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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 28, 2016

A wonderful read!

Once a Soldier (Rogues Redeemed #1) by Mary Jo Putney 



The minute I started this I was swept away. It certainly helped that I am a huge Shape's War fan and I could immediate picture the battles and areas that Will Masterson goes through. And I loved the idea of the fighting goddess Athena, sweeping into action, so reminiscent of the Contessa, Teresa Moreno. I loved Will and Athena's story.
The story opens in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal 1809.  Imprisoned in a cellar by the French, due to face a firing squad, Lord Will Masterson, along with five other men escape death by a near to miraculous route.  They make a pact. Having escaped death, they would look to right wrongs from their past once the war is over. And so the Brotherhood of Rogues Redeemed is born.
1814. Athena Masterson, illegitimate daughter of an English Duke has found rest in the small kingdom of San Gabriel between France and Spain. Athena is acting as advisor for Princess Sofia when Will comes to call enroute back to England as a favour for Ducal (one of his prison acquaintances). He is temporarily leading the Gabrileno cavalry, part of the Anglo-Portuguese army, back to their home and will review the situation there for the authorities. Napoleon has abdicated and the worry is that the kingdom may be a prime target for rogue ex-French troops or Spanish guerrillas. Will finds the court stable, but unprepared for any attacks. The king and his son are missing presumed dead and Princess Sophie is ruling in their absence with Athena acting as Sofia's regent.
Will and Athena are immediately attracted to each other. Athena however has set her sights on a single life. She doesn't want the reputation of her mother to be cast over anyone she might come to care for. The story of Will and Athena's coming together is really quite wonderful.
Meanwhile Will quickly assesses the dire needs of the kingdoms and  advises actions.
All is not helped by the threat of invasion from renegade a French force looking to make the kingdom of San Gabriel into their fiefdom.
Once more a son of Westerfield Academy is a central and interesting force to be reckoned with.
I am so looking forward to the remaining rogues' stories!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fast-paced thriller that links to past dark days in Parisian history.


A confirmed Aimee Leduc fan, this stunning mystery casts its net around the life of Aimee Leduc and draws her (and me) ever more tightly into the centre of a dark web. 
It starts when an elderly gentleman, with the look of a survivor searching for lost ones, presents himself at Aimee's office. He utters these words, 'I knew your father, an honourable man. He told me to come to you if I needed help.'
Aimee doesn't take investigative detective work anymore, she deals in corporate security. This seems like a simply delivery, and she needs the money.
Nothing is ever as it seems with Aimee. She finds herself drawn into the hunt for a killer with Nazi ties through circumstances that open her own wounds, haunted as she is by nightmares of her father's death.
This time the past crawls out to confront the future as Aimee finds herself investigating the death of an old Jewish woman who'd been barely a teenager when her parents had been taken by the Gestapo, turned in by a collaborator.  Lili Stein had escaped deportation to the camps when Marais had been raided during the Nazi occupation. Now that woman has been brutally murdered and bodies start to pile up, as investigations are mysteriously halted or referred to other branches of the French police and security.
When the final puzzle is brought together it is chilling. The past overshadows the present, lives are turned upside down and old wounds opened and closed. Shocking events mirror each other. Why had Lili boarded up a window? Who fears exposure? Aimee is drawn into the heart of a neo-Nazi organization, dangerous and deluded, in her search for answers.
Aimee finds herself in a fight for her very life, as always impeccably dressed in her designer wear. And this time it saves her life when scrabbling over rooftops pursued by an unknown assassin, 'she had to say one thing for designer wear, it held up under tough conditions.'
(priceless!).
This was a second read for me. It grabbed me just as much now as the first read did.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Murder in the highlands!



What's not to enjoy with this cosy read. A 'who dun-nit' that recalls a past era. Set in a crumbling Scottish castle by a loch, with plenty of action and a cast full of possibilities.
It's 1955 and about to be married, Donald Langham accompanies his old army chum and friend turned private investigator, Ralph Ryland to a remote part of the Scottish highlands. Their ex-commanding officer, Major Cartwright has requested Ryland's help. 
Cartwright and a friend are attempting to salvage a German plane that crashed into the loch just before the end of the war. But what ensues is murder, and the perpetrator must be one of the guests trapped within the snow bound castle! 
I felt like I was there, lost in the 1950's, as the puzzle becomes even more tightly knit and the culprit or culprits ever more evasive.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Love's eternal story.


