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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, 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

****

Monday, October 19, 2015

murder and marriage!

Say You'll Love Me by Ally Broadfield 

What do you think when you see your childhood friend and betrothed arguing, and more, in the darkened hallways with a young woman during your engagement ball, and then later that same young woman is found dead?
You cannot cry off as that would display a belief in your fiancé's guilt, you dread to believe the worst! You can decide to investigate!
The Marquess of Longcroft, Edmund Townsend finds himself aiding his sister's friend, Lady Abigail Hurst. Generally engrossed in mathematical concepts, Longcroft finds himself drawn into a situation and prey to emotions he finds hard to compute. He does try to mathematically calculate what love is much to his sister's despair.
As the scent of the hunt draws the proponents on, Edmund finds that even the scent of Lady Abigail leaving him more than just a little bemused.
I really enjoyed the characters of Edmund and Abigail and their interactions as they seek to unravel fact from fiction. As Abigail learns more about her fiancé Robert, the discoveries about him have her rethinking her engagement, especially as she compares him with Edmund.
An intriguing regency romance where mystery and scandal set the tone.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Saturday, October 17, 2015

...reluctant heroes

Reese: The Rock Creek Six, Book 1 by Lori Handeland 

I actually don't read Western romances, so it was a huge surprise to me as to how much I enjoyed 'Reese'. The series tells the stories of six crack confederate soldiers, special forces, bound by their experiences, in the post war years. It hints at their secrets and their nightmares. They have vowed that when one calls the others will come. Reese's is their reluctant leader.This first in the series captured my attention, and against my normal inclinations in reading material, after this introduction, I will be reading through them. I can't wait to discover the stories behind the men. I do so love those strong, silent types with inner anguishes who find their defences pierced by managing females with their own internal bedevilments.
Reese and his comrades are hired by Mary McKendrick, the teacher from Rock Creek to frighten off a band of desperadoes who are hassling the town. The folk are leaving, the town dying. It is up to Mary and her hired guns to sort this situation out--if they can.

A NetGalley ARC



*****

...a delightful tale in the city of romance.

The Little Bookshop On The Seine (The Little Paris Collection #1) by Rebecca Raisin  

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. Sure, the whole exchange thing I was at first sceptical
about, but I soon found myself being drawn into Sarah Smith's life. Drawn into and identifying with her insecurities. An exchange to Paris for six months. Yea! Her love of books and reading habits Idefinitely associated with. Her views about bookshops are fascinating. I was reminded of the private lending library and secondhand bookstore I belonged to as a young child. A place of mystery and musty book smells with hidden corners.
But this is so much more--Paris and all the wonderful things we identify with this icon of Romance. There'll always be Paris!
And of course there is the continued romance, with the fabulous Ridge Warner, and mystery and trying to fit into new situations with new people, exploring a fairy tale location and as an added extra--Christmas!
An HEA story with sentimental moments! just in time for the coming holiday season.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

...mistletoe and mischief

The Duke and Miss Christmas (The Heirs' Club of Scoundrels Trilogy #2.5) by Amelia Grey 

Escaping from his family to attend the Duke of Drakestone's Christmas Ball, and using this as a chance to escape his family and contemplate his bachelor situation, Crispin, the seventh Duke of Hurst, and member of the Heir's Club (before he was thrown out) finds more than he's bargained for. 
Well, the best of good intentions etc. etc! Crispin is in the midst of helping a young child of the female persuasion who's fallen out of a tree whilst cutting down Christmas decorations, when he's battered over the head with a basket of mistletoe by her sister thinking the worst! 
Miss Gwen Prim is unaware that it's a Duke she's raging against--not only that, one well known to her brother-in-law Bray.
Crispin is quite an interesting character who displays just the right amount of acceptance of children and their ways and a wry sense of the absurd.
Gwen is a mixture of innocence and determination that does step beyond what's appropriate for her own reasons.
Between the two of them the sparks fly and Crispin finds his contemplations take a whole new direction.
An enjoyable Seasonal novella.

A NetGalley ARC


****

Monday, October 12, 2015

...death in exotic places

The Adventuress: A Lady Emily Mystery (Lady Emily Mysteries #10) by Tasha Alexander


Attending the engagement party of her childhood friend, Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, Lady Emily and her husband Colin Hargreaves are looking forward to a restful time of gaiety and celebration in the French Riviera and then Cairo. Not to a time overshadowed by suicide and possibly more.
Emily is unsure of the suicide verdict. Things aren't adding up. Then there's her friend Jeremy's fiancé, Amity Wells who seems to have fixated upon Emily as a threat to her happiness, and the brother, Augustus, who's a very strange fish.
As the party continues it seems that there is a malevolency simmering underneath. Emily is determined to find the truth, but that search proves to be as twisted and dangerous as anything she's encountered before. 
I particularly enjoyed Emily's delicious and restrained putdown to the obnoxious Mrs Wells, having held her cool after so many times against Mrs Wells presumptuous needling.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Sunday, October 11, 2015

...punts and agent provocateurs!

