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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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Clan duty vs love!


Trapped at the Altar by Jane Feather

1684. Seeking to restore the Daunt family's place at the court of King Charles, the patriarch of this renegade Somerset clan hatches a long reaching plot. His granddaughter is to marry his hostage ward, Ivor Chalfont to ensure peace between two powerful clans. Decided on when both were children, this idea certainly doesn't fit well with his wild cap granddaughter Ariadne. Ari has plans and a true love of her own, her poet lover Gabriel, so different from the raw power of the men of her clan. 'Ivor was a warrior, Gabriel a misty-eyed poet.'     
When her grandfather dies Ari finds herself forced into the long standing agreement by her uncle, the new clan leader.  Her immediate marriage with Ivor is followed closely by being whisked away to London and the court of Prince Charles, where intrigue is rife and deception is the norm. The clan's future is at stake and Ari and Ivor must play their assigned roles with care. To do that they must play both sides of the religious game, Catholic and Protestant. A very narrow path indeed.
I must admit Ari seems uncaring and self centred in the beginning. Well being forced down a path you don't want to take might make you like that. Her outlook does change as the story unfolds.
Meanwhile, Gabriel has other ideas and follows Ari, his muse, his true love to London, hoping to rescue her. That's where it all unravels. Suddenly, in this new situation both men seem very different. Ari has decisions to make and her poet lover is so persistent. As for Ivor Chalfont, her childhood companion, he has grown into a strong and patient man who maybe suits her more than she ever dreamed.
An enjoyable and different read.

Monday, July 21, 2014

tugs at the heartstrings...

The Lost Love of a Soldier: HarperImpulse Historical Romance: Marlowe Intrigue #.05 by Jane Lark

I did not expect to be as moved by this novel as I was.
The young innocent who flees a harsh father to the arms of her true love and from thence to Gretna Green pulled me in. Actually Ellen's choices were few. Either she marry a much older, titled gentleman her father has dictated she must accept or take the choice about her future into her own hands. Ellen, Lady Eleanor, daughter of the Duke of Pembroke, chooses to give up her position in society, and takes up the life of 'following the drum' with her husband, Captain Paul Harding--right to Brussels, the Battle of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. Really the introduction into the life Ellen was to lead was pretty stark for a young girl of seventeen who's known very little of the harsh realities of life and even more so of war.      
Paul's regiment had been bound for America but with the escape of Napoleon that all changed.
The scene at Lord Richmond's ball has been played out in various novels including Heyer's 
An Infamous Army. It gets to me every time, as it did once.
Here though, the battle is the prelude to the change in status for the young Captain's wife, who has no idea where the course she choses, whilst in shock, will eventually lead her.
I did shed a tear or two when she finally realizes the situation she has blindly walked into in the grips of her despair. The title says it all!
And then of course the tragedy and suffering that happens now will continue through other novels for herself and others.
A harsher depiction of the regency times than is often given, the grim reality of war, and begs the question generally of how does one survive major tragedies and disasters, alone and destitute, without resources?
It certainly adds to my understandings about John Harding, the Duke of Pembroke in The Scandalous Love of a Duke.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, July 18, 2014

...absolutely delightful!


I just loved 'With This Ring'! Elektra Worthington is magnificent and unpredictable, a born rescuer and convinced that her role in life is to save her family and restore them to the grandeur they once knew.
How? By marrying for position and money. And she has her sights set on the very person.
No love for her! That's for her weird parents who seem to slope of for delightful bedroom type antics wherever and whenever they can, be it the family carriage or a convenient folly.
The thing is the whole group of those Worthingtons are just so intelligent, though Elektra seems to be the only one in touch with the reality of their situation. 

I enjoyed the youngest and most fiercely intelligent of the siblings, Atalanta. Her interactions with Arbogast aka 'Hastings' are both amusing and endearing. I look forward to hearing more about her.
Lord Aaron Arbogast, soon to be the Earl of Arbodean, has according to the news sheets, returned to London from the Bahamas, a wealthy man--looking for an English countess.
Scandal surrounds Arbogast's enforced exile, and a deeper mystery.
This news has set the cat amongst the pigeons in many households.
What develops from here is mayhem and deception leavened with a healthy dose of attraction and amusing happenings. 
The situations Elektra either designs or falls into just keep getting better, and more hilarious, with an underlying touch of sadness. The sparks ignite between Arbogast and Elektra but will she follow her heart or her head?
An amusing read with a beguilingly twisted plot.

A NetGalley ARC

...love him, dislike him!


