Monday, October 31, 2022

#Review - All The Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell #YA #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Thrillers & Suspense

SADIE meets THE LOVELY BONES in this standalone YA thriller by acclaimed author Saundra Mitchell. A Lambda Literary Award nominee.

There’s no such thing as a secret.

SOMETHING happened to Ava. The curving scar on her face is proof. But Ava would rather keep that something hidden—buried deep in her heart and her soul.

She has her best friend, Syd, and she has her tattoos—a colorful quilt, like a security blanket, over her whole body—and now, suddenly, she has Hailey. Beautiful, sweet Hailey, who seems to like Ava as much as she likes her.

But in the woods on the outskirts of town, the traces of someone else’s secrets lie frozen, awaiting Ava’s discovery—and what Ava finds threatens to topple the carefully constructed wall of normalcy that she’s spent years building.

Secrets leave scars. But when the secret in question is not your own, do you ignore the truth and walk away? Or do you uncover it from its shallow grave, and let it reopen old wounds—wounds that have finally begun to heal?

A twisted thriller with a painfully authentic emotional narrative, All the Things We Do in the Dark will capture readers from the very first page.


  "I'm obligated to say it out loud for everyone who can't. For the ones who don't have bulletproof stories even though we we're all equal: something evil happened, and it happened to us. We didn't make that evil happen."
Saundra Mitchell's All The Things We Do in the Dark is a twitted standalone thriller featuring 17 years old Ava. The combination of a murder mystery and the breathless onset of a new romance forces Ava to confront the trauma of her own violation. When Ava was 9 years old, she was lured away from safety and violated by someone who still hasn't been captured. The scar on her face is both a reminder of what happened that day, as well as pushing Ava into being as invisible as possible.
The problem is that she lives in small-town Maine where everyone knows who she is and what happened to her and if they didn’t, the scar on the side of her face would certainly be cause for curiosity. Ava is a good student who is on a track scholarship. Ava has also built up a collection of unusual tattoos that her mother is clueless about. One could say that whenever Syd gets a tattoo, Ava feels the need to get one.  
Ava compartmentalized a lot of things in her life since the rape to keep herself in control and feeling safe, until one day after a fight with her best friend she's walking home and finds a body of a dead girl in the woods. Instead of calling the police, she reasons that she's trying to protect her "Jane" from being picked apart and investigated by the police like she was when she was nine. Ava believes that Jane is guiding her to help solve the mystery of who killed her. Ava's obsession leads to a conflict with a boy who claims he knows who killed Jane. 
Ava also begins to break numerous rules that her mother put down for her to keep her safe thus causing a conflict between mother and daughter. Her mother has tried to keep tabs on her, but even she doesn’t know everything and Ava is prone to keeping secrets. After she becomes friends with Hailey Kaplan-Cho, whose father is a cop, she starts to develop feelings for her which is something she's never let herself experience before. Not even with Syd. One could say that she has had PTSD for the past 8 years, but really never healed herself.
The author does not shy away from delving into the depths of Ava’s experience with sexual assault, reawakened by the horrifying discovery she makes in the woods. The book was okay in my opinion. I would have liked more emphasis on the mystery, and less about Ava and Hailey and the silliness between Ava and Syd. I give a lot of respect to the mother. Even after what happens at the end of this book. Any other mother in this genre would have washed their hands of Ava's lies and putting herself in harms way.

Friday, October 28, 2022

#Review - House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson #Gothic #Horror

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Historical

A young woman is drawn into the upper echelons of a society where blood is power in this dark and enthralling Gothic novel from the author of The Year of the Witching.

Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation are all she know. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north—where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service—Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery. At the center of it all is Countess Lisavet.

The countess, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when she discovers that the ancient walls of the House of Hunger hide even older secrets, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home—and fast—or its halls will soon become her grave.

Alexis Henderson's House of Alexis is a gothic horror story set in a puritan like America. One could call this the re-imaging of Elizabeth Bathory. The story is told via third person narrative featuring Marion Shaw. As the story begins, Marion's life is that of a scullery maid who is looked down on by her elderly employer. She also has an older brother who is drug addled and on the cusp of death. That is when Marion discovers an ad in the newspaper looking for blood maids.
Marion interviews with a Taster named Thiago who is impressed by the rich taste of her blood, offering her a ticket to night train to leave her hometown to start her new job at North. Blood maids are a symbols of opulence and depravity in an almost equal measure. There is a clear and present prejudice against the young women in the Deep South who choose to take this path. In this world, the North was once the world's bastion of power with 27 Noble Houses. 
Now, it is the South who has become the industrial forward and democratically elected non-Nobles. Most Houses of the North have fallen into ruin, yet, four remain relevant. House of Hunger, House of Fog, House of Locusts, and House of Mirrors. House of Hunger is where Marion ends up after she accepts a contract that could be worth thousands of pounds should she complete the requirements. House of Hunger is run by Countess Lisvet Bathory who is kept alive by using the Blood Maids blood to heal her. 
After a rocky beginning, Marion soon becomes friendly with Irene, Evie, Elize, and young Mae, as well as their cat. Except for Mae who is the bastard of nobility, the other girls are Blood Maids who have been here longer along with Cecelia the First Blood Maid of the House. Soon Marion becomes entangled in the darkness of the house, and the love of a woman needs her blood in order to survive. Soon she is swept away in a dark web of debauchery, depravity, viciousness, and realizes things are even darker than she thought.
One could say that the ending of this story was abrupt, but I think that it is up to the reader to choose to put themselves in Marion's shoes and try to figure out if you would have been able to deal with everything she deals with. This is a dark story, but I don't believe there's any glaring trigger warnings that I need to post in my review. 


To bleed is to be.

-Vanessa, First Bloodmaid of the House of Hunger

Before she was first bled, when she still had the name her parents gave her, Marion Shaw was a maid at a townhouse in the South of Prane. On that morning-the morning she would later come to identify as the beginning of her second life-she knelt on the hard wood floor of the parlor, sleeves rolled up to her bony elbows, a scrub brush in her hand.

Across the room, in an upholstered armchair, Lady Gertrude sat, watching her work. She was a shrewd woman, blue-eyed with silver hair and a pinched aristocratic nose, spattered with age spots and freckles. While other nobles preferred to leave their maids to their labor, Lady Gertrude preferred instead to preside over them, watching with a falcon's eye as if to ensure that her help earned every penny she paid them.

"You missed a spot," she sneered, seizing her cane to point at a minuscule stain on the floorboards.

