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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, June 23, 2015

The reiver and the heiress.

An Oath Broken (The Oath Trilogy #2) by Diana Cosby  



So what can you do when you are being used as a political pawn in the shifting game of power between nations? For Lady Sarra Bellacote very little. She is being escorted against her will to her betrothed in Scotland, the place where her parents were killed by reivers. A place for her of dark continuing memories and fear. In the manoeuvres between Scotland and England Sarra's fortune is looked on as a sweetener for support of the English.  The man escorting her, Giric Armstong, an ex reiver (and unbeknownst to Sarra) the Earl of Terrick, has hired himself out to escort the heiress to her destination to gain much needed capital for repairs to his castle.
Plots within plots and treachery threaten Sarra's safety. Fate and men's inequity will take a hand in the lives of Terrick and Sarra. Cut off from the larger escort body by marauders they are forced to flee into the highlands for safety. The laws and customs of Scotalnd will effect Sarra in a way she cannot forsee.
Terrick finds himself burdened with more than he imagined and more than honour can sustain when he took up the simple task to escort the bride to her waiting groom. Love and desire entwine, yet honour must be satisfied.
A pleasing addition to the medieval Scottish romance genre.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chick lit whimsy!

Cocktails at Le Carmen by Isabelle Andover



I had a smile on my face all the way through this book.
Chloe Saddler finds herself transferred to Paris (pinch me now!) It does mean leaving the live-in boyfriend Scott but Paris is only a couple of hours away. Nothing simpler!
(Grinding of teeth about said boyfriend p..leaze. That does rhyme with sleaze doesn't it?)
We sashay through Paris with Chloe as she hunts for a flat, makes friends and ventures into an oh so different culture.  Her forays into the nightclub scene are memorable along with the cocktails and subsequent hangovers including the random memories of what might have happened. And then there's her hunk of a boss Jean-Luc boss, whom every one swoons over, including Chloe and me, the reader.
As a would be affeciando of vintage designer clothes I do appreciate Chloe's reference to articles of clothing she either finds in out of the way stores or has on loan from girlfriends. The mention of various designer shoes is an added bonus that has one drooling.
Chloe's also in the midst of her highly strung sister Celine's (referred to as the Bridezilla) wedding. Everything must be perfect! I, like Chloe, want to run every time there's an emergency or an impassioned phone call.
A cheeky reference to Colin Firth and Hugh Grant remind us of the company this quirky addition to the Chick lit genre keeps. Whimsical and funny.

A NetGalley ARC


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beautifully expressed, a pleasing read!

Warrior of Ice (Warriors of Ireland #1) by Michelle Willingham  


Wonderfully written! Ireland in 1172.
I was held spellbound by the developing relationship between landless Killian McDubhand, illegitimate son of the Rory O'Connor, the Irish High King and Taryn Connelly, a King's daughter, who has terrible facial scars. She has no memory of how she came to have the scars. The memories she does have centre around her brother being killed when thrown from his horse. Her father King Devlin has been imprisoned by the High King for treason and will be put to death. Taryn will risk all to rescue him.
When Killian looks at Taryn he sees a courageous striking woman, not a disfigured one, blemished beyond redemption. Taryn sees in Killian a fierce warrior with a tender heart, not a slave that sleeps amongst the dogs and horses.
Killian is part of an escort conveying his beloved adopted sister, Carice Faoilin to marriage with the High King. Something Carice is determined to avoid. Killian is part of a plot to assist with her escape. Taryn wants to confront the High King and have her father released. She is steps ahead of her mother, Queen Mauve and her knights, who are trying to detain her.
A plot twist that has the potential to play out for both women. Of course the path is never smooth.
Killian and Taryn's story is one of two strong willed people whose paths cross and with that crossing they are enjoined. Nothing will be the same. Hidden truths and unasked for realities create unlooked for twists that enhances the plots tension.
Willingham explains in her forward that this novel was influenced by Beauty and the Beast, with a hint of Jon Snow. In Warrior of Ice she has created a 'hero with a handsome face but the tormented soul of a beast and [a] heroine with a scarred face but the heart of a beauty.'
Walsingham's writing shows a maturity and a rich depth of understanding of people's experiences as it influences their relationships. There's action and romance to please.
A well balanced and a smooth read. Historical romance at its best.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, June 15, 2015

Paws in the moment!