Married to a Rogue (Classic Regency Romances #9) by Donna Lea Simpson 

The thing is I thought Lady Emily Sedgely was magnificent and loved Belle. Baxter, Marquess of Sedgely, however comes across as so Mr Darcy gone wrong. The fact that he had this passionate relationship with his wife, is presented as a determined man with a mind of his own and yet allows his mother to make his wife's life miserable just doesn't ring true. He is left looking foolish.
Connecting these two different sides of his personality is difficult. A proud and pigheaded man, a man of 'uncertain temper' whose actions have brought about his own, and his wife's suffering, and the hiatus in their relationship. Yet in his unguarded moments of acknowledged love for his wife, and in the protection he shows towards his gamine mistress Belle, we see a different person. 
Is Baxter a rogue? He doesn't come across like that to me. More a stubborn and wilful man who knows his due. I took a dislike to him from the moment, after a two year absence on the continent, he 'spat' out that his lady wife had grown fat. It was hard for me to actually come to like him. He certainly had a lot of redeeming to do!
Etienne Marchant is just too convenient as the villain with more strings to his bow it seems than a violin.
There are heaps of half hints about various people like Lessing, Belle, Marchant and May.
Each one of them to all intents and purposes is a full story waiting to happen, and to me it seems that 'Married to a Rogue' is the clearing house, or maybe the hub, through which they all pass.

A NetGalley ARC

...a woman of her time!

The Summer Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Elizabeth Chadwick



Alienor of Aquitane. She fascinates! Shakespeare wrote about her. Down through the ages she has been shrouded with the allure and rich patina of poetic legend. One of the strong women of history, she is, as Chadwick so elegantly stated in her author's note, ' a woman of her time doing her best within the boundaries of what society would permit...she was nothing if not resilient.' 
Elizabeth Chadwick once again delivers a 'tour de force' with this work about Alienor's early days, her marriage to Louis VII of France and her subsequent marriage to Henry Plantagenet. The story of her family, her girlhood cut short in marriage, her sister Petronella's behaviour, and her hopes for herself dashed. All quicken on the page and the reading flows smoothly, with a heartening intensity. The force of the characters in this page of history are brought alive. They are fascinating and perceivable. I laughed with her, was aghast with her, was angered and dismayed. Yet Alienor's rises above it all. 
I am impressed by the weight and depth of Chadwick's research. A mammoth task that has richly increased the interplay of fact and fiction.
Chadwick stated that 'drawing Alienor from out of the shadows has ultimately been one of [her] most rewarding experiences of [her] writing career.'
I certainly found it a rewarding read!

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

...masterly intelligent romance!


1877. Hooked by the opening, a rowing competition between major arch rivals Cambridge and Oxford where we meet the delicious yet dangerous Edward Clark and the vibrant Federica Marshall, I was pulled in even further by the opening interplay (of sorts) between Edward and this interesting woman dressed quite severely, in a mannish jacket with epaulets, wearing a bowler hat and exhibiting a jaunty freedom. Edward has left his beloved Toulouse to return to England. We have no clue as to why the story starts here, on the banks of the Thames at a rowing competition, and whither it is going, except that by the title, and now the description of this interesting young woman, that it somehow involves suffragettes.     
The novel's brilliant! I loved it after the first page and was well and truly ensconced by the end of the first chapter.
There's betrayal and friendship, intrigue and blackmail, and of course a romance that cannot be. We have a younger brother James, a nasty piece of work, coveting all that his older brother has and who cannot endure slights to his person. We have friendships that endure. There's masterly repartee between our two main characters, Free (Frederica) Marshall and Edward Clark.
Along the way are gathered in some of the 'Brothers Sinister.'
Free and Edward are wonderful together.  Their talk about punctuation is just so witty and clever! Free, with an interesting circle of friends runs a woman's press challenging the place of women. Edward is an adventurer, an artist and a man with a shadowed and past.
Humour, dastardly doings and romance! All great elements for an excellent read.
The plot drew me on down unexpected avenues with the tension being held right to the end.
Wonderful!

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, July 11, 2014

...hearts of the highlands

Crimson Heart (A Highland Hearts #3) by Heather McCollum 

1554, Searc Munro, a disgraced highlander flees from the dark magic he harbours. Elena Seymour, an unknown and unacknowledged Tudor princess, illegitimate daughter to Henry VIII, fearing being used as a political pawn is struggling towards possible safety in Edinburgh when they meet. Mix in plots and counterplots between the English and the Scots, young women going missing and being found dead with strange markings on their bodies, add some healing highlander magic and tortured romance and you have all the elements neccesary for a love story with a difference.



A NetGalley ARC 

...more grand adventure!