Marion batted a dark curl out of her eye. She did what little she could to mind her tone. "I'll be more careful, milady."

"You ought to be. There's girls more handsome and less sluggish than you who'd be happy to have your position," she said, and she bit down on a brittle tea cookie, spitting crumbs when she spoke again. "You've grown slow . . . and lazy. I can see it in your eyes. The little light there was in them has long gone out, and now you expect to drag yourself through my halls on your hands and knees like a common drunk. With your hair unkempt and your apron stained-"

"Rest assured this floor will be spotless by the time I'm through with it," said Marion, cutting her short. She could feel the rage pooling in the pit of her belly like bile. "You have my word."

At this, Lady Gertrude merely frowned, the slack skin of her brow wrinkling like fabric. Marion couldn't help but think that she was rather lonely. Long widowed, without children of her own, or companions or family to speak of, she had no means of social stimulation apart from Sunday mass. Thus, every day she followed Marion from room to room, watching her scrub the floors and polish the silver, sometimes (if her health allowed it) going so far as to trail after her into the kitchens, where she'd remain until her aching knees drove her back to the comfort of her parlor.

Marion polished the floor until she could see her own reflection in it-wide-set eyes gaping back at her, a firm nose and full lips slightly parted, tongue tucked behind her teeth, skin a deep tawny, hair a mess of curls. She frowned at herself just as the church bells rang twelve. With a ragged sigh, Marion peeled her gaze from her own reflection, dropped her scrub brush into the bucket with a splash, and pressed slowly to her feet.

In accordance with the new labor laws, all workers were promised an hour's rest at the top of their seventh hour of work, a precautionary measure enacted after no fewer than six girls worked themselves to death after twenty-hour shifts in a cotton mill. And while Lady Gertrude was not a particularly kind woman, she was a great adherent to order and strict regulation, regardless of whether it was a benefit to her. Thus, when the clock struck noon, she was quick to dismiss Marion.

Unlike many of her set, Lady Gertrude couldn't afford to buy herself a townhome more than a spitting distance from the more . . . unsightly corners of Prane, and it took Marion only a few minutes to reach the cusp of the slums. Here, Marion's pace quickened and she felt her spirits lift, if only slightly.

Gradually, the fine brick townhomes gave way to shanties and warehouses, cast in a pall of smog. Marion shouldered down the crowded streets of the stockyards and adjoining meat market, trudging through half-frozen manure and past the racks of cattle corpses that hung, swinging, by the hooves. Instinctively, she rounded her shoulders against the blast of the coming cold. Fall had only just begun, but it was unseasonably chilly that day and the streets were thick with snow and slush.

Outside, the crowds spread through the stockyards, rounding the corrals where the cattle huddled-shuddering from the cold or the fear of the coming butchery or both. Marion trained her eyes on her boots as she passed them by. Almost ten years of walking every day through the stockyards and she still couldn't bring herself to look those beasts in the eye.

Marion kept walking. The seething smog was low-slung, and so thick that the sun could barely shine through it. The streets were thronged, as they always were at midday. Crowds gathered around the vendor stalls, and if Marion had coin to spare on a bit of roast eel or herring, she might have joined them. But she didn't, so she went about her way, navigating the crowds and icy streets, snow slush leaking into her boots as she walked.

A vicious wind circled down the alleys and ripped at her coat as she neared her favorite place to sit, a dark doorstep at the back of an abandoned warehouse, on the cusp of Prane, overlooking the trenches and the long scar of the northern railroad beyond them.

It began to rain, and Marion retreated into the shadow of the awning, fishing a pack of matches and her last cigarette from the back pocket of her coat. She lit the smoke and nursed it, cupping her hand to shield it from the wind. Between draws she wheezed and shivered, blowing smoke through her fingers to warm them.

The cigarettes did wonders to calm her hunger pangs, and at a halfpenny a pack they were far cheaper than the offerings of the roadside food vendors, who, as far as Marion was concerned, always overcharged.

"If it ain't the jewel of Prane."

Marion turned to see Agnes wading toward her through the thick of the crowds. She raised a hand and Marion greeted her with two raised middle fingers in turn. Agnes was a gaunt, jaundiced matchstick girl with pale brown eyes and thinning hair that she wore in a braid that hung, like a rat's tail, down her back. Like Marion, Agnes had spent the early years of her childhood pickpocketing on busy street corners. In fact, that was how they'd met, and they soon learned that thievery was a trade better suited to two. Agnes would act as the distraction-chatting nonsense with their targets, keeping them occupied-while Marion crept up from behind to nab a coin purse or slip a silk handkerchief from the breast coat of a passing lord. But at age ten, when the legal repercussions of thievery became too steep, Agnes had taken up honest work on the factory line where she made matches-dipping wooden sticks into sulfur-from dawn until dusk. Soon after, Marion secured a position as the scullery maid of Lady Gertrude.

Still, despite their new occupations, every day at noon the two girls made a point to converge at the same street corner where they'd first met. But Marion and Agnes weren't friends, because Marion didn't have friends. The way she saw it, friends were a luxury reserved for people who had the spare time to spend with them-like the girls who wandered Main Street with their parasols and bone-white gloves, retiring to their parlors in the afternoon to take a bit of tea and talk. No. Girls like Marion and Agnes had no use or time for companions. They were simply fixtures in each other's lives, a part of Prane's habitat, like the reeking miasma and the crows and the rats that roamed the streets in packs at night.

Marion passed Agnes the nub of her cigarette and slipped both hands into her skirt pockets, doing what little she could to keep herself warm. She had another five hours of work ahead of her, and it was hard to scrub floors with cold-stiff fingers.

Agnes pulled on her cigarette in silence, the smoke leaking through the gaps of her missing teeth. She looked haggard from the time she'd spent slaving away on the line, breathing the toxic phosphorous fumes day in and day out until the chemical stench filled her up like a second spirit. That was something Marion's mother used to say. That folks in Prane had two souls-one made of the stuff of the heavens, the other from miasma.

Agnes took a final pull on her cigarette and flicked the butt into the trenches. "Ugly day, isn't it?"

Marion shrugged. "No worse than the others."

"But it is. The days are shorter than they ever were before, the nights are longer. And the sun, it doesn't rise as high as it used to. I swear it. The summers aren't as warm. Fall is shorter. The winters are colder." Agnes shook her head. "I can feel the change."

