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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, September 29, 2015

Christmas hopes and romances revealed.

The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley et. Al.


An enjoyable mix of stories wound around a common thread. Some more than others. Overall they threaded together admirably, giving cohesion and expressing the hope of the Christmas season.

Jo Beverley sets the scene. It's post the French wars in regency England. Napoleon has been routed at Waterloo. For those returning, that coming home is a harrowing undertaking. 
Fate has cast more than a few nettles across the path of true love but it's Christmas time and perhaps more than Yuletide longings and good cheer are at work. The Dowager Countess of Holbourne has decided to give her Last Chance Ball (for spinsters to seize the moment) at Holbourne House. The stories are centred around those would be guests. 

My True Love Hath My Heart by Joanna Bourne.
A longtime love is rekindled, with a chance to strike at injustice, a future to determine and jewelry theft thrown in for good measure.
A Scottish Carol by Susan King.
A doctor fresh from the horrors of Waterloo is reacquainted with his mentor's daughter. 
Christmas Larks by Patricia Rice.
Returning home from war, damaged and disoriented Ivor Whitney-Harris hears mice in the walls and rekindles his childhood acquaintance with Sara Jane Langsdale.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Jo Putney.
A wounded soldier's final return to those who love him is ensnarled by his wounded anguish.
Old Flames dance by Cara Elliott.
A long lost love returns from a far flung place. Too late or can all be set right?
A Season for Marriage by Nicola Cornick.
What can you do when your husband spurns you? Why flee to the arms of your loving family and hope!
Miss Finch and the Angel by Jo Beverley
A lowly companion captures the  gaze of a well intentioned rake.
Mistletoe Kisses by Annie Grace
French verbs and mistletoe kisses. Life for Allie Fenton was set upon a oath that seemed unlikely to waiver.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

a new space opera!

The Oncoming Storm (Angel in the Whirlwind Book 1) by Christopher Nuttall  


Ok, I really enjoyed the beginnings of this space opera. A tad midshipman Honor Harrington meets a young Herris Serrano.
I know the plot is somewhat familiar but that didn't lessen my enjoyment one iota.
It's 2040 and war is on the horizon for those with eyes too see between two empires, the protectionist Commonwealth, a loosely democratic empire espousing free trade, and the Theocracy governed by religious fanatics whose main object is to convert the masses to their religious beliefs at any cost including of course mass death and destruction. (Nuttall's comments on social engineering were illuminating.)
Katherine 'Kat' Falcone, daughter of a powerful industry magnate has fled the family trappings to carve out her own destiny as a naval officer. Kat suddenly finds herself in command of the navy's latest warship 'Lightning' having been leap frogged over others higher up the rung by her father's machinations. Her command is being sent to Cadiz, a nation recently annexed by the Commomwealth for its own protection from the Theocracy.  Before leaving Kat's father has secretly given her data about the situation at Cadiz. What she finds is chilling. The naval battalion stationed there is in virtual stand down and not at all battle ready thanks to incompetency or the deliberation of the assigned Admiral.
Kat has to lead her ship, convince her officers that she's capable of command, look for a way around the Admiral to bring the stationed battalion up to scratch, and investigate the battle readiness of the Theocracy's fleet. Of course things quickly go to 'hell in a hand basket' and Kat is faced with huge command decisions that might see her drummed out of the service--if she survives. 
I am certainly wanting to see how things evolve and the forthcoming challenges that face Kat and her crew.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, September 21, 2015

Another Perry winner!

Corridors of the Night: A William Monk Novel (William Monk #21) by Anne Perry


This story does indeed begin in the 'corridors of night' when Hester discovers a young child traversing the hospital corridors looking for help for her brother.
Another complex Perry plot evolving around the selling of children, kidnapping, medical experiments and related ethics, and of course betrayal and murder, that is  centred around the stalwart Monk and Hester.
A daughter is betrayed, and Monk is betrayed by someone from his past.
This is Hester's story though and the tragedy and betrayal  that Monk is part of seems to slip into the background as Hester's plight is brought to the fore.
Responding to a friends request to cover her night dirty times at a local hospital, Hester is unwittingly drawn into a plot involving medical experimentations with blood transfusions, using unwilling young children. When it is known that Hester has uncovered their transgressions, Hester is kidnapped by those involved and taken away where her nursing skills are used to help illegal experimentation.
To save herself and the children Hester must acquiesce, always knowing that at some stage they all will be killed. They know too much.
The conundrum for Hester is that she can seem the marvellous advantages if transfusion can work however the price is condoning this illegal research and the use tigons that surround it. The forcible acquisition of the children's blood, the rate of taking it, the treatment of the children,  and the ethical questions around unsanctioned medical experimentation.
Monk and Scruff, along with others of their close knit group race against time to find Hester and the children and rescue them.
I did love it when Scruff has the chance to minister to Hester out of his experiences to. An awesome moment. But then this story, just as others in the series have been, is filled with these sort of illuminations that highlight tender, and yes often the not so tender, moments of human behaviour
Further twists and turns, including Oliver as a participant in the court case add to the drama.
The corridor metaphor evokes thoughts of a barely illuminated, echoing dark chasm that medical practices and personal desires can so easily turn down. The corridor of medical history so often traversed.
Another great walk with Hester and Monk through their worlds