I do hanker after works that surround the gifts of the Leah family in the Shannara stories.
The High Druid's Blade recalls those earlier stories with some alacrity.
Here we meet the solidly worthy and determined Paxon Leah and his youthful, careless yet feisty sister, Chrysallin.  
The Sword of Leah once again rises from decades of silence and legend and just maybe the gift of wishsong resurfaces as a desperate last measure.
A dark sorcerer, Arcannen captures Chrys and uses her as bait in order to lay his hands on the sword.
The Ard Rhys of the Druids is Alphenglow Ellesedil in Paranor.  However, it seems a traitor is in their midst. Various artifacts have been stolen after awakening the sword in his defence.  Paxon journeys to Paranor and the Ard Rhys gives him the opportunity to become a Druid. Since her abduction Chrys is under the watchful eye of the Druids. That changes when she is once more taken by Arcannen and rescued by the elderly woman Mischa.  Chrys was to be used as the spark to bring about the downfall of Parador.
'Blade' presents a new season of adventure, never replacing that first love affair with 'The Sword of Shannara'. Instead it helps to relive the grand memories of those times.

A NetGalley ARC

...the reluctant bride!

Bride of a Scottish Warrior by Adrienne Basso

1314. After the death of her husband, Sir Alisdair Ferguson, from wounds received when gored by a boar, Lady Grace Ferguson wanted nothing to do with marriage again, especially with the wickedly handsome warrior Sir Ewan Gilroy. Carrying the heavy burden of her husband's death, Grace just wanted to find peace in the nunnery she had been brought up in prior to her marriage. But life has a way of opening up different options. Certainly Grace's path is not easy. Her brother-in-law, Roderick has already split the clan with his naked ambition to oust his brother Douglas and become the leader. Grace will be his pathway to achieve that desire.


Ewan needs a bride with a dowry for the people and lands King Robert the Bruce gifted him. All the factors are present for a riveting story. I loved the characters. They are well defined and admirable. Ewan's mother, undisputed lady of the keep until now is someone to be reckoned with that's for sure. Challengingly scary!
For me, the story just doesn't quite come along with the force and energy the plot and the characters deserved.
Still, an enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

...a thief, a knight and devouring Demon Cats!

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne 

Kyra is a street wise, yet compassionate gutter rat whose grown up in the alleyways of Forge. Foraging for a living, she has been rescued by Flick and Belle. Their kindness and acceptance plays into her attitude to the helpless and caring for others like the self she was. Her barely formed memories of beginnings haunt her nights. As Flick says at one stage, when troubled Kyra always heads upward. It's in the heights that she feels alive and at peace. She can breathe. A thief who can climb and enter places that others don't dare, her skill catches the eyes of the leader of the Assassins Guild--the mysterious and lethal, cold hearted James.



Tristam is a knight of the Red Shields sworn to uphold the law in Forge and to protect the people. Battling the Demon Riders and their giant Cats, he suffers the loss of friends and an awareness of their implacability. Watching your best friend being torn to bits and devoured does tend to hone your desire for vengeance.
When the paths of these two cross, loyalties are put on hold, dark secrets are revealed and life takes different a path for both. 
At the start I thought, mmm! The plot sounds familiar. Another desperate young thief who turns out to be a wonder! Not so! The story takes some strange twists and turns that I certainly didn't see coming.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, July 3, 2014

...must love horses!

How to Lose a Lord in 10 Days or Less (Tricks of the Ton) by Elizabeth Michels

I well remember the scene in Must Love Dukes where Devon the mad Duke of Thornwood blackmails his now wife Lily, into slipping some herbs to Lord Amberstall's prize horse just before a race, causing havoc. Andrew's horse loses the race, Andrew loses face and reputation before the ton and repairs to Scotland, all his dreams of owning the finest stud in the land broken. Now that little episode has come home to roost. Andrew Clifton, Lord Amberstall, 'famous horse breeder and gentleman' is on his way home after a twelve month absence amongst the sheep in Scotland. 
He is returning in answer to a plea from his mother. All is not well.  There are confusing reports of mishaps, treachery and missing horses at home. Unfortunately, en route he is tracked by thieves or worse, takes a fall and both he and his horse end up recuperating at the home of Katie Moore, daughter of the Earl of Ormsbey, whose family estate borders Thornwood's, Andy's nemesis.
Andrew is rescued, well blackmailed really, by Katie, a strange and interesting young woman, who lives by herself in a cottage on the family estate. We have met her fleetingly before in Must Love Dukes. A wild and unconventional young thing who strides around the estate in breeches, she is just as puzzled by Andrew as he is by her. The reluctant attraction between them becomes all that more delicious. It fairly hums as their lives take strange and unguessed at turns.
Andrew seems dogged by disaster, or is it something more sinister than that? Just how does Katie figure in all this?
An enjoyable read!

