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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Monday, November 25, 2013

Scandalous charm!

Devil in My Arms: A Loveswept Historical Romance (The Saint's Devils #3) by Samantha Kane  


Lately there has been quite a swathe of regency romances that are taking on issues to do with the treatment of women at that time. Particularly to do with wives as property and no rights, leaving them open for domestic abuse. 
This novel is another such using this background for the story's thrust.
Eleanor Enderby flees from her abusive husband not once, but three times. In her latest attempt she hides out for three months before landing on her sister's doorstep dressed as a youth. She arrives at the same time as Sir Hilary St.John, a suave man about town and entirely eligible parti.
Hil actually spends his time covering up for the Prince Regent when necessary, helping out the Bow Street Runners and at times and taking on investigative requests when interested enough in the problem to seek out the information needed. Eleanor and Hil's attraction is immediate. The relationship that develops between them is not approved of by society. Indeed it fast approaches scandalous and is mentioned in the gossip rags.
However, there is more immediate danger afoot. Eleanor's husband declares her dead and produces a body as proof. He remarries. Is Eleanor safe or will her dreadful, abusive husband find her? What then? 
I really liked the lead characters. Hil is a delightful and intelligent leading man. Eleanor is a determined soul looking to make herself anew. I love their frequent quoting of sonnets and ridiculous little by-plays with each other. Their very passionate relationship is decidedly a centrepiece of the story and we are often silent witnesses in the boudoir. I should take a leaf out of Hil's loyal staff's book and not comment.
An intoxicating and enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

Fantastical moments, dragons, music and mystery.

Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

A marvellous story! Insights into acceptance and belonging, racial tensions, hope and love. All set in a world where Dragons and Humans are trying to co-exist. Seemingly a long hard road to tread.
(How did I miss reading this! It was only after I saw it on a fantasy list on Goodreads that I rechecked and found that I had for some unknown reason skipped over this. Well, a couple of years later I read it. Now I have to find out when the next book is out. It may even be out now. I must investigate.)
After a dreadful war a peace has been made. The rules of behaviour for dragons amongst humans are fiercely controlled by the dragon's Excision Censors and are controlled amongst humans by fear and tradition. It is near to the advent of the dragon leader's state visit by General Comonot Ardmagar of All Dragonkind. The designated visit to the city Lavondaville, the capital of Goredd is to celebrate forty years of the treaty's existence.     

Into this comes Seraphina Dombegh, a half dragon young woman who is hidden in plain sight. An abomination to her human kindred. A dangerous plight but even more dangerous would be the acknowledgement to the world at large of her ancestry.
A gifted intelligent musician, she has inherited her mothers musical ability. But wait, how strange, because dragons are known to not be musical and unable to express emotions! And yet Seraphina's mother was a dragon. Mmm!
Adhered to beliefs will be sundered and all will have their prejudices revealed. Some will accept change other will turn even more fiercely to protect their particular version of truth.
Prince Rupert had been murdered--apparently by a dragon. The city factions are in uproar.
Through circumstances Seraphina joins Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the guard, and illegitimate royal offspring, in the hunt for the killer. As they investigate an intrigue is uncovered. A cabal of dragon generals may be trying to have fractue the hard won peace and provoke both sides once again into war.
Seraphina not only discovers herself but her worth. Most importantly she who has felt so alone discovers that she is not. As Seraphina so eloquently says as she closes this chapter of her life, 'The future would come, full of war and uncertainty, but I would not be facing it alone...I had a place to stand.'

A NetGalley ARC

a courageous heart

Heart of Vengeance  (The Jewels of Tomorrow) byTracy Cooper-Posey

[Helena's] 'mouth was thick with the coppery  taste of fear.'
Those words captured me, tainting the very atmosphere. The visceral reaction of this woman whose story I was about to follow was riveting. This opening scene takes place in 1197 in Oxford near to the court of Prince John.
Posing within the court of John as a Norman, the Lady Isobel of Brittany, Helena of York is seeking the truth about her father's death and the consequences that followed for the villagers where Helena's father, the Earl of Wessex's body was discovered.
Here Helena meets Stephen, Count of Dian, the 'Black Baron', once a close friend to King Richard and as chance would have it, a childhood playmate to the real Isobel. Stephen will in turn be puzzled by Helena, challenged by her, love her, protect her from her enemies and assist her in her quest for vengeance. He is quite a remarkable man for his times. The truth of why revenge is important to Helena would become clear to him, although he counsels against it. Very much in terms of how taking revenge will affect her psyche.     