The Dalai Lama's Cat and the Power of Meow (The Dalai Lama's Cat #3) by David Michie 


HHC (His Holiness' Cat), a Himalayan, a cat of many names amongst them Snow Lion, Rinpoche and  Little Sister is a wonderful character. Life in Dharamsala is viewed through this important little personage's eyes. A cat of consequence, although humble, HHC is working on becoming more 'mindful' cat, on exercising the power of the moment, the power of meow as the path to enlightenment is trod. A cat who 'couldn't change the world but could change how he experienced it.'
Today 'Mindfulness' seems to be a buzz word cropping up all over the place. In 'The Power of Meow', we see this concept discussed between the Dalai Lama, Serena and Mrs Trinci,when they talk about the exercising of meditation cultivating awareness and creating space of the mind, 
'Little by little, you become more mindful, more aware of every action of your body, speech and mind. Not just when you are meditating. This is most useful, because it is only when we are awareness what is happening that we can change.'
Life around the Dalai Lama as seen through his cat's eyesight is insightful and humorous with a huge dose of love. 
I enjoyed HHC's discovery of catnip. The further discovery of how it came to be in the garden is even more illuminating on several levels. Also HHC's discussion with the Dalai Lama's driver who is also the gardener. I loved the gardner's statement, 'The mind is like a garden...you choose what to grow: weeds or flowers.'
Throughout this gentle story of life in Dharamsala we are treated to the wisdom of being in the moment, of meditative practices presented in gentle terms, pertinent to the lives of the people involved, and to us.
Gems of "how to's" trail across the pages.
Observances about love and compassion are thought provoking. Someone said in previous reviews of earlier books that they'd highlighted many gems. Well, I have joined that club!
I will surely be reflecting on them for some time to come. 
I found the discussion between Serena, Oliver and Tenzin about meditation and healing and the research into this area particularly significant and thought provoking for dealing with my own health. 'Meditation has a major impact on every biological marker of stress. It brings down high blood pressure. Slows hardening of the arteries. Boosts endorphins and the immune system. Increases the production of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that destroys free radicals.'
The discovery of treasured (terma)writings from the time of the Great Fifth (the fifth Dalai Lama of the 17th century) is of great excitement for the Dalai Lama and his acolytes with possible relevance to research around quantum science, energy and healing.
All this is enfolded into the enjoyable daily look at the happenings in this community, the interwoven lives of HHC and His Holiness, and HHC's friends, including Serena, Sid, Zarah and Mrs Trinci through the eyes of HHC. Meow!
A jewel of a book instructing life. This will be re looked at, rediscovered and re treasured.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

...of friendship and love, of power and pettiness!

Roses in the Tempest: A Tale of Tudor England by Jeri Westerson  


Jeri Westerson does it again! Another wonderful piece of writing. A novel that looks at the other side of Henry VIII's destruction of places of religion, the pettiness and politics involved. The real hardship for those religious folks who had been cloistered for many years and then torn from all they knew and  forced back into a society that they had been apart from for so long.
Partly also a love story, of love known too late. A story of women as bargaining chips in the building of  power and political alliances, and of enduring friendship. Isabella Launder is a woman of courage with a will of steel, daughter of a local yeoman farmer.
Sir Thomas Gifford is at first the arrogant courtier who is her friend, then a would be lover, would be husband, and lastly a long term supporter and friend.
I had little idea that some nunneries were so small. This one contained only four women and their servants and confessor. Neither did I realize that the roofs of the buildings were pulled off to stop the exiled from returning. (All those roofless religious ruins I've visited in England come even more alive for me after reading this.) Certainly at the end of the novel we see the spitefulness of the newly come to power at work.
The turning out of these women brought tears to my eyes, particularly as you remember the struggles they had to adjust to each other and grow together as a community. What a time of fear for these folk, fear of their future and welcome outside the walls they had long called home.
I loved the title: Roses in the Tempest. The allusion fittingly recalls and sums up so much. When I re-looked at the title, I thought about it for a time, and then simply said, 'Ah, Yes! ' And then I contemplated some more about roses, about the Tudor Rose, Henry and the religious tempest of the times that swept through England, the emotional tempest that their relationship brings to Thomas and Isabella, the simple pleasure of the rose growing strongly and surviving in Isabella garden, of Isabella's strength and fragility, and so much more. 
I keep humming, 'Where have all the flowers gone, longtime passing, longtime ago,' as I think about this work. At some level the line from that song resonates for me with the fate of the religious at this time and the questions this novel brings into focus.
This time in English history of wholesale destruction of an important way of life comes alive under Westerson's magical pen.

Fascinatingly powerful!