A NetGalley ARC

****


... Paranormal regency revelations!

The Madness of Lord Westfall (Order of the M.U.S.E., #2) by Mia Marlowe 


Having been declared mad as a boy because he claimed to hear voices, Pierce Langdon, Viscount Westfall, a telepath, was subjected to the most abominable treatments devised. Placed in Bedlam by his uncle, the tortuous methods used to 'heal' him were more akin to torture . 
The descriptions of the supposed healing methods are outrageous.
That was in the past. Today he is a member of the Order of the M.U.S.E.  (Metaphysical Union of Sensory Extraordinaires). A highly secret organization comprising people with extra sensory gifts and headed by His Grace, the Duke of Camden , committed to the protection of King and Country.
Prinny, the Prince of Wales, is in danger. There is a move afoot to have him controlled through a substance, Fides Pulvis.
M.U.S.E. is tasked to find the substance and uncover those behind theplot. All roads lead to Lord Albemarle and his mistress the breathtaking Lady Nora Claremont.
Pierce is smitten by Lady Nora and he senses a world of heartbreak behind her carefree facade. As he comes to know her that first attraction turns to hard core, all or nothing, love. Now  Pierce has to not only find the traitor, and the substance, but protect and help Lady Nora.
He is willing to go to any length--and he does.
A wonderful mix of the paranormal and regency romance that add spice and interest to an already intriguing world. I really enjoyed this more unique perspective of Regency style story!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Captivating, uplifting and satisfying!

The Highwayman (Victorian Rebels #1) by Kerrigan Byrne  

Oh my! This was a startling declaration of love enduring.
A riveting tale of a 'lost boy' reclaimed by love. A fairy tale if you will (parts of it for more than just one denizen of Newgate as it turns out). A Beauty and the Beast story with a twist. I enjoyed this immensely. 
Farrah Leigh and Dougan MacKenzie  meet as children in an orphanage in 1855, Dougan, the illegitimate son of a Scottish Lord continually bares the brunt of harsh punishment. Farrah has been left as an orphan by a sleazy Mr Warrington until she grows up, when he will mary her. Farrah, Dougan's 'fairy' befriends him and over a time and contact that friendship grows to love. Ick! The scenes of Dougan and Farrah as children together in that awful place tended by harsh taskmasters are overlaid with compassion and tenderness.  As preteens almost, Dougan and Farrah hand fast to each other in the orphanage chapel and declare their undying love. Dougan give her a piece of MacKenzie plaid that she holds onto over the years, just as she holds onto her love for Dougan. When Farrah is fondled by the orphanage priest they attempt to run. The priest is killed. Dougan is taken to prison.
Over the years Farrah (as a child and later as the respectable widow Mrs MacKenzie) has been searching for Dougan. She scores a job at Scotland Yard as a recorder. Here she comes face to face with the notorious Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, after he is taken in for questioning, unknowingly, Farrah looks across the years at her past and into her future.
I was struck by Byrne's use of language. For example on on occasion, when Dorian and Farrah face each other, he stands so close to her that 'a moth's wing wouldn't have survived in the space between them and still he never touched her.' Delightfully descriptive, poetic!
And the tragedy! I certainly needed my box of tissues close by during reading.
Just before writing this I reread The Highwayman. If possible I enjoyed it even more. I think this will be a serious reread over the years to come. 
Oh, and I can't wait to read the next in the Victorian Rebel series about the assassin, Christopher Argent.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

...different

The Prince and I (The Oxenburg Princes #2) by Karen Hawkins 


Certainly reading this you encounter humerous moments in this tongue in cheek play on Maid Marion and Maid Murian who admits to Max (a Prince of Oxenburg) her penchant for Robin Hood.
This is definitely not a serious contender as a Robin Hood remake, but is an enjoyable read.
I loved Max's grandmother Natasha. She stole the show. It was absolutely in character and hilarious that she gambled away that which she not--all in a good cause.
Even more hilarious that she would not tell Max just exactly what she'd done and just exactly what he was searching for.
So of course the gallant Max ends up aiding and abetting the beguiling Murian in her quest, especially as they have a common enemy.

