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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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

..the scents of murder foul, the craving mobs, and of fear, envelopes! Medieval Mystery at its best!



In the midst of the violence and unrest of May 1381 London, just prior to the Peasant's Revolt, Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, the Lord High Coroner of London must once again step carefully and solve a murder that has ties to plots of highly placed persons and the scrutiny of the Upright Men. A man of subterfuge, Amaury Whitfield, chancery clerk to Tribuault, Master of Secrets for John of Gaunt has seemingly committed suicide in a locked room in a Southwark brothel. The Golden Oliphant is a place where cravings can be satisfied--for a price. His erstwhile scrivener and comrade in nefarious dealings, Oliver Lebarge has almost simultaneously thrust himself into Athelstan's life by taking sanctuary in St Erconwald's.  Althestan's upcoming investigation and inquest will lead back to Lebarge and beyond as he and Cranston uncover the steps taken by Whitfield and Lebarge until now. 
Revolt and threatened regicide is the background tableau--part of the pieces Althestan must hold at bay as he and Cranston go forward with their hunt. Athelstan must try to find a cipher that will illuminate a manuscript found on the suicide victim. The story is enhanced by Althestan's wonderful application of focus and logic to the situation.
Always at the heart is Althestan's concern for his flock and their part in the coming revolt. He does everything he can to guard against the days portending, to protect them and others he meets on the way. Jumping to Tribault's demands is part of that, although a double edged sword it would seem for Althestan.
I loved the detail, the sense of turbulence, the seething masses, the heightened awareness that   some places described evoke. Indeed descriptions of the bowels of the city are more akin to Dantes inferno.
The casualness of torture, hangings and beheadings fights against the condition of the poor, the injustice of soldiers having returned from battles finding no life to return to. Indeed the Upright Men have much to press forward for. The mystery of the Herald of Hell who is seen in all places is terrorizing London. All is moving forward to a unprecedented confrontation between the peasants and their overlords. Althestan is constantly surprised by who is in sympathy with the cause.
A brilliant and enthralling picture of this time in history, richly added to by the obvious rigorous research of Doherty. The secondary characters are wonderfully portrayed, with either their cunning, or greed, or fear being decisively manifest.
I was absorbed once more into the mysteries, the travails, and times of Althestan as seen through his eyes.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

regency mystery in exotic places

Captain Jack Dryden and his wife Lady Daphne Dryden are off on a dangerous mission for the Prince Regent. The place Cairo, the goal,  investigating the fate of a missing antiques dealer--friend to the Prince and the artifact that was being sought on behalf of the Prince. 
Jack would like to keep his wife safely at home. Daphne is already picturing the romance and manifest mysteries of the alluring Egypt. The Prince Regent includes soldiers to protect the party and one Stanton Maxwell, a foremost Egyptology scholar. Daphne is persuaded to bring her younger sister Rosemary, an Egyptian enthusiast.
I enjoyed the atmosphere of the hot sands of Egypt encasing the reader as events race alongside opposing reports by British inhabitants, murder, kidnapping and romance.
One can picture the bustling humanity of the bazaars and the dark threat of alleyways.
I enjoyed Jack and Daphne as a couple, their interplay and modes of address and Jack's way of covering up Daphne's social gaffes due to her innocence. Rosemary comes into her own, rather slowly one must admit. Maxwell Stanton is a wonderful character--shy yet protective, brave yet unassuming, learned yet modest. A complete contrast to the air headed, handsome Captain Cooper of His Majesty's Dragoons that Rosemary is languishing over. A plethora of fast moving action and atmosphere with light touches of romance.
I do need to read the preceding novels in the series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Brilliant! ...great beginning to a new series!

Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga book 1) by Courtney Milan


Lists and cats, opium wars, treason and disruption.
This novel has it all, tension permeates every situation along with lightning dashes of humour.
In eight years Lady Judith Worth has gone from sunny lady assured of her place in the world to a woman who struggles to survive, ensuring her brother and sister have a roof over their heads, china that if not matching, is at least not cracked--and plans for her siblings future.
Judith is a gem of a character, unusual in her mechanical interests and quirky substitute words for swearing. She is fierce in her protection of her family--younger sister, the intelligent Theresa and her cats is full of promise and I look forward to her story; youngest sibling Benedict, bullied at Eton and determined not to return, opens up for us as the story progresses; and then there's sister Camilla who chose to live away from the family and has had no contact for all this time.
The Worth family's plunge into disgrace has to do with the Opium Wars in China and the traitorous actions of their father and brother, Anthony. After their trial in the House of Lords, Judith's father committed suicide and brother Anthony was sentenced and transported to Australia. He died enroute. I liked Milan's explanation about Britain's role in the Opium wars with China. Underlying the wars was influential mercantile interests wanting trade with China, and the use opium as a commodity, forcing China to open it's borders. The introduction of opium and the assault on Chinese sovereignty had far reaching effects for that culture.  It is not to be glossed over. To my mind this has always been a shameful blot on English history. That Milan has taken these wars and woven a family's history around it (in the genre of Historical Romance) is nothing short of brilliant.
To return to the Worth's. Judith has discovered that money she has earned from her clock designs has gone missing. All her efforts shed no light. She turns to the one person she doesn't want to, Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford; her childhood companion, her brother Anthony's best friend, the man she thought she'd marry, the man who exposed her father and brother actions, and in doing so brought them to this pass. Christian is another wonderful character, unusual, warm, with again, that delightful sense of humour that Milan imbues her characters. A man bedevilled with his own spectres and haunted by all that has happened.
Courtney Milan refers to the story as Bill and Fred's excellent adventure--no wonder her characters have such a delightful sense of the ridiculous! In her newsletter Milan mentions that she had aspects of this saga for eons, and how difficult it was to have the storyline come together. In this incarnation, the story has emerged beautifully and satisfyingly. It is filled with small gems of very human warm moments, with an underlying commentary on larger societal issues--the nature of Justice and Honour. I just loved this entree into a new series.
p.s. Do read the author's note. Enlightening and enlivening!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, December 11, 2015

from the widow's point of view!

