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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, November 14, 2017

"To love or not to love. That is the question.”



I swear Charlotte is a warrior woman, a lioness in her defence of Ewan Hoffstead, Duke of Donburrow.
Right from when they met, Ewan a terrified ten and Charlotte Undercross, a perceptive seven, Charlotte has defended and encouraged Ethan.
Even years later, when he turned his back on her she still loved him and wanted only the best for him.
Ewan cannot get past the terrible burden his despicable father lay on him. Taunted as being deformed, defined by his muteness as less, this words have been poisoned darts that have burrowed their way into the deepest corners of his psyche. Not only his father's angst and derision did Ewan have to endure, but the coldness of his mother and the same bullying as his father, inflicted on him by his brothers. His brothers have been brought up to disregard Ewan as the heir. It's only his uncle's pursuit of justice that has Ewan declared the rightful heir and Earl.
Now widowed, Charlotte the Countess of Portsmith hopes for one last time to convince Ewan that her love would be enough.
The story of Ewan's banishment is heart wrenching. Ewan's sense of abandonment that cemented the knowledge that he was 'wrong' governed his life.  Unfortunately that emotional, gut wrenching response negated the real point that he was loved, just not by his parents or siblings. This love was evidenced in the way his uncle and aunt opened their arms and home to him when his father cast him off, their support for him over the years.
The challenges Charlotte faces to bring Ewan to an understanding that he is a complete person are difficult. But Charlotte is determined to give their relationship one last attempt before admitting defeat and throwing herself back onto the marriage market.
I must admit that spread liberally throughout the book is Ewan and Charlotte's physical pleasure in each other. But this is a Jess Michaels' book. 

A NetGalley ARC 

****

Christmas memories awakened!

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Molly Murphy #17) 
by Rhys Bowen.  


This is the first Molly Murphy mystery I've read. Even so, I was not lost with what was happening, or the relationships between the main characters. I am sure earlier readings would have given me more depth of understanding into the intricacies of the various relationships--between Molly and Bridie and Daniel, Daniel Sid and Gus, Molly and Daniel's mother.
Through a series of almost happenstance events, Molly, Daniel and Bridie end up spending Christmas at Greenbriars, the home of Cedric and Winnie Van Aiken, near Scarborough on the Hudson River. 
The loss of a child is devasting, and in Winnie Van Aiken's case, the disappearance of her daughter Charlotte years ago, the not knowing if Lottie is alive or dead, continues to be shattering. 
The plot around Charlotte's disappearance is convoluted. The child's footsteps led outside to the edge of a frozen stream and disappeared. Searches turned up nothing. No ransom was ever asked for. Charlotte was gone. What had happened?
Molly is on edge, she feels apprehensive in the house and doesn't like Cedric Van Aiken. Certainly things turn nasty as Molly pursues her investigative intuition about Lottie's disappearance..
I reserve judgement on Daniel. He obviously loves Molly and yet disapproves of many of her actions. Perhaps if I'd met him in earlier novels I'd like him more.
On top of this it seems their ward Bridie is to be reunited with her father--something that has Molly upset and Bridie uncertain.

A NetGalley ARC

***

'Ethan was broken. Broken, and running from it.'

Twelfth Night with the Earl (The Sutherland Sisters #3)  by Anna Bradley   


                          

Ethan Fortescue's return to Cleve's Court in Devon is full of surprises. The Earl of Devon has come to finally shut up the family seat--a place of terrible memories. This Christmas he's putting the past behind him. Or is he? The house that should be silent and dark is alight and full of merriment. There in the midst of things, directing the proceedings is his childhood friend Theodosia Sheridan.
The cut and thrust of the repartee between these two is so entertaining. Indeed, it seems the wicked Earl has a decidedly wicked sense of humor. 
Ethan is burdened with the most appalling sense of guilt centered around his brother's death at Cleve Court. Thea has determined to make Ethan face his ghosts, hoping to bring about his healing. Ethan needs to stop running! It seems though that she has made an appalling misjudgement. The deadline of winning Ethan over by the twelfth night of Christmas, helping him put aside his guilt over the tragedy of his brother, will not come to fruition.
Resident in the house with Thea are three orphans. They are precociously alert and wary of Ehtan. His efforts to win them over and his interactions with them are especially delightful.
This was a warm, often funny novel leaning on themes of guilt, love and redemption. 
The author's note on how epilepsy was perceived during these times gives a deeper understanding of the story.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, November 13, 2017

Excellent graphic novel depicts Monet's life.

Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio, illustrated by EFA (Ricard Fernandez) 


                           

A fascinating chronicle that brings one face to face with Monet's life, his struggles and his achievements. I found the graphic presentation challenging at the beginning, the background coloring seemed to swamp things but as Monet's life unfolded I came to appreciate those shadings that seemed for me to reflect the stages of his life and along the way incorporates references to the styles of Monet and his companions in the search for a new way of seeing. The illustrating is fantastic. There's a richness that the artist EFA (Ricard Fernandez) beings to bear.  I'm awed. Sometimes I find the comments in the word balloons a little stilted, but to me that always is a product of this medium.
Graphic novels are not easy reading. I find they require more concentration than the written word. What I really enjoyed was that this medium, by its nature is in the first person. The engagement with the story is just so very immediate. Monet comes alive.
I must say that I really enjoyed looking at Monet's life through graphic spectacles. Using the visual to explore the visual is brilliant.
This is not a scholarly tome although obviously based on solid research. It is a wonderful biographical investigation, a great addition for a collector of works about Monet, or a collector of graphic novels. I would certainly add it to a school library collection, or give it as a present with a difference for someone I know would enjoy it.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The rake's progress!

The Chaperone’s Secret (Classic Regency Romances #19)   by  Donna Lea Simpson


                            

I felt like I was reading a version of the Cinderella story with Cinders being Amy Corbett and her charge Rowena, the ugly stepsister. Amy has been snaffled away from her kind employer by Lady Rowena's autocratic father, the Duke, to chaperone his daughter during the coming season, and to ensure that Rowena finally marries. Failure is not an option. He really is a very unlikeable man. Unfortunately, Amy in accepting the employment that is, well 'fait accompli' is at the mercy of the Duke and his daughter. 
Lady Rowena is disdainful of others and solely concerned about her impact on men in particular. Her shallowness and meanness is breathtaking.
Lord Dante Pierson sees a vision go by late at night when he's sprawled in the gutter with two helpful 'ladies of the night'. Cupid's arrow pierces his heart. He's in love and determined to mend his dissolute ways and pursue the fair, unknown lady. That fair lady being the outwardly angelic Rowena, whose sweet countenance harbours a petulant inner self.
Now this all makes for a whole lot of heartache for Amy's position as chaperone.
I liked the way the characters were presented. Rowena was a fright, as was meant to be.
Amy is disturbed by the effect Rowena has on Pierson. She foresees nothing but disaster for the relationship. There is nothing she can do about it.
This novel had huge potential. There were a couple of interesting surprises towards the end but to my mind the storyline devolved into a fairly predictable melodrama. 

A NetGalley ARC

***

A new star on the space opera map.

Valiant Dust (Breaker of Empires #1)   by Richard Baker. 


                         

An interesting reworking of space opera themes. Recontact by more developed interstellar powers with isolated frontier worlds from Terra  and how that plays out. In this case the two major powers are the Aquilan Commonwealth and the Dremark Empire.
The world that is in question, Gadira II, is populated by those of Islamic leanings, adhering to moderate Quranist understandings of that faith.
It seems an agent of the Dremark Empire is setting up Gadira, for planetary unrest and thereby being able to install a puppet government aligned with Dremark's self interest. (Is it all sounding familiar?)
The main character, Lieutenant Sikander Singh North, a gunner officer, is from a similar frontier world, Kashmir. This system has been able to escalate its development under the more moderate Aquilan Commonwealth.
He's not only a member of the star fleet forces but akin to a prince in his own nation, hence his valet, Darvesh Reza who 'functions as Sikander's security detail, secretary, and general minder as well as his body servant.' I am sure Darvesh is going to join the renowned list of select sidekicks so enjoyed in other space operas.
For some reason Sikander's character is reminding me of Roger Ramius Sergei Chiang MacClintock from David Weber and John Ringo's series, Empire of Man. I know completely different characters and situations, still ... I'm intuiting some similarities.
There is a slight romantic interest for Sikander's with the intelligent, astute niece of the Sultan, Amira Ranya Meriem el-Nasir, Crown Princess of Gadir. A romance destined not to be.
Captain Markham, captain of the CSS Hector reminds me of some of the stalwart and fearless female captains from the Honor Harrington series.
The battles are all well orchestrated and described by Baker. It's in these situations of course we see further development of major and secondary characters, as they react under fire.
I look forward to the next in this series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Compelling Victorian Mystery!

Lord Edward's Mysterious Treasure: The Breton Adventure (The Victorian Adventures #4) 
by Lillian Marek. 

                             

Marek's novel takes us to Brittany and a gothic Victorian type mystery with a romantic interest.
The scholarly Lord Edward Tremaine, son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Penworth, is lured to Brittany's coast and the forbidding Chateau Morvan by his friend Antoine on the pretext of being able to interview Tony's great grandfather, the vicomte de Morvan. Edward is excited at this possibility of direct research into the Breton rebellion, and relationship between the peasants of the area and the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Antoine really want wants Edward to help search for lost treasure from that time. Edward reminds me of a Tom Conti or Oscar Wilde type hero. On the surface he seems like an Ineffectual scholar but as events ratchet up, he becomes so much more. And Edward's very perceptive mother notices the difference in her son! 
Then there's Tony's two cousins. The delightful, warm Delphine and the sober Marguerite, a dark and secretive woman and a brilliant pianist. Intrigue and unforeseen dangers swirl around the story akin to the swirling mists that encase the Chateau. 
Tumultuous times are indeed revisited in highly charged and unexpected ways.
In this, the fourth in the series a Tremaine sibling is once again center stage.
Marek's historical setting and her use of situations  to give entree into the drama is fascinating, as is the unpacking of her historical writing muses discussed in her author's notes.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Well done Galen! Third Son does indeed charm!