Watch the Lady: A Novel (The Tudor Trilogy #3) by Elizabeth Fremantle


A compelling novel of the Elizabethan Court, the interactions of Elizabeth favourites, including Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex and his sister Penelope Devereux. We are treated to a tale that exposes the jealousies and jostlings for Elizabeth's favour of the major and minor satellites that surround her.
Penelope Devereux remained one of Elizabeth's preferred ladies-in-waiting for more than twenty years. Elizabeth, ever jealous of her favours arranges marriages to her accord. Woe betide those maids who marry outside her will. Banishment, the tower, penury--all are weapons Elizabeth employs against those who thwart her will. As Lettice Devereux, Essex and Penelope's mother, can attest. The pages are riddled with examples of Elizabeth's grasp upon those she favours. Essex and Penelope are no less touched by this control. Penelope at a young age is promised to Philip Sidney (portrayed as a chivalrous poetic knight), whose sonnets of Astrophil and Stella are tributes to her. She is heartbroken when instead of Sidney she is married to Rich, orchestrated it is later discovered by Elizabeth.
Robert Cecil is another who's family star is ascendence. Firstly via the work of his father, a favoured advisor, and then through his own efforts. Presented as a machevellian figure, with a spy network that stretches into the heart of the Spanish court and beyond, Cecil is a character in constant turmoil as he forever seeks with his actions, approval by his father and his Queen.
This is a novel of the last days of Elizabeth's reign when the fears for succession become a political nightmare of intrigue, self serving greed, compromise and ambition.
At the personal level this is a novel of Penelope's unrequited love and passionless duty, and of a woman walking the thin path of societal approval combined with a not-so-secret romance. Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, is linked by marriage to Lord Rich, by first love to Philip Sidney, and by mature love and understanding to Blount, the Earl of Devenshire.
Penelope has the added burden of being the person designated by her mother to help reinstate the Devereux name and Lettice herself to the court. Penelope plays a deep game as she supports her brother, The Earl of Essex, through his fits and passions and disregard of the Queen's instructions. She is in contact with the Scottish Court over the succession, and is propelled by forces within and without to navigate the maelstrom of the Elizabethan court. The slightest slip will lead to, at the least banishment, at the worst, 'The Tower.'
Reading Fremantle's notes about her research adds further illumination to Penelope's story. Fremantle's treatment of the agreement between Rich and Penelope is believable. She owns to a certain poetic licence taken where the facts are not available. All to the good to render us a story that is both fascinating in its truths and comprehensive in its fictional licence.

A NetGalley ARC

The Flynn's stories continue!

A Marquis For Mary (The Notorious Flynns Book 5) by Jess Michaels  

I had great hopes for Edward, the Marquis of Woodley, after meeting him in The Widow Wager. As sympathetic as I am to both Edward and Mary, I found their story just a tad vapid. It was like watching a Potential blockbuster devolve into a B grade movie. I wanted much more. Edward and Mary deserved more.
The situation should have been fraught with tension. All the ingredients were there but it just didn't quite come together for me. 
Mary, Crispin"s sister-in-law is now living with Crispin and Gemma, but the threat of her father, Sir Oswald Quinn, and his venality, his attempts to use her for his own needs and inclinations, haunt her. This, despite the fact that Rafe and Crispin have bargained with Quinn to not trouble Mary. Mary doesn't feel assured of her father actually leaving her alone.
Edward was the cuckolded husband of Crispin's love Alice. Many believe Edward murdered  his pregnant wife Alice. Alice reaches out from beyond the grave as it were as Edward is threatened by threats and vengeance from his wife's twin sisters Imogen and Isadora.
Mary is dragged into the situation.
Edward's and Mary's first words to each other certainly set the tone for the story when Edward asks her why she s lurking on the terrace during a ball, and she confesses that it's because she's avoiding her father as, '...one's father is likely considering selling one to some hundred-year-old Earl so he can cash in on a titled man's fortune and influence.'
A wonderful beginning! ..and father dearest does inject angst and situations.
Despite my disappointment, this is still essential reading for those of us who want to see how those Notorious Flynn's fare!

