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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, December 29, 2015

..the scents of murder foul, the craving mobs, and of fear, envelopes! Medieval Mystery at its best!



In the midst of the violence and unrest of May 1381 London, just prior to the Peasant's Revolt, Brother Athelstan and Sir John Cranston, the Lord High Coroner of London must once again step carefully and solve a murder that has ties to plots of highly placed persons and the scrutiny of the Upright Men. A man of subterfuge, Amaury Whitfield, chancery clerk to Tribuault, Master of Secrets for John of Gaunt has seemingly committed suicide in a locked room in a Southwark brothel. The Golden Oliphant is a place where cravings can be satisfied--for a price. His erstwhile scrivener and comrade in nefarious dealings, Oliver Lebarge has almost simultaneously thrust himself into Athelstan's life by taking sanctuary in St Erconwald's.  Althestan's upcoming investigation and inquest will lead back to Lebarge and beyond as he and Cranston uncover the steps taken by Whitfield and Lebarge until now. 
Revolt and threatened regicide is the background tableau--part of the pieces Althestan must hold at bay as he and Cranston go forward with their hunt. Athelstan must try to find a cipher that will illuminate a manuscript found on the suicide victim. The story is enhanced by Althestan's wonderful application of focus and logic to the situation.
Always at the heart is Althestan's concern for his flock and their part in the coming revolt. He does everything he can to guard against the days portending, to protect them and others he meets on the way. Jumping to Tribault's demands is part of that, although a double edged sword it would seem for Althestan.
I loved the detail, the sense of turbulence, the seething masses, the heightened awareness that   some places described evoke. Indeed descriptions of the bowels of the city are more akin to Dantes inferno.
The casualness of torture, hangings and beheadings fights against the condition of the poor, the injustice of soldiers having returned from battles finding no life to return to. Indeed the Upright Men have much to press forward for. The mystery of the Herald of Hell who is seen in all places is terrorizing London. All is moving forward to a unprecedented confrontation between the peasants and their overlords. Althestan is constantly surprised by who is in sympathy with the cause.
A brilliant and enthralling picture of this time in history, richly added to by the obvious rigorous research of Doherty. The secondary characters are wonderfully portrayed, with either their cunning, or greed, or fear being decisively manifest.
I was absorbed once more into the mysteries, the travails, and times of Althestan as seen through his eyes.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

regency mystery in exotic places

Captain Jack Dryden and his wife Lady Daphne Dryden are off on a dangerous mission for the Prince Regent. The place Cairo, the goal,  investigating the fate of a missing antiques dealer--friend to the Prince and the artifact that was being sought on behalf of the Prince. 
Jack would like to keep his wife safely at home. Daphne is already picturing the romance and manifest mysteries of the alluring Egypt. The Prince Regent includes soldiers to protect the party and one Stanton Maxwell, a foremost Egyptology scholar. Daphne is persuaded to bring her younger sister Rosemary, an Egyptian enthusiast.
I enjoyed the atmosphere of the hot sands of Egypt encasing the reader as events race alongside opposing reports by British inhabitants, murder, kidnapping and romance.
One can picture the bustling humanity of the bazaars and the dark threat of alleyways.
I enjoyed Jack and Daphne as a couple, their interplay and modes of address and Jack's way of covering up Daphne's social gaffes due to her innocence. Rosemary comes into her own, rather slowly one must admit. Maxwell Stanton is a wonderful character--shy yet protective, brave yet unassuming, learned yet modest. A complete contrast to the air headed, handsome Captain Cooper of His Majesty's Dragoons that Rosemary is languishing over. A plethora of fast moving action and atmosphere with light touches of romance.
I do need to read the preceding novels in the series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Brilliant! ...great beginning to a new series!

Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga book 1) by Courtney Milan


Lists and cats, opium wars, treason and disruption.
This novel has it all, tension permeates every situation along with lightning dashes of humour.
In eight years Lady Judith Worth has gone from sunny lady assured of her place in the world to a woman who struggles to survive, ensuring her brother and sister have a roof over their heads, china that if not matching, is at least not cracked--and plans for her siblings future.
Judith is a gem of a character, unusual in her mechanical interests and quirky substitute words for swearing. She is fierce in her protection of her family--younger sister, the intelligent Theresa and her cats is full of promise and I look forward to her story; youngest sibling Benedict, bullied at Eton and determined not to return, opens up for us as the story progresses; and then there's sister Camilla who chose to live away from the family and has had no contact for all this time.
The Worth family's plunge into disgrace has to do with the Opium Wars in China and the traitorous actions of their father and brother, Anthony. After their trial in the House of Lords, Judith's father committed suicide and brother Anthony was sentenced and transported to Australia. He died enroute. I liked Milan's explanation about Britain's role in the Opium wars with China. Underlying the wars was influential mercantile interests wanting trade with China, and the use opium as a commodity, forcing China to open it's borders. The introduction of opium and the assault on Chinese sovereignty had far reaching effects for that culture.  It is not to be glossed over. To my mind this has always been a shameful blot on English history. That Milan has taken these wars and woven a family's history around it (in the genre of Historical Romance) is nothing short of brilliant.
To return to the Worth's. Judith has discovered that money she has earned from her clock designs has gone missing. All her efforts shed no light. She turns to the one person she doesn't want to, Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford; her childhood companion, her brother Anthony's best friend, the man she thought she'd marry, the man who exposed her father and brother actions, and in doing so brought them to this pass. Christian is another wonderful character, unusual, warm, with again, that delightful sense of humour that Milan imbues her characters. A man bedevilled with his own spectres and haunted by all that has happened.
Courtney Milan refers to the story as Bill and Fred's excellent adventure--no wonder her characters have such a delightful sense of the ridiculous! In her newsletter Milan mentions that she had aspects of this saga for eons, and how difficult it was to have the storyline come together. In this incarnation, the story has emerged beautifully and satisfyingly. It is filled with small gems of very human warm moments, with an underlying commentary on larger societal issues--the nature of Justice and Honour. I just loved this entree into a new series.
p.s. Do read the author's note. Enlightening and enlivening!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, December 11, 2015

from the widow's point of view!

Reason to Wed (The Distinguished Rogues  #7) by Heather Boyd

Richard Hill,  the Earl of Windermere, needs to marry and beget an heir, entailing a curious ritual that had been part of the family myth for generations. This he refuses to do. All Richard's  affairs have led him to believe that he may be unable to have children--but, nary a by blow in sight. 
Esme, Lady Heathcote, a not so discreet widow lady knew she was barren. She thoroughly enjoys her independence. Lovers and no involvement are part of that.   
Although never involved, Richard and Esme had crossed paths more than once. Indeed Esme did him a favor not so long ago, one that initially infuriated Richard--publicly! To make amends, Richard invites Esme to a select house party, aiming to show the world they were not at logger heads.
When Esme's lover announces his engagement to another, Esme is furious. Her code of behaviour has always included the strict rule of no engaged or married men for a dalliance. 
Richard offers her an affair for the duration of the house party--an offer that will ease her public humiliation. Neither of them can foresee the emotional link that will be forged. But Esme is determined that the affair will be short lived and that the man who has become more than a friend will be able to move on to a more suitable bride, one who will provide Richard with his much needed heir. I quite enjoyed Esme, her strong character, her determination and compassion. An interesting plot that involves a woman that in other novels is nearly always the 'other'; the hardened widow seeking a husband using all her wicked wiles, only to be let down when the innocent young beguiling thing walks away with the hero (often a rake!) Here we have a mature woman who enjoys her life and takes charge of her inclinations, without pretence and prevarication. Quite liberating. I have gone through years of reading, convinced that those widows who took lovers, were always grasping harpies looking for the main chance. Esme is certainly not of that mould. Refreshing!

A NetGalley ARC

****

indulgences and fraud--a satirical romp through church history!