A NetGalley ARC


*** 1/2

Enjoyable!

The Highlander's Bride (Highland Trouble) by Amanda Forester  


There's more to Marie Colette than meets the eye as Gavin Patrick comes to know.
In many ways Colette is the original little girl lost who comes through in a resounding manner.
Gavin has to swallow his disappointment and pledge to escort Colette and her hapless women to Scotland into the arms of her waiting fiancé.
That proves to be no easy task.
Colette grows into the woman she is meant to be as together she and Gavin escape past the English lines and on into their respective fates.
A satisfying medieval romance with an stalwart, trustworthy hero and a winsome heroine who responds to the unusual situations she faces with courage and openness.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Unusual

What To Do With A Duke (Spinster House Book 1) by Sally Mackenzie 


An amusing tale with serious overtones. Curses follow the Dukes of Hart. They are condemned to marry, beget an heir, and die within a short time after that event. And thus it has been for five generations.
Marcus, the current Duke of Hart has determined to live his life fully, marry later in life and dodge the curse for some goodly years.
That is until he met Miss Isabelle Catherine Hutting, a spinster vying for the chance to live out her years at Spinster House in Loves Bridge. Marcus is the decision maker in the matter of whom shall inhabit Spinster House. Isabelle thought she was a shoe in, that is until two other contenders came forward...and there's no denying the attraction between Isabelle and Marcus. However, Isabelle is determined that Spinster House should be hers!
But, the best laid plans of mice and men etc. etc. Now Isabelle is caught in a conundrum and Marcus is wondering just how short his life will be.

A NetGalley ARC


*** 1/2

...a powerful tale of betrayal

The Winter Crown: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine #2 by Elizabeth Chadwick 

One cannot help but be inspired and awed by Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitane. In this telling of her story, Chadwick has given her the very human face of wife, of mother and of queen, filled with hope, dashed by the continual betrayal by Henry on all fronts.
Love betrayed turns to icy repudiation and fear. One cannot read this without feeling the heights of Alienor's passion and the depths of her helplessness at Henry's plays for power.
Henry is portrayed as a wilful man of intense passions, a conqueror's arrogance and little compassion. How to hold what he has conquered and take what he hasn't consumes him. 
It is difficult to see where the blame might lay for Henry's sons' greed and ambition. Alienor gives us insight into their characters. What we might look at doubtfully she doesn't. As she intimates at one stage when as children Harry and Richard fight over a toy sword, these are princes born to rule and that the male line of the Angevins have the very Devil in them. Unfortunately that means constant sibling rivalry. Continually Henry seems to give to his sons with one hand and take with the other, thus stirring them to anger.   
Alienor's reflections about some of the  key decisions that Henry makes are level headed and astute. Henry's actions would indeed 'come home to roost.' Thomas A'Beckett being the prime example.
When Alienor is forcibly imprisoned by Henry and treated so abysmally my heart went out to her. Factual or not, the very act of Henry forcing himself sexually upon Alienor epitomizes Henry's lust for power and revenge. Symbolically this was an act of war, an act of anger and an act of attempting to beat Alienor into submission. A very physical act of subverting what had been between them in the past--repudiating that tie.
Surrounded by enemies on all sides, excepting for the faithful Isabel and too few others, Alienor is indeed to be pitied.  And yet even this incarceration in the end strengthens her resolve. An amazing woman.
The side story of Isabel is just as fascinating and again leaves the very real impression of noble women and their inheritances as bargaining points, as political rewards for Henry to dispose of as he will. Look to the marriages and alignments of his own daughters.
Chadwick's comments in the author's notes are as always revealing and helpful.
This is a gripping story of the very real drama played out at the personal level between Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II. A superb companion to The Summer Queen.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Surprising