The action swings from the court of Prince of John in Oxford, to York, to the great forests of Robert (Robin) of Locksley, and on to King Richard in Normandy. The interweaving of these commanding characters into the very fabric of the story creates further interest. Their intersection doesn't seem beyond the realm possibility, indeed is indicative of the story's reality working within the historical and legendary contexts of the times.
Helena is companion to the seemingly fragile Lady Catherine Fitzwarren who turns out to be motivated by motherhood, ambition and fear in attaching her family to John's star. That determination of purpose leads Lady Catherine to render Helena harm. Catherine is closed to all else but her own desires in these matters.
The very kingship of England comes under threat as the key players jockey for position.
A medieval romance that stirs the imagination and portrays vividly many of the concerns, cultural habits and political intrigues of the times.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"...never allow a murderer of loved ones to go unpunished."

The Triptych by Margit Liesche

There is a lyrical quality to Leische's writing despite her gritty subject matter of war, betrayal, fear and death.
Two main stories unfold, parallel to each other, set in different times yet linked by the commonalities of the unforeseen, of loss and of grief.
The story moves in and out of 1956 to 1986, from Budapest and the Hungarian Revolution to Chicago; from 11 year old  Évike in Budapest to 37 year old Ildikó in Chicago, daughter of Hungarian refugees whose past is surrounded in secrecy.  

ldikó's search for the truth about her roots and her mother's untimely death (was it an accident, murder or suicide?) under a Chicago train will take Ildikó to the Budapest of 1986, with Hungary still a satellite  of the USSR.
Ildikó's search for her history is a revelation, particularly as the riddle of her mother's death, the fate of her mother's sister and the links between the now and the past are puzzling.  Ildikó sadly reflects as she endeavours to make sense of all the confluences in her life, 'now I have only my memory to search for solving the unknowns of [my mother's] death.'
An embroidered collage ldikó's mother Edith had crafted, a triptych of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, holds a key to some of the mystery. 
There were some moments of confusion as I didn't always fully realize who was talking.
I found the book interesting, set as it is against the Hungarian uprising background and life under a harsh regime. Those whose personal histories share this time I am sure would find Triptych worthwhile.
An interesting work.

A NetGalley ARC

...truth and justice pursued! the power of hope revealed!

A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

What a wonderful story. I have always liked Claudine Burroughs, a volunteer in Hester Monk’s clinic for sick and injured prostitutes. I like her pluck, her courage and her sense of fair play and justice. I cheer for the way she has stepped outside of the role society and her husband expects her to pursue, that of supportive wife and homemaker, of adhering to society's rules for women. She has taken up the cause of the less fortunate. In doing so she is receiving far more than she's gives, a sense of purpose. Life has become meaningful.

Wallace of course hates her charity work. It is not gentile enough for his social aspirations.
How I dislike her husband Wallace. A bully really who sees his wife as an extension of himself. To the point that Wallace dictates her in the wearing and buying of even her dresses. Her behaviour needs to support him ingratiate himself in society and up the ladder of business and success. Claudine's commentary on her marriage is quite devastating. One can see why in just a momentary meeting with the welsh poet, Dai Tregarron, Claudine decides to champion him. 
In a tenderly reflective, nonsensical moment in the garden they had conversed. In a flight of poetic fantasy he had called her Olwen. Sadly Claudine realized that she liked that name better than her own. 
There's been a murder! A young prostitute at that same high society party is beaten. She dies. Dai Is accused. Claudine believes that the Welshman is not the murderer. Yes, he is a drunkard and walks on the wild side but is not a murderer. Besides he likes women. Claudine's sights fall on the three society young men also present at the scene of the murder. Claudine enlists the aid of a reluctant Squeaky Robinson, and sets forth to right a wrong.
Along the way we gain further insights into Claudine, her marriage, her dashed hopes and her dreams. Claudine's strength is our hope, a hope for those reluctantly embroiled in this crime, and the personification of hope for the accused, Dai Tregorran. 
A fitting Christmas tale and an excellent read!