Set at the time of the Reformation and Luther's famous Ninety-Five Theses, Buckley has treated us to a walk through history (in this case, religious) that equals '1066 and All That'. Witty, humorous and telling. We are privy to the vagaries and voracities of the powerful--archbishops and electors, their purchases of artifacts that will increase the big business of indulgences and line their coffers. Buckley's portrayal of Frederick the Wise seems slightly more sympathetic. His collecting of relics appears more that of a genuine interest in the relics themselves, and a concern for their authenticity--he has the soul of a true collector. For Albert of Mainz indulgences are his way forward, they are about competition and power, the road to the Vatican and the supreme position. And now that Rome has issued a 'bull' decreeing that all indulgences sold by Albert have a special dispensation, indulgences in other parts of Europe are not as valuable in terms of the spiritual journeys of the faithful.
Dismas is a relic Hunter of exceptional ability and one who takes pride in his work. When he refuses to buy the supposed boat of St Peter, his patron Albrecht of Mainz is not happy. Albrecht's answer to Dismas' failure becomes obvious when Dismas next passes through.
Along with Dismas I am amazed at the sheer number of bones of saints, etc. that litter the religious houses of Europe and beyond. I am equally amazed by the various categories that relics cover--such as lapidary (from rocks Jesus walked on to stones thrown at the saints). 
Meanwhile Dismas' other patron, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, is sheltering the now infamous Martin Luther. We know that these decisions are history changing moments.
With his friend and drinking buddy Albert Dürer, Dismas decides to forge the Shroud of Turin and sell it to Albrecht. Unfortunately Dürer lets pride take over and through a curious set of circumstances the shroud is exposed as a fake. Unhappy, Albrecht forces Dismas and Dürer to steal a replacement, the celebrated Shroud of Chambéry. A journey that is fraught with danger, betrayal and fraud. More interesting characters are added including the gorgeous Magda, a female apothecary.
The secondary characters are wonderful, the casual references to the now famed gives a human face to the past. The court painter Cranach 'dour...and rather full of himself', the loathsomeness of Tetzel as he eyes the main chance for procuring the best prices for indulgences penances, reducing the time of punishment for sins committed.
This journey is one of comic happenstance. An adventurous romp through a fascinating time in church history with a couple of delightful well meaning rogues directing the action.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Interesting!

His Right Hand  (A Linda Wallheim Mystery #2) by Mette Ivie Harrison...


A Mormon enclave in Draper, Utah is the setting for murder unexpected. A crime committed that uncovers a shocking truth and that throws the Mormon hierarchy into disarray.  Carl Ashby, a respected member, has been killed and during the investigation, it is revealed that he had transgendered from female. Linda Wallheim, wife of the ward's bishop is determined to help uncover the truth of the murder as suspicion casts a festering pall  over the community.  
In the course of looking into the murder, the main character Linda, gives the reader a fascinating insight into Mormon mores. Many of which are dissected in terms of individual responsibility, interpretation and grace. Referenced is the churches adherence to strict lines of communication, order and within that a person's place according to gender and hierarchy. And here shockingly, a crime has exposed that those gender lines having been crossed. Many questions arise. How then should the church leaders respond ? How did Carl maintain his secret? How much should be revealed to the family and to the community? A problematic area in terms of the crime is that this is a closed community, used to being self supporting with no need of outsiders,  or outsider interference. This might be ok in terms of relief work and general community support but murder is a legal matter and as such falls to a different authority. So we are left with the picture that hindrance rather than help is given to the police in the course of the investigation. Those actions might mean the murderer is unwittingly hidden due to the protective intentions of the leadership. The hints of blockage by the church authority and President Frost's involvement with the police is puzzling to the reader and to Linda. The discussions via Linda about the LDS stance on transgender and gays is fascinating, as are other aspects of the Church's practices and history. The response by President Frost proclaiming that all ordinances would have to be nullified and redone is troubling for the leaders because of some quite far reaching ramifications. These insights drew me on--as some of the practices of Mormonism are revealed. Because of the carefully built background it was some time before the actual murder took hold of the writing. When I compare the plot construction with that of one of my favourite mystery writers and coincidentally, a LDS member, Anne Perry, I feel that the buildup of tension in His Right Hand is sporadic, and although I understand that explanations about the faith are important to some of the happenings, their complexity acted against the plot. Fortunately all came together rather dramatically in the last couple of chapters. 
Linda is a strong and likeable character, who seems to push the boundaries, and yet struggles to work within the confines of her community, at the same time accepting that those limitations are part and parcel of whet she has chosen to stay.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Deep sea romance!