Trouble on the Thames: A British Library Spy Classic (British Library Spy Classics Book 1) by Victor Bridges  


1930's pre World War II and Naval Lieutenant-Commander, Owen Bradwell, freshly returned from the China station, has just been diagnosed as colour blind. A disorder apparently acquirable at a later stage of life given appropriate stimuli, and in this case, a writer's  raison d'être for the commander having to resign his post. This leads to Bradwell becoming tied up with the secret service and Nazi spies. 
The language is that of a bygone time, lending a certain piquant attractiveness to the story. Somehow it colours the thrill of the chase with a different brushstroke to what we are used to. I did feel like I'd fallen into The Thirty-Nine Steps or Foyle's War. Owen Bradwell's belief in his sidelined new life is given a certain cachet. His task is dangerous yet honourable, for 'King and Country.' As Bradwell refelects, he is looking forward to the 'prospect of lending a hand in this desirable and highly patriotic task.' Today the language used would not be politically correct in terms of referencing people's antecedents.
There's plenty of action, tempered by the leisurely use of punts, mysterious murders and blackmail in this 1940's thriller. Amusing and  stylish complete with the requisite evil doers, traitors, Whitehall types, and a budding romance. 

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A treat!

First Season / Bride to Be by Jane Ashford  

This compilation of two early novels by Jane Ashford are a treat. Well crafted and engaging, you can see the Heyer influence, particularly in some of the secondary characters such as Emily Crane's mother. Both novels are succinctly written and still a pleasure to read more than 15-30 years on. 

First Season 1983
A young widow, Lady Anabel Wyndham, joins her mother for the London season. Having married at a young age she has never experienced the social whirl and gaiety of this social event. A confirmed rake, Sir Charles Norbury is attracted by Anabel's looks and conversation. Here is no simpering chit out of the school room or jaded widow. He sweeps Anabel off her feet. Much to the disgust of her young children and the chagrin of her long time friend, Christopher Hanford. Christopher has loved her from afar and been a stalwart companion in her time of need.
Christopher is determined to leave London but something is not quite right about how Anabel is with Norbury. The children take matters into their own hands bringing things to a head. Young Susan Wyndham and her cat are indeed forces to be reckoned with!


Bride to be 1999
Having parents who have shunned the life of the ton to pursue their own interests make for a different upbringing. Emily Crane certainly is an extraordinary young woman, quietly able to cope with more than her fair share of harrowing situations. When she rescues a handsome stranger from being killed she little knew that they would meet again in the ballrooms of London, and that their circumstances would enforce an engagement. Apart from feeling guilty about the engagement, Emily becomes concerned that the 'accidents' that continue to happen to Lord Richard Sheldon are more than that, and sets about investigating them. The engagement continues--just in order to find out what's going on! As Lord Richard and Emily continue their charade, both become aware of stronger feelings, which of course they hide from each other. Which leads to even more complications! 


A NetGalley ARC

****

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A deadly homecoming!

Dark Before the Rising Sun (Dominick Trilogy #3) by Laurie McBain  


Dante and Rhea and their band of stalwart friends return to England. Rhea is reunited with her beloved family and home, Camareigh, with Dante a barely tolerated misalliance.
However, Dante must move on to his ancestral home and the problems that await him, including accusations of murder.
Those problems include an old enemy with a powerful grudge, leader of a band of rapacious smugglers. The situation is exacerbated by the presence of the man who led to Dante's fall into hell as a young man.
Friends are present though, including Captain Morgan fresh from the West Indies.
Treachery is afoot and Damte must do all he can to protect his loved ones and regain his heritage.
I must admit that are times the situation become almost too melodramatic. But I rolled with it. Although I did not see the particulars of the last surprise coming, something about that first meeting had made me wonder.
This novel stands alone, but I do recommend reading the prior book, Chance the Winds of Fortune, first to have a more complete understanding of the backstory to this dark homecoming of Dante's and Rhea's.

A NetGalley ARC

****

...revenge, rescue and romance!

Chance the Winds of Fortune (Dominick Trilogy #2) by Laurie McBain 


Old quarrels and revenge reach out after years and strike at Lucien Dominick's family.
The focus of these attempts is his daughter Lady Rhea Claire, sold as an indentured servant and incarcerated in the bowels of a ship bound for Charles Town.
Rhea, a breath of golden jessamine, manages to escape but in the hue and cry of the chase hides out in a dangerous place--the cabin of privateer Dante Leighton, Marquis of Jacqobi and captain of the Sea Dragon.
Dante might be sceptical that this isn't some complex ruse but everyone from the cabin boy to the first mate, including the turncoat cat Jamaica are won over by Rhea.
Of course the sparks fly between the two, those of temper and those of attraction.
However Dante will not be gulled and Rhea will not be deterred from charting her course for home.
An enthralling story that stretches across oceans, colourful in its telling and beguiling in its imagery.
Multilayered and guaranteed to captivate!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Inadvertent folly just might surprise.

