just made me smile. I was cheering for him and Sarah. (Does it work out? I’m not telling. Read the book.)

And the ending. Y’all, I did not see it coming, and I was straight up bawling. Amanda Cox can surprise me in such a wonderful, emotional way, and she sure did it here. Secrets are revealed, wounds old and new are healed, and the past comes back most unexpectedly.

My thanks to Revell for a review copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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Book Review and Giveaway: What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards by Cynthia Leal Massey | Lone Star Book Blog Tours

WHAT LIES BENEATH,
TEXAS PIONEER CEMETERIES & GRAVEYARDS
by

Cynthia Leal Massey
Genre: Regional History / 19th Century/ Landmarks & Monuments/ Travel Pictorial
Publisher: TwoDot
Date of Publication: August 1, 2021
Number of Pages: 400 pages w/77 B&W photos
Scroll down for Giveaway!
Texas, the second largest state, both in land mass and population, has more than 50,000 burial grounds. As the final resting places of those whose earthly journey has ended, they are also repositories of valuable cultural history. Pioneer cemeteries provide a wealth of information on the people who settled Texas during its years as a Republic (1836-1845), and after it became the 28th state in 1845. In What Lies Beneath: Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards, Cynthia Leal Massey exhumes the stories of these pioneers, revealing the fascinating truth behind the earliest graveyards in the Lone Star State, including some of its most ancient. This guide also provides descriptions of headstone features and symbols and demystifies the burial traditions of early Texas pioneers and settlers.
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KEEP SCROLLING AFTER YOU READ MY REVIEW TO GET TO THE GIVEAWAY!
I have long been fascinated by cemeteries and gravestones. Growing up in the South, I was expected to attend funerals and graveside services from an early age, and I always liked walking around cemeteries to see what interesting tidbits I might find on the grave markers. So when I had a chance to review What Lies Beneath, I jumped at it.

The book is divided into ten sections, based on the ten Texas Heritage Trails established by the Texas Historical Commission. That makes it easy to read in smaller chunks (if you can bear to put it down – I found it quite engrossing!), and if you’re interested in traveling to see any of these places in person, the book’s structure will make it easy to find and visit several in one area.

I lived in Texas for a time, and while I didn’t grow up there, I appreciate its history and culture. Massey doesn’t just give you a coffee table book full of pretty pictures. She really digs into the pioneer stories, the life and times of the folks whose grave markers she’s writing about. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know and was introduced to some fascinating characters. Some of the people whose burials she highlighted were lawmen. While many were good, honest men who strove to uphold the law, a couple turned out to be just about as bad as the criminals they were supposed to go after!

I’ve said before how much I enjoy books that both entertain and educate. What Lies Beneath does both admirably. It’s not a dry historical read at all. Massey’s prose brings the people she writes about to life, and I particularly enjoyed the sidebar facts. For instance, did you know that a “cemetery” is not the same thing as a “graveyard”? I’d never given it much thought. The terms have always been used interchangeably in my experience. But there is a difference. I also learned how women were identified on their tombstones if they died before or after their husbands. I had really never given that any thought at all.

We’d like to travel more, and I hope we can see at least some of the locations mentioned in the book. I’d love to go take pictures and share them on the Find A Grave site.

This is a great read for “the spooky month,” as my kids call October, and one I’d highly recommend for any student of history and anyone who, like me, feels the pull of the past coming from a graveyard.

Five stars as bright as the ones you’ll see in an old country cemetery on a moonless night.

Award-winning author Cynthia Leal Massey is a former corporate editor, college instructor, and magazine editor. She has published hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and eight books. A full-time writer who publishes history columns for community publications, Cynthia was raised on the south side of San Antonio. She has resided in Helotes since 1994, and has served on the Helotes City Council since 2008, serving twice as Mayor Pro Tem. She is also president of the Historical Society of Helotes.
Cynthia, a former president of Women Writing the West, is a recipient of the Will Rogers Silver Medallion Award for her nonfiction book, Death of a Texas Ranger, A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, which also won the San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award. She is the recipient of several literary awards, including the WILLA Literary Finalist Award for Best Original Softcover Fiction for her novel, The Caballeros of Ruby, Texas, called by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, “a vivid picture of the Rio Grande Valley as it was fifty years ago and a very good read.”
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—————————————
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Three autographed copies of
What Lies Beneath, Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards.
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 10/15/21)

FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY,
or visit the blogs directly:
10/5/21 Excerpt StoreyBook Reviews
10/5/21 BONUS Sneak Peek Hall Ways Blog
10/6/21 Guest Post The Clueless Gent
10/6/21 BONUS Promo LSBBT Blog
10/7/21 Review Jennie Reads
10/8/21 Review That’s What She’s Reading
10/9/21 Scrapbook Page Chapter Break Book Blog
10/10/21 Author Interview All the Ups and Downs
10/11/21 Review The Plain-Spoken Pen
10/12/21 BONUS Review Book Fidelity
10/12/21 Excerpt Sybrina’s Book Blog
10/13/21 Review Forgotten Winds
10/14/21 Review The Book’s Delight
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Book Review: The Healing of Natalie Curtis by Jane Kirkpatrick

  • Title: The Healing of Natalie Curtis
  • Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Absolutely. Jane Kirkpatrick weaves a tale second to none.

From Goodreads:

Classically trained pianist and singer Natalie Curtis isolated herself for five years after a breakdown just before she was to debut with the New York Philharmonic. Guilt-ridden and songless, Natalie can’t seem to recapture the joy music once brought her. In 1902, her brother invites her to join him in the West to search for healing. What she finds are songs she’d never before encountered–the haunting melodies, rhythms, and stories of Native Americans.

But their music is under attack. The US government’s Code of Offenses prohibits American’s indigenous people from singing, dancing, or speaking their own languages as the powers that be insist on assimilation. Natalie makes it her mission not only to document these songs before they disappear but to appeal to President Teddy Roosevelt himself, who is the only man with the power to repeal the unjust law. Will she succeed and step into a new song . . . and a new future?

Award-winning author Jane Kirkpatrick weaves yet another lyrical tale based on a true story that will keep readers captivated to the very end. 

My review:

Natalie Curtis was a classically trained musician with a bright future ahead of her, or so she thought. But she suffered a breakdown that left her a shadow of herself, and she hid herself away from the world, physically, mentally, and emotionally weakened. Her brother George, back home from the West where he’s been working and traveling, invites Natalie to join him. Against her mother’s wishes, and with the caveat that she’ll return home after just two months, Natalie sets off with George in hopes of finding healing, a new hope at living again.

She finds her spark in the music of the Indian people, who have largely been removed from their homelands and placed onto reservations with the government instruction that they must assimilate. Natalie is shocked by the horrific injustice of the government’s Code of Offenses, which requires, among other things, that the native peoples refrain from singing their songs, performing their dances and ceremonies, and speaking their languages. Natalie sets out to preserve as much of the Indian music as she can, fearing it will be lost forever, and in doing so, she rediscovers and recreates her own song.

Jane Kirkpatrick has a positive gift for taking little-known historical figures and bringing them to life with her words. I’d never heard of Natalie Curtis before having the chance to be on the review team for this book. But now I feel the need to learn more about her.

Kirkpatrick paints a wonderful picture of Natalie as a young woman, in the public eye as a musician but still sheltered, who’s suffered a derailment of her life plans. She’s hidden herself away from public scrutiny, but she’s ready to move forward in spite of her mother’s desire to continue to protect her. She knew something had to change, and she was going West whether her mother agreed or not. “Most important, she wasn’t seeking permission. She was intentionally stepping into the grace pause, bringing the past with her, and for the first time in so long, the tempo of her life had picked up.” Doesn’t that sound remarkably hopeful?

Curtis’ journey isn’t portrayed as an easy one, though. She had to learn to navigate new things like horseback riding, and travel rougher than a young lady of her social status was accustomed to. She had to find a way to reach out to the Indian people whose culture she wanted to preserve without making it about her. In Kirkpatrick’s telling of her story, Natalie Curtis rises to the occasion and overcomes the challenges she faces. Not only does she travel far and wide and record songs from a variety of tribes, she learns that the thing she thought had broken her in the past didn’t merit the importance she had placed upon it. In finding a way to free the Indians to sing their songs, Natalie finds the music hasn’t left her after all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’d love to track down a copy of Curtis’s The Indians’ Book and see her writing for myself. Jane Kirkpatrick’s story has me wanting to know more about the events she describes, and isn’t that what good historical fiction should do?