Reason to Wed (The Distinguished Rogues  #7) by Heather Boyd

Richard Hill,  the Earl of Windermere, needs to marry and beget an heir, entailing a curious ritual that had been part of the family myth for generations. This he refuses to do. All Richard's  affairs have led him to believe that he may be unable to have children--but, nary a by blow in sight. 
Esme, Lady Heathcote, a not so discreet widow lady knew she was barren. She thoroughly enjoys her independence. Lovers and no involvement are part of that.   
Although never involved, Richard and Esme had crossed paths more than once. Indeed Esme did him a favor not so long ago, one that initially infuriated Richard--publicly! To make amends, Richard invites Esme to a select house party, aiming to show the world they were not at logger heads.
When Esme's lover announces his engagement to another, Esme is furious. Her code of behaviour has always included the strict rule of no engaged or married men for a dalliance. 
Richard offers her an affair for the duration of the house party--an offer that will ease her public humiliation. Neither of them can foresee the emotional link that will be forged. But Esme is determined that the affair will be short lived and that the man who has become more than a friend will be able to move on to a more suitable bride, one who will provide Richard with his much needed heir. I quite enjoyed Esme, her strong character, her determination and compassion. An interesting plot that involves a woman that in other novels is nearly always the 'other'; the hardened widow seeking a husband using all her wicked wiles, only to be let down when the innocent young beguiling thing walks away with the hero (often a rake!) Here we have a mature woman who enjoys her life and takes charge of her inclinations, without pretence and prevarication. Quite liberating. I have gone through years of reading, convinced that those widows who took lovers, were always grasping harpies looking for the main chance. Esme is certainly not of that mould. Refreshing!

A NetGalley ARC

****

indulgences and fraud--a satirical romp through church history!



Set at the time of the Reformation and Luther's famous Ninety-Five Theses, Buckley has treated us to a walk through history (in this case, religious) that equals '1066 and All That'. Witty, humorous and telling. We are privy to the vagaries and voracities of the powerful--archbishops and electors, their purchases of artifacts that will increase the big business of indulgences and line their coffers. Buckley's portrayal of Frederick the Wise seems slightly more sympathetic. His collecting of relics appears more that of a genuine interest in the relics themselves, and a concern for their authenticity--he has the soul of a true collector. For Albert of Mainz indulgences are his way forward, they are about competition and power, the road to the Vatican and the supreme position. And now that Rome has issued a 'bull' decreeing that all indulgences sold by Albert have a special dispensation, indulgences in other parts of Europe are not as valuable in terms of the spiritual journeys of the faithful.
Dismas is a relic Hunter of exceptional ability and one who takes pride in his work. When he refuses to buy the supposed boat of St Peter, his patron Albrecht of Mainz is not happy. Albrecht's answer to Dismas' failure becomes obvious when Dismas next passes through.
Along with Dismas I am amazed at the sheer number of bones of saints, etc. that litter the religious houses of Europe and beyond. I am equally amazed by the various categories that relics cover--such as lapidary (from rocks Jesus walked on to stones thrown at the saints). 
Meanwhile Dismas' other patron, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, is sheltering the now infamous Martin Luther. We know that these decisions are history changing moments.
With his friend and drinking buddy Albert Dürer, Dismas decides to forge the Shroud of Turin and sell it to Albrecht. Unfortunately Dürer lets pride take over and through a curious set of circumstances the shroud is exposed as a fake. Unhappy, Albrecht forces Dismas and Dürer to steal a replacement, the celebrated Shroud of Chambéry. A journey that is fraught with danger, betrayal and fraud. More interesting characters are added including the gorgeous Magda, a female apothecary.
The secondary characters are wonderful, the casual references to the now famed gives a human face to the past. The court painter Cranach 'dour...and rather full of himself', the loathsomeness of Tetzel as he eyes the main chance for procuring the best prices for indulgences penances, reducing the time of punishment for sins committed.
This journey is one of comic happenstance. An adventurous romp through a fascinating time in church history with a couple of delightful well meaning rogues directing the action.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Interesting!

His Right Hand  (A Linda Wallheim Mystery #2) by Mette Ivie Harrison...


