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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, January 27, 2015

... a tangled web indeed!

The Devil Takes a Bride (The Cabot Sisters Book 2) by Julia London 


...and now it's Grace's turn. Grace and Honor Cabot are determined to establish a sanctuary for their mother who appears to be sinking into dementia, and for their two sister who are yet to come out. When Prudence and Mercy's turn comes there needs to be no hint of scandal about madness in the family.
Honour attempted her grand plan in The Trouble with Honor.
Grace?  Well trapping a man into marriage might not be the done thing but, desperate times  call for desperate measures! Grace sets her sights on the diverting Lord Amherst brother to the brooding Earl of Meryton.
So, Grace sets up the perfect, 'what could go wrong' scenario, attempting to lure Lord Amherst into a revealing position from which he would not be able to retreat. Et voila, mission accomplished! 
What can we say!
Oh dear! The best laid plans of mice and men etc. etc! Grace ends up in a situation, entirely of her own making and entirely short of where she aimed. 
In this she more than meets her match, carves out an understanding with a man bedevilled by his own demons and embraces an unusual but eventually satisfying relationship.
All is needed is a little understanding and a whole lot of persistence.
The story of Grace's affair is well honed, very risqué and an interesting turn about in the continuing sagas that the Cabot's girls lives seem to enact, or attract!
An occasionally amusing, sometimes puzzling and frequently steamy read.

A NetGalley ARC

Sensational!

Wolf Winter  by Cecilia Ekbäck



From previous reviews I mentally girded my loins for the read saying to myself,  'really do I have the staying power this?' Wow!
Ekbäck's word smithing builds a wonderful pictography of Sweden's forests and marshes of 1717, alive with all sorts of smells and sounds and colours, from the starkness of winter to the full light of the sun.
The people are real and palpable, with just that touch of distance, that aloneness, that reflects the hugeness of their physical surroundings. Yet intimacy comes from their stories, Those of Maija , Frederika, the priest, all of them as various revelations are made. Maija and her family, the last to come to Blackåsen Mountain are the catalysts, pivotal to the action that follows.
Murder, death, the priest, the fear of the Laplanders, the harsh winter, all escalate towards a culminating spiral of intrigue. Part mystery, part mystique encompassing political turmoil and the demands of the King.
The spirit of Ericksson the murdered man communicates with Frederika. Her dead grandmother seems to give her advice, or is it the memory of her grandmother. Sometimes the lines blur. Ericksson tells her to find her path. Frederika is an old woman in a child's body. She see hears and partly understands. Frederika, coming into her womanly body, coming into her gifts.
And then there's the wolves.
...and the secrets pile up and draw you further into this web of intrigue.
I needn't have worried. Wolf Winter grabbed me from the opening paragraph and never let me go until the end. Secrets and surprises, plots within plots, evil allowed to flourish--for the greater good...and a woman who is drawn to ask the questions and cannot let it be!
A remarkable novel.

A NetGalley ARC

Love denied sparks the flame!

If the Viscount Falls (The Duke's Men Book 4) by Sabrina Jeffries 


Dictate not you think is best, rather ask what she might want ... this is Dominick Manton's and Jane Vernon's story. Love denied and love reclaimed for a mountain of questionable reasons, with a lot of muttering [by me] 'will she, won't she, ... 'and he's just shot himself in the foot with that one,' accompanied this episode of the Duke's men. This is the story behind the lost love, lost opportunities and enduring love of Dominick Manton, founder of Manton's Investigative Agency and current Viscount of Rathmoor. His manoeuvrings to have his fiancé repudiate him when he lost all due to the perfidy of his brother George, the new Viscount,  and how that affected both him and Jane Vernon, whose fortune was so tied up in conditions that if he'd married her they would have been on the streets, or starving in a garret somewhere--a condition he was never going to allow happen to his Jane.
Time has passed, fortunes have turned, George is dead and Dom has now inherited the viscounty. Only Jane is engaged to someone else and her cousin, George's wife has disappeared. Jane seeks out Dom's help. Along the way old wounds are exposed, both Jane's and Dom's eyes are opened, passions are aroused and treachery is as always, in the fore. It will take all of the Duke's men and a decidedly determined lady to bring matters to closure.