Lord Fenton's Folly (Proper Romance) by Josi Kilpack  

Alice Stanbridge was only a young girl,when Charles Fenton walked into her life.
This is a charming episode that should have been the avenue that led towards a happy life for them. Years later, when Alice has her come out season, she thought that the Charles she'd glimpsed then was the Charles of now.    
Lord Fenton has done all that he can to cause discomfort to his father. He dresses like a Marconi, is perpetually drunk, gambles and takes part in ill advised pranks.
This time his father has demanded he change his ways or be disinherited.
As marriage is part of the requirement, Charles' eyes fall upon the newly acquainted Alice.
It is only after the marriage that Alice realizes that Charles does not care for her. How can she comport herself, how can they present to the world the face of a happily married couple when the truth is so disheartening.
When her mother-in-law, Lady Chariton falls ill, Alice accompanies her to her family estate. This is Lady Chariton's first visit in many years. Here secrets will be revealed and Alice will be tested, as will Charles.
This is not your usual romance. Can forgiveness intervene in the relationship Alice and Charles now have? Certainly changes are in the wind but the road is strewn with rocks.
The old adage 'Marry in haste, repent at leisure' never sounded so true.
Mistakes and follies of the past, unacknowledged and unresolved, have led to Charles' current state. But folly can be reclaimed and what might have appeared folly at first glance might become unlooked for wisdom.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, October 5, 2015

...assassins, retribution and romance!

I Spy a Duke (Covert Heiresses #1) by Erica Monroe  


Heart wrenching from the opening scenes. My sympathies went out to James Spencer as he contemplated his failures with regard to his sister's safety. His pain, his feelings of awful responsibility for her death are palpable. Louise's last words 'protect them' have burnt themselves into his heart. But will they become a hindrance if his memories lead him to hesitate?
A covert agent with Clocktower, a highly secret organization within the Alien Office , James Spencer, the Duke of Abermont has to marry in order to maintain his cover. Not just a covert agent but the Spymaster, the Mastermind behind the organization--The Falcon. This is the true family business and has been for generations.
Vivian Loren is searching for answers to her brother's death. Her placement in the Dukes household as governess is not by accident. Unwittingly she has become a pawn in the hands of Sauveterre, Louise's torturer and a deadly agent provocateur and assassin for Napoleon.
As James unravels Vivian's conundrum he decides to marry her, thus keeping her safe and fulfilling the requirements of marriage for himself. A marriage of convenience! Hmm!
There is of course the matter of attraction that flares between James and Louise, but is that enough to overcome the odds or will it be more of a hindrance?
I was kept enthralled from beginning to end! A series with a difference! This has all the ingredients it takes! Intrigue, romance, drama and danger! Definitely a winner for Monroe, and I can hardly wait for the stories to pour forth centred around the rest of the Clocktower coterie.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, October 2, 2015

Elizabethan intrigue!


A Perilous Alliance: A Tudor mystery featuring Ursula Blanchard (An Ursula Blanchard Elizabethan Mystery #13) by Fiona Buckley 

Ursula Blanchard, illegitimate half sister to Queen Elizabeth, is once again called upon to serve Queen and country. This time the requirement is to marry for political reasons. Ursula has already buried three husbands and remarriage is not on her horizon--although it seems to be taken for granted by those arounds her, Sir Francis Walsingham being the main proponent. Ursula is already fighting off neighbours with an eye to her lands and possessions, and now the court takes a hand. 
The proposed alliance is with Count Gilbert Renard, the illegitimate son of King Henri II.
A big question for Ursula is just how much does she have to keep giving, how many times is her life to be disrupted due to her relationship with the Queen. The dangers of childbirth for women, including Ursula and the Queen are referenced. Other issues include the problem of succession, the place of Catholics under Elizabeth's regime and the reality of courtly marriage being just one more move on the chessboard of national or international relations.
Ursula's reasons for acquiescence are as complex as she is. Her complex relationship with the Queen  is the leading one.
It seems that there is a French spy at court and that particular worry invades Ursula's haven, along with all the other matters. One of her servants is murdered, another disappears, and the life of an English spy in France is being threatened.
Intrigue and fast action thread the pages and Ursula's pleasing life is sorely disrupted and threatened from all sides. 
As the plot unravels we are treated to insights into at a strong woman, wary of her position, with no illusions about her value to the court, who somehow maintains her understanding, insights and compassion.
A fast paced, very human, historical mystery.

A NetGalley ARC

****