"Prane doesn't change," said Marion, and it was true. Prane was the northernmost city of the South. It existed in the rift between the worlds-the arctic North and the punishing heat of the industrial South. And so, Prane was never one thing or another. In the night, the light of the city was such that it seemed the sun never fully set; in the day, the gray pall of smog made it seem like it never fully rose. Thus, the slums of Prane felt much like a realm caught between, in perpetual indecision, as if the skies couldn't decide what they wanted to be.

Never fully day. Never fully night.

Never anything at all.

And though she knew nothing else, Marion had come to hate that indistinction . . . and most everything else about Prane too. She sometimes wondered if there was a single person in the slums who found something, anything, to love about the place. Agnes, for her part, seemed resigned, even content. But begrudging contentment was not the same as happiness. At best it was familiarity, and at worst defeat. It certainly wasn't the same as true fondness.

Marion lowered herself to the stoop beside Agnes, wincing a little as the snowmelt seeped through her skirts. Her gaze drifted north. In the distance, she could just make out the night train's station on the cusp of Prane-a beautiful structure of glass and iron with its own clock tower that only ever called the hours of the night. Marion had visited the station only once, on her eighth birthday. She had begged her mother to let her see it, in lieu of a proper birthday gift. And so, that evening, they had ventured down to the station.

Marion's mother had lifted her up onto her hip to peer into the night train's windows, and she had caught the briefest glimpse of its cabin-its seats upholstered with red velvet, its windows draped with brocade and dyed silks. Each cabin was lit by the shimmering chandeliers that dangled from the ceilings. They didn't care that the men in the three-piece suits scowled at their presence, or that the women clutched their skirts and coin-fat purses closer at their approach.

Marion and her mother had merely laughed and smiled and watched in awe as the northerners (you could tell them apart from the touring southerners based on their fine clothes and the way they tilted their chins, just so) boarded the train and settled themselves for the journey north. There was a bloodmaid among them, a black-haired girl with a fine mink muff who smiled at Marion through the window. At seven past twelve, Marion and her mother watched from the platform as that great, black-iron beast roared to life and charged into the dark of the night.

Every time she heard the keen peal of the night train's horn, she felt the same stirring in the marrow of her bones that she had as a child, standing on the platform alongside her mother. She loved the sound and the feeling of the train's approach. Sometimes she imagined herself onboard-sitting among the northern nobles and men of Parliament-a gilded, one-way ticket in her pocket that cost more than ten times what a maid like Marion earned in a year.

Agnes eyed her through a cloud of cigarette smoke. "Still looking north?"

"Nothing else to look at."

"Then I suppose you won't be wanting this." Agnes reached into the shadows of her coat and withdrew a folded newspaper. She stole one every day, in a kind of unspoken agreement, an important part of their ritual. Agnes brought the stolen paper, and Marion the cigarettes, and together they made the most of what little time they had to spare.

The wind tore at the edges of the newspaper as Agnes opened it and spread it flat across their thighs. They didn't bother with the headline stories-long articles about taxes and tariff wars and cholera outbreaks in the slums. Instead, they skipped to their favorite section, the matrimonial advertisements at the back of the paper.

It was the top of the week, so there was a large selection of adverts to comb through. One for a respectable physician seeking a maiden wife. Another for a widowed cleric with a parish in the country in want of a wife of "impeccable morals" and a mother for his nine children (he requested that the lucky woman be no older than two and twenty). At the bottom corner of the page, an advert for a self-described spinster, aged thirty-eight, seeking a bachelor of fortune to receive with "kindness and affection."

Marion and Agnes read each of these adverts in their best mockery of a posh accent, illustrating the postings with wild imaginings about the appearances of the subjects, their homes and lives and favorite proclivities.

"He might be a fit for you," said Agnes, with a sly smile. She tapped an ad for a navy officer in want of a "wholesome" maiden, and Marion laughed aloud. She was many things, but wholesome she was not. Virtue, in the conventional sense, had never become her. At twenty, she'd shared beds with several women, and she enjoyed indulging readily in the delights of the flesh. She and Agnes had had a brief tryst one summer, but there was no real feeling between them, and things had ended badly. They'd since decided they were better smoking companions than lovers.

Agnes squinted down at the paper. "At a salary of four hundred a year maybe he'd be a fit for me too. I could be a maiden."

"Somehow I have a hard time picturing that," said Marion, turning the newspaper's page. And it was then that she saw it, an advertisement in the midst of the matrimony column. Unlike the other postings, it was printed in the most peculiar shade of scarlet. And the letters were different, larger and filigreed, the dips and curves of each one sweeping into the next like cursive.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

#Review - Gray Tidings by Hailey Edwards #Fantasy #Contemporary

Series: Black Hat Bureau # 6
Format: Kindle, 283 pages
Release Date: October 18, 2022
Publisher:  Black Dog Books, LLC
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Corpses are vanishing from New Orleans morgues, there’s talk of a sea monster in Lake Pontchartrain, and Hiram Nádasdy is turning the French Quarter upside down in search of a witch with the power to bring the dead back to life.

When the director assigns Rue the case, she suspects he’s sending her hunting all right. For her father, not the creature. Too bad she’s got her hands full with dueling covens, drunk revelers, and a whole lot of pool noodles. Oh. And it’s Mardi Gras. Of course it is. But as the locals say, laissez les bons temps rouler.

Gray Tidings is the Sixth installment in author Hailey Edwards' Black Hat Bureau series. Protagonist Rue Hollis has been promoted to the position of Deputy Director of the Black Hat Bureau after killing the previous holder of the office, and has been outed as the granddaughter of the Director himself. Rue's time as Deputy Director has been that of being tested by underlings, assassins, and that of keeping her temper in check and not go on a killing spree. 

Then, Rue and her team, Asa, Clay, and yes, Colby, are order to travel to New Orleans. New Orleans during Mardi Gras! It seems as though someone has been stealing bodies from the morgue, and there may or may not be a sea monster named Pontchy (named by Clay) who is feasting on the human delicatessen. For Rue, and her team, this feels like a trap. A trap for her. A trap for her father who the director would love to get his hands on. A trap for the girls (Camber and Arden) who work for Hollis Apothecary and are close to Rue.

To make matters even more strange, Aedan, who is Rue's cousin on her demon side, has become infatuated with Arden, like Rue is infatuated by Asa. Nothing is easy for Rue. She's trying hard not to revert to her Black Witch stature which could be bad for everyone. She has a sea monster eating corpses. She has her father who is trying to do the impossible by finding a so called Lazarus witch who may be able to bring back Rue's mother to life. She also has a grimoire that seems to have a mind of its own and appears whenever Rue needs a push.