A NetGalley ARC

a captivating read!

Never Surrender to a Scoundrel (One Scandalous Season) by Lily Dalton 

A theme of loneliness and the mystery of 'the protector'. Who is Kincraig? What is his past?
When Lady Clarissa Bevington, in a moment of desperation intimates that the mysterious Mr. Kincraig is her lover the die is cast. Foolish Clarissa doesn't quite realize in her moment of panic that she is sealing her fate and that of Kincraig's in ways that she can't envisage.
At that moment Kincraig's eyes smoulder with anger and chagrin at being cast into a role that will cost him all he has been seeking. Those eyes may turn to desire later but will it be too late for both him and Clarissa. What can come of a union started with a lie? Lord Donovan Blackmer, a disgraced crown agent has spent the last two years on a more lowly assignment secretly guarding Clarissa's grandfather. Now was to be his triumphant return to the fold. In a blink of an eye his dreams are in tatters. Yet he cannot relinquish the truth. For that moment he is a true knight for Clarissa. And Clarissa, aghast at her impulse, and puzzled by Kincraig's assistance, knows that she owes this honourable man much.
Danger and intrigue stalk the couple as they make their home in the wilds of Northumbria.
A delightful tale of honour and love founded in sorrow and mystery and a protector who is so much more.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tuscany and romance.

What Happens in Tuscany... by T A Williams



Sustained storyline of poor little rich girl being rescued by interesting young woman escaping a broken relationship. The fact that most of the action happens in Tuscany and that 'money's no object' supports the fantasy. Add to that sublime vintage vehicles, top end Italian sports cars and rugby this seems to have all the ingredients I could enjoy.
Victoria (25) has been brought up in an Edwardian time warp if not a plastic bubble and is so over protected that she really doesn't know how to go about fitting into normal everyday life, (let alone television, tablets and tweets) now that her rich, eccentric and over protective father is no longer around to prohibit her interaction with the world.
Katie, after seven long years dumps her dubious rugby playing partner, quits her teaching job and sets out to be the paid companion of Miss Victoria Chalker-Pyne.
Helping Victoria to come out of seclusion into today's world is fraught with all sorts of traps; from avoiding unscrupulous men and the paparazzi, through to how to use lingo more appropriate to the 21st century rather than a Jane Austen novel.
Unusual storyline, misunderstandings around relationships with men and occasional asides on how BF's should support each other add an interesting touch; the ethics of friendships if you like. Maybe a tad predictable. I really saw most of the situations coming. But Hey! This is a romance novel.
Personally the best parts were the descriptions of various places in Italy, the sun, the food and the wine. I really felt the heat of the sun. I am not big on contemporary romances but I am big on Tuscany. Definitely not Frances Mayes-worthy but enjoyable.

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Delightfully unexpectedl

Fool's Paradise: A Lady Priscilla Flanders Mystery by Jo Ann Ferguson 



Talk about a volatile beginning. Quite country walks denied, a muddy, rollicking puppy being controlled by an equally minded energetic young son, a stubborn daughter in the throws of wedding plans, demanding guests arriving a day earlier than planned and then a plea for help to locate and 'save [his missing] daughter's soul' from a less than pleasant neighbouring baron. And it doesn't stop there for Lady Priscilla Hathaway Flanders.
Requests from a highly placed source, possibly close to the throne, had Pris and her husband, the newly minted baron, Lord Neville Flanders, looking for a reason to travel to the northern parts of the Lake District where Lord Beamish's daughter was last seen. The missing daughter is the very excuse needed. Neville's recent elevation came with an estate in that area. So there are now two excuses to repair to that area. Neville has been tasked with uncovering the facts behind rumours about a strange community developing in the District founded by the eccentric Sir Thomas Hodge St John.
The community of Novum Arce is supposedly a utopian return to Roman times but as with all utopias, human intrigue, personalities and other vested interests have redefined the original purpose. People are disappearing and all is not as it seems. Whatever 'it' is Prsicilla and Neville are tested to their limits as plot encompasses plot. Both are decidedly interesting and appealing characters.
An unexpected storyline with lots of intrigue and mystery. Altogether an excellent read!