A Mormon enclave in Draper, Utah is the setting for murder unexpected. A crime committed that uncovers a shocking truth and that throws the Mormon hierarchy into disarray.  Carl Ashby, a respected member, has been killed and during the investigation, it is revealed that he had transgendered from female. Linda Wallheim, wife of the ward's bishop is determined to help uncover the truth of the murder as suspicion casts a festering pall  over the community.  
In the course of looking into the murder, the main character Linda, gives the reader a fascinating insight into Mormon mores. Many of which are dissected in terms of individual responsibility, interpretation and grace. Referenced is the churches adherence to strict lines of communication, order and within that a person's place according to gender and hierarchy. And here shockingly, a crime has exposed that those gender lines having been crossed. Many questions arise. How then should the church leaders respond ? How did Carl maintain his secret? How much should be revealed to the family and to the community? A problematic area in terms of the crime is that this is a closed community, used to being self supporting with no need of outsiders,  or outsider interference. This might be ok in terms of relief work and general community support but murder is a legal matter and as such falls to a different authority. So we are left with the picture that hindrance rather than help is given to the police in the course of the investigation. Those actions might mean the murderer is unwittingly hidden due to the protective intentions of the leadership. The hints of blockage by the church authority and President Frost's involvement with the police is puzzling to the reader and to Linda. The discussions via Linda about the LDS stance on transgender and gays is fascinating, as are other aspects of the Church's practices and history. The response by President Frost proclaiming that all ordinances would have to be nullified and redone is troubling for the leaders because of some quite far reaching ramifications. These insights drew me on--as some of the practices of Mormonism are revealed. Because of the carefully built background it was some time before the actual murder took hold of the writing. When I compare the plot construction with that of one of my favourite mystery writers and coincidentally, a LDS member, Anne Perry, I feel that the buildup of tension in His Right Hand is sporadic, and although I understand that explanations about the faith are important to some of the happenings, their complexity acted against the plot. Fortunately all came together rather dramatically in the last couple of chapters. 
Linda is a strong and likeable character, who seems to push the boundaries, and yet struggles to work within the confines of her community, at the same time accepting that those limitations are part and parcel of whet she has chosen to stay.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Deep sea romance!

The Pirates Tempting Stowaway (Dukes of War #6) by Erica Ridley

This starts with quite a ruckus! Captain Blackheart, Gregory Steele, ex privateer and lately of a more dubious high seas occupation--namely pirating, has been employed by Oliver York, the Earl of Carlisle, to locate and bring back to England from Philadelphia, his wife's mother, Clara Halton. Steele arrives to find Clara abandoned by the small community she lives in, left to die of consumption. Despite her protestations, Steele bundles Clara up and takes her with him.
On the return voyage, Clara discovers that Blackheart is more Goldenheart. The journey back to England is filled with delightful and sometimes hilarious occasions. Clara worms her way not only into the captain's affections, but those of the entire crew. Clara and Steele find themselves strongly attracted to each other and the enforced intimacy of the Captain's cabin becomes the stage for their tempestuous and passionate encounters.
Blackheart has a job to do though and he delivers Clara as commissioned, despite his feelings for her. Not to be deterred, Clara sneaks back on board the ship to confront Blackheart, to force him to acknowledge the connection they have for each other. Unfortunately the ship sets sail before Clara realizes it and she finds herself headed for adventure and a treasure hunt involving the dreaded Crimson Corsair. An unexpected turn of events!
I found the ending and the treasure hunt somewhat difficult. Indeed I kept looking around for Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean during the cave incident. For some reason, although treasure hunting is part of a pirate's lot, the later actions are not as forceful as the beginning. Still, I enjoyed Steel and Clara's story and their interactions. This is a a pleasing and unexpected addition to the Dukes of War series. I loved it that Clara was no simpering young thing and that Ridley has included more mature characters within her romantic genre.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Touching and enthralling!

In Search of Scandal (London Explorers #1) by Susanne Lord.


A roller coaster read that pulls at the heart strings. The raw emotions, the dark secrets that Will Repton fights tug at you as you realize his life has been put on hold, arrested by the dreadful things he has scene. Witness to the slaughter of all his companions in Tibet, Will Repton cannot rid his mind of the events, nor his determination to search for a possible sole survivor. Harbinger of secrets, he reveals to no one his troubled quest. He quietly goes about making plans to return to the area to investigate possibilities wrapped up in the excuse to hunt for more exotic species.
Charlotte Baker is enamoured of Will before she meets him. She has closely followed his work over many years and is delighted to at last meet her hero. A dazzling beauty, she cares little for her appearance. Charlotte's convinced that meeting Will will be a marvelous adventure. Little does she guess that though her expectations are not met in many ways, in others she has found her destiny. Charlotte is whimsical and forthright, a breathe of fresh air blowing through the social arena of the time. She is in awe of Will the adventurer and it's only as she comes to know him that she realizes that something is amiss. Sparks often fly in their encounters. Yet their encounters are honest and true. Unfortunately Will has plans that don't include Charlotte, plans to placate his devastated conscience, plans that call for no involvements, least of all a wife. And yet he cannot help but be concerned for Charlotte and troubled by her Lordly courtier.
Charlotte is a positive person and her encounters with Will trouble her as she tries to understand what motivates him. They are drawn to each other, unwitting lodestones of attraction. Can trust and love be accommodated? Is Will able to quell his demons and take up the challenge of a life with Charlotte. The tension is drawn page after page in their advancements and retreats as they struggle to find answers.
A touching and captivating read, that refused to let me go.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A simple plan foiled!