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the Revell Reads blogger program. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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Cover Reveal: Murder Through an Open Door: A Book Magic Mystery (Book Magic #4) by Melissa Bourbon

A book that involves book magic? And mysteries? Yes, please! Here’s the cover for Melissa Bourbon’s latest, due to release on February 1, 2022. Doesn’t that open door just draw you in?

You can pre-order here: https://bit.ly/MTAOpenDoor

And if you pre-order, you get to enter the giveaway! In the week before release, the author will be doing five different giveaways just for the people who fill out the pre-order giveaway form. Pre-order your copy and then fill out the form here: https://bit.ly/MTAOD-PreOrderGiveaway

Synopsis:

To stop the curse that has plagued her family for centuries, Pippin Lane Hawthorne has enlisted the help of authors Tolkien, Homer, and Dickens. How? Through bibliomancy, a practice by which passages in books speak to her in cryptic code that only she can decipher. When she finds a message from her mother in an old copy of The Secret Garden, she hopes this book might hold the answers she so desperately seeks.

The book leads Pippin to a vital clue, but before she can figure out what it means, she stumbles upon a dead body. Though the authorities deem the death is from natural causes, the books found scattered around the body tell Pippin a different story—the victim was murdered. And the death is connected to her family and the curse. Now, to solve a murder in the present, Pippin must dig deeper into her family’s troubled past, even if it means staring danger in the face.

Advance Praise:

“Filled with quirky characters and atmospheric descriptions of the quaint town of Devil’s Cove, Bourbon hits all the right notes for a cozy: amateur sleuthing, several possible suspects, bookstores, and a touch of romance.”
~Elena Taylor, Author

“This series had me at ‘book magic’ and wrapped me up in its unique plot from start to finish!” ~Carrie Schmidt, ReadingIsMySuperPower.org

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Book Review and Blog Tour: Luminous by Mara Rutherford

LUMINOUS by Mara Rutherford

On sale: October 5, 2021

ISBN: 9781335405654

Inkyard Press

Teen & Young Adult; Epic Fantasy

$19.99 / $24.99 CAN

384 Pages

ABOUT THE BOOK:

From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power—or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos—and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.  

Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.

I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.

To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.

As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.

Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.

I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.

“What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”

“Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”

A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.

Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.

“I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.

I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”

She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”

My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”

I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.

I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”

Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”

I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.

The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.

I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.

Mina.

Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.

Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.

“Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”

“You’re so brave.”

I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.

A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.

He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”

“Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”

When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.

“I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”

“But the silk…”

“That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”

Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.

She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.

“It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.

She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”

My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”

“And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”

I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.

In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.

* * *

We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.

“I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.

Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”

“And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.

“Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”

I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”

The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.

“Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.

“I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”

The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”

She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”

“What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.

“I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”

I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.

Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.

I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?

If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.

“Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”

“It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”

Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.

I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.

Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.

My review:

I enjoyed Luminous. Mara Rutherford’s writing style is very readable, and that made it easy to keep reading…and reading…and reading long past my bedtime.

The story is engaging – a young woman who’s long been kept hidden away from the world for fear of a powerful warlock discovering her power, the young man she loves who has secrets of his own, the powerful warlock himself (who may not be as he appears).

Liora and her family fled the king’s court for the small village of Sylvan after her mother’s death. Liora’s father feared that Lord Darius, a warlock with his own nefarious agenda, would discover Liora’s magic and take her away. When she leaves the house (seldom), Liora has to keep her radiant skin covered up. But Darius does discover Liora’s magic, and instead of demanding her, he takes her younger sister Mina as collateral. Thus begins the quest to save Mina. Liora must go into the king’s court, where Darius holds sway, and even into the heart of darkness itself, to wrest Mina from Darius’s clutches. In the process, she learns about the true power of her magic, and why Darius has been seeking it, and realizes that perhaps she isn’t the monster she’d always feared herself to be.

The story is perhaps a little simplistic. There are no detailed descriptions of the magic system or how it works. Some people have magic, some don’t. Something has to activate the magic. But Rutherford’s writing makes it work. She does a marvelous job of drawing pictures with her words, and those pictures kept me scrolling through the book, wanting to know what happened next. And her characters aren’t simplistic. There is more to most all of them than how they first appear. (With the exception of Luc, perhaps. He was just a troll. Figuratively. There are no actual trolls in the book.)