A timeless story of two young lovers torn from each other's lives by murder. Not quite Tess of the Durbervilles, but you can sense the fecundity of the landscape and imagine the breadth of the moors, and the generations of folk of the land with Buckley's telling descriptive writing. All is vivid, you can smell the moors and taste the sea of Exmoor in the 1800's.
A tale of smuggling, love and accepting what life throws at you. Of a lost love that when faced down defies sense and sensibilities. At times I felt like I was moving in a Constable painting, at others I was looking around for Ross Poldark and Demelza.
Peggy Shawe was engaged to Ralph Duggan, a free trader, a euphemism for smuggler. Her mother sends Peggy to live with Ralph's family for six weeks to test the relationship. When Ralph's brother Philip is accused of murder, Philip is forced to flee England. Ralph goes with him, and with that event Ralph and Peggy's story takes a different path. Although determined to wait for him Peggy is worn down by the importuning of her family to marry into a neighbouring farming family and to secure the care of her own family's holding. After time Peggy gives in.
You can feel the unhappiness of Peggy and her slow coming to acceptance of what life has dealt her, only to have it ripped once more from her grasp by one heady and unlooked for moment.
The tragedy of her life is that she was given no choice. She makes do, but in the end making do is not enough. One comes to hate how women were treated and the narrowness of some minds.
Ralph Duggan and Peggy Shawe's love was tangible and real and yet both bowed to circumstances and the times. Love lost and love gained, years that never quashed their secret feelings for each other, pushed as they were to a small secret corner of their hearts.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Absolutely delightful!

I must admit that there was not much of the shrew with Kate Batista. If anything Kate, a nursery school assistant, comes across as a displaced and down trodden person who is floating through life rather than partaking of it. Viewing life from the outside. I keep flashing back to where her four year old girl students are playing with dolls and acting out life's situations and to Kate it seems so foreign. There is much of Kate that is silent and doll like, allowing life to happen around her, allowing other people to chart her path. She seems to have spent a lifetime trying to make up for what she's not. She does not believe in herself. She takes the line of least resistance, particularly having grown up with a brilliant and driven scientist father. Kate's father is a self centred man who analysis his world scientifically, governing the very food the family eats from a nutritional standpoint. They eat a meat mash concoction every night. Much is made of that relationship with food and in particular Kate's acquiescence to what is desired.  
Dr. Battista (somewhere on the Aspergers continuum) gives Kate the gift of a personal remembrance.  A rare and precious moment. He talks to Kate about her relationship with her mother and the fun things they used to do, a relationship Kate couldn't remember. This was important. Those memories relived could have helped Kate years before, but they were never extended. This was a poignant moment, a catalyst where things changed for Kate.
There are some absolutely delightful lines throughout. Tyler's turn of phrase and use of language is exquisite. I occasionally found myself breaking out into gusts of laughter.
I loved that Kate related more to her four year olds than grown ups. And the dilemma of the little boys who now wondered who they would marry, if not Kate was hilarious, charming and sad.
So distressed by the coming loss of his talented research assistant due to visa laws, Dr Battista decides that the only way forward is for Pyotr to marry Kate. He sets out to make this happen in all sorts of ways without telling Kate. There are some truly amusing moments. Pyotr is rather a gem and as the relationship between them develops, set against the background of the dysfunctional Battista family, we are treated to a magical and very human read.
There is not much that is vinegary about Kate. If however you know the Skipping Vinegar Girl neon sign where the girl is trapped, skipping eternally, then you capture something of Kate's life until now.
So glad I read this. I can think about it for ages!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane Book 1) by Elizabeth Hoyt


Where it all began! This series is such a winner! I loved each and every novel under the arc of Maiden Lane.
Like some other reviewers I first came across this series when reading The Duke of Sin and was swept away so much by that, that therein followed a solid few days of reading the Maiden Lane series from this the very first chapter. 'And I kept asking myself how had I never read the series before! It's really different, and wonderful as it's complexity morphs into the simplicity of selfless love conquering all.'
Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire wants to avenge the murder of his mistress. Temperance Dews, a widow, cares for children in a foundling home her family began. The home needs a rich benefactor, Lazarus needs a guide to through the pitfalls of the dangerous slum known as St Giles. It seems they each have access to something the other wants and so a bargain is struck. The attraction that flares between these two is nicely done, sensual and explorative. Their story is the hinge that opens up the future fabulous possibilities that flow down Maiden Lane.
The fate of orphaned children in these times is a disturbing and a central theme for all the following books as the action flows in and around the home and St Giles. (The most depressing thought is that the abuse and trafficking in children has never stopped!)
The secondary story towards the end of Temperance's sister Silence is awesome. I was filled with admiration and deep sorrow for her. She is a rising star!
As in the later novels, I loved the juxtaposition between the fairy tale (this time, the cautionary tale of King Lockedheart) at the beginning of each chapter and the story. As I have said before, 'the employment of the fairytale as a lead in is superb. This use, as a foretelling of the events that follow is, put simply, just exquisite.'