How to seduce a Seduce a Scot (Broadswords and Ballrooms #1) by Christy English



Alexander Waters has been sent by his mother to escort his wild, free spirited sister through a season in London, and to make sure she is married off to a 'decent' Englishman. There are strong hints that Mary Elizabeth has tried her mother's patience mightily and this is the result. There are definite references throughout that make it obvious that none of the siblings want to be on the short end of their mother's ire. Mary Elizabeth is a fun-filled young lady who is nothing like the English misses Alex so decries. Climbing hemp ropes and sword fights are the least of her past times.
On the other hand, Catherine Middlebrook is one of those gently bred English misses (at least on the outside) so decried. We know that the real Catherine is a strong young woman, supportive and willing to sacrifice everything for one season to secure her family's fortune. Her plan is to marry respectably, if not we'll, thereby ensuring that her family is lifted out of their straightened circumstances. Unfortunately, all Catherine's efforts are plagued at every turn by the behaviour of her mother. Her mother's inability to face the reality of their circumstances has far reaching consequences.
Alex and Catherine meet when Catherine befriends Mary Elizabeth. Alex is drawn to her, although he has no plans to marry. Indeed his mother instructed him and his brother Robert that they were not to come back from London married. (It's obvious that their English mother has taken up her adopted country with a vengeance. It seem she rules her children with an iron hand.)
Catherine and Alex are drawn to each other, but their paths lie in different directions. However the heart sometimes has other ideas, and circumstances can muddle a person's thinking. I enjoyed the antics of all involved and look forward to the next in the series.

A NetGalley ARC


***

Saturday, November 28, 2015

...deceit and betrayal!

The Striker (Highland Guard, #10) by Monica McCarty


Eoin MacLean's decision to become one of Robert the Bruce's strike force team, The Highland Guards, plays havoc with his personal life. But then Eoin wasn't expecting to be captivated by a wild, red headed, bewitching young woman, Margaret MacDowell, whose father's enmity is legend.
Happiness is replaced by anger. Eoin's promise to not reveal the secret of the Highland Guards is ripe ground for mistrust between himself and Margaret to erode to the point of no return.  Margaret is all that is admirable in the way she seeks to support and understand him, but perceived rejection and frequent snubs worms away at her self confidence. 
Convinced he has been betrayed by Margaret, Eoin turns his back on their marriage and takes up the mantle of his reported death. Some years later, when he learns that Margaret is about to remarry, Eoin has second thoughts, particularly as his Lazarus reappearance behind the English lines, will cause consternation for Bruce's enemies.
What his return causes for Margaret, and the surprises Eoin will face, are very different from the outcome he anticipated, leaving them both shaken and reeling in shock.
Filled with surprises, treachery, misunderstandings and heart throb moments, this addition to the Highland Guards series is just as addictive as it's running mates. Once again the midnight candle burned brightly. I couldn't put Eoin and Margaret's story down until I'd reached the very end.

A NetGalley ARC

****

A compelling labyrinth of events!

Forbidden love

Highland Heat (Highland Knights #2) by Jennifer Haymore

Lady Grace Carrington had no idea when she strode the battle lines after Waterloo looking for survivors, that the injured soldier (with the startling, blue-green aquamarine eyes) she finds will become more important to her than breathing.

Duncan Mackenzie, enlisted soldier, little knows as he gazes upon Grace, that his heart is about to be lost to this determined, titled lady.      
Grace's sister Claire has come to Waterloo on the eve of the battle to try to mend the rift with her husband, Major Sir Robert Campbell, and Duncan's superior.
A love affair that stretches from Waterloo to Scotland is born. Along the way these two have to cope with Grace's testy father, the Earl of Norsey, a member of the older aristocracy. (That line says it all) A commoner is not the match for the daughter of such an Earl.
After the battle Duncan returns to London having been reassigned to a newly formed, internal elite force, The Highland Knights, that includes Campbell. Their task is 'to work at home in the interests and protection of the crown.'
This story of love across the classes has much to recommend it. I cannot help but think that the post Waterloo scenes are not as gripping as could be. The picture of Grace trudging the fields encrusted in mud is realistic, the scene at the medical tent has merit, but when I compare this to the time honoured images from Georgette Heyer's, An Infamous Army, the picture is left a little wanting. Maybe an unfair comparison, but I expected more of what was a horrifying scene.
I was somewhat shocked at how quickly Duncan and Grace leapt into a physical relationship, but then war has a way of having those effected focus on just being alive. The scenes are filled with the unbearable sweetness of newly awakened feelings and the growing love between the Grace and Duncan is well done. Duncan is rather magnificent in his care for Grace and likewise Grace in her care for him. I did rather enjoy their wicked banter about the advantages of kilts over trews. Haymore leaves us in no doubt that these two are indeed soul mates. 
I must say that the Earl of Norsey surprises.
I can see that I will want to know the stories that come set around this band of men, The Highland Knights, survivors of Waterloo, who are forging stronger bonds of brotherly support,  joined as they are already by the experience of war and the devastation of that final battle.
An enjoyable read. I am looking forward to more. 

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, November 23, 2015

Enthralling!

The Lost Soul of Lord Badewyn (Order of the M.U.S.E.) by Mia Marlowe!



The central story weaves around Meg Antony, now ward of the Duke of Camden and leader of the M.U.S.E.  Meg is a 'finder', her gift being that she can find people and objects psychically.
When reality takes on biblical proportions, time and the heavens stand still. Meg is sent by Edward St James, the Duke of Camden, and mastermind behind the group, to Wales for protection from her cruelly recalcitrant family. Down on their luck since Meg has gone, they are looking to grab her back in order to continue the life of crime they had subjected her to.
Little does Meg understand that she is fleeing from the devils she knows to the dark angel she doesn't.
Samuel Templeton, Lord Badewyn is an unusual man--a watcher. But that is the most normal thing about him. Samuel's family history is shrouded in a mystery of biblical proportions enacted from the beginnings of time.
Actually I was rendered speechless by the interesting direction this episode in the stories of M.U.S.E. has taken. The premises Marlowe puts forward as the basis of the plot is fabulously different and utterly fascinating.
I was drawn in by the straightforward, delightfulness of Meg and by the taciturn, deliberate character of Lord Badewyn, a man draped in inner pain.
The path towards Samuel's redemption is rocky but Meg is a brave lass. The Duke of Camden and Lady Vesta join them as Camden searches for release from, and information about, his wife Mercedes' death. What he discovers sets him back on his heels and sends him racing back to London.
More than one of the M.U.S.E. members or satellites has the threads of resolution drawn together for them in this chapter of this rather exclusive 'club'. 