I was particularly intrigued with the project Margana had been working on for Darius for twenty years, the tapestry of darkness. It was a thing – a tapestry. And yet it was like a Tardis, bigger on the inside. Way, WAY bigger. What a thing to conceive of!

Liora’s power calls to mind that of Penn in L. J. Hatton’s Sing Down the Stars. If you enjoyed that story, you may also like Luminous.

Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for an advance reader copy! All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t actually like.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master’s degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she’s not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.mararutherford.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mararaewrites

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/mararutherfordwrites 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/56030266-luminous 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Luminous-Mara-Rutherford/dp/1335405658 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/luminous-mara-rutherford/1138317759?ean=9781335405654 

Books a Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Luminous/Mara-Rutherford/9781335405654?id=8287773942852 

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335405654

BookShop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/luminous-9781335405654/9781335405654 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/luminous/id1540957165 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Mara_Rutherford_Luminous?id=gK0JEAAAQBAJ 

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Book Review and Giveaway: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

ONCE UPON A CAMEL
by Kathi Appelt
Categories: Middle Grade Fiction / Historical / Friendship / Ages 8-12
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Pub Date: September 7, 2021
Pages: 336 pages

Scroll down for the Giveaway!
Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion. But those stories were from before.
Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

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Simon and Schuster ~ Bookshop.org

Once Upon a Camel is a story about life, and learning, and change, and finding family where you are. The story is told from the viewpoint of Zada, a camel who started her life as one of the Pasha’s camels in Smyrna, Turkey, in 1850. She was raised as a racing camel. Zada is now in her later years, and she is no longer in Turkey, but is (as far as she knows) the last camel in Texas. She came to Texas as part of a group of camels that would be used to transport supplies for the U.S. military.

The rest of the camels, including Zada’s best friend, Asiye, are long gone. Zada has formed new friendships with a pair of kestrels, Perdita and Pard. When a haboob (what Zada knows it as – we’d call it a sandstorm) comes blowing in, Perdita and Pard ask for Zada’s help in getting their babies, Wims and Beulah, to safety. Thus begins a tale of adventure!

Zada gets the little birds settled snugly atop her head, but as they set out for a place of safety, the storm blows Perdita and Pard away! Zada is faced with the rather daunting task of protecting her young charges from the wind and sand, from an old frenemy, and even from each other. She does so with patience and good humor, and as she works to help the little birds stay calm, we learn the story of Zada’s life.

I had no idea there were camels in Texas! My history nerd husband, of course, knew exactly what I was talking about when I told him about the book. I love books that are fun to read and that educate at the same time, and this one does both admirably. Wims and Beulah are just about the cutest little baby birds ever, and they bicker and squabble just as you’d expect siblings to do, even when there’s danger lurking nearby. Their interactions are so humorous, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Zada isn’t like a surrogate mother to the baby birds. She’s more like a grandmother figure, who’s gained wisdom through her life and is now figuring out how to pass that on to her unruly charges. She’s patient, she doesn’t let Wims and Beulah see her lose her cool even when she’s not quite sure how things are going to work out, she perseveres to get them to safety.

The artwork complements the story nicely. There isn’t much of it, but what there is is wonderfully done. And I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it made me smile (and even tear up a little) to see how Appelt wove all the threads together.

So much fun to read! This will be a great book for younger middle readers. The age range given on Amazon is 8-12 years, but it may be a little on the young side for some 12-year-olds. My younger son is a very precocious 12, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in the story. His loss. I loved it. (And when he was 8 or 9, he would have loved it, too!)

Five humps – I mean, stars – for Once Upon a Camel!

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Mogie, the Heart of the House. She lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and five gifted and talented cats.

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Posted in Blog Tours, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Juvenile Fiction, Lone Star Book Blog Tours, Lone Star Literary Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Bookbinder’s Daughter by Jessica Thorne

About the book:

The song surrounded her now, the murmuring of the library insistent, and her foot took the first step on the winding stairs. She knew it wasn’t entirely a dream. It was the library calling her, its magic driving her.