I loved the participation of the Wargs, Marita and Drew Mayhew who have managed to become part of Rue's life whether she liked it or not. I don't think readers have seen the last of Luca, the woman who saved Saint, and now wants something in return. I am curious as to how long Rue is going to take to decide whose side of the rebellion she is on. The agents of the Black Hat Bureau or those who are trying to destroy what it stands for. I am also liking that Colby is coming in to her own, and is really an important player in this series. I do believe the ending of this story is both sad that one part of Rue's life seems to be over, and hopeful in that Rue has to pretty much turn her back on Sanford, and away from Camber and Arden. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

#Review - A Perfect Bind by Dorothy St. James #Mystery

Series: A Beloved Bookroom Mystery (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery / Cozy

Librarian Tru Beckett, ardent defender of the printed word, is about to find out that keeping murder checked out of her beloved library is much harder than she thought...

Tru Beckett succeeded in building a secret book room in her now bookless library, where book lovers from lovely Cypress, South Carolina, can rejoice in the printed word. Now she's working hard to maintain the little library downstairs while keeping her "real job" upstairs in the bookless technology center. The last thing she needs is a mysterious vandal who seems intent on breaking into her secret book-filled sanctuary and creating chaos. The nasty interloper doesn't steal anything, but brutalizes the books, damaging them and knocking them off shelves.

A patron of the secret book room tells Tru that there have been creepy goings-on at the library for years, especially in the basement where the secret book room is located. He's heard rumors of a poltergeist that haunts the library, determined to scare off readers. Tru is certain it's hogwash, but she's at a loss to think of who might be vandalizing the beautiful books she fought so hard to protect. And when a dead body shows up right behind the library, Tru is certain that it's not a ghost but a cold-blooded killer that she and her trusty tabby Dewey Decimal will need to uncover.

A Perfect Bind is the second installment in author Dorothy St. James' A Beloved Bookroom Mystery series. Assistant Librarian Trudell (Tru) Becket, who really deserves a raise, has become something of a celebrity in Cypress, South Carolina after helping solve a murder in the town. She also saved numerous copies of library books that were supposed to be disposed of in the local landfill. Thanks to her efforts, Tru is now this towns Robin Hood who loans out books to those who miss actually holding a book in their hands.
But Tru's escapades are not even close to being finished. Someone has been breaking into the basement where Tru and her friends Flossie Finnegan-Baker and Tori Green helped set up the secretive Bookroom in the basement. To make things even more mysterious, one morning, the body of Owen Maynard, the town drunk, is found behind the library. Librarian Linda Farnsworth, who we have to believe has no idea of what True and her friends have been up to, is upset because Own had the nerve to die outside her library! How rude!
Is there any connection to Owen's murder and the break-ins? While there are theories as to who is responsible, from poltergeists, to someone who is supposed to be a member of the local Mystery Book Club, Tru and Detective Jace Bailey seem to be playing a game of their own, and the town is itching for any type of gossip they can get their paws on. Paws because Tru's cat Dewey Decimal seems to be aware of things around him, and always seems to gravitate towards Jace who Tru has had a crush on for many years before he broke her heart, and then left for New York. 
Even though the shock of not having any books in an actual library infuriated me in the previous novel, I have to believe that there will always be libraries, and that all of this new technology can co-exist with print versions of the books. Hell, I have a Kindle, but I pretty much alternate between E-Books and Paperbacks/Hardcovers. The stories villain is pretty apparent so I won't get into that persons reasoning.I will say that the author once again gets small town southern life down pat. 
Especially when it comes to Tru's mother, and the towns apple pie contest that Tru's aunt has won for years. I adore Flossie who is an 80 year old woman who has been around the world and then some. One of my biggest pet peeves about this story is the portraying of Lida Farnsworth as not knowing what is going on in her library. I would not be shocked when Lida finally confronts Tru and her friends.  

Chapter One

As a rule, librarians hate secrets. Our entire lives revolve around providing free and open access to information. Good information. Correct information. We abhor lies. We rip the covers off cover-ups.

So what was I, Trudell Becket, dedicated assistant librarian, doing tending a secret as carefully as a gardener tends her most fragile flowers? Or as devotedly as a cat lover might care for a certain stray tabby who had taken up residence in her cottage?

It's for the books, I reminded myself as I hurried down Main Street with a heavy tote bag hanging from each shoulder. One bag was filled with the books I'd loaned out to neighbors here in the Town of Cypress. And the other? Well, never mind about that one. Like anything important, secrets take work.

The warm September sun formed dappled patterns on the sidewalk as it shone through the century-old cypress trees lining the street. I paused for a moment in front of the town's centerpiece-the public library.

This stately building was one of fourteen public libraries built at the turn of the twentieth century in South Carolina by Andrew Carnegie. Designed to resemble a classic Roman temple, its polished stone exterior and grand arching windows had served as my personal palace of dreams after my parents' divorce. The books it contained inside had saved my life.

I jogged up the full flight of grand steps, past a row of granite columns, and through the library's front entrance. The foyer, with impressive marble walls and terrazzo flooring, had a ceiling gilded with faded gold paint.

I rushed through the first floor without pausing to brew the first pot of coffee or chat with the rest of the staff signing in at the front desk.

This secret I'd been tending for the past month was the cause of my haste. Every morning I dreaded what I might find in the basement.

The library's back stairs led down into a raised basement. Down here no embellishments decorated the walls. My sensible shoes squeaked against the plain concrete floor as I passed a warren of storage rooms and a metal back door that opened into a small parking lot and alleyway.

I hurried on, turned a corner, and-

Not again.

I wanted to stomp my foot, but such a violent motion would upset the little stowaway tucked in my second tote bag, the one hanging from my right shoulder. Dewey Decimal, a skinny tabby cat, stuck his paw out of the bag and swatted my elbow.

"It happened again," I told him.

This was the third time.

Dewey lifted his head. He gazed at me with his big green eyes in a thoughtful manner as if he understood.

After closing, someone had broken into the library. The past two times this had happened, none of the other librarians had noticed that an intruder had entered the building. The pricey computer equipment, 3D printers, and sewing machines upstairs were all untouched. Instead, the villain had crept down to the basement and to the heavy double doors that led into what used to be a WWII-era bomb shelter. They then picked the old lock and had wreaked their mischief here.

The old bomb shelter was no longer simply a forgotten relic from the past. Last month my book-loving friends and I had transformed the space into a bookroom. A secret bookroom. A vibrant bookroom. A place where the books lining the shelves could serve as a lifeline for others in the community who needed them as dearly as I once had.