A NetGalley ARC

*****



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Intriguing!

The Golden Braid (Medieval Fairy Tale Romance #2) by Melanie Dickerson



Featuring some intriguing twists to the Rapunzel story. I wondered how 'the tower' was going to fit into plot. Dickerson has very cleverly made the tower segment seem absolutely normal and believable, complementing all that leads to that moment. On the road to the town of Hagenheim with her mother Rapunzel meets a knight, Sir Gerek, who dismisses her as a poor peasant girl. Rather annoying really, as she ended up rescuing him from bandits after he'd just rescued her from the same bandits. Now he owes her, maybe!
What Rapunzel wants more than anything is to learn to read. Gerek is placed in a position to help--which he does, reluctantly.
The refrain we all know, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair," is not used in the way and place we envisage but nevertheless is referenced in many ways and for a variety of reasons to do with a young woman's place and reputation, of being unmarried, careful and modest. All rather intriguing within the context of the supposed time.
The characters are all carefully crafted. Rapunzel's mother is a quagmire of pathological tendencies. Still Rapunzel  treats her honourably even if that is not returned. There relationship is very interesting to the point of distressing sometimes.
There are many biblical references, but once again all are appropriate for the times given that Christianity had a major and central place in the medieval world. Indeed the idea of knights being models of godly behaviour dedicated to that ideal is not unusual. Beliefs are strong and as Rapunzel grapples to read she learns via the bible. Now even this is unusual due to the cost of books, and Latin would be needed but Rapunzel is so bright she learns this as well as German.
Rapunzel is a very unusual and courageous young woman. Just how unusual becomes apparent as the story progresses, and not just her abilities, her determination to read and better herself. Rapunzel's search for God and meaning form quite a big slice of her tale.
There are some quite fascinating features of the story, resolved in really creative ways. Unfortunately at times the way through was just a tad to contrived, which for me negated those highs of originality. An enjoyable read, made richer by having to reflect about the storyline, the characters, and the way it all comes together.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Absorbing Victorian romance!

The Reluctant Duchess by Sharon Cullen  



I knew this was going to be a five star read right from the opening pages. Mystery, murder and mayhem, my three favourite 'm's. Indeed I mostly smiled all the way through. Lady Sara Emerson has come to London to ask the help of her dead cousin’s fiancé, Gabriel Ferguson, Duke of Rossmoyne.  Her cousin Meredith had been fiendishly murdered two years ago and now someone was sending Sara scary letters that could be from the murderer.
Recently returned from a two year stint in India, Rossqmoyne agrees to help her on condition that she stay in his home with his mother as chaperone. Of course that also opens up its own set of  problems. 
Sara is totally different from Meredith--a fact Ross comes to appreciate the more he sees her.
With him she is refreshing and challenging. At social events she fades into the background. Puzzling behaviour indeed!
The pace is fast, one scenario tumbles after another gathering momentum. Sara's confrontation with Ross and her brave insistence on his help, the scenes with the child Thomas and their conversation, their visit to the rookeries, their midnight talks in the library. All set the atmosphere for what is an exciting and enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Love will find a way--with help!


This latest in the Marriage Game series, where titled bachelors meet their matches, and then some, has all the complexity and humour of an Oscar Wilde novel. Meg Featherton has been disappointed by two suitors and as a consequence has determined to settle for safety and comfort, not the unsteadiness of love. Her sights are set on Charles, Viscount Throughgood. Unbeknownst to Meg, Charles otherwise known as "Chuffy", has his eyes set on her best friend Amanda. 
The man who has been struck by Meg from the beginning, is Damon, Marquis of Hawksworth, handsome and pleasing to all but Meg. Hawksworth's boredom on return from the wars finds some release by leading the dandy set a merry race. Viewing his efforts, Meg dismisses him as a mere fribble. So we are launched on a tale thick with missed opportunities, misunderstandings, interferences, and mistimed happenings; all underpinned by the meddling of a trio of grande society dames. The plot has our lovers pushed down a twisted path towards true love, accompanied by healthy doses of humility. Meg and Damon are separately invited by Lady Bellamny, Damon's godmother, to her Christmas  house party. Matchmaking efforts at their best are trotted out by Lady B. with help from Meg's grandmother. The fact that Meg becomes more befuddled about the situation and her feelings for Damon as time goes on just adds a delightful tension to the situation. I want to say, 'Get over it Meg, move forward!' But no she seems stuck in the role she's given herself. Can Hawksworth can help her move away from being a victim to taking charge of her own life and feelings, to be proactive? Meg has become too scared to trust her own judgement having been taken in so thoroughly before. The thing is we see that Meg and Damon are in tune in many ways, and not just with the singing together vignettes we are treated to. Meg indeed has a long way to go before she'll let love slip through her guard.
I can't even begin to express my ire with Damon's father, the Duke of Somerset. His plotting and perfidy is rampant. Damon's relationship with his father is a major element to the story, dictating Damon's many reactions. 
Damon has seen the worst of the war. This has left him scarred. His discussion with Meg about the soldiers labelled the Forlorn Hope is fascinating. Their mention took me back to Richard Sharpe and Sharpe's War and his band of forlorn men. I am sure I heard the music as I read on. With this in mind, one is even more sure that Damon is a man of a different sort to those Meg is used to meeting. If only she could see it too.
Damon's determination to win his love, despite the conundrums that his courtship is strewn with, gives this Regency romance more than its fair share of enjoyable moments in the quest for true love.