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, November 15, 2013

...an ambitious and worthy representation

Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas    

From Brazil to Central America, Mexico to the United States and through to Canada, from Andy Goldsworthy pieces to George Segal's Gardens. Be it endangered Richard Serra's Shift in a private field outside Toronto to Walter DeMaria's work, The Broken Kilometer, Soho, or the murals of Mexican artist, Jose Clement Orozco and of course Diego Rivera, amazing works are captured.
The commonality is how these installations at once impose and merge with their landscape.
The thing that strikes me most about the more historically current installations is the sheer delight of them, their playfulness. They are often things to wonder at, delight in.
Whether that installation be in a field, in the desert, near the shoreline, they are amazing.
Architecturally significant sites are included, buildings of significance, or other in situations specific to their site.
Outdoor sculptures and art works in public spaces are part of this comprehensive catalogue including Marc Chagall's three-dimensional monolithic mosaic in Chicago.    
The sites for indigenous American places are another thing. Often sites of religious or communal significance, the wonder here is for the history of these cultures. The age of these artifacts, the petroglyphs giving insight of the past. The realization of this different history, glimpses into another time, is something to gaze at in awe, as is this wonder that they have survived for us to see.
This photographic journal is a fascinating tour across the Americas. What a fun road trip even visiting a few of these locations would be! Searching out these places, following in the footsteps of Art & Place's presenters would be a worthy adventure. 
The scope of works represented is enormous and it is no wonder that it's a joint project of the reputable Phaidon group.
For those of us who are armchair voyagers, who are entranced by landscape installations, this certainly is an ambitious and excellent visual statement about places and spaces across the Americas' panorama that goes beyond geographical information, cataloguing as it does human endeavours of 'art' in the environment.

A NetGalley ARC

...dearest enemy!

The Commander's Desire by Jennette Green

715 AD Galwyddel, a Scottish kingdom far to the west of Northumbria.
Caught on the horns of a dilemma, Elwytha has a choice to make, honour or vengeance.
When Elwytha agreed to sue for a false peace with the waring neighbouring kingdom, little did she know that her plans would be thwarted time and time again. Elwytha was ordered by her brother, now King, to kill The Commander, overseer of their enemy's army, revenge for murdering their older  brother, King Thor, so foully. Her brother Richard, now King, plans to use Elwytha as the bait to trap their enemy and finally win the war. Elwytha searches for the truth.
But truth was a will-o-the-wisp, eluding the outstretched hands of the seekers at every turn.
Even though the outcome is foreseeable, I found the characters and the storyline engaging. The Prince, portrayed as a layabout with eyes that saw more than one guessed at. The Commander a man misjudged by his appearance, and the Elwytha, the warrior princess, haughty yet vulnerable, and fighting the truth before her eyes. Truth which is hidden in her heart.      
Her brother King Richard plays a deep game. I was able to make an informed guess at the 'truth' well before the some of the characters arrived there. I think this increased the tension of the novel, despite that from the sidelines, I was encouraging various characters in all sorts of directions.
A tad predictable yet a pleasing read that I found hard to put down.

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, November 10, 2013

....redeemed by love, finally! A gem!

Lord St. Claire's Angel (Classic Regency Romances) by Donna Lea Simpson

Ah! Christmas time! It conjures up ideas of Yuletide logs, snow, and family! Including for the Lady Elizabeth, Marchioness of Langlow, that wretched rogue of a brother-in-law, Richard St. Claire, who turns the female staff on their collective heads and wreaks havoc on any maid foolish enough to be burnt. Dratted, dangerous man!
When we first meet St. Clair he is at his despicable highborn worst, with no care for how their employers will treat his ex-flirts. The chase is the thing! The possibility that these susceptible young woman can be dismissed without a reference, thrown onto the refuse heap of humanity, ruined if not in deed then in fact is atrocious. With no prospects and no living these young women would be forced to make ends meet in whatever way possible. Thoughtless, selfish, cad! I was totally disgusted with St. Clair at this stage.
Fortunately, he later exposes the sensitive side to his nature that with careful nourishing will help him grow into a better person.
When St. Clair does falls in love, he falls hard and it takes an age and many mistakes later for him to be able to recognize what has happened. 
Celestine Simons is from an old and honourable family. Fallen on hard times, Celestine takes the position of governess at the home of St. Clair's brother, the Marquis of Langlow. Celestine is plain, intelligent and generous. Suffering badly from arthritis she is not the type to make a connoisseur of beauty take a second look. St Clair is an unrepentant rake, a rogue. When his sister-in-law throws down the gauntlet and declares her female staff off limits St. Clair determines to pursue the new governess. When St. Clair realizes his true feelings for Celestine, he is just as focused in pursuing his love for all the right reasons as he was for pursuing her for all the wrong ones.
As the story progresses, so does the redemption of St. Clair. 
Celestine is a rather wonderful character, physically frail but with a strong and luminous personality.  The question is, does St. Clair even deserve her?
In the end this is a grand old fashioned love story! Indeed it is just is the perfect Christmas Cinderella love story with a twist.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, November 8, 2013

Another Liaden treat!