When Sophie is offered a job at the Ayredale Library – the finest collection of rare books in the world, and the last place her bookbinder mother was seen when Sophie was just a teenager – she leaps at the chance. Will she finally discover what happened to the woman she’s always believed abandoned her?

Taking in the endless shelves of antique books, the soaring stained-glass windows, and the grand sweeping staircase, usually shy Sophie feels strangely at home, and is welcomed by her eccentric fellow binders. But why is the Keeper of the Library so reluctant to speak about Sophie’s mother? And why is Sophie the only person who can read the strange spells in the oldest books on display, written in a forgotten language nobody else understands?

The mysteries of the library only deepen when Sophie stumbles upon an elaborately carved door. The pattern exactly matches the pendant her mother left behind years ago, engraved with a delicate leaf. As the door swings open at her touch, Sophie gasps at the incredible sight: an enormous tree, impossibly growing higher than the library itself, its gently falling golden leaves somehow resembling the pages of a book. Amidst their rustling, Sophie hears a familiar whisper…

‘There you are, my Sophie. I knew you’d come back for me.’

An absolutely spellbinding read about long-hidden family secrets and the magic that lurks between the pages of every ancient book. Perfect for fans of The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Night Circus and The Binding.

My review:

When I hear “bookbinder,” I think of someone who does just that – binds books so that they can be published. But the books being bound here aren’t just for sale at your local bookstore, though. Oh, no. They are so much more.

Sophie’s mother died under mysterious circumstances when she was a teenager. Her father took her away from the Ayredale Library, only home she’d ever known, thinking he was saving her from…something. She’s got a good job, but she’s starting to question her relationship with Victor. Her uncle, Edward Talbot, reappears unexpectedly in her life after her father’s death, with an offer of a job at the Library. Sophie takes it, leaving behind the manipulative Victor and all that she’s known for years.

When she returns to the Library, memories begin to return in bits and pieces. Sophie hopes she can learn what happened to her mother. She also remembers the attraction she and Will, the Library’s guardian, once shared, and wonders/hopes that can be rekindled. The Library is starting to feel like home again, drawing Sophie in, and she’s finding her place there, remembering who she was and who she is, when her past comes crashing back in unexpectedly.

The atmosphere Thorne creates is enthralling. It calls to mind The Night Circus and Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe for me. Her word choices are exquisite, and she builds a lush, fantastical world for her characters to inhabit. The magical system she envisions is intriguing, with chaos willingly sacrificing itself for creativity to thrive, and the ideas going forth into the world, to be seeded and discovered and used. And how can you not be sucked in by a description of a tree with leaves glowing gold, swirling and falling into Sophie’s hands?

The romance with Will feels a little rushed, especially as Sophie has just broken free of an abusive relationship. I understand, though, that it’s made to fit the confines of a story, and there are allowances to be made. I also would have liked to know more about Will – what actually happened to turn him into the Library’s guardian?

And Victor (said abusive relationship) is just SO ROTTEN. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake Sophie (just a little) when she turns away from Will to go with Victor. I know abusers can be very charming and manipulative, and I know Sophie was a young woman wounded by her past. But it’s hard to imagine how she ever saw anything in him worth her time, because he’s written as such a positively awful character.

Tia may have been my favorite character. So much about her seems baffling, until things click into place and her true nature is revealed.

I might have enjoyed this as book one of a duology. A second book might have given Thorne room to expand more on the characters, tell us more of how they came to be part of the Library. But overall, I found it engaging and a worthwhile read. Recommended for people who like magical realism and are willing to suspend their disbelief while they read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bookouture for an advance reader copy. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

Jessica Thorne saw Star Wars at an impressionable age and life was never the same. She’s loved fantasy, romance and science fiction ever since and spends her time looking for adventure – in the pages of her books.

Sometimes she is Ruth Frances Long and won the European Science Fiction Society Spirit of Dedication Award for Best Author of Children’s Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2015.

Posted in Blog Tours, Bookouture, Fantasy, Magical Realism, NetGalley | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Alchemy Thief by R. A. Denny

  • Title: The Alchemy Thief (Pirates & Puritans #1)
  • Author: R. A. Denny
  • Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Science Fiction
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes. This was a great start to the series!

From Goodreads:

When the secrets of the past threaten to destroy the future.