A NetGalley ARC

*****


Christmas with a difference!

A Christmas Escape: A Novel by Anne Perry  


IIt took me a while to realize that this story is about Hester Monk's brother, Charles Latterly. Charles has decided to escape the harshness of a Victorian London Christmas and has journeyed to a small island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north coast of Sicily, containing one of three active volcanoes in Italy. His hostelry is perched against the upper reaches of the volcano.
Here Charles hopes to attain a measure of inner healing, a different perspective. What he finds is a strange mixture of guests and a volcano that appears anything but benign.
The dark grumbling of that entity are viewed differently by the guests. Some are drawn to it, others repelled.
Languid days, the mystery of the volcano, the sense of something almost mystical beyond the grasp of mere mortals colours the background and enhances the electricity amongst the various guests, all calmed by the host, Stefano whose culinary abilities seem to act at times as a soothing tonic not only for the guests but for the volcano itself.
The English guests are a very different group--some grating, others ineffectual and yet others discerning. Charles is much taken, as am I, by the delightfully precocious teen, Candace Finbar. A young girl who sees to the heart of things way beyond the normal scope of understanding with a maturity that belies her years. Her's and Charles' unlikely, charming friendship becomes a central focus.
All is not as it should be in this small guesting community and when the volcano spews forth it's anger and a member of the household dies, fleeing the danger portended by the volcano is spiked with the added realization that there is a killer amongst the company.
A very unusual story that speaks on a multitude of levels, a Christmas offering with a difference.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Monday, November 9, 2015

A startling and rich read!

Lady of Intrigue Kindle by Sabrina Darby


There are moments when the simplest of actions can be life changing crossroads. For Lady Jane Langley, on her way to the Vienna of 1814, to join her father, it was just an exchange of places into a another carriage. Who knew that this action would see her involved in an accident, be badly injured, witness a murder, and then...most startling  who  finds herself alone in a mountain cabin being cared for by the assassin. The visceral attraction between Lady Jane and her captor is astounding, best displayed in the holding back, the teetering on the edge of an undeniable passion, not the giving in, clearly described by each in their own reflective moments.
Gerard Badeau, illegitimate grandson to Lord Lansdowne, spy and assassin is struck by the singular intelligence and determination of Jane. He captures the wonder he sees in Jane in this one restrained comment, 'Jane--such a name for this woman'.
As time progresses we delve further into the mind of the Gerard, we are privy to his secrets, his methods, his beginnings, and some of his secrets. 
Finally returning to society (as Jane eventually must) Jane becomes a target for those endangered by her appearance. There are deep games afoot in Vienna and Jane finds herself in the midst of them.  Jane's father is a member of the British Delegation to the Congress at Vienna. Jane acts as his factual. Her standing in society certainly doesn't guarantee her safety--only Gerard can do that. But how can he protect them from each other?
I was overwhelmed by the emotional side of these two. Darby's writing explores the psychology of both the lead characters, their situations and the tensions strewn along their path to redemption. An unusual plot, evolving with a finesse and fascination that draws you in to the last word.

A NetGalley ARC

*****






Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Witty and entertaining!

The Irresistible Rogue (Playful Brides #4) by Valerie Bowman  

Playful Brides continues, this time with a Swift sibling in the major role. Daphne had grown up in a household dedicated to the service of their country, and even played a part. She married Captain Rafferty Cavendish as part of an assignment. Daphne is on the verge of becoming engaged to someone else, when Rafe returns and she discovers that the marriage she had supposed had been annulled has not! She is both furious and relieved. It has taken her sometime to go on with her life after Rafe, and now here he is upsetting her well laid plans!
What's to do! The Prince Regent was to take care of this! Rafe however has need of Daphne for one last assignment. 
Rafe is on the trail of the French handler who imprisoned him and took the life of Daphne's elder brother Donald, the former  Earl. He needs Daphne's help. The go-betweens speak Russian, as does Daphne.
There is a deeper game afoot though--a game of the heart and Daphne and Rafe have a long way to go before they can freely admit this.
A minor part is played by the other 'Playful Brides' Lucy, Cassandra and Jane, keeping their menfolk in line and giving Daphne much needed support and advice of a more sensual nature. And Delilah, Daphne's young cousin is brilliant--with her knowing ways, mischievousness, outrageous bargaining and delightful intermittent use of French. Currently a child, but definitely a coming force to be contended with.
This story is quite different from the other three in the series taking a different tack, but in the end it's about two people, drawn together and fighting that link.
Intelligent, adventurous and a worthy addition to the series and to my reading list.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A captivating read!