The Pirates Tempting Stowaway (Dukes of War #6) by Erica Ridley

This starts with quite a ruckus! Captain Blackheart, Gregory Steele, ex privateer and lately of a more dubious high seas occupation--namely pirating, has been employed by Oliver York, the Earl of Carlisle, to locate and bring back to England from Philadelphia, his wife's mother, Clara Halton. Steele arrives to find Clara abandoned by the small community she lives in, left to die of consumption. Despite her protestations, Steele bundles Clara up and takes her with him.
On the return voyage, Clara discovers that Blackheart is more Goldenheart. The journey back to England is filled with delightful and sometimes hilarious occasions. Clara worms her way not only into the captain's affections, but those of the entire crew. Clara and Steele find themselves strongly attracted to each other and the enforced intimacy of the Captain's cabin becomes the stage for their tempestuous and passionate encounters.
Blackheart has a job to do though and he delivers Clara as commissioned, despite his feelings for her. Not to be deterred, Clara sneaks back on board the ship to confront Blackheart, to force him to acknowledge the connection they have for each other. Unfortunately the ship sets sail before Clara realizes it and she finds herself headed for adventure and a treasure hunt involving the dreaded Crimson Corsair. An unexpected turn of events!
I found the ending and the treasure hunt somewhat difficult. Indeed I kept looking around for Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean during the cave incident. For some reason, although treasure hunting is part of a pirate's lot, the later actions are not as forceful as the beginning. Still, I enjoyed Steel and Clara's story and their interactions. This is a a pleasing and unexpected addition to the Dukes of War series. I loved it that Clara was no simpering young thing and that Ridley has included more mature characters within her romantic genre.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Touching and enthralling!

In Search of Scandal (London Explorers #1) by Susanne Lord.


A roller coaster read that pulls at the heart strings. The raw emotions, the dark secrets that Will Repton fights tug at you as you realize his life has been put on hold, arrested by the dreadful things he has scene. Witness to the slaughter of all his companions in Tibet, Will Repton cannot rid his mind of the events, nor his determination to search for a possible sole survivor. Harbinger of secrets, he reveals to no one his troubled quest. He quietly goes about making plans to return to the area to investigate possibilities wrapped up in the excuse to hunt for more exotic species.
Charlotte Baker is enamoured of Will before she meets him. She has closely followed his work over many years and is delighted to at last meet her hero. A dazzling beauty, she cares little for her appearance. Charlotte's convinced that meeting Will will be a marvelous adventure. Little does she guess that though her expectations are not met in many ways, in others she has found her destiny. Charlotte is whimsical and forthright, a breathe of fresh air blowing through the social arena of the time. She is in awe of Will the adventurer and it's only as she comes to know him that she realizes that something is amiss. Sparks often fly in their encounters. Yet their encounters are honest and true. Unfortunately Will has plans that don't include Charlotte, plans to placate his devastated conscience, plans that call for no involvements, least of all a wife. And yet he cannot help but be concerned for Charlotte and troubled by her Lordly courtier.
Charlotte is a positive person and her encounters with Will trouble her as she tries to understand what motivates him. They are drawn to each other, unwitting lodestones of attraction. Can trust and love be accommodated? Is Will able to quell his demons and take up the challenge of a life with Charlotte. The tension is drawn page after page in their advancements and retreats as they struggle to find answers.
A touching and captivating read, that refused to let me go.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A simple plan foiled!



How to seduce a Seduce a Scot (Broadswords and Ballrooms #1) by Christy English



Alexander Waters has been sent by his mother to escort his wild, free spirited sister through a season in London, and to make sure she is married off to a 'decent' Englishman. There are strong hints that Mary Elizabeth has tried her mother's patience mightily and this is the result. There are definite references throughout that make it obvious that none of the siblings want to be on the short end of their mother's ire. Mary Elizabeth is a fun-filled young lady who is nothing like the English misses Alex so decries. Climbing hemp ropes and sword fights are the least of her past times.
On the other hand, Catherine Middlebrook is one of those gently bred English misses (at least on the outside) so decried. We know that the real Catherine is a strong young woman, supportive and willing to sacrifice everything for one season to secure her family's fortune. Her plan is to marry respectably, if not we'll, thereby ensuring that her family is lifted out of their straightened circumstances. Unfortunately, all Catherine's efforts are plagued at every turn by the behaviour of her mother. Her mother's inability to face the reality of their circumstances has far reaching consequences.
Alex and Catherine meet when Catherine befriends Mary Elizabeth. Alex is drawn to her, although he has no plans to marry. Indeed his mother instructed him and his brother Robert that they were not to come back from London married. (It's obvious that their English mother has taken up her adopted country with a vengeance. It seem she rules her children with an iron hand.)
Catherine and Alex are drawn to each other, but their paths lie in different directions. However the heart sometimes has other ideas, and circumstances can muddle a person's thinking. I enjoyed the antics of all involved and look forward to the next in the series.

A NetGalley ARC


***