Chivalrous (Valiant Hearts Book #2) by Dina L. Sleiman  


The Arthurian legend swirls around this story of Gwendolyn and Allen. Gwen is looking for a way out from under a brutish father who is determined to marry her to a similar example of manhood. Allen is looking to make his fortune. They both become caught up in a prophecy that will place Allen as a duchy's saviour and Gwen as the sacrifice.
Of course jousts, sword fights, enlightened characters and despicable villains add to the adventure. Lady Merry makes a further unexpected appearance.
The place of women within the society at this time and the Christian faith is examined from the supposed standpoint of the characters. Certainly the issues of justice and grace and love, and the biblical tenets about the role of men and women are to the fore. Interesting from this viewpoint.
Gwen is definitely an wonderful character, as is Allen. Both struggle with their relationship with God and their understandings of how their faith will play out in their everyday life. I enjoyed this entry in the Valiant Hearts series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, September 7, 2015

...so so

The Brigadier's Runaway Bride (Dukes of War Book 5) by Erica Ridley  


Pregnant to another man, Sarah Fairfax is about to marry her dead fiancée's comrade when the church door bursts open and the not so dead fiancée, Brigadier Edmund Blackpool returns to claim his bride. Be still my beating heart! Here is heady excitement, a tale to hang on! Unfortunately my beating heart cooled somewhat as I read on. The promise portrayed by this exciting premise fizzled into disappointment. The execution of a great plot just wasn't quite there. My enthusiasm was quenched.
For me, The Brigadiers Runaway Bride didn't reach the potential it could have or the standard set by previous 'dukes' stories.
Despite, this those of us following the Dukes of War series will want to read it.

A NetGalley ARC

**

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Amusing and unrestrained!

The Rogue You Know (Covent Garden Cubs #2) by Shana Galen 


Is so enjoyed this Covent Garden Cubs issue.
Gideon Harrow is the original bad boy, the lost boy with a hidden generous soul. When he avoids pursuit inside Lady Susanna's house, he little knows that his life just took a turn for better and for worse.
Always a disappointment to her over protective mother, Lady Susanna Derring is the put upon daughter who decides, just this once, to seize the moment and have at least one grand adventure before being handed off in some unknown in marriage. So living up to her surname with an added 'do', as in derring-do, Susannah opts for blackmailing her new rogue acquaintance to achieve her dream--a visit to Vauxhall Gardens.
And what an adventure it turns out to be. I enjoyed the improbable impact Susannah has, not only on Gideon, but the other denizens of the rookeries she meets upon her way.
I loved Susanna's attitude, her fortitude and her loyalty. And of course 'Beauty' just added to the many moments. A couple of twists and turns just added to the intrigue.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Interesting!

Irona 700  by Dave Duncan

In some ways the storyline's premise becomes more intriguing as the plot continues. The charting of Irona 700's life is filled with flashes of brilliance, personal disappointments, hard slog, politicking and degenerate wars.    
Irona Matrinko, daughter of a fisherman, is chosen at an annual ceremony at the city of Benign, by the blind goddess Caprice. She becomes Chosen, Irona 700. 
A major question must be what part do the gods really play? Where does freedom of choice enter the equation? Is Irona chosen by the goddess or by chance and in this case can the two be really separated? After all look at the goddess' name!
'Caprice was patron of the city, goddess of the sea, of chance, and the only divinity ever shown in human form. Caprice was worshiped. Most of the others were feared. Maleficence [is] God of evil.' 
Fitting into what turns out to be the top strata of society that is adept at politicking, moving up the rung of success by bribery, favours and sometimes villainy, it soon becomes apparent that to  just survive Irona must learn the rules fast.
Challenges are thrown in front of Irona and it seems Caprice (if one holds to her influence) just might have something in store for Irona.
The disappearance of Irona's lover and father of her child is a dark mystery, one that certainly made Irona and made me wonder what really happened at Vult. The more I read, the more questions surround the presence of the enemy Maleficence. The suppositions become  reality. Vult is a fortress, all that stands between the minions of Maleficience, 'the shapeless', and the Empire.
Irona constantly sacrifices compassion for expediency it seems, all the time for the benefit of the governing of the Empire and inherent with that, her own path. She makes hard choices, impossible choices and they eat away at her.
Irona brings to being a Chosen her childhood knowledge of a life outside the Empire, of the way of the sea, a life that knows about hardship and struggles and the ability to fight.
Again was her being Chosen the work of the goddess Caprice, blind luck, or the more prosaic explanation of a bribe gone wrong--an accident of the moment?
The repugnance of the creatures that surround Vult and the chaos of Maleficence is not to be disregarded. This made for unpleasant responses being as it were, drawn into that level of degenerateness. It definitely was not enchanting.
I am unsure as to whether I actually enjoyed Irona 700 it but it certainly was in many aspects, food for thought.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Scottish historical romance