Bella and the Beast (Cinderella Sisterhood #4) by Olivia Drake

From the opening I felt like I'd stumbled into a scene worthy of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Only set back a couple of hundred years to Regency England. Here it's the Cinderella Sisterhood and the magic artifact is not denim jeans but Garnett beaded slippers,  (to me) reminiscent of those Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz.  
Bella Jones has returned from Persia with her younger brother and sister to a small cottage in Oxford, England. On his deathbed her father, a noted ancient civilizations scholar instructs her to find the other half of an Egyptian treasure map from Alwyin. Who this is remains a mystery until her 'fairy godmother' the Countess of Milford, sends her off to secure a position as a curator with the taciturn, withdrawn Miles Grayson, the Duke of Aylwin, an avid collector of ancient artifacts.
Suspicious of all, Miles wants nothing to do with Bella. Despite his best intentions, he is totally beguiled by her. Not to worry, he can always set her up as his mistress. Bella of course has plenty to say about that. The sparks fly with these two, and the plot deepens with ghost sightings, theft and the threat of bodily harm. Bella continues to search for the all important half of the map.
As an aside, I do so love that Bella can use a small dagger to great effect.
Even as the very thought of Bella worms it's way into his heart, Miles finds it hard to overcome his mistrust of everyone, including her. After all, 'Miles kept his thoughts and emotions tightly locked inside the surly facade of a beast. And like a caged beast he snarled at anyone who dared to venture close to him.'
The Miles and Bella story, more Beauty and the Beast than Cinderella, is quite different from the usual regency story with just the right touch of the exotic.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Perfectly splendid!

Daniel's True Desire (True Gentlemen #2) by Grace Burrowes  


*Ten stars* for this latest True Gentleman episode. What a pleasure this latest of Grace Burrowes' novel is--fascinating, intelligent and complex. 
'True Desire' is a gem! Daniel Banks  is all that one could wish for. A gorgeous man, inside and out--good, true and desirable. He's been well and truly deceived by his wife who has taken herself out of his life. She is a murky, vain, grasping, self-centred woman, whose actions reflect this. Being separated is not the best recommendation for a country vicar, hence his move to Haddondale and a living under the aegis of the Earl of Bellefonte. 
Daniel is empathetic and honourable. He is a far cry from many of the vicars we come across in novels. This is a man who understands people out of the depths of his own humanness. Lady Kirsten Haddondale recognizes this about him.
Kirsten has been protected by her family. They understand some of her challenges, not all. They do however want to support her in her various pursuits and interests. The new vicar becomes one such interest
Daniel seems to see right into her heart. He understands who she is.
How I loved Daniel's straightforwardness, his integrity. 
His dealings with his loveable 'rotten' boys are simple, well thought out and deceptively intuitive. 
Notes of sunshine surround this story, despite the tension--it enlivens the soul and tackles the vagaries of life with zest.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be careful what you wish for!

So I Married a Highlander (What Happens In Scotland #2) by Kate McKinley  


Lady Evelyn Alexander seems to have found herself in an interesting situation in her flight to Gretna Green to marry her fiancé, Stephen Crawford. The relationship is such that they should be able to should be able to rub along well enough together. Evelyn is determined to set up her own household, out from under the feet of her managing ducal brother, Lucas.  Lady Evelyn chivvies the bridegroom along rather than the other way around. She is very a 'take charge' managing young woman. And when her plans look like being thwarted Evelyn hies off looking for a solution.
Unfortunately:
1. Lady Evelyn is somewhat of a prima donna and feels the world is there for her to order around and assist her in pursuit of desires and she wants to be married before her brother can find them.
2. Lady Evelyn really shouldn't down strong drink when she's cross and trying to prove a point.
3. Lady Evelyn manages to lose her fiancé and has to find him, even if it means using the tantalizing, infuriating Alec Mcallister.
4. It seems that under the influence of strong drink Lady Evelyn's inhibitions are completely compromised, particularly when confronted by luscious Scottish blacksmith Alec McAllister--this relationship is definitely more than polite friendship.

The last thing Alec McAllister was looking for was a wife. Somehow he seems to have obtained one...and he's not sure that he wants to let her go!

A NetGalley ARC

****

A deliciously fun read!

His Housekeeper's Christmas Wish (Lords of Disgrace) by Louise Allen 
  

A timely Christmas story with just the right touch of sentimentality and humour.
Our hero, Alexander Tempest, Viscount Weybourn has locked off his emotions and been estranged from his family for many years.
Our heroine, Tess Ellery, is a delightful mix of gamine type wisdom with an innocence that sees through to the heart of things.
Tess keeps rescuing the down trodden and uncared for--from humans to animals.
And the human she wants to rescue is the one who effectively knocked her off her feet and then continued to make assumptions...dratted man, that were entirely off the mark and that led to Tess being Weybourn's temporary housekeeper.  Of course his staff love her and Tess' guilessness worms it's way underneath Alexander's indifferent mask and into his heart. 
Ah! But things are never so simple as to immediately lead to a HEA. The route is twisted and captures attention in this seasonal story that salutes the essence of Christmas.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

...seasonal traditions enhance the moment!

What Happens Under the Mistletoe by Sabrina Jeffries, Karen Hawkins, Candace Camp and Meredith Duran


Christmas time brings forth those traditions that can be employed to advantage for many a tardy or fledgling romance. This mix of seasonal stories sparkle with wit, humour, and romantically subdued longing. An enjoyable selection of Happy Ever After (HEA) works. I do like to have short, sweet stories from time to time, able to be read in bite sized chunks.