A tale of hope, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of a woman, this sweeping epic spans the Atlantic from New England to Morocco during the Age of Exploration.

2019: A young woman finds a relic engraved with a mysterious symbol off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Terrorists in Morocco steal a 17th-century book engraved with the same symbol. As the woman struggles to unravel the secrets behind the symbol, her life changes in ways she could never have imagined.

1657: Transported back in time, she meets the alchemist, John Winthrop, Jr. who is plotting to lure the greatest scientific minds to the New World. But the more she learns, the more she fears for the lives of the loved ones she left behind.

In a stunning twist of fate, a modern terrorist has traveled into the past, where he has become a Barbary Corsair. He has plans of his own. And he will stop at nothing to succeed. 

My review:

I enjoy a good time travel read, and this one had a bit of a different take on it. Here, time travel involves alchemy.

Ayoub is a Moroccan boy, growing up Muslim, learning what can only be called terrorist ways. When he is helping his mother steal a book from a museum, things go wrong. His mother loses her life, and Ayoub is on the run with this book. Inside it he finds an artifact of some kind. The artifact whisks him to the days of the Barbary pirates through a ball of light.

Experience Fuller (or Peri, as she understandably prefers to be called in this modern world) is a freshman in college. She’s looking forward to enjoying the college experience, and she’s flattered and maybe a bit overwhelmed when Liam, an older student, takes a romantic interest in her. She discovers an artifact in the shallow waters off Martha’s Vineyard. During a storm, the artifact attracts ball lightning, and much like Ayoub, Peri is transported back in time. She finds herself in the era of the Puritans.

Ayoub is rescued by a pirate crew. He resolves to become captain of his own ship, and then use the artifact to travel forward in time and bring modern weapons back. His goal is then to establish the Caliphate before America becomes a nation powerful enough to fight against them.

Peri is rescued from the water by a group that includes Daniel, a Wampanoag who has converted to Christianity and is training to become a minister. She ends up meeting her ancestors and, by the by, Connecticut Governor John Winthrop, Jr. Winthrop is an alchemist, and Peri is able to learn about alchemy from him in hopes of figuring out how she can get back home. She has realized that there’s a connection between her artifact and a book she’d seen on her travels, and between the book and terrorist activity.

Ms. Denny clearly did her research on this book. The historical detail is almost an education in itself! I’m not a huge student of history, and I never really think about what else was going on in the world when studying one aspect of history. This book helped me do just that. The Barbary pirates were the terrorists of their day, so it seems fitting that our time travelers should end up in similar situations when they were transported back – Ayoub with like-minded fellows, Peri with the Americans that will be.

Peri was a little dithery at first, and I really wanted to scream at her when she was so infatuated with Liam. He just seemed off to me (and indeed, he is). But I thought about what I was like at that age, and realized I was probably very similar to Peri when I headed off to college. Ayoub is slightly terrifying in his single-mindedness and his determination to bring 21st-century havoc to the 17th century.

The book doesn’t have a cut and dried ending. It’s rather a cliffhanger. I loathe cliffhangers, because it means I have to wait to get my hands on the next book, and I hate waiting. So I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing how the story continues. Will Ayoub succeed? Will Peri stop him? Will Peri find a way to stay with Daniel, or to bring him with her back to modern times? How will that even work? I have so many questions!

I recommend this if you like well-researched and detailed historical fiction, time travel, and a little bit of romance. It’s a lot of fun, and I look forward to reading more.

Disclaimer: Thanks to the author for an advance copy of the book. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t really like.

Posted in Adventure, ARC Reads, Book Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Time Travel, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Blitz: The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens by Chrysta Castañeda & Loren Steffy | Lone Star Book Blog Tours