As I walked through the old bomb shelter's partially opened doors I shuddered.

Like before, books had been tossed off their shelves. This time the mystery section had been attacked. The adventures of Miss Marple, Koko and Yum Yum, and Amelia Peabody lay scattered across the floor. Covers had been bent. Pages crumbled. Shelving units torn from the walls.

I closed my eyes and drew in a long, slow breath.

Who would do this?

How could someone do something so very evil?

I couldn't report the break-in. I couldn't ask the police to investigate. I couldn't even tell the head librarian what was happening. To report it would mean revealing the bookroom's existence.

My friends and I had created this space after the town manager had modernized the library upstairs. The renovations had included removing all the printed books in order to create a bookless library. A library without books? The very idea of it still made absolutely no sense.

But that is what had happened to our library. The shelves of hardbacks had been replaced by tablets, computers, e-readers, and a cafŽ. The town manager had ordered this done because he'd wanted to use the hyper-modern library as a way to impress the high-tech industries he planned to lure to our little town.

In a desperate act of rebellion, I'd saved hundreds of the books before they could be taken to the landfill. By creating this space, I'd broken the rules. I'd put my job at risk. And because I'd taken the books from the library, I may have even broken the law.

The legality of what I'd done wasn't something I had researched too closely. (I really didn't want to know.) Keeping this bookroom going was my passion, my reason for getting up in the morning.

Now, inexplicably, someone was stealing into our sanctuary and tossing around those same books I'd vowed to protect as if they were worthless. Why? If this break-in was anything like the past two, my friends and I would soon discover nothing had been taken.

With a sigh, I closed the vault doors.

I then carefully lowered the second tote bag to the floor and let Dewey out of the bag. The skinny tabby cat, crouched low, walked cautiously around the room. He sniffed one of the books lying open on the floor and arched his back. His black-and-brown-striped fur fluffed up. "Hiss," he said.

"I'm unhappy about the mess too." I started to gather the books, putting the ones that hadn't been damaged in one pile and the ones with bent and crumpled pages in another. The binding from Agatha Christie's second Miss Marple mystery novel, The Body in the Library, had been completely ripped apart.

"Monsters," I whispered as I cradled the broken hardback and tried not to cry. "What kind of beast would do such a thing?" I asked Dewey, who was tilting his head from one side to the other while staring curiously at the wall where shelves had been ripped down.

"It's the poltergeist," a gravelly voice answered.

Startled, I crouched down to Dewey's level and stared into his wise green eyes. Did the cat just talk to me? I shook my head. That was ridiculous, simply ridiculous. Cats didn't talk.

Besides, the voice had come from behind me. I stood up and turned around to find a man in his late seventies dressed in tweed pants, matching tweed vest, and brown bow tie standing in the doorway. His silver hair needed to be combed. His wire-rimmed glasses slid down his nose. He pushed them back up with a chubby, callused finger.

"Mr. Crawford," I said. "You startled me."

Hubert Crawford was one of our regular patrons. He was also president of the local museum board. He took his position as caretaker of history seriously. He dressed in vintage suits as if he lived in the early twentieth century, drove a 1950 Chevy that left a trail of thick smoke as it coughed its way down the streets, and refused to touch a computer.

Dewey sidled up to him and, purring loudly, rubbed against the man's leg. Hubert reached down and scratched my cat behind his ears. "Land's sake, has anyone ever told you that your cat's stripes form what looks like a skull on his head?"

Pretty much everyone who had ever met Dewey told me they saw the skull. Far too often for my liking, if truth be told.

I gave Hubert the same answer I gave everyone. "I suppose if I squinted I might be able to imagine seeing something like a skull in his markings. If I may ask, how did you get in here?" The library didn't open until ten.

I took a step back. Was Hubert Crawford the vandal hurting the books? Had he returned to the scene of the crime? Was I in danger?

Instead of doing anything remotely sinister, he nudged his glasses up the bridge of his nose again. "I walked in through the front doors," he said. He pointed to the institutional clock above the door. The clock's hands pointed to ten minutes after ten.

Oh no! I'd spent too much time down here. I should have been setting up in the main library. The other librarians, especially the sharp-eyed head librarian, Lida Farnsworth, must have noticed my absence by now.

"If you'll excuse me, I need to get upstairs," I said as I carefully set the ruined copy of The Body in the Library on a nearby table.

Hubert didn't budge from where he was standing, blocking the doors. "I was wondering how long it would take for it to make its presence known," he said as if he hadn't noticed how I was trying to squeeze past him. "I had suspected something like this would happen."

"You did?" That stopped me.

"I knew the thing wouldn't like that you turned this basement into a bookroom and made it a place where people hang out. It has never liked people, you know."

A thing? Not a person?

I shook my head. I had no idea what he was talking about.

"The thing. The thing. The poltergeist, girl." He huffed. "Haven't you done your research? The poltergeist is coming in here and flinging the books around."

"Poltergeist?" Was he serious?

He nodded, which only caused his glasses to slide down his nose again. "My maw-maw used to talk about it. She worked here as a girl, back in the early twenties. Nineteen-twenties, that is." He launched into a lengthy lecture about what the town was like back then, listing who was mayor at the time and what shops lined Main Street.

"Your maw-maw? You mean your grandmother?" I prompted, hoping to get him back to what she'd seen. "What did she say?"

"Oh yes. Maw-maw was my father's mother. Dreadful stories she used to tell us youngsters. They gave me nightmares something fierce. My mother thought those nightmares meant I was being attacked by a demon. She'd say all kinds of prayers over me and made me sleep with a window open and a Bible under my pillow, which-let me tell you-only scared me more. But back in those days it was a commonly held belief that demons came for youngsters like that. In fact-"

"What stories did your maw-maw tell you?" I asked, trying to get him back on track.

"Oh . . ." He nudged his glasses up his nose yet again. "Maw-maw used to recount strange happenings at the library. She would hear odd noises coming from the basement. The full-time librarians had warned her to never come down here. They told her it wasn't safe. They told her about the poltergeist who ruled over this area of the library, an angry force from beyond the veil. A demon perhaps, the same kind my mother feared was haunting my dreams. I never personally saw evidence that a poltergeist existed, not until you opened up this place." He rapped a knuckle against the metal door he was still blocking.

"With all due respect to your grandmother, this isn't the work of a ghost." I started to try to slide behind him again. "If you'll excuse me, I need to check in upstairs before someone comes down here searching for me."

"Of course. Of course. There was some sort of hubbub upstairs as I was coming in. Overheard someone complaining about a class the library is offering because it involved devil worship."