The Heiress and the Hothead by Sabrina Jeffries
Answering a friend's call to help stir a would be suitor into action, Lord Stephen Cory found himself kissing a different young woman under the mistletoe by mistake. Oh my!
Twelve Kisses by Karen Hawkins
Once more the delightfully autocratic Grand Duchess Natasha Nikolaevna plays a role in uniting two lovers who find it hard to make a start.
Any Other Name by Candace Camp
Rylla is intent on finding her brother Daniel and persuading him to come home for Christmas. Her search sends her out in disguise to the worst parts of the city and straight into the arms of Gergory Rose. Gregory is intrigued, puzzled and confounded, even more so when Rylla slips away and he's none the closer to discovering her true identity.
Sweetest Regret/Ruin by Meredith Duran
A love that is lost and yet endures. As Georgie Trent and Lucas Goodwin meet again after heartbreak in Munich the question is will that hurt be overcome. Will these two who are so right for each other be given a second chance? Certainly 'tis the season for miracles. Georgie's father, an esteemed diplomat, is a master manipulator. I definitely do not like him!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Bears and intrigue!

Bearing It All: A Highlander's Beloved Novel by Vonnie Davis 


Those handsome brawny Matheson men are back with their loveable wives and their precious niece Collen. Not to forget the pink encased hippie witch, Effie!  

This time it's Ronan who is front and centre. Taking a couple of days off, Ronan has headed to his lonely cabin in the highlands for a time of release and repair. Let the bear run free!

Instead he's catapulted into the midst of a CIA internal investigation that includes the gorgeous French intelligence agent Anisa Brosseau, accused of treason, and who's being pursued by deadly agents.
Crashing her drone in the highlands and meeting a luscious highlander is not what Anisa set out to do. And when a delectable female pursued by dangerous thugs turns up on your doorstep what's a red blooded man whose bear is equally enthralled supposed to do?
I do like it that Ronan's bear, like a naughty child, sneaks away from time to time, and takes control. Bear's growing relationship with Anisa is beautiful in its own way. Ronan's relationship with Anisa is all that could be wished for. A great addition to the series.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

...alliance hopes attacked!

Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia Macneal 

Special agent Maggie Hope accompanies Churchill to meet with Roosevelt as the war effort tide takes a hopeful turning. The bombing of Pearl Harbour has become a catalyst for American troop support against Hitler and Churchill is anxious to gain an alliance between the two nations. This could make the difference between defeat and victory! England and her allies are exhausted, pushed on all fronts.
However Mrs Roosevelt's aide is found dead--murdered, and Maggie is to give the enquiry all the help she can muster. The trail leads to highly placed groups that seek to impair the Anglo-American nexus.
Maggie was hoping her journey would help her to make headway in her damaged relationship with John Sterling, her almost fiancé. This event puts that on the back burner.
Maggie's skills have never been more important to the world political stage and when duty calls romance looks like it must take a back seat.
The spectre of racism rears it's ugly head as Maggie becomes involved in a death row case in Virginia. All and all, Maggie and John's time together is continually interrupted.
Once again I found myself drawn into Maggie's trials and tribulations, as her quick thinking and dogged persistence brings into focus the tales of this extraordinary lead character. Another gripping Maggie Hope episode.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Riveting military space opera!

A Choice of Treasons (Treasons Cycle) by J. L. Doty  


Lieutenant York Ballin, a naval combat lifer, with more experience and determination in his little finger than the whole Imperial Fleet commanders put together is caught in a cat and mouse game of pursuit spanning deep space--and the pursuers are mounting. The Federal Directorate of the Republic of Syndon and his own Imperial forces want to blast his ship, the cruiser Cinesstar, into nothingness, and for what? True on board is the Empress and the Princess. Who wants them dead? A let's not forget the silent hunter who's tracked him from the beginning.
Then there's the mysterious references to Ballin's antecedents that he himself has only just gotten a fix on. Oh, and let's not forget Ballin's arch enemy on the deck, Sierka.
Political and economic power and greed are accompanying contributors behind this situation those on the Cinesstar are subjected to. This war has dragged on for over two years. Millions of lives have been wasted. And the Empress is up to something that's embroiled them all.
The drama drew me in. I hear echoes of David Drake and John Ringo. There's maybe a smidgin of Tanya Huff with the portrayal of the Master Sergeant, Mieka Palevi, a character I thoroughly enjoyed. When Ballin is made an acting marine CO, Palevi is the one who shepherds him through the transition. Palevi is the one who has his back.
This was a truly enthralling read. I am fascinated by the Kinathin and their breed warriors, allies of the 'feddie's' and hope to hear more about their culture.
Action is swift, the plot moves along at a hectic pace, and I'm definitely hooked!
I await the next book with baited breath! Bravo!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

...delightful plunder!

Conqueror's Kiss by Hannah Howell  

Jennet Graeme is a delightful character, spunky and abrasive, not at all subdued by her violent history. When Sir Hacon Gillard drags her from a convent and claims her as plunder during the sack of Berwick she rises to the challenge and Havon finds himself with a delightful armful of spitting kitten that continues to give him more grief than he had even conceived. 
Trapped in the Scottish wars, Jennet is just one more causality in the battle of kings and conquests in the Scotland of1318.
This re-release of Howell's novel is a treat for those of us who never met her early novels.
I enjoyed Jennet's feistiness, Hacon's inherent understanding and goodness, the battles between the two of them, and the loyalty of the various secondary characters, including Jennet's father. 
Of course there's a decided dastardly foe. One whom Jennet has good cause to remember, and one who Hacon knows is a treacherous enemy.
A story told through Jennet's eyes and from the woman's perspective, this is a very human telling of the Scottish wars and it's effect not so much on the higher nobility but on the lesser clans and the ordinary people, with a glimpse into the internal politics of the Scottish court.

A NetGalley ARC

****