THE LAST TRIAL OF
T. BOONE PICKENS
by
Chrysta Castañeda & Loren Steffy
Genre: Biography/Autobiography, Courtroom Drama
Publisher: Stoney Creek Publishing Group
Date of Paperback Publication: September 15, 2021
Number of Pages: 300 Pages
Finalist, 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award
T. Boone Pickens, legendary Texas oilman and infamous corporate raider from the 1980s, climbed the steps of the Reeves County courthouse in Pecos, Texas in early November 2016. He entered the solitary courtroom and settled into the witness stand for two days of testimony in what would be the final trial of his life.
Pickens, who was 88 by then, had made and lost billions over his long career, but he’d come to Pecos seeking justice from several other oil companies. He claimed they cut him out of what became the biggest oil play he’d ever invested in—in an oil-rich section of far West Texas that was primed for an unprecedented boom. After years of dealing with the media, shareholders and politicians, Pickens would need to win over a dozen West Texas jurors in one last battle.
To lead his legal fight, he chose an unlikely advocate—Chrysta Castañeda, a Dallas solo practitioner who had only recently returned to the practice of law after a hiatus borne of disillusionment with big firms. Pickens was a hardline Republican, while Castañeda had run for public office as a Democrat. But they shared an unwavering determination to win and formed a friendship that spanned their differences in age, politics, and gender.
In a town where frontier justice was once meted out by Judge Roy Bean—“The Law West of the Pecos”—Pickens would gird for one final courtroom showdown. Sitting through trial every day, he was determined to prevail, even at the cost of his health.
The Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens is a high-stakes courtroom drama told through the eyes of Castañeda. It’s the story of an American business legend still fighting in the twilight of his long career, and the lawyer determined to help him make one final stand for justice.
PRAISE FOR THE LAST TRIAL OF T. BOONE PICKENS:

“Think you know T. Boone Pickens, the larger-than-life business titan,
energy trader, and corporate raider? Think again. The attorney representing Pickens in his final major court battle and the business writer who covered him most over the decades reveal a whole other T. Boone that few people outside his bubble could have ever imagined.”
Joe Nick Patoski, author of Austin to ATX and host of the Texas
Music Hour of Power

“Chrysta Castañeda and Loren Steffy have accomplished the remarkable. They’ve taken issues most familiar to lawyers and judges, woven them into an incredible story and presented to all an enjoyable journey through The
Last Trial of T. Boone Pickens.
Craig Enoch, Former Texas Supreme Court Justice and founder of the Enoch Kever law firm

CHRYSTA CASTAÑEDA is a Texas trial attorney specializing in oil and gas disputes. She formed her own boutique law firm in 2014 after more than twenty years as a partner and associate in some of the world’s top law firms.

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LOREN STEFFY is a journalist and author of four other nonfiction books: Deconstructed: An Insider’s View of Illegal Immigration and the Building Trades (with Stan Marek) (Stoney Creek Publishing, 2020), George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet (Texas A&M University Press, 2019), Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit (McGraw-Hill, 2010) and The Man Who Thought Like a Ship (Texas A&M University Press, 2012). His first novel, The Big Empty, was published in April 2021.
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Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Blog Tours, Book Blitz, Legal Thriller, Memoir, Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review and Blog Tour: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer

  • Title: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche (Enola Holmes #7)
  • Author: Nancy Springer
  • Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery
  • Where to buy: Macmillan, Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Would I recommend: Yes! Enola Holmes is a delight.

Book Information:

ENOLA HOLMES AND THE BLACK BAROUCHE by Nancy Springer
On sale: August 31st, 2021

“A young girl who is empowered, capable, and smart…the Enola Holmes book series convey an impactful message that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, and it does so in an exciting and adventurous way.”–Millie Bobby Brown

Enola Holmes is back! Nancy Springer’s nationally bestselling series and breakout Netflix sensation returns to beguile readers young and old in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman–after all, her name spelled backwards reads ‘alone’–and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep, desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know–she’d feel–if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed it seems by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover–or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely–and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help–from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

Enola Holmes returns in her first adventure since the hit Netflix movie brought her back on the national bestseller lists, introducing a new generation to this beloved character and series.

Excerpt:

“Is she fainted?” 

Indignant, I wanted to sit up and say I was not so easily killed and I never fainted, but to my surprise my body would not obey me. I merely stirred and murmured. 

“She’s moving.” 

I saw the clodhopper boots of common men surrounding me and smelled alcohol on the breath of those leaning over me. 

“Let’s get ’er inside.” 

“Somebody go fer the doctor.” 

