Tag Archives: Netgalley arc

Review of NETGALLEY arc How to Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic – Book 2 of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #HowtoTalktoaGoddessbookreview

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Being easily led astray, particularly where books are concerned – I’ll confess it was the gorgeous cover and quirky title that caught my eye, regarding this offering. I was in the mood for an enjoyable, engaging fantasy read that wouldn’t be too grimly dire – and this one seemed to fit the bill…

BLURB: Nora knows she needs to move on. And forget about magic.

She’s back in graduate school, and her life is going surprisingly well. She doesn’t need to think about other worlds, about enchantments and demons, or about magicians—even though she once aspired to become one herself. Most of all, she really should forget the magician Aruendiel, who shared the secrets of magic with her but fiercely guarded the deepest secrets of his heart.

Then a chance encounter gives Nora the opportunity to slip between worlds again—and the next phase of her magical education begins…

REVIEW: I’ve cropped the rather chatty blurb, as the ensuing paragraphs give away far too many plotpoints that are far better experienced within the book, rather than being anticipated.

I’ve read a number of books where protagonists have returned to their everyday, mundane existence after spending time in a dangerous, yet vibrant magical world. This one absolutely nails the mingled sense of relief at being relatively safe again – and the yearning sense of longing for the magic… the love… the excitement of what’s been lost. It’s nicely handled, as Nora could so easily have come across as a discontented whiner, but I found myself bonding with her plight and immediately rooting for her. And as once again, I’ve crashed into this series without reading the first book, this was my first introduction to the main protagonist.

Subsequent events plunge Nora into a situation where those yearnings are once more met – and again, I liked the fact that she finds the change a challenging one. Aruendiel, her powerful mentor, is generally grumpy, aloof and somewhat arrogant – basically your typical entitled sorcerer. And what takes place during their initial meeting had my jaw dropping. This clearly isn’t the romantic, enjoyable interaction Nora had been hoping for… And that is about as much as I can say about the plot without lurching into Spoiler territory.

I really enjoyed the depth of the characterisation and the fact that Barker is a fan of the ‘show, don’t tell’ school of writing, especially where the main characters are concerned. The setting, particularly at the Temple, completely convinced me and I enjoyed the exploration of the nature of faith and at what stage steady devotion becomes poisonous fanaticism. Though I don’t want you going away with the impression that there are pages of exposition describing such issues – Barker is far too smart at writing an enjoyable adventure story to commit such a crime. All in all, this is an engaging and pleasingly different fantasy story, still firmly set within many of the tropes of the epic fantasy tale. I’m guessing I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d read the first book, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – and Himself, being the solidly marvellous husband that he is, has now bought this one as a gift for me. I’ll be shortly tucking into it – for I’m missing Barker’s world. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. While I obtained an arc of How To Talk to a Goddess and Other Lessons in Real Magic from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #GhostElectricitybookreview

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I liked the sound of this one and was in the mood for a strong urban fantasy set in London, so requested this arc.

BLURB: Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?

A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.

Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they  will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.

Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail  and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the  known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web  of lies that surrounds them both.

And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break…

REVIEW: The thing about urban fantasy that sets it apart, is that it is generally set in a contemporary landscape – usually a city – and then peopled with otherworldly creatures. So a lot of the pleasure is derived from seeing our everyday settings collide with something other. I was immediately held by Cunningham’s opening sequence with Julian in the London Underground, which was very well done. Anyone who has ever stood on a crowded platform waiting for the train to come could visualise only too well how events unspooled. And that repeated question of Julian’s – Do you know what happens to ghosts in London? – was also nicely handled. Too much and that shiver of horror would have disappeared…

Initially, I was a bit fed up when I realised we wouldn’t be in Julian’s head throughout. But I soon found that I had no trouble bonding with the other protagonists, even when I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. There’s plenty of tension in this urban fantasy adventure, which makes the sudden outbreaks of rather gory violence seem even more shocking. Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I liked all the protagonists, but I particularly bonded with poor old Rob, who just wants a nice normal life, where he rubs along with his work mates and can enjoy a night out down at the pub. Somehow, this never quite happens as all sorts of other distractions get in the way.

