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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

Sunday, August 9, 2015

...rebellion and romance

Highland Knight of Rapture (Highland Dynasty #4) by Amy Jarecki 


I love the way Amy Jaecki takes actual historical happenings and then reworks them with a storyteller's licence where they 'suffer a sea change into something rich and strange.'
I love reading Amy's afterwards, and am always gratified by the weight of her research around the families and characters she writes about.
Set in 1493, Lady Helen Maclain, at her family's urging, has made a political marriage of convenience. She finds herself married to a boorish brute who having gotten a female child on her and not the heir he wanted treats her with base disregard, parading his leman Mary in front of all, seating her at the High table. His baseness and lack of courtesy due is wife knows few bounds.
Sir Eoin MacGregor, Helen's childhood friend is sent by the King to work with the Maclains against the rebellious MacDonalds. As Eoin becomes aware of Helen's situation and danger, he must face that he has always loved her. How to save her becomes paramount, especially as her situation is becoming more and more precarious.
A romantic tale with just the right amount of knavery and deceit to add spice and interest.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Friday, August 7, 2015

Raw and revealing!

Beauty and the Rake (The Rookery Rogues Book 3) Erica Monroe


What do you do when all you've left to bargain with is your body? When that is all that stands between your father and prison and your younger sister and the streets? Abigail Vautille's father is an inveterate gambler who has gambled away any savings she has and now has lost money he doesn't have in a seedy gambling den. Michael Strickland holds his gambling chits and there is only one way Abigail can see to pay him.
Inspector Michael Strickland of the Metropolitan Police  and Abigail Vautille both appeared in Secrets in Scarlet. Abigail was tortured by the dangerous rookery Lark's Gang enforcer, Frank Clowes and left with a badly scarred hand. So bad that she wears a glove day and night to hide her disfigurement.
Abigail determines that her only way forward is as Michael's courtesan for two weeks. An agreement is entered into.
Michael sees the attractive woman he knew from before and reasons that as a denizen of the Rookeries her virtue is gone. He has always admired her and felt guilty about her fate. Now fate has thrown Abigail across his pathway and he will take that advantage.
In her afterward Munroe discusses, amongst other matters, her liking of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, and that love is about acceptance. 'Both Belle and Beast are affected by their new found relationship. Beast is no longer trapped in his past pain, and Beauty has found someone who thinks she is incredible just the way she is.'
She postulates that Beauty and Beast co-exist within us--a dichotomy where here, Michael and Abigail harbour both. Munroe continues 'It is our flaws that make us beautiful, as much as our strengths.'
No one ever said that the Rookery series is kind and gentle. The situations are raw and untrammelled and fitting the place in which they are born. Yet out of the darkness does flow love and trust.
A novel of depth and compassion!

A NetGalley ARC

****

...murder and more!

From Bruges with Love (The Pieter Van In Mysteries) by Pieter Aspe, Brian Doyle (Translator)

Ah Perrier or Duvel., sparkling water or an ice cold Belgian beer.   
 Inspector Pieter Van is in the midst of an enforced diet and now a murder. Both are annoying!
Van In is a knockabout police detective who follows his own rules. He's kept somewhat in line by his wife Hannelore Martens, the deputy public prosecutor. I enjoyed both these characters and their interactions.
At this stage they are pregnant. 
Van In's reflections on child rearing are interesting, particularly as he contemplates his own forthcoming event in this area, 
'For Van In there was only one Spock. And with him at least he could hope— beam them up, Scotty.'
Ok a few dated phrases, but maybe it goes with the translation. When Hannelore reflects on becoming  pregnant and the difference for men and women she uses the term 'wham bam, Thank you ma'am! (I thought good grief... I haven't heard that old chestnut for years! Is this a translation thing or does Aspe really write that in Belgian? That moment felt like a B grade movie excerpt.)
This mystery has it all, murder, corruption and worse in high places. 
Van In's dubious methods of getting to the truth place at least one person in a diabolical situation.
For all that I did enjoy, I found the book's plot somewhat erratic, which is probably why I took so long to finish reading it.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

...Victorian romance with a difference

Lady Emily's Exotic Journey (Victorian Adventures #2) by Lillian Marek


Lady Emily Tremaine is a bit of a hoyden, with loads of charm and an enquiring mind. Attractive and assured she has accompanied her parents, along with her friend and extended family member, Lady Julia de Vaux, to Constantinople and then onto Mesopotamia. Her father, the Marquess of Penworth, is assessing the possibility of railway links along the Tigris. Her mother is interested in the archeological excavations of Nineveh.     
Craving adventure, Emily certainly has her full share. Emily's parents are wonderful characters. The family is close and caring. Lady Penworth anticipates her daughter's boredom and needs in a wonderful way. I love that she ensures their tracking costumes are wearable, comfortable and chic. I adore her passion for Worth's couture. Emily's and Julia's inclusion on this more than a memorable journey is all part of her doing.
Added to this is Emily's meeting with the Frenchman, Lucien Chambertin, an adventurer. They cannot deny the attraction they feel, although Lucien drives himself crazy trying to convince himself that what he feels is merely friendship. That is, until Emily is in danger and Lucien realizes that he might have lost her. Of course Lucien is slightly more than an adventurer having turned his back on his noble French antecedents. 
A quite enchanting novel with its exotic setting, I was fascinated by the descriptions of the various women's quarters The female members of the party were housed in. Marek's descriptions give such scenes a vibrancy of jewelled, brilliant colours, sounds and patterns.
Then again, the contrast between the times of day that are painted is poetic.
I admit to being struck by Julia's reflection that she 'loved the early morning, full of possibilities.' Just as this journey has opened Julia herself and Emily up to new and unthought of possibilities.
Lady Julia is attracted to David Oliphant who accompanies the group as a Foreign Office aide. He of course has secrets, but then so does Julia, Their story is as charged with adventure as that of Emily's and Lucien's.
New archeological discoveries at the ruins of Nineveh add further adventure to the story as do the unfortunate antics of the archeologist M. Carnac and his daughter, Mélisande. 
A delightful read, so much so, that I have already raced through the first in the series, the story of Emily's sister in, 'Lady Elinor's Wicked Adventures.'