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

...secrets and scandals

The Midnight Rake  by Anabelle Bryant 


Charming story about a young woman who sets about to right a wrong, find the cad who'd stolen her inheritance. Along the way she is captivated by, and captures the attention of, a charming young viscount. Phineas Betcham, Viscount Fenhurst, is determined not to marry. His maman has determined otherwise.  Penelope Rosebery has no interest in marriage. She's on a quest.
I am still puzzling over how two young women rescued from the highway by a delightfully generous dowager end up in said rescuer's home having an entire wardrobe provided for them, and even dancing lessons for younger lady, Miss Aubry. Bit of a stretch, even through Phineas ' maman is a tad eccentric, or maybe she plays a deeper game than at first glance.
The continual by play between maman's parrot and the butler. Is amusing. Certainly the novel has a couple of endearing idiosyncrasies despite my quandary.

A NetGalley ARC

...an inherited lordship--and a fiancé!

The Other Duke (The Notorious Flynns Book 1) by Jess Michaels 


I find myself torn between my liking of the characters and wanting more meat on the bones of the plot.
I have a great deal of sympathy for both Rafe, the Duke of Hartholm, and Serafina McPhee. The hook, that of both protagonists being forced into something neither wants, works well. For Serafina this is just the continuation of the story of her life. Certainly her plight brings home the historical assumption that women (particularly of this strata of society) were merely objects to barter for land, inheritance and funds, with little or no say in the direction of their life and their future partner. Serafina's treatment by her father and dead fiancé is despicable and highlights the powerlessness that women had and that they truly were at the mercy of husbands, fathers and brothers. The power to choose ones own path was difficult.
The plight of these two, forced into marriage due to the way a contract was worded shows the intrangability and stupidity of the law. Being forced into the inheritance of a title and the responsibilities of that is also true to the times (we've all seen that situation in action in Downton Abbey!)
I enjoyed the plot, although I feel that the amount of time we spent entangled in Rafe's continued wooing and bedding of Serafina was way too much and came at the expense of a more developed storyline.
We are privy via the various characters to the full range of emotions; anger, sorrow, fear, rage and love.
Raphael is all that we could ask; kind, understanding, protective and loving. The rake becomes the paragon of understanding.
Serafina is wounded, frightened and with difficulty finds her voice.
I was unsure as to whether I actually liked Rafe's brother Crispin. I mellowed somewhat towards him in the final pages.
An enjoyable read but could have been so much more.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, January 12, 2015

...not your everyday run-of-the-mill betrayal


Deciding that he is no longer valid husband material, Lord Tristan Tunstall did not inform his wife Lady Marion Tunstall that he was actually alive.   
And when Marion faints dead away upon sighting him at a local dance Tristan realizes that he has been tricked by his companion into residing at a place near to where his wife lives and thus he is exposed. You see, due the injuries received during a sea battle, Tristan had decided to be dead to his past life, including his beloved wife. Really not the cleverest move for a variety of reasons as his solicitor points out. Now however Tristan is caught out. He 's back from the dead. High heroics had Tristan determining that he would never become a burden to the woman he loves and who loves him back so intensely. Of course the next move is clear. Tristan resolves to seek a divorce. So the wretched man keeps punishing himself and his loving wife.
I liked Marion's loyalty. I didn't like Tristan's self righteous pride that he uses to cover his fear. There's a mountain of suffering for all concerned unhappily engineered by Tristan himself for all the wrong reasons that he has so dogmatically decided are right.
I loved Tristan's batman turned valet Ellis who has a wonderful sense of irony and whose backchat and scathing comments are a highlight. Indeed the repartee between them is quite amusing.
I just wasn't happy with Tristan. I know, I know he is faced with a mountain of fears and inadequacies, things to re-learn and major issues to overcome but I definitely found myself out of sorts with him. The best part came towards the end when he adopted a dog.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

...dark doings in high and low places!