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, June 5, 2015

...join the 'Hartley Hunt'

Never Resist a Rake (Somerfield Park) by Mia Marlowe 

Basically an illegitimate son is discovered to be not so 'born on the wrong side' after all. The new Lord Hartley takes to his mantle by galloping though all the lowest of low places, drinking, fornicating, fighting along his merry, dissolute, hell bent way as a response. Why? Are that is the question! See, it's about the lack of love! Sure he was placed with a gentile family, cared for, schooled. Does that count. Never, not for John. 
I kept thinking, 'Really, were you sent to the workhouse?' 'Discarded completely?' 'No!' See for John, it's love that will make the difference. And even now there's little acknowledgement of him other than being a bad mistake. I do get it. The being discarded like a bad smell and then taken back as though the past can be in some way expunged by an 'Oh, We were wrong. Sorry! Now get back here and do your 'duty!'
So John Fitzhugh Barrett is the heir to a marquessate. Life is really tough!
Then there's Rebecca Kearsey, daughter of an inveterate gambling baron.
Rebecca and John meet. Rebecca, starry eyes decides to search for her once glimpsed swain who has now become her crush, to her detriment. Really, really foolishly stupid!
As you can gather I am all out of patience with Rebecca. She consistently places herself in harm's way. Sure her father's treatment of her shows us the cad he is but in the end I just wasn't that interested.
The Dowager decrees that John has to join the annual family hunt--to find a bride (heirs being important!) John asks that Rebecca join the house party. He is going to use her as a foil to deter the other avid, husband hungry young things. Around town the event is being called 'The Hartley Hunt.'
I did finish the book. 
There were some potentially excellent characters and the blackguards were out in force.  I liked the too wicked Lady Chloe who seems to have helped a husband or two to meet their demise. 
I was totally out of sympathy with the Dowager, at least for 99% of the time. She expected way too much from John, someone she'd pushed off out of sight, and out of mind.
What was the problem? Well whilst I can maybe see Rebecca engaging in commentary about an exhibition with someone in the museum, I just can't see a young woman of her upbringing and social class wandering into the dark and dangerous side of the less than salubrious parts of London due to an infatuation. That didn't feel real. Yes, I know, it did work for the storyline, but not for me.

A NetGalley ARC

faux fiancées, not so faux feelings!

The Major's Faux Fiancee (Dukes of War #4) by Erica Ridley  

There was passion hidden within Miss Daphne Vaughan. Passion for more than displaced weavers and children’s rights. Passion waiting to be explored with Major Bartholomew Blackpool, if only they both knew it. Bartholomew hasn't put his single foot outside of his London abode since returning from the battlefields of Waterloo minus a leg. But when 'daffy', his childhood friend calls for help he responds and finds himself in a fake engagement to a challenging beguiling friend.
Daphne plans to quietly fight for her various causes rather than marry. Her guardian has other ideas. Daphne is to find a man marry before she is able to become an independent woman or he will choose her groom. So a false engagement is planned. The problem is who will jilt whom. And does either really want to?
I enjoyed this tale of another cohort from that select group of friends--the Dukes of War.

A NetGalley ARC

Dragons with a difference!

Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragons #3) by Isabel Cooper

William Arundel (a special agent from D Branch which I gather deals with the arcane, exotic and X files of the English Government of the times) is off in the Scottish Highlands tracking down unexplained human and animal deaths, encountering demons and a certain mysterious Judith MacAlasdair Lady of Loch Aranoch. An area that everyone agrees is remote, with tight lipped villages and not much in the way of communication.
Arundel finds that the inhabitants don't gossip much about the Lady. A lady he finds attractive and compelling. But when animals are killed and parts of their bodies taken in ritualistic ways he knows that the village hides secrets. The only question is will Lady MacAlasdair help or hinder him? Or even more significantly is she part of the problem?
I quite enjoyed this and having read neither of the previous novels in the series I am sure that I am going to make up for that deficit in the very near future.

A NetGalley ARC

Decidedly different! A treat!

The Beautiful One (The Scandalous Sisters #1) by Emily Greenwood

I must admit to being on tenterhooks for a goodly part of this read. When, oh when, would the truth about Anna finally be disclosed?
What stance will Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, take. Already he's attracted to Anna's impertinent, without artifice character, her matter of fact defence of all things. Will the disclosure of the scandal surrounding her being matters to an unforeseen head?
Anna is bright and betrayed. The dastardly coward who spied on her and drew her naked body only spared a thought for his career and not of the horrendous position he places Anna in. Now she is being pursued by a powerful Lord to be paraded before the ton, alongside a naked portrait, as part of his unveiling of the book, 'The Beautiful One' and the sketches of Anna. Something she must avoid at all costs.
Anna has accompanied Viscount Grandville's ward Lizzie when Lizzie is sent down from school. Grandville's in deep mourning for his wife and wants no truck with anyone, least of all his niece who reminds him of his beloved wife, and definitely not the governess who is making him feel for the first time in the long, long winter of his heart.
Anna of course becomes Lizzie's  (and others) defender extraordinaire. But who will protect Anna as she leaps to the rescue?

A NetGalley ARC