Trade Secret (Liaden Universe #17) by Sharon Lee, Steve Miller

Mmm, here's the difficulty about reading a Liaden Universe I
immediately want to reread those that have come before, thosethat come after, those that follow other characters, and those that are just there in tandem. I settled for rereading Balance of Trade, but I've since found myself once more up to my elbows in all things Liaden, and enjoying every moment.   Having been a longtime fan of the Liaden Universe it's absolutely fantastic when another piece of the puzzle is revealed, opening up new vistas, sometimes solving old mysteries and ever, ever delightful.
I first met Jethri Gobelyn in 'Balance of Trade'. Jethri, a Terran trader was adopted by the Liaden clan Ixin, having solved an issue that had impinged the clan's honour. Balance and Necessity, two Liaden concepts, part of Liaden melant'i (code of behaviour and order of things) came into play. At that time Jethri was looking for another ship to work on. In that interaction Jethri, 'found his ship,' 
'On the clan ship Elthoria, he [is] Jethri the trader, son of the trader ven'Deelin, the family name, Ixin the clan.' 
Sent by his adopted mother Norn ven'Deelin to a trade meeting,  Jethri is also trying to recover artifacts inherited from his father, Arin Gobelyn, that he'd lent to the Scouts and that had not been returned. Touching as they do upon old technology, more than one party appears interested. Scout Ter'Astin, his melant'i having been touched by this Scout inaction, is helping Jethri to reclaim his belongings, his birthright. What is Jethri's birthright? The mysteries surrounding his father are matters that occupy Jethri's thoughts. Why his mother seems unable to bear the sight of him is another question. On the journey, Jethri sits as second pilot with ter'Astin, learns a new skill, increases his trading reputation, runs into old friends and makes new enemies. Jethri finds out more about his father, and the larger vision his father had for 'loop' traders. He meets his Uncle. Uncle is another mysterious character who weaves in and out of many Liaden adventures. Intrigue, mishap and adventure dog Jethri's steps. Through it all Jethri's melant'i increases. Balance is brought into being.
To share in the developing life of Jethri Gobelyn is to delight in the person he has become. 
A welcome opportunity for renewal with old acquaintances entering into new horizons.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, November 7, 2013

'He had simply just assumed she'd always be available when he was ready'...foolish man!

The Secret Life of Miss Anna Marsh (The Marriage Game #2) by Ella Quinn

England 1814, Napoleon is on Elba but things are afoot.
Miss Anna Marsh returns from her London season accompanied by family friend Sebastian, Baron Rutherford. Anna has overheard Sebastian telling his friend Marcus that he intends to make a comfortable life with Anna. Anna is aghast. She's been in love with Sebastian since a small child but wants to be appreciated for herself, not merely thought of as a comfortable wife when the time came.
Sebastian's secretly an intelligence officer for the British Home Office as was Anna's dead brother Harry. Sebastian is endeavouring to find out who's in charge of Harry's smuggling ring. Unbeknownst to him, that's Anna.
Things are hotting up, rumours of French spies returning to English shores has the Home Office worried. Sebastian is dispatched back to Kent to discover what he may.
Anna is continuing to run the ring by night, and her father's estates by day.    
            

Sebastian has his preconceived notions of Anna turned upside down.
Taking her for granted is something he can no longer do.
Then there's Percy Blanchard, childhood acquaintance and malicious underhanded specimen who thinks to marry Anna and is already spreading rumours about her failed London season. Which of course it wasn't. Anna does punch him into the water trough when he's behaving like an ungentlemanly boor! Very satisfying!
And then there's the 'fiery touch' aspect. The merest accidental touch is like a jolt of fire, a shock (electric?) for the story's couples. Obviously this is becoming a prerequisite as the telltale tag for all relationships in the Marriage Game series.
But there's different shocks all round as characters appear, the mystery surrounding Harry's death is revealed, and further romantic interests are engaged. Relationships are not what they seem, neither are the people.
Not a bad story in between the hot and steamy parts, which do seem to occur at any given moment. 