"I have no idea what that could be about. We aren't offering any classes like that." Mrs. Farnsworth would never stand for it.

He shrugged and finally stepped out of my way. But as he did, his brows furrowed. "We'll need to research the troubles happening down here some more. See if we can't figure out what caused the poltergeist in the first place. Perhaps that knowledge will help us figure out how to stop it from destroying this place."

"You do that," I said, humoring him. The damage that kept happening to the secret bookroom was the work of a very real vandal, not some made-up phantom.

But who could do such a hateful thing to books?

And why?

That was something I was determined to find out.

Chapter Two

Goodness gracious, Tru! There you are," Flossie Finnegan-Baker exclaimed in a voice that was both whispery and frantic. If she hadn't called out to me, I probably would have collided with her. I'd been so wrapped up in thinking about why someone would be wreaking havoc in the basement as I hurried up the stairs and out into the first floor that I hadn't been paying attention to my surroundings. As it was, I had to do a little sideways dance to catch my balance and keep from landing on my friend's lap.

She abruptly halted her wheelchair's mad dash toward me. Her gaze darted toward the front desk. "Mrs. Farnsworth is complaining up a blue streak how you hadn't showed up for work. Hearing that nearly made my heart stop. I was worried something bad had happened."

"Something bad did happen," I cried a little too loudly.

Lida Farnsworth's sharp gaze snapped in my direction.

The head librarian was a stickler for keeping the library as silent as possible. "People need the opportunity to hear themselves think," she liked to remind us. "Heaven knows there's not many places where that can happen. They even have televisions at the bank blaring out the news. Can you imagine?"

"Something did happen," I repeated, this time in a whisper.

"Not again. Is it-?"

Before Flossie could finish her question, I held up my hand. "I had better go talk with Mrs. Farnsworth. If she thought I wasn't here, it must mean I forgot to sign in. Again."

"Tru, you really need to be more careful. If you keep making these mistakes, she'll start questioning why you're spending so much time in the basement," Flossie cautioned as we made our way toward the front desk. "And if she suspects something funny is going on in her library, you know she'll start poking around. And we can't have that."

"No, we cannot." Flossie was right. I needed to do a better job pretending nothing was wrong.

Even though Flossie was nearly eighty years old-and had graduated high school in the same class as the stern Mrs. Farnsworth-she appeared to be decades younger than the head librarian. Maybe her youthful appearance came from the humor that nearly always sparkled in her eyes. Or maybe it was from her loose, free-spirited hippie, tie-dyed clothes. Today she was dressed in various shades of red.

Monday, October 24, 2022

#Review All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody, Christine Lynn Herman #YA #Fantasy

Series: All of Us Villains (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 480 pages
Release Date: August 30th 2022
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

The epic conclusion to the blockbuster All of Us Villains duology that's The Hunger Games with magic

“I feel like I should warn you: this is going to be absolutely brutal.”

For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good... no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.

As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story always intended.

Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.


All of Our Demise, by authors Amanda Foody, and Christine Lynn Herman, is the final chapter in the All of Us Villains duology. If you haven't read the first book, please proceed with caution. There may be some things mentioned in this review that some would consider spoilers, but I promise there won't be any from me. Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death. One person has chosen to change the rules by taking her sisters place. 
The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world--one thought long depleted. This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book written by an outsider Reid MacTavish, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice - accept their fate or rewrite their story. Ilvernath has never had a tournament like this. Rules that have been maintained for centuries are breaking, and an act by one person, may bring the tournament and all the killing its brought, to a crash end.

While there were seven champions, two have fallen since the games began. The book also cuts some of the champions out and focuses primarily on Alistair Lowe, Isobel Macaslan, Gavin Grieve, and Briony Thorburn, with Finley Blair, Hendry Lowe, and Reid MacTavish playing important supporting roles. In this tournament, there are 7 Landmarks, and 7 Relics that fall from the sky throughout the tournament. Gain one of the relics, and it will give you powers to use on your rivals. Gain one of the Landmarks which corresponds to your family, and it becomes your castle.
Briony, Isobel, and Finley have chosen to become a team against the others including Alistair and Gavin. With time running out, the tournament only lasts for 7 weeks, and with their lives hanging in the balance, the champions face scrutiny from their families, from the media, from the government who is willing to kill anyone who may survive, and from spellcasters who would love to get their hands on the high magick that will be released if they are successful in surviving the brutality that is to come over the course of this story.
Alistair has proven that will do the most shocking things imaginable to win, including saving the only family that matters; his brother. While Alistair's family is the family that wins the most, Gavin's is the weakest. Gavin never thought he would get this far. He is from the weakest families involved, and no Grieve has ever survived the tournament. Gavin is in trouble with his new magic called life magic. Every time he performs magic, it draws away his life and he will soon die. The most heartbreaking character: Hendry. He wasn't given any chance to live thanks to his own family.
Briony committed a grave sin at the beginning of the tournament after learning that there may be a way to permanently end the tournament. She may be the most unlikable character for what she did, but her end game may save the world. She has convinced Finley and Isobel to trust her, but she will have to make the others involved in this tourney, including Reid MacTavish, Alistair, and Gavin understand that if they don't end the tourney, everyone will die.
Isobel was the first of the champions to be outed, and the person most of the media gravitates towards. She never wanted to be part of this tourney, but she may be the strongest of all the participants. Isobel faces the end of her short life thanks to a curse, and will have to fight hard in order to overcome the terrible losses that happen in this story.

This book is much better than the first book and that's because there is more action, and more twists, and some heartbreaking losses that probably irked me like nothing has in a very long time. Then again, they kind of makes sense in that the ending was likely to happen even without our input.

Friday, October 21, 2022

#Review - Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Amanda Flower #Historical #Mystery

Series: An Emily Dickinson Mystery (#1)
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Release Date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Historical / Mystery

Emily Dickinson and her housemaid, Willa Noble, realize there is nothing poetic about murder in this first book in an all-new series from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Amanda Flower.

January 1855 Willa Noble knew it was bad luck when it was pouring rain on the day of her ever-important job interview at the Dickinson home in Amherst, Massachusetts. When she arrived late, disheveled with her skirts sodden and filthy, she'd lost all hope of being hired for the position. As the housekeeper politely told her they'd be in touch, Willa started toward the door of the stately home only to be called back by the soft but strong voice of Emily Dickinson. What begins as tenuous employment turns to friendship as the reclusive poet takes Willa under her wing. 