The rising tension was well paced and I loved a particular vampyre attack – and what happens to the van, afterwards. As with many urban fantasy tales, there are enjoyable shafts of humour that prevent it becoming too grim, which didn’t prevent the stakes rising such that I found this one difficult to put down as it reached its climax. Overall, this was a thoroughly entertaining read – and the good news is that there are two other books and a number of shorter stories already published in the Hawthorn House series. And I’ll certainly be tucking into them in the near future. While I obtained an arc of Ghost Electricity from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

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I recently had a conversation with a couple of my book blogging friends, who were enthusing about The Goblin Emperor – one of them being the Cap of The Captain’s Quarters. When the Cap mentioned it was one of his all-time favourite fantasy reads, then I knew I had to spend some of my birthday money on it. I’m so very glad I did – it was a marvellous read. And in a stunning gift of coincidence, I also discovered that this offering was available on Netgalley.

BLURB: When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

REVIEW: The strapline mentions that this sequel is a standalone read – and I would endorse that. While I’m delighted to have read The Goblin Emperor for the sheer joy of having experienced such a layered, complex world – you definitely don’t need to have tucked into it in order to appreciate this one. Although there are a couple of apparently throwaway references that will especially resonate if you have read The Goblin Emperor.

The engine that drives this narrative is essentially a murder mystery. And as someone who can communicate with the dead, Celehar finds himself embroiled in a couple of investigations that start attracting unwelcome attention. In a world where an instinct for political niceties is a very useful survival trait, Celehar’s inconvenient tendency not to bend his moral compass to go with the flow gets him into a lot of trouble. As with The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead provides us with an engaging protagonist, who is on the outside and needs to tread carefully in order to get any kind of result.

Addison’s rich, detailed world of goblins and elves, where there are unspoken and unacknowledged frictions, is wonderfully portrayed. This isn’t a book you can speed through – the tricky names, the nuances and careful accretion of small, yet significant details meant that I had to slow right down and pay attention throughout. And even as I did so, I dreaded finishing this one, as reading it was an immersive, slow-burning delight that I didn’t want to end.

Of course, it’s all well and good building up a wonderful mystery that is freighted with plenty of tension and high stakes – but then, the denouement has to be sufficiently strong so that there isn’t that horrible sinking feeling of a fumbled ending that doesn’t live up to the thrill of the investigation. And fortunately, Addison delivers that, too, with a thoroughly satisfying finale that had me sighing with pleasure as I came to the end. All in all, this is a worthy addition to the series – and I’d pre-order another one of these in a heartbeat, which is something I very rarely do. Very highly recommended to fans of excellent fantasy. While I obtained an arc of The Witness for the Dead from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AssassinsOrbitbookreview

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That amazing cover caught my eye, as did the intriguing blurb. And as I’m a sucker for good space opera, I immediately requested this one.

BLURB: Murder forces unlikely allies

On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped. A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery.

REVIEW: The strapline for this book is: Golden Girls meets The Expanse with a side of Babylon Five… Hm – not sure about that one. The older women that feature in this sci-fi adventure thriller are far tougher and grimmer than the protagonists in Golden Girls. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they are women of a certain age. I liked both Noo Okereke and Meiko Ogawa very much – though it took me a while to nail the names. The author didn’t do his western readers any favours by insisting on giving us two unfamiliar surnames starting with the same consonant.

I did enjoy the social dynamic and the political setup. As this story is character-led, it took a while for the full scope of the world to unfold – but once things started really kicking off, the narrative moved forward at full pelt. It was difficult to put this one down, as the stakes just kept on piling up against our plucky protagonists. Appel writes the action really well – I liked the weaponry and tech toys, as well as the cultural differences between the factions which were well portrayed.

All in all, this is a cracking story, full of incident and tension that works well with a solidly depicted world and strong characters. My main concern is that the story leaves some dangling plotpoints that need to be cleared up – and there’s no indication that this is the first book in a series. I would be very sorry if this turns out to be a standalone. Highly recommended for space opera fans. While I obtained an arc of Assassin’s Orbit from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AntiquesCarryOnbookreview

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It was the bright yellow cover that caught my eye – and the blurb that promised lots of high jinks and mayhem around a mother and daughter investigative team. The unusual family dynamic and promise of a funny murder mystery meant that I was keen to read this one.

BLURB: Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming. But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the fifteenth book in the series, when I started reading it – but as it happened, that really didn’t matter all that much. While I’m sure there are all sorts of issues within this one that I would have appreciated more, had I read the series from the start, the entertaining friction between the characters and the ongoing whodunit meant I didn’t flounder in any way.