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, November 4, 2013

Scintillating!

Daughter of the God-King by Anne Cleeland   

Hattie Blackhouse arrives with her companion Miss Bing at her lodgings in Paris. In short order she pushes an intruder down the back stairs, finds out her childhood friend, Robbie Tremaine is unaccountably to be married in two days to the widow of a work acquaintance her parents, is approached at a soirée by an aging french roué, Baron du Pays, is introduced to the intruder, sought out by the enigmatic Monsieur Berry, and interviewed by an un-named official of the English government. Of course there is also a mysterious Comte. All seeking information about her parents strongbox. Oh, and Miss Bing's dead brother and Robbie's widowed fiancé dead husband worked with or for her parents in Egypt.
Long neglected by her parents during her childhood whilst they spent their time pursuing their passion, Hattie does find it disturbing that though her parents neglected to provide emotionally for her, in their death have provided materially for her.  

Hattie's famous Egyptologist parents appear to have disappeared without a trace from their Theban dig and are presumed dead. Hattie sets forth to Cairo with Bing to discover the truth. Bodies litter the stage as Hattie forges forward in her quest to locate at the very least her parents bodies. Politics and intrigue jostle each other for prominence. Mysterious references to Napoleon lurk in the background, although he is supposedly confined to Elba. Powerful sources certainly seem to be at play as Bing warns.
Monsieur Berry turns up and Hattie becomes more and more fascinated by him. He-who-was-not-Daniel, as Hattie meditatively refers to him. 
Secrets run deep and swift and I certainly did not see a major deception coming. Romance blooms in unexpected ways. The surprises just keep coming!
I really enjoyed the cut and thrust of the action as events piled on top  of each other to the point where I wondered if I was watching an enjoyable farce much in the vein of 'The Importance of Being Ernest,' or if Hercule Poirot would suddenly emerge from behind a column. Better still, I was reading a romantic thriller. An excellent read! 

A NetGalley ARC

Highly improbable, highly improper situation

Gareth: Lord of Rakes (The Lonely Lords #6) by Grace Burrowes   

...'scandalous, shameful, scounderlous bad man!'
so Felicity Hemmings Worthington at one stage describes Gareth Alexander, Marquess of Heathgate.
I must admit initially I had reservations about the plot. I really liked the main characters but, Yikes! the whole premise left me aghast and agape.
Really I was halfway convinced that Burrowes had run amok and this novel was nothing more than a bodice ripper --albeit 'of the first water.'
My perceptions were turned on their head. Gareth (the novel) emerged as an enthralling, deviously plotted Regency romance embedded in the idea of women and inheritance laws, reverting of land and titles to the crown where no male heir is found, ownership, brothels and prostitutes, and the legalities of this profession in these times. In an  interesting appendage Burrowes discusses these factors.       

In this Lonely Lords episode a penniless spinster, made penniless by the law of Escheat, (where the title and lands, in this case the title of Viscount belonging to her father, reverts to the crown if no male inheritor can be found), inherits a gaming house/brothel. Conditions of the inheritance are Machiavellian to say the least, including eventual loss of virtue. To save her younger sister from a life of drudgery and pernicury the spinster attempts to fulfill the inheritance.
Added to this the sexual encounters although tender yet passionate are again constructs of the premise. A lot of disbelief initially needs to be suspended.
But then this is perhaps a Beauty and the Beast story in a different guise:
*Dowdy looking Beauty (very proper spinster) in predicament
*Approaches Beast (disenchanted marquess) for distasteful help
*Beast agrees reluctantly
*Beast acts beastly to try to scare Beauty off
*Beast finds himself falling in love
*Beauty finds that beast is all she could wish for
*Beast acts in Beauty's best interests
*Beast rescues Beauty from threats
*Beauty is victim no more
*Alls well that ends well--with surprises--but ah! The agony off getting there!
... and a villain of course lurks in the proverbial shrubbery
There are moments that I really enjoyed in this misplaced unintended relationship.
More than once I was struck by Felicity's introspective musings about their relationship. 'Did a gallant knight ever bring his lady anything more precious than hope?'
Frisson aplenty, steamy romance and more. Good reading!

A NetGalley ARC