A Plague of Bogles (How to Catch a Bogle) by Catherine Jinks 


Boggles are back! Sarah Pickles, Jem Barbary's nemesis is maybe near or faraway, dead or alive. Children are going missing near Newgate Prison.
I must admit to being a longtime Catherine Jinks fan. Her Bogle world draws us in on a different plane. Bogles are the stuff of terrifying nightmares. No need to look under the bed for these child-eating monsters because they are dwelling in those dreadful places that none of us would wish to be. Set in Victorian London when children were still used as chimney sweeps or sent into dark dank cellars to fetch and carry it seems many are disappearing at an alarming rate. 
Boggles seem to be clustering, not the solitary hunters that they were.
A plague is lurking in the sewers of London and all are unaware.
A missing child here or there. Plenty of reasons they say...and yet!
Jem, our former pick pocket is in the thick of things.  He's more or less talked himself into being Alfred Bunce's apprentice even though Alfred has retired. Jem is unsure of his place, longing to belong, and sees this as his chance.
Birdie is taking singing lessons, yet appears to be feeling stultified and trapped.
Miss Eames is here sure and confident, yet somehow a tad off. Yet she comes through dispute her disapproval of the goings on and Birdie's involvement.
I really like the glossary of terms of all things to do with Bogles and the dark side of London.
Did you know that a 'cracksman' is a burglar, and that a 'flam' is a lie? All very useful!

A NetGalley ARC

Fast paced romantic intrigue!

How to Plan a Wedding for a Royal Spy (Renegade Royal Book 3) by Vanessa Kelly 

The royal renegades are back once again worming their ways into our hearts and with this particular Royal into the heart of Miss Evelyn Whitney.  
Not that Will (Captain William Endicott, son of the Duke of York) hadn't always had a place in Evie's heart but the last time they saw each other he had dismissed her CHeck 
Unfortunately Will has been thrown back into Evie's company on orders of his royal father the Duke of York. Just back from the harrowing battlefields of Waterloo Will had been looking for a much needed respite from his intellence gathering (spying) days. Alas no!
Apparently Evie had been assisting the poor at an Irish Catholic Church and the latest out of Ireland was that there was a momentous plot afoot centring around St Margaret's, a hotbed of Irish radicals, the place where Evie is involved. Possibly an assassination, a Royal assassination! Evie has an understanding with Michael Beaumont (son of the catholic Earl of Leger) and is assisting his efforts for the poor. Michael is under suspicion and by extension, Evie. 
Evie is a lovely mix of intelligence and awkwardness, made even more so by her harridan mother. Eden is so much more outgoing and confident.
Will must confront his childhood sweetheart (and her twin sister Eden) and learn what he can for the safety of the realm. His role is to determine who's guilty and who's innocent and confront both Evie and his deeply hidden feelings for her.
Love and danger are a heady mix as Will and Evie are forced into each other's company.
Well delivered lines add humour to tense situations. A delightful read!

A NetGalley ARC

...challenges mount for the Guardian of Archers Beach!

Carousel Seas (Carousel Tides #3) by Sharon Lee (Author)


Archers Beach, Maine. Events for Kate Archer, the Guardian take on a new twist. The disruption caused between worlds when Kate frees those imprisoned by the Wise in the Carousel brings new upheavals. A stranger, a newly come goddess enters the sea, and Brogan is threatened. Kate takes the oath of a bound subject, Cael from the House of Aerynomous.
The Amusement Park is being closed down, a beautiful and mysterious cat enters Kate's life. All is not well with the Changing World. And the Wise have started to investigate!
Vassily still looks after the carousel with his angel intact.
Kate needs all the friends, courage, luck and skill she can hold to face the coming storm!
Once again Sharon Lee has come through with a winning combination of action, fantasy and romance.