****

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

...delightfully engaging!

A Radical Arrangement by Jane Ashford 


Miss Margaret Mayfield--beautiful and shy? More like inept. When I started to read this I was appalled as Margaret seemed to bumble from one inane set of circumstances to another. How I thought could this be the heroine?
I was definitely seeing things through Sir Justin Keighley's eyes. Having been found in a ludicrously compromised position with Margaret, confirmed bachelor and rumoured rake, Sir Justin finds himself fending off Margaret's father's declaration that they must marry and her mother's snide attempts to bring this 'coup' about.
Margaret gathering some courage from somewhere decides to solve the problem by running away. And from there the story develops in a star crossed, misunderstood sort of way as Margaret grows into herself, becomes surer and more confident, and Sir Justin fights his attractions for her. Along the way Margaret is helped by a fairy godmother archetype in the form of the local midwife, Mrs Dowling. However, as we all know, the road to a happy life and true love is not a smoothly golden pathway. For Margaret and Sir Justin it is paved with painful gravel bumps, with good intentions and failed opportunities.
When finally discovered by her father, Margaret's put on weight, gained energy and awareness, has embraced decidedly politically radical leanings and has grown towards becoming her own person. The timid, mindless Cinderella becomes more politically informed, composed and adult, in charge of her own destiny.
Jem Appleby, ten year old son of the inn owners is an absolutely delightful character and almost stole the show, with his easy acquiescence and mad keen love of sailing. 
Very enjoyable all round!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Challengingly heartwarming!

Tremaine's True Love (True Gentlemen, Book 1) by Grace Burrowes  


"The greatest plague to ever bedevil mortal man, the greatest threat to his peace, the most fiendish source of undeserved humility is his sister, and spinster sisters are the worst of a bad lot". With this opening salvo we are given a hint that Nicholas Haddonfield, Earl of Bellefonte, is stretched to the limit by actions of his sister, Nita Haddonfield. All this just as wealthy wool merchant  Tremaine St. Michael, who has called to discuss sheep, strides into the Earl's parlour.
Before long we witness the dance between Tremaine, his desire for Haddonfield's sheep, the desirable Nita Haddonfield and Nicholas' loving endeavours to marry off Nita. The story line is peppered with truly delightful lines, such as when Nicholas persuades Tremaine to stay for a few days and then proceeds to remind Tremaine that he is 'an eligible bachelor, and therefore, a doomed man.' 
When Nicholas declares that the 'Haddonfield womenfolk are like faeries. A man falls into their clutches and life ceases to have meaning.'  Tremaine fleetingly recalls his Scottish grandfathers adage, 'avoid faeries as if your life depends on it.'
Fortunately for us Tremaine doesn't heed his grandfathers advice and we are treated to a searching, searing story of love's challenge alongside discovering self worth.
Nita is a determined woman with the gift of healing who cares for those under Nicholas' care. Nicholas wants more for her. 
Tremaine meets all those requirements but what are Lady Nita's? Nita is determined to eschew marriage so that she can continue what she says as her life's work, the care of the sick and less fortunate. How can she do that and marry?
Of course there's an obligatory blackguard in the wings. His fate is both satisfying and a little surprising. Still one should never be surprised by the way Burrowes works her lyrical narrative magic.
One last mention. I was not disappointed. The 'foot' once again becomes an endearing romantic opportunity. When Tremaine helps Nita off with her woollen stockings, the tenderness of the action with its sensual overtones is a delight. Thank you Ms. Burrowes!
Tremaine and Nita's story is both consummately challenging and exquisitely satisfying. This entry into the new True Gentleman series leads the way with gusto, verve, passion and empathy. 

A NetGalley ARC


*****

Duels and dilemmas!

The Earl Claims a Bride (The Heirs' Club #2) by Amelia Grey


Who would have thought that a duel could lead to an enforced marriage? Certainly not Harrison Thornwick. But it's amazing what pressure from the Prince of the realm can achieve. Thornwick is determined to thwart the prince.
Angelina Rule was all set to make her come-out but when informed by her father that she must contract a marriage with Thornwick so that her father might be saved from debtor's prison her life is thrown into turmoil.
When Thornwick first sights Angelina at a ball he is irrevocably drawn towards her. As he later reflects, 'He'd walked away from love once before and no matter how many times over the years he'd told himself it would be easier the second time, it wasn't true.'
The problem is that Angelina is having none of him. An expert miniature painter, she determines to use her skill to buy back her fathers debts. Secretly she paints fans and miniatures for society ladies to hoard the money needed. Thornwick is going to have to use all the weapons in his charm arsenal to capture Angelina's heart.
Because there is also Angelina's true love, Captain Maxwell, whom although there was no overt understanding between them, Angelina has been waiting for. How could Thornwick compete against a more mature gentleman and officer, the man whose return Angelina has dreamt about?
This second entry into the Heirs' Club series is a worthy addition, with some surprising twists and turns.

A NetGalley ARC

****