Tragedy soon strikes and Willa's beloved brother, Henry, is killed in a tragic accident at the town stables. With no other family and nowhere else to turn, Willa tells Emily about her brother’s death and why she believes it was no accident. Willa is convinced it was murder. Henry had been very secretive of late, only hinting to Willa that he'd found a way to earn money to take care of them both. Viewing it first as a puzzle to piece together, Emily offers to help, only to realize that she and Willa are caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse that reveals corruption in Amherst that is generations deep. Some very high-powered people will stop at nothing to keep their profitable secrets even if that means forever silencing Willa and her new mistress....

  Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality…
According to Berkley, Because I Could Not Stop for Death is the first installment in author Amanda Flower's Emily Dickinson Mystery series. This book puts a real life historical character, Emily Dickinson, and her fictional maid, Willa Noble, on the cusp of a Civil War thanks to the 1950 Fugitive Slave Act which gave jobs to slave hunters to round up escaped slaves before they could escape to Canada and freedom via the Underground Railroad.
After leaving her former employers boardinghouse, and showing up in the middle of a rain storm for an interview, Willa is unexpectedly hired by the iconic American Poet Emily Dickinson, whose father is in his last days as a Whig Party politician. While Willa is getting her feet wet working for the Dickinson Family, she gets news that her brother Henry's death as been ruled an accident by the police, but not by her once admirer Office Matthew Thomas who as like a brother to Henry. 
Henry had been working at a Livery Stables taking care of horses when he was killed apparently by his own actions in hurting a horse. Upon further reflection, Willa ends up getting Henry's diary which reveals that Henry was involved in something that likely got him killed. Something is very wrong in Amherst, and with the ever Emily Dickinson her, Willa travels from Amherst, to Washington, D.C, and back in search for answers as to who really hurt Henry and why.
The author brings in real historical people and interesting fictional ones to the mystery. Willa is a very sympathetic main character. Based on my limited knowledge of the poet Emily Dickinson, she seemed to be well portrayed in this fictional portrayal of an early period in her life. Class distinctions, slavery, the underground railroad, and the perilous 1850's in Washington, DC and New England are written realistically. The story is moving and suspenseful at times, but the pace felt somewhat slow. 
I had no prior knowledge that this was part of a series. Especially since the story wraps up quite nicely, and there wasn't an actual need for a sequel.

Chapter One

Icy rain slapped the dirt road, turning it into mud. I did my best to protect my skirts, holding them as high as I dared above my ankles. It wouldn't do to go into my interview covered in mud. I had a feeling that Miss O'Brien would not look kindly on me for that.

A shrill whistle broke into my worried thoughts. "Move aside!" called a man who was driving a wagon loaded down with barrels and crates bound for the market uptown.

As the wagon rolled by at a fast clip, one of its rear wooden wheels fell into a rut in the road and splashed mud onto my side. I stopped in the rain and stared at my soiled skirts and cloak. My head hung low. Was there any purpose in going to the interview now? Miss O'Brien would never hire me to be a maid when I arrived in such a state. How could I claim to be able to clean anything when I was a mess?

I watched as the wagon lumbered down the mud-covered street. The rain fell in earnest then, so much so that I couldn't even see the stately homes that sat on either side of the street or the two-story brick primary school that I attended off and on as a child. I yanked at the hood of my cloak, pulling it farther down over my eyes. I couldn't turn back. It would be far worse to show up late than dirty. I marched ahead in soggy boots.

Through the rain, the great house came into view, and I realized that it was just across the street from my childhood school. It was a two-story white clapboard home that loomed above me. I had never been inside a home so large before. If I got the position, I would be able to live there. Possibly. It seemed to be a very far-off chance now.

With shaky hands, I removed the note I had received from Miss O'Brien. In delicate script, Come to the back door at half past noon. Do not be late. Mr. Dickinson does not abide tardiness. And then she signed her name, Margaret O'Brien.

Rain smeared the ink. I patted it and only managed to transfer the ink onto my hand. Mud-covered skirts and now ink-stained hands.

The worst part was I didn't need to read the letter. I had memorized it. It was only my nerves that made me remove it from my pocket to read it once more. Yet another mistake I made that day. Only I could have made such a mess of things.

There was no one at the front of the house, and the gardens, which stretched far into the backyard, were empty too. No one was silly enough to be out in this cold January rain. Ice slapped my face. The rain was beginning to freeze. It seemed fitting for the state that I was in.

I slipped and skidded on the cobblestone path around the grand home until I came to a plain door painted black with a brass handle and knocker. I swallowed and lifted the knocker.

Tap, tap, tap. It fell against the door. No sound came from inside the house. I waited a moment, wondering if I should knock again. Would knocking again aggravate Miss O'Brien and show that I was not only covered in mud but impatient? I knew she would already be dubious of me due to my appearance.

There was no cover outside the servants' entrance. The rain droned on, soaking me to the skin. I worried about the puddles that I would carry with me into the majestic home. I lifted my hand to knock a second time, and the door opened. My pale hand was suspended in the air. I dropped it to my side.

A thin woman with curly dark hair that was smartly tucked under in a knot on the back of her head stood in the doorway. "Miss Willa Noble?" She had an Irish accent like the men who worked in the warehouse with my brother. Although hers had a much gentler lilt to it than the men at the warehouse.

I nodded. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out.

"Come in, then."

I stepped over the threshold into a dark hallway. Two sets of stairs went up in either direction from this spot. I imagined one led to where the family lived and the other to where the servants worked.

"Don't stand there and drip," Miss O'Brien said in a voice that was firm but not harsh. "Take off your cloak there." She pointed at the wall. "There's a peg where you can hang it."

I did as I was told. Still, I hadn't spoken a word. I prayed my ability to speak would return before the interview began.

She looked down at my feet. "You can't walk through the house in those muddy boots. I will have to spend days scrubbing the carpets. Wait here."

She left me standing in the entryway and disappeared down the hallway. I dripped on the floorboards. She returned a minute later with a pair of old black shoes in her hands.

"These belonged to the previous maid. She left them when she took a new post. I have been meaning to mail them to her, but I am glad now I have not." She set the shoes in front of me on the floor. "Take those boots off and put these on."

I again did as I was told. The shoes were a size too small and pinched my toes, but I didn't say a word about the discomfort. "Thank you," I murmured.

"Good, you can talk. I was afraid we would have to pantomime this interview. Now, follow me, and I will take you to the room where we can discuss the position. Lift your skirts as we go, so as not to soil anything. Mrs. Dickinson prides herself on a clean home."