Dark and despairing!

The Crow Girl: A novel by Erik Axl Sund


A hard read that I had to keep putting aside for a while. 
The abuse and trafficking of children is not something of which humanity can be proud. Add torture and sadism and the absence of light is completed.
The story (actually three novels extended into one which makes it a very long read!) drops into lines that are chilling and arresting. The two main character voices of Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg who leads the investigation the therapist Sofia Zetterlund wrap around each other in interesting ways. Sofia has several cases / patients / requests she's looking at.  The sentencing of Tyra Mäkelä,  the following up Victoria Bergman (a client she finds profoundly puzzling), a request from a social worker to see a war affected child from Sierra Leone, that sparks forgotten nightmare. All build a carefully weighed background to this extreme psychological thriller.
I found the writing style fascinating and the subject matter extremely challenging. 
I love Scandinavian noir but this was way to black for me.
To sum up this is a five star, well written novel where the translator has worked their word smithing seamlessly and superbly all wrapped up in a two star appalling topic.
A novel for the most dedicated.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Sunday, June 12, 2016

... spies and danger!


Ena Dudley is strong, forthright and a little opinionated. Mind she is very capable, although sometimes almost too reticent, and at others she rushes in. Working on parts for machines that end up as part of the 'hush, hush' work done at Bletchley during World War II, she discovers her factory's work is being sabotaged. How she knows that is really very clever.
Ena becomes part of an intelligence investigation looking at who's responsible. A few candidates appear and yet nothing is clear until the very end.
Whilst feeling sympathy for Ena, I am somewhat at a loss about her relationship with the American, Ben and then her friend Henry. It all seems a tad disjointed around these two. I'm putting it down to the situation she finds herself in. However she does seem too trusting at times. There were jumps that made no sense in the last part of the story. I reread those parts and it still lacked the coherence for me that took the situation from one step to the next. 
Almost archaic in its writing, I felt a little like I was reading a novel written in that time. If the story had flowed more smoothly this would have been an excellent tool.

A NetGalley ARC

***

... fighting fate and a red headed mate!



Enjoyable highland romp with a delightfully fresh heroine and a handsome braw Jacobite hero. Complete with with a traitorous, leering, despicable Scotsman red coat officer, Lieutenant Balfour MacLeod, a kidnapping and a rescue and so much more. Balfour was a great villain to dislike.
Sir Donald MacDonald, Baronet of Sleat and Mary of Castleton clash at every turn. Not helped by their first meeting when he thought she was a lad and took up her challenge to a shooting match. Hmm! Completely dismissing her, he is drawn into an involvement he doesn't want when Mary is taken by force from Dunscaith Castle, and to add insult to injury, in Donald's sea galley.
The thing is Mary is just so brash, not at all the sort of wife to fit into the life he leads as a leader of society. That sentiment certainly smacked of vanity, misunderstanding and elitism.
About then Sir Donald was shown for the unthinking clod that he was capable of being. This motherless young woman had neither the guidance or influence that most women in her position would have had. Really! Talk about fighting fate! I thought she'd done an admirable job, given her history.
Don hasn't counted on the strong attraction he feels for Mary whenever they are together. I was quite cross about the 'despite his fears about her' attitude of prejudice he displays towards her. Still he comes to his senses and realizes how much Mary means to him. Indeed he does reclaim himself somewhat when he tells her how much she means to him, particularly 'the memory ...of [her] red tresses that pick up the breeze and flicker like fire.' 
I found the feisty Mary a delightful heroine, the dour Donald, not so much but thankfully he does grow. In the end this is a pleasing addition to the series.

A NetGalley ARC

****


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Gripping! Complex!