A NetGalley ARC

Intriguing, heartbreaking!

Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress (Matchmaker Trilogy #3) by Theresa Romain


Heiress Augusta Meredith has taken to Bath with her friend Emily, the Countess of Tallant. Emily is distressed by her miscarriage late in her pregnancy and is seeking solace. Augusta is escaping the confines of the doting trustees she feels hedged in by. Determining a new path Augusta masquerades as Mrs Flowers, the carefree widow. Augusta has in her mind to take a discreet lover.  The handsome Josiah Everett recognizes her charade and the die is cast.
Waiting for Augusta to realize she is worthwhile and for Joss to realize he is worth so much more are quite painful moments, all part of this engrossing story.
When Joss tells Augusta that she is worthy, that is a precious moment! It is a reality that cuts both ways. Lord Sutcliffe, Joss's cousin and employer is a buffoon, a thoughtless creature who operates in selfish vacuum of indulgence and self gratification. Joss seems trapped in the cycle of rescue and victimization that the Baron manages to perpetually be in.
Augusta is fleeing from the tragedy of her parents death and the loss of her dreams.
Underlying this, expressed at one point by Joss, is the expectations and dictates of society, of the ton, according to birth and position.
The dance between Augusta (Mrs Flowers) and Joss is wonderfully orchestrated.
A complicated situation is elegantly presented and resolved with complete satisfaction.

A NetGalley ARC

Charm and danger. An excellent combination!

Viscount of Vice: A Novella (Covent Garden Cubs Book 0) by Shana Galen 

I must admit the opening scenes of Viscount Flynn's risqué if not down right jaunty semi-naked exit from a ball sets the scene for an entertaining read.
Flynn is about to have a past family tragedy come to light.
The Duke of Ravenswood is once more periphably in attendance. This time it is his sister Lady Emma Talbot who is the focal point. She and Flynn have known each other for years. The pull of attraction has always been present. They are connected. That connection pulls Emma into dangerous places as the past confronts Flynn, forcing him into unsavoury situations, which Emma insists on accompanying him on.
When early on, Ravenswood warns Flynn away from his sister, neither realize quite how appropriate that warning would become.
A new scourge emerges from the depths of the London stews around Covent Garden. Satin! A dangerous and despicable character whom I fear we have not seen the last of.
A fast action packed read with just the right touch of romance and intrigue.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, January 2, 2015

Medieval mystery at its best!Medieval mystery at its best!

The Book of Fires: A novel of Medieval London featuring Brother Athelstan (A Brother Athelstan Medieval Mystery) by Paul Doherty 


A young woman, Lady Isolda Beaumont is condemned for the murder of her powerful merchant husband and burned alive at the stake. Walter 'Black' Beaumont, an expert in canons, was known to hold the secret to creating explosive fires, and was rumoured to have Mark the Greek's 'Book of Fires' stolen from the Greek emperor in Constantinople. The Book contained the secret of Greek Fire, a highly volatile substance that will ignite even when thrown on water.
Isolda's  judges are being attacked, doused by a mysterious liquid, set alight and burnt alive by a mysterious harbinger of destruction . Are those with old and malignant grudges and discord seeking retribution?
Brother Athelston with his old friend and sleuth Sir a John Cranston are caught up in the mystery behind the murder of the merchant and the attacks on the judges.
Brother Athelston is also stunned by a sudden miracle in his church. A man crippled and burnt down one side is suddenly healed!
At the same time many of his parishioners are caught up in the movement of the Upright Men against John of Gaunt, against the deprivation that they are being forced to endure.
The mystery deepens, plots intertwine and Athelston's patience and understanding are stretched to the limit by the momentous happenings that are brought into play.
Doherty's writing is tight, his descriptive prose has the conditions of the times leaping off the page. One can feel the squalor and turgid surroundings of the streets through which Athelston trudges. Athelston's humble abode is a tranquil pool of stillness amongst the tensions of the surrounding countryside. 

A NetGalley ARC