Each chapter is written in alternate viewpoints between Vivian and Brandy, with comments aimed directly at the reader at regular intervals. It isn’t to everyone’s taste and is easy to overdo such that it becomes annoying. I think Allan has got the balance right – and I certainly enjoyed the difference between the two characters. It is a structure regularly seen in romances, but less common in other genres and worked well here, where Vivian’s larger-than-life attitude to the world contrasted nicely with Brandy’s weary attempts to keep her mother in check. Needless to say, she mostly failed…

All this could have become irritating if the bones of a good whodunit wasn’t also in place – which it was. In the end, I appreciated the denouement, how well the plot held together and why the murders were committed. While I’m not going to go right back to the start of this series and read the previous fourteen – if I encounter another one of these entertaining stories, I wouldn’t hesitate to immediately pick it up and tuck into it. Recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Antiques Carry On from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheStrandingbookreview

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To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why I decided to go ahead and request this one, given that I’ve been in quite a dark place. Except that some of my decisions have been a tad skewed, what with one thing and another. However, I’m glad that on one of my spells of energy, I got sufficiently carried away to get hold of this one, as it has provided me with one of the reading highlights of the year…

BLURB: Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.

As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns. But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exists.

REVIEW: I won’t deny that there’s a devastating event that occurs right at the heart of this book. It’s tied up with the whale in an unusual way and sets the tone for what happens to Ruth during the rest of her life. If it had been written differently, it could have been unbearable to read. But Sawyer’s beautiful, poetic prose does exactly what literary writing should do – it supports the story by deepening the emotional impact and giving us an immersive, sensory experience. This isn’t instead of a cracking plot and well depicted, believable characters, which happens all too often when the writing is at such a wonderful standard – it’s in addition to those other vital ingredients.

The result is a stunning book that hooked me in and had me reading till my eyes ached. There were times when I cried and times when I held my breath – until I finally surfaced, feeling lightheaded and slightly euphoric. Though with that familiar sense of loss that there was no more time to spend in this story. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as while the blurb gives a sense of what happens – there is so much more that the reader should discover on Sawyer’s terms. Her crafting of this plot worked perfectly for me – and I loved how I increasingly came to be more and more in Ruth’s corner as the story wore on. And if you pick this one up and find that in the beginning, you don’t like her all that much – do persevere for a bit longer. I promise that she will grow on you…

This is a remarkable book by an author who knows exactly what she is doing. It’s an ambitious book – to define the life of a character through such a major event and I don’t know many that could pull it off. Sawyer does more than that – she has created a highly memorable read that will stay with me for a very long time. And although we are only just over halfway through the year, I do know The Stranding has already made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2021. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Stranding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Artifact Space by Miles Cameron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ArtifactSpacebookreview

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I’m a fan of Cameron’s writing – I loved the Traitor Son series – see my reviews of The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm and The Fall of Dragons – so I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley. And of course I applied for a copy, as the combination of Cameron writing space opera sounded fabulous. It made my day when I acquired a copy – and it wasn’t too long before I tucked into it… Question is, was all that anticipation justified?

BLURB: Out in the darkness of space, something is targeting the Greatships. With their vast cargo holds and a crew that could fill a city, the Greatships are the lifeblood of human occupied space, transporting an unimaginable volume – and value – of goods from City, the greatest human orbital, all the way to Tradepoint at the other, to trade for xenoglas with an unknowable alien species.

It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space. All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…

REVIEW: This is one of my reading highlights of the year so far – and I can safely say that this one is definitely going to make my Outstanding Reads List of 2021. Marca is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist, who has had a tough time of it and makes a desperate break for a chance at a decent life. With help from someone else whose chances have already been ruined…

I also liked the world. The merchanting ship Athens and the dynamic with the crew and the wider world holds together in a credible, diverse world that I believed in. There is an upbeat vibe to this world, despite the dangers they undergo, which reminded me, at times, of Nathan Lowell’s enjoyable series The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper. What I especially enjoyed was learning about the onboard politics and rhythms, so that when the Athens is threatened, I very much cared. It was difficult to put the book down as I wanted them all to survive. And that concern and tension was sharpened when some of the crew don’t make it.

Overall, it was an engrossing memorable read that had me very sorry to reach the end – and hopeful that the second book in this series won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Very highly recommended to fans of well written space opera adventures. While I obtained an arc of Artifact Space from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMurderatRosingsbookreview

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I was looking for an enjoyable whodunit, when I came across this offering – and was delighted to be approved to read it. I’ve largely enjoyed the Jane Austen-inspired books that I’ve read. Would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. Will he end up hanged, with the rest of his family shunned by polite society?