What We Become: A Novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte


In the first three pages or so I was a tad confused. I felt detached, disoriented even. As I should! I was crossing the Atlantic bound from Lisbon to Buenos Aires--ar least the characters I was about to become totally engaged with were. As I read on I became absolutely fascinated with them all. Max, I envisage as an aging Pierce Brosnan type, suave and sophisticated harbouring the faint memory of a rougher beginning. As we go between Max's past and present, between his coming to know Mecha onboard the luxury liner where he works as a dancer, and their last meeting, the threads are electrifyingly taut. The tango discussions between Mecha's husband, Armando de Troeye (a famous composer), Mecha, and Max are robust and heady laced as they are with the undercurrent of explicit yet restrained sexuality. De Troyeye is seeking to compose a new piece, a tango, as part of a bet with another composer. This is the connection between the three that becomes a catalyst for all that follows. 
The interplay between Mecha and Max over the years is puzzling, yet riveting. I found it hard to put 'What We Become' down. The language is vivid. One is there in Buenos Aires, in the old tango places, reeking with an edge of danger, smoke and complex sexuality. You feel the tensions in Nice, as Italy is becoming a fascist state, and then later in Sorento where things come full circle, Max and Mecha meeting once more. 
The story in told in those three places across three times, constantly changing between them.
1928 onboard a cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires where Max and Mecha first meet.
1937 in Nice where Max is dragged into a fascist connection.
1996 in Sorento. The Cold War is still a memory and the Russian chess champion, complete with KGB entourage, is playing an important match here. Mecha's son is involved. Once again intrigue and danger come into play, a signature of Mecha and Max's passionate relationship.
The complexity that is Mecha is slowly revealed, although the layers of who she really is never fully unveiled. As this happens we get a better glimpse of de Troyeye, and of the dark areas of Mecha's relationship with him.
Substantive and intriguing, highly personal, with some wonderful twists and subtleties. a treat!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Paranormal fantasy / romance kicks ass!


Take a witch and a demon and a love spurned over 100 years ago--a love that still sizzles!
Nicholai Veis had no choice. The Prophet Lily escorted by the King of the Realm Dage Kayrs foresaw events that required Nicholai to take long term action for the good of the realm that may ensure peace after so many years of war, even if that meant denying his one true love, the witch Simone Brightson.
Shift to today and throw in a few wars along the way, a cesation of the troubles amongst the immortals that could be disrupted by the slightest thing. Add planekite, a drug that's threatening lives, some weird things happening along the way including Simone being forced to flee a trial by the Coven for treason. The penalty if guilty is death. Nicholai is not about to let that happen now that he's so close to reuniting with Simone. Then there's a few very strange relatives, some vampires and shape shifters, a cunning political set up. All in all the mix gives you one fine, wildly erratic, read!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Opposites attract!

Seduced (The Wicked Woodleys #5) by Jess Michaels


Captain Jack Blackwood inhabits a dangerous criminal world
Widowed viscountess Letitia Seagate and cousin to Jack's sister-in-law only wants to protect her younger brother

Letitia is:     
1. At odds with Jack
2. Viscerally attracted to Jack
3. Accuses him of seducing her brother into wicked ways. Really brother Griffin acts like a spoilt child refused. He is out to prove himself with no thought of the danger to others. I had no patience with him.
Jack is:
1. A man from the rookeries
2. A man whose taken on the worst and come through
3. A crime lord on the brink of a gangland war in which anyone is fair game.
4. A man who finds himself drawn to Letitia even though he's promised his brother not to dally with the dark beauty who's attracted his attention.

So when Letitia confronts Jack it's no wonder the sparks fly, and then some.
Add in the danger factor and the bad boy finding a good woman and there's a recipe for success! Enjoyable!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Magic, bindings and freedom!

The Sorcerer's Daughter: The Defenders of Shannara  

by Terry brooks



Paxon Leah, the Druid's Blade, and protector to the Order has come a long way since Defenders of Shannara first began. Now he faces a challenge that will compromise the order and destroy those he holds dear. The dark sorcerer Arcannen Rai strikes into the heart of Druid and Federation strongholds with a twofold attack. One, as the Druids and Federation forces are meeting to forge a peace agreement. The other, the abduction of Paxon's sister Chrysallin who has come into her own magic from Paranor.
This latest offering in the Defenders of Shannara has Leofur, the dark sorcerer Arcannen's daughter and Paxon's lifemate coming into her own. 
Horrified that Chrysallin has been taken whilst under her care Leofur is determined to bring her back. She is joined in her quest by a shape shifter, Imric. They must join together psychically, a process that brings its own share of angst and burdens for both.
As their quest goes forward, they find themselves battling the feared witch Melis of the Murk Sink fens and the very land itself. Meanwhile Chrysallin is doing all she can to hold fast.
Paxon and the few remaining Druids escape from the Federation stronghold, pursued and outnumbered they crash in the wilds. Their journey back to Paranor is fraught with similar dangers and deaths. Once at Paranor they are besieged from within and without as Arcannen works to seize for himself  magics  that will enhance his dark powers.
Magic powers and twisted logics come into play as both Paxon and Leofur are taken into places that are dangerous and difficult, physically and emotionally.
Another roller coaster read with a very human side given to the use of the magics that come into play. Leofur comes to a place of realization about her own path forward that resonates well with all that unfolds.