Possession of a Highlander by Madeline Martin  


It's 1606 at Angus in the Scottish lowlands, although close to the highlands. Intrigue and love stalk each other. Brianna Lindsay fights the stigma of possible illegitimacy and enforced marriage to her cousin, Lord a Robert. Disguising the fact that her father has died, Brianna continues as the lady of Edzell Castle, hoping to delay the nefarious actions of her uncle and his son.
Colin MacKinnon, a highlander, comes seeking land and a wife. Brianna is his choice. Although their way of marriage is not what he'd sought, marry Brianna he does and he is determined to be a good Lord. He didn't count on falling in love with his wife.
Treachery is but a hair's breath away and both Colin and Brianna must go through the refining fires of doubt and agony before truly finding each other.
Brianna is an interesting character with her inclination towards intellectual pursuits, languages and willingness to learn everything, including the art of seduction.
A pleasant addition to the Scottish historical romance genre albeit with some predictable moments.

A NetGalley ARC

*** /*

...tender and troubled

Lady Beresford's Lover (The Marriage Game #8) by Ella Quinn


When Rupert, the Earl of Stanstead, spies Vivian, the widowed Countess of Beresford, across the crowded ballroom, he cannot take his eyes off her.
Vivian, has fled to London to avoid the importuning of her husband's cousin, the new Lord Beresford, for her hand in marriage.
Her marriage had been such a disaster that Vivian has determined to never remarry.
Belittled by him, Vivian is convinced that she is less than desirable and somehow deformed. It takes the careful courting and loving of Rupert for her to come into her own as a woman.
After a masquerade ball, where Vivian attends as Cleopatra and Rupert as Anthony, Vivian decides to enter into a clandestine affair with Him as her alter ego, Cleopatra. Vivian is convinced that Rupert doesn't know her true identity. Rupert of course knows exactly who she is.
I must admit that this is where I am bemused by Vivian's thinking. How does she think Rupert will not find out who she is in the intimacy of their situation. Ah well, Makeup and a barely lit room can work wonders!
Marriage to Rupert though is another question. Adore him as Vivian does, she will not tie him to a woman  who is older, less than perfect, and without the connections he needs. So by day Rupert courts her openly and by night he courts her lustily without letting on that he knows exactly who she is. Very exhausting!

A NetGalley ARC

***


...for Queen and country

Undercover with the Earl (Entangled Scandalous) by Robyn DeHart 


Evelyn Marrington is decidedly 'spinster author' material. That's according to her view on things.  After all she's the shortest and least ethereal of all her sisters. Evelyn is busily picturing pursuing her career in a rose covered cottage as her mother is attempting to marry her off. Even if it is to an aging noble with ten children.
When duty calls in the form of one Bennett Haile, the autocratic Earl of Somersby, Evelyn does have to think twice. It seems Evelyn looks remarkably like the young Queen Victoria and she's needed. Bennett is not so sure that this is a good idea. However his superior has made the call and Bennett is already in trouble for following his intuition rather than his orders.
Spirited away from home and hearth by her cousin Ellis, and Bennett, both members of the Brotherhood, an undercover agency that protects Queen Victoria, Evelyn decides to acquiesce to their request because, after all, this is a call for Queen and country. And think of the book material she will gather. Evelyn is to impersonate the Queen at a function as the Queen recovers from an injury. No problems!
However, an attack by an assassin uncovers a plot against the crown and places Evelyn in danger. The Queen is taking longer to heal and Bennett comes face to face with how much Evelyn Marrington has come to mean to him. 
A pleasing romance.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Unexpected!

The Other Daughter: A Novel by Lauren Willig  



Set between the wars 'The Other Daughter' occasionally brought a near tear to my eye. CertInly far more going on here than at first glance.
After her mother's death, Rachel Woodley finds out that her father is not dead as she has been told all her life. Neither is he a botanist. Far from it. He is an Earl with a family. That makes Rachel illegitimate. Rachael is determined to confront him, to find out where the loving man she'd supposed dead had gone to.
But should Rachel in the guise of her alter ego Vera Merton, 'Walk away...leave her father to his other life. Pretend that she and her mother had never existed?'
Gossip journalist Simon Montfort (and cousin of some sort it seems) offers her his assistance. But what are his motives? Does Rachel have what it takes to blaze her way through the razz-m-tazz of the bright young society things, into the home of her father?
And what of Rachel's Uncle David? He after all is her father's brother. Secrets within secrets are waiting to be exposed. 
A rewarding and different read.

A NetGalley ARC

****