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the end of the blurb and omitted the final paragraph, which gives the impression that it’s Mary who is at the heart of uncovering the murder mystery. And whoever wrote that clearly hadn’t read the book. Because while Mary makes more of an appearance in this book than in Pride and Prejudice, she isn’t part of the investigation. It’s a shame the blurb is so misleading, because I kept waiting for her to become swept up in the murder mystery – and was a bit taken aback when it didn’t happen.

So my advice is to ignore the blurb and just relax into the story. I think Purdey Pugh has nailed the setting and the atmosphere at Rosings. We see another side of Lady Caroline de Bourgh, rather than the overly entitled harridan portrayed by Austen. Lady Caroline is depicted as a stickler for the rules, but also someone who is genuinely concerned about her servants and is grieved at the violent death of Mr Collins, to the extent that she is willing for the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, and the village constable, Robert Archer, to freely question both the servants and the high-born occupants of Rosings, given that it soon becomes clear that whoever murdered Collins had to have close ties with the household. She also deeply loves her daughter, which becomes increasingly clear throughout the book. So while I started this one expecting to thoroughly dislike her, my initial prejudice towards her softened into genuine respect for her.

I also liked the depiction of Mr Bennet, who although isn’t as witty as he appears in Pride and Prejudice, nonetheless does make the occasional light-hearted comment. But then, this event takes place several years after the events of P & P. Mr and Mrs Collins are now blessed with three children and the three married Bennet daughters are all in an interesting condition. So Bennet has a particular and pressing reason to visit his cousin, Mr Collins, who is the heir to Longbourn on Mr Bennet’s death. I also appreciated seeing more of Mary, who is more of a retiring, desperately shy scholar who dreads social occasions in this version. She and Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s timid daughter, immediately form a close relationship as they attempt to study Greek together without the aid of a tutor. While Lady Caroline loathes the Bennets, after Lizzy treacherously stole Mr Darcy from the arms of her daughter, she is prepared to make Mary Bennet welcome for the sake of Anne’s happiness.

There is also a darker sub-plot running through the story. There are young and vulnerable female servants among Rosings’ large staff – and the dangers they are subjected to makes for a thought-provoking read. Especially as the investigators and most of the main characters are clearly striving to do the best they can for the people in their charge. Thus demonstrating that it only takes one or two of the other sort to cause real harm. So there’s a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I think the murder mystery is handled very well. Although I soon guessed who the perpetrator was – until I was proved utterly wrong. Meanwhile, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, before the unexpected and rather shocking solution came to light. Overall, I found this to be an engrossing read that took me convincingly into Austen’s world, treating it with respect while giving us a different view of some of her characters. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Murder at Rosings from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LochDownAbbeybookreview

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It was the wordplay regarding the title and that rather gorgeous cover that snagged my attention – and the blurb ensured that I requested a copy of this one. And I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

REVIEW: I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical fiction recently – but I can safely say that nothing has been quite like this offering. The Inverkillen clan are all thoroughly spoilt and entitled – and quite right, too. After all, they’re part of an aristocracy that goes back hundreds of years and everyone in the village and beyond acknowledges their superiority over the common sort. Indeed, they employ lots of the common sort to wait upon them hand, foot and finger. So when a mysterious and rather virulent illness strikes the domestic staff just when Lord Inverkillen is found dead by the weir, dramatic changes have to be made in domestic arrangements – and that’s before the Will is read…

This is a funny and engaging read – but do keep the character cast list bookmarked, at least for the first few chapters, because there are quite a lot of Inverkillens and events keep happening. Think of a cross between the televised version of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories and Agatha Christie’s country house mysteries. And I won’t compare Cowan-Erksine’s writing with Wodehouse, because his prose is far more hilarious. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed her dry humour and found myself laughing aloud more than once. And as I’m struggling with post-Covid fatigue syndrome, I’m not inclined to chuckle over anything that isn’t genuinely funny.

Since I’ve finished this one, I’ve found myself looking around for something similar – and I haven’t yet found it. If you are looking for a mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Loch Down Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mystic’s Accomplice by Mary Miley Theobold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMysticsAccomplicebookreview

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I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.

BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.

So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .

REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.

No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.

I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.

In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.

The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10