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

...a madcap romp!

The Trouble With Harry (Noble series) by Katie MacAlister


Entertains, occasionally saucy, with a delightful, if somewhat wild cast.
Mind you I did think I'd fallen into the set of St Trinians with the antics of Harry's children. An out-of-control group of 'wild things', hell bent on wreaking havoc and careening all over the pages throughout chapters and definitely into Plum's heart, if not ours.
Harry, the Marquis of Rosse, and formerly a spy for the English Government and Plum (Lady Frederica Pelham) are an arranged marriage. Arranged by themselves that is, to meet their specific and rather particular needs. Even that has it's humorous side. Harry needs a mother for his raggedy bunch of children. Tormentors and monsters to a fine degree. Plum needs a roof over her head and a home for herself and her rather delightful niece Thom. She desperately wants a husband and a family and finds herself with all in no short order.
Years ago Plum has been unknowingly married to a bigamist, and then scorned by polite society. To earn a living she took the nom de plume of Vyvyan La Blue and wrote a very shocking book, The Guide to Connubial Calisthenics.  This was considered so obscene it was banned. I imagine it as equivalent to, if not more daring than, The Joy of Sex I it's day. Plum gave wonderful sounding titles to the various positions, like Gallant Knight at a Blind Maiden's Mercy.
What a hoot this story is. I particularly like Juan the hot headed Spanish butler.
Thom her niece is a gem and Nick the burglar is great. But Harry is a whirlwind of activity. Knowledgable yet winning, he and Plum both get so much more than they bargained for.
With blackmailing, death attempts, the antics of the children and Plum's endeavouring to hide some of her past, all descends into mayhem that might or might not be sorted.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

...reclaiming 'the Captive'


The Captive (Captive Hearts #1) by Grace Burrowes

Two damaged people find each other.
Christian Donatus Severn, eighth Duke of Mercia's damage we can guess at. Gillian, Countess of Greendale's is more hidden.
I took these two straight to my heart. Wonderful characters demonstrating true courage despite the atrocities they both endured.
Christian, a prisoner of war, Gilly a prisoner of her marriage. 
Gillian flees to her cousin by marriage, Mercia, some time after her husband dies. She intends to take Mercia to task about his daughter Lucille. Mercia's wife Helene is Gillian's cousin. Mercia's daughter Lucille has not spoken for some time and needs her father. Gillian also needs a place to live. There's hints of trickery and treachery but her trusty solicitor Stoneleigh sets Gillian on the right path. More than once.
Christian is the 'lost Duke', 'a high ranking officer captured out of uniform' by the French, held and tortured. It is here in France that we again meet one of my heroes Devlin St. Just.  It is he who shepherds Mercia back to England and helping him and and understanding him as Mercia fights towards healing.   
Freed after Napoleon has been captured Mercia returns home to many changes. The scene in France in the English camp where he is finally recognized as the lost Duke is vivid and wrenching, and we are treated to an unexpected degree of dignity from this shattered man. 
I loved Gilly and Mercia. Her trueness and his damaged heart. The simple act of eating an orange becomes part of the dance between them and is displayed with a fine sense of delicacy, reflecting another facet of the person that Gillian is.
Gilly's embroidering of acres of flowers as a weapon is striking. Wonderful! All I could think of was William Morris fabrics. I know he was a later era but I was seeing complexity and colour and the steadfast tramp of flora being embroidered on everything until all else is obliterated. As Christian later tells Gillian, 'you made your needle a weapon.'
Certainly the whole idea of torture, endurance, rebellion and suffering are examined. As is to some extent the relationship of tortured and torturer.
I find Girard St Clair, now Baron St Clair, a puzzle and can't work out just what he is hiding or was about. On the surface, he is Christian's tormentor, an unpleasant man. Certainly my sympathies are against him, tied up as I am with the treatment he metered out to Christian. What was Girard up to then? What is he up to now?
There is no denying that the physical damage to Mercia has been great but the psychological damage has been extensive. Later though, Gilly treats us to an interesting insight about Girard. He 'is a man--a flesh-and-blood man, with regrets and scars of his own--behind the beast who's haunted Christian's dreams.'
As we come to see this work's title, it's idea, 'The Captive' operates on a number of different levels.
Another excellent and fresh look at Regency times from Grace Burrowes.  This time addressing the results of the Napoleonic wars on the psyche of those who were not only at the battle front and all it's horrors, but those  who were treated abysmally. Something we today also have difficulties coming to grips with.
I think Burrowe's dedication says it all.
'To those at war, especially the wars nobody sees, may you find peace.'

A NetGalley ARC