I lifted my skirts and followed her up the left staircase. I assumed this was the way that led to where the servants worked. She opened the door at the top of the landing, and I was astonished to see I was wrong. Instead of walking into a servants' hallway, we were in a large sitting room. Everything in the room was so elegant! A fire crackled and snapped in the hearth. The furnishings were fine. A velvet brocade sofa was on one side of the fire, and two matching chairs were on the other. A modest yet sparkling chandelier hung overhead, and a petite desk stood by the window. I didn't think I had ever been in a room this lovely before.

Miss O'Brien perched on one of the two chairs. "I hope it's all right that I ask you to remain standing. Please know it is only to spare the furniture from the state of your clothes."

I nodded.

"You must look such a fright because of the storm outside, so I won't mark you down too much for that. January is such a horrid month. It rains or snows or both almost every day. More weeks of foul weather lie ahead. I suppose that's why summer is so precious to us. The spring is unpredictable and can be ripped away by a whim of the wind." She said this all in her Irish lilt like she was trying to coax me to sleep with a bedtime story.

I nodded again.

"Where are you working now?" Her tone told me that pleasantries were over and she was getting down to business.

"I clean at Mrs. Patten's Boarding House on South Pleasant Street. I have been there for two years," I said, grateful that I had been able to utter the words so clearly.

"Do you not like working at the boardinghouse?" she asked. "Is that why you applied for this position?"

I swallowed. "No, it's fine work. Good work for a girl like me to find, but I saw the advert in the paper for this position. It's an opportunity to move into a new challenge. I believe working for a family that is so vital to the community would be quite an honor."

"You are right in thinking that working for the Dickinson family would be a new challenge. They are an exacting family and hold a very high standard. Mr. Dickinson especially so. He is finishing his term at the United States House of Representatives," she said with pride. "He served his country, the Whig party, and the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts well. It would be your privilege to work for him and his family, if you're granted the position. When he finishes his term he will be here overseeing the renovations of the family home on Main Street. He is in the process of buying it, and renovations will begin as soon as everything is finalized. It is right that the Dickinson family would move back to the home that Mr. Dickinson's father built. They have been away from it far too long."

"The Dickinsons are moving?" I asked.

"Yes," she said in a crisp voice. "It has been Mr. Dickinson's goal to return to the homestead for many years. His father ran into a bit of financial trouble and lost it. He fled to Ohio in disgrace." She looked around with bright red cheeks. "Don't repeat that."

"I won't," I promised. My hands began to shake. I clasped them in front of me and pressed them into my skirts.

"Was the boardinghouse your first position?" Miss O'Brien asked, getting back to the task at hand.

"No, I've been in domestic work for the last eight years."

She frowned. "Eight years. You can't be more than sixteen."

"I am twenty, ma'am. I started work when I was twelve."

"What made you work so young?" She eyed me. "Should you not have been in school? The Dickinsons put great value in education, even in the education of girls such as yourself."

"My mother died, ma'am, and I had to provide for my younger brother and me. I had to go to work. Our mother taught us to work hard, so it was no trouble to take over that role."

"Haven't you got a father?" She narrowed her eyes.

"Not that I know of," I said and pressed my clenched hands deeper into my skirts. My father was not a topic for conversation even if it cost me the position at the Dickinson household. I would not speak of him, ever.

"How much younger is your brother than you?"

"Two years, ma'am," I said. "He's an adult now, too, and works just as much as I do. He works even harder, I should say, because of the physical labor required for man's work."

Miss O'Brien stood up. "I'm interviewing several more girls for this post. I will let you know by mail by the end of the week if we choose you." She looked at my wet, muddy skirts again.

My heart sank. If there were several young ladies applying for this position, what chance did I really have at winning the spot? I was the girl who came to the interview covered in mud and who was too young without the proper experience for the post. Why did I think I was the only one who would have been interested in the ad? As I told Miss O'Brien, the position was a chance to move up-this was true not just for me but for anyone in domestic work. There were many young women in my place that would want to do so.

"Thank you for your time," I said. "Would you like me to let myself out?"

Before Miss O'Brien could answer, a breathy voice said, "There will be no more interviews. Margaret, you have found the right maid."

I turned and a small woman stood in the doorway. She was petite and wore a brown dress that was cinched around her small waist. Her chestnut red hair was pinned back in a fashionable knot and her dark eyes shone with interest, but there was a faraway look about them too. She was a very pretty woman, but there was something birdlike in her movements as she stepped into the room. Her hands fluttered like the tips of wings.

Miss O'Brien jumped to her feet. "Miss Dickinson, can I help you with something?"

"You have helped. You have found our new maid. I'm very grateful to you for that. Mother wants us to keep a clean house, especially when she is in the middle of one of her episodes."

Episodes? What does she mean by this?

Miss Dickinson studied me with an exacting gaze. "She looks like she has a strong back too. It's something that we will need if Father insists on pulling us up and moving us back to the place of my birth." She said this like she wasn't very keen on the idea.

"Very well, Miss Dickinson." Miss O'Brien dipped her chin.

"Thank you, Margaret." The small woman looked me in the eye. "I like someone who would sacrifice herself for her family and duty. That's just the kind of person I want on our staff. I think there have been enough questions. Margaret, please show the young maid to her room and cancel the rest of your interviews for the position."

Miss O'Brien pressed her lips together as if she were unsure. "If you are certain, Miss . . ."

"Very certain. I like her, Margaret. If I like her, Father will agree."

Miss O'Brien nodded. "Please follow me, Miss Noble. I will show you to your room."

I blinked; it was all happening so fast. I glanced back at Miss Dickinson, but she was no longer there. She was gone.

"Do not be surprised that she seemingly disappeared. She comes and goes through the house in silence. She's so small and light she floats from room to room. The only time I do hear her come is when Carlo is with her."

"Carlo?" I asked as I hurried to keep pace with her in my too-tight shoes.

"Don't tell me that you haven't seen Miss Dickinson walking through Amherst with that beast of a dog. He's big and brown and has curls just like a woman. He weighs nearly as much as she does."

"He's a beast?" I asked with a slight tremor in my voice. I wasn't very keen on dogs. The only ones I knew guarded the warehouse where my brother worked and took their position of protecting the property quite seriously.

"I just say that because of his size. He's a kind dog, but we have to mind any paw prints on the carpets. That will be something you will have to contend with as a maid in the house. All paw prints must be removed immediately, if they are from the dog or from Miss Lavinia's cats. Mrs. Dickinson does not abide by them." She continued walking. "You will see Carlo soon enough and understand."