A NetGalley ARC

****

... 'she failed to free her mother from her cage but ... her mother's suffering had not been in vain'


I very much enjoyed this last of the Highland Guard series. (Hold for a few moments of heartfelt sobbing as this reader farewells a series she's absolutely loved! I can see a binge reread happening in the very near future!)
The turning of a 9 year old into a committed and fervent supporter of the Scottish King when Joan Comyn is forced that day to watch the torture of her mother Bella McDuff, forges the steely conviction to do all she can for the Robert the Bruce. She swears it on that day.

Now Joan, disinherited and declared a bastard is acting as her cousin's maid, is a spy within the English court, gathering secrets and delivering them to the Bruce. By the Way, Joan's  cousin is a piece of work; demanding ,selfish and vain. I really don't like her, and seems neither do many others.
Alex Seton is a Scottish border lord, who once stood with Bruce . He turned away from that allegiance in an attempt to look for a better way for the ravaged borderers. He is now labelled 'traitor' by his highland brothers. 
Alex has been set to find the traitor in the English court. He is a man who stands firmly by his knighthood oath of chivalry and honor. That oath will be tested beyond endurance as he searches for the unknown enemy, The Ghost. Meanwhile, Joan is attempting to find out what Scottish and English lords  have or have not sent forces, troop numbers and locations and likely attack areas so that the  Bruce can strike a telling blow against the English army and their Scottish supporters. The stakes are high!
This was not my favourite amongst the Highland Guard books. I really see it as a 4 star read but I rounded that up to 5 when I considered where it sits within the series, the magnetic appeal of the whole series, and the appropriateness of the mystery of Ghost being unveiled as the 'tour de force', in a fitting manner as the last of the series.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Engrossing!

Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt


The Duke of Sin just wrapped me up like a fabulous gift and drew me in! Valentine Napier, The Duke of Montgomery, is wonderful decadence hiding a broken boy's heart and years of secrets. A man brought up by a depraved father whose secret society, The Lords of Chaos, excelled at the worst sorts of excesses involving children, ghastly bacchanalia rituals and murder. Yet don't get too sympathetic for Val or enchanted by him because he is an awful man, ruthless, and described by his housekeeper as 'deadly as a coiled adder.'  Val thrives on power derived from blackmail and the secrets of others.      
His housekeeper, the prim Mrs. Crumb is hiding her own secrets. All beneath a housekeeper's dowdy robes and hideous cap. (We have met Mrs. Crumb previously, around the edges of the main story. As each novel of the series unfold, the stories of others in the series comes into play. We greet them as old friends taking on new hues.)
Echoes of Georgette Heyer and These Old Shades toll faintly. The characters of Devil and Leonie are somewhat on a par, except Valentine is so much more jaded, and his and Bridget Crumb's relationship becomes so much more explicit.
I loved the juxtaposition between the fairy tale (here, the cautionary tale of King Heartless) at the beginning of each chapter and the story. The employment of the fairytale as a lead in is superb. This use, as a foretelling of the events that follow is, put simply, just exquisite. 
I am amazed at how this tool works so effectively for each story in the series. How does Elizabeth Hoyt find just the right story as an allegory for the events that unfold and yet becomes just as captivating as the main story that flows alongside? Truly a gift. 
I adored this story so much that I had a solid few days of reading the Maidens Lane series from the beginning. And I kept asking myself how had I never read the series before! It's really different, and wonderful as its complexity morphs into the simplicity of selfless love conquering all.
The twists and turns in Duke of Sin really grabbed me. (Mind you that complexity is a part of all the novels). The verbal interplay between Val and Bridget as each tries to out jockey the other is appropriately barbed. The discovery of each by the other is riveting and wonderfully crafted. The coming into his humanity by Valentine is a slow recovery aided by Bridget. The sensuous relationship that develops between them is a thing of beauty. 
The Foundling Home in St Giles and its ladies as always play a huge part, as does the mysterious Ghost of St. Giles. A captivating story that held me in thrall into the wee small hours!
I am so glad to have had the chance to discover this series.

A NetGalley ARC

*****