Strong hands, not ungentle, seized me by the feet and shoulders. I could have kicked and yelled—I felt strong enough now—but my mind had started to function, realizing that I was about to be carried into a pub, for only in a public house, or pub, would workmen be drinking in the daytime. And normally no woman of good repute would enter a pub, or if she did, she would be jeered at until she retreated. But, my avid brain realized, fate in the form of Jezebel had given me opportunity to spend some time inside a pub—no, in the pub, most likely the only pub in Threefinches! So I closed my eyes and pretended to be rather more helpless than I was as the men hauled me inside and laid me down on a high-backed bench by the hearth. 

Someone brought something pungent in lieu of smelling salts, but I shook my head, pushed the malodourous hand away, opened my eyes, and sat up, acting as if it were a great effort for me to do so. A burly, bearded man in an apron, undoubtedly the publican who kept the place, came running with a pillow for my back, and I thanked him with a gracious smile. 

“Will ye have a nip of brandy, lydy?” 

“No, thank you. Water, please.” 

“Jack! Water for the lydy!” he bellowed to some underling, and he remained nearby as I managed, with hands that genuinely trembled, to remove my gloves. Their thin kidskin leather was ruined by the mauling it had taken from Jezebel’s reins, and my hands were red and sore; doubtless they would bruise. Grateful for the cool glass, I held it in both hands and sipped, looking around me. Half of the denizens of the place, like the owner, stood in a semicircle staring at me not unpleasantly, while the rest did the same from seats at the rustic tables—all but one. A tall man with beard stubble on his chin and quite a shock of coarse brownish-grey hair hiding his forehead had withdrawn to a table by the wall, where he devoted his attention to his mug of ale, or stout, or whatever noxious brew he might fancy. I said brightly to the tavern-keeper, “I believe I would like to stand up.” 

“Now, why not wait for the doctor, lydy—” 

But taking hold of his arm, as he stood within my reach, I got to my feet with reasonable steadiness. There were muted cheers from the onlookers. Nodding and simpering at the men all around me, I lilted, “Thank you so much. Do you suppose anyone could go out and fetch my bag, and my hat and parasol? I believe they fell along the—” 

Already half a dozen would-be heroes were stampeding towards the door. Yet, if I had walked in here under my own power, any request for help would have been met with deepest suspicion. Such is life: odd.

My review:

This is the seventh in Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series, but the first that I’ve read. I watched and enjoyed the Netflix show before I even knew there were Enola Holmes books, so I was delighted at the chance to take part in the blog tour for this one. This book reads just fine as a stand-alone – there’s enough of an intro at the beginning to give you a sense of the backstory, and I didn’t feel like I’d missed out on anything vital to a proper understanding of this story.

Enola is a headstrong, independent delight of a protagonist, and often a trial to her older brother Sherlock (in no small part because she seems to often be one step ahead of him!). She shares his investigative mindset, and when Miss Letitia Glover comes to ask for Sherlock’s assistance in finding out what has happened to her twin sister Felicity, it is Enola who springs to her aid.

Felicity was married to the Earl of Dunhench. Letitia has been informed, apparently after the fact, that her sister has died unexpectedly and that her body has already been cremated. As cremation wasn’t the usual practice in Victorian times, Letitia feels that something doesn’t ring true. She also feels certain that she would know if her twin were dead. When Enola learns that the Earl’s previous wife also allegedly died suddenly and was also cremated, nothing will do but that she go to the Earl’s estate, undercover, to try to find out what really happened and what the arrival of a mysterious black barouche had to do with Felicity’s disappearance.

As she unravels the clues, Enola proves herself quite capable at a number of things – quick thinking, disguise, surviving what appear to be most dire circumstances. She doesn’t let the constraints that society places on women keep her from doing what she feels needs to be done. When Enola asks for her assistance in unveiling the truth of what happened to Felicity, Letitia also shows herself willing to move beyond societal expectations in order to make things right. They were both wonderfully written.

The mystery wasn’t incredibly complicated, but that doesn’t make it any less of an engaging read. The historical details, the setting, the characters both good and bad, the dialogue – all combine to form a literary treat.

Now I’ve got to go read the rest of the series.

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press – Wednesday Books. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books that I don’t actually like.

Author bio:

NANCY SPRINGER is the author of the nationally bestselling Enola Holmes novels, including The Case of the Missing Marquess, which was made into the hit Netflix movie, Enola Holmes. She is the author of more than 50 other books for children and adults. She has won many awards, including two Edgar Awards, and has been published in more than thirty countries. She lives in Florida.

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