Third Son's a Charm (The Survivor's #1)    by Shana Galen.  


I really enjoyed the first entry in Galen's new series, The Survivor's.
Lady Lorraine, daughter of the Duke of Ridlington, is a bundle of energy that she has trouble keeping inside. She's determined, inquisitive, daring and delightful.
Ewan Mostyn is a returned soldier, a younger son of Lord Pembroke. He was one of a number of younger sons who fought and survived the Napoleonic Wars with Lieutenant Colonel Draven’s special unit. 'The survivors called themselves the Survivors. They called Ewan the Protector.'
Back in civilian life, the Colonel has opened a club for the men of his unit. A place they can gather and support each other, eat and sleep. For Ewan it's his lifeline.
The story begins with a runaway dog, a slightly damaged owner and a large bulk of a man who saves both from impending doom, not that the lady seems at all grateful much less aware of her eminent danger.
The Duke of Ridlington wants a bodyguard for his daughter and after the contretemps with Ewan and his daughter it seems the Duke's decided that Ewan is the man for the job.
This first of the series that will be woven around these survivors is a winner. Wonderful interaction between Lady Lorraine and Ewan--often hilarious. I love the tree limb sequences. 
Of course there's an antagonist. Such a coincidence, (Hmm! the literary universe does move in mysterious ways), that it's Ewan's slimey cousin Francis, a person who's been a thorn in his flesh since early childhood. That these two should meet, and that Lorraine is the intersecting point, raises all sorts of emotions, bad memories and angst for Ewan and adds the requisite sinister note to the story. 
I loved Galen's writing style, her turn of phrase. I was particularly struck by Ewan's metaphor regarding Francis's pursuit of his charge. 'Ewan had no illusions that his cousin was in love with Lady Lorraine. He wanted her dowry, and once he had it, he would discard his wife like a browning apple core.' That last image is brilliant!
And to think the starting point for this series was 'The Dirty Dozen' as Galen says in her Author's Note. (I always read the authors notes. I find them so enlightening.)
Anyway, I'm sold! I'm so looking forward to all the Survivor's stories!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A past Christmas tragedy wakes.

A Christmas Return (Christmas Stories #15)  
by Anne Perry.  


                          


Never disappointing, Perry pens a mystery novella that keeps you wondering. An unusual Christmas present, the wretched reminder of a tragic past and a cry for help, catapults Mariah Ellison, (Charlotte Pitt's grandmother), into a situation that has her drawing on all the fortitude she can muster. Mariah Ellison finds herself facing her own dark past memories as she comes to the aid of a friend.
A dark wound of twenty years ago is reopened and Mariah is called to aid a friend in need.
Twenty years ago Mariah's friend, Cullen Wesley died under strange circumstances just after he'd withdrawn as the attorney for a man accused of the rape and murder of a child.
Subsequently, his ex client Owen Durward was acquitted.  is back in 
Now Durward has returned to the village of 'Haslemere, bent on clearing his reputation.' He has taken aim at Cullen's wife Rowena, spreading rumours that perhaps she killed her husband.
As the poison spreads Rowena is being shunned by the villagers.
Her grandson Peter Wesley calls on Mariah to help clear Rowensa name.
Mariah is prepared for battle, but where to start? Can they find out the truth of twenty years ago?
A tightly woven mystery that raises all sorts of questions.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Food and drink, always a winner!

POK POK The Drinking Food of Thailand:A Cookbook    by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode. 


                  

I must say this book brought back the exciting sights and smells of Northern Thailand, siting at roadside stalls eating combinations of foods that were added by me pointing and hoping for the best. Downing a beer or two with a small side snack and watching the world go by. (I steered clear of the whiskey.)
Just for that tug on the memory strings, I enjoyed this book.
That was in the early 70's and my love for Thai food has never diminished.
Drinking Food is not as Ricker says, 'full-on meals.' 
It is 'a subset of [Thai] cuisine ... called aahaan kap klaem, or “drinking food.” In Thailand, you almost never see people drinking without something to eat. Rocker continues, 'I have yet to enter a Thai establishment where there’s booze but no food on offer. That impromptu alley bar, for example, might have set out drinking fare at its most basic.'
I love the way the recipes are accompanied by stories about the how, when and why of them.
Some recipes I won't use, some aspects of recipes I won't use. For instance, Dancing shrimp calls for preferably live shrimp. Those I will find hard to come by. However fresh raw shrimp can be used.
Although there's only a handful of recipes I would use, this is a helpful and insightful look into Thai food and culture, accompanied by photos that made me feel that I was right there.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Alchemy, arcane arts and murder!

Murder on Black Swan Lane (A Wrexford & Sloane Mystery #1) by Andrea Penrose


Reading the first couple of pages of this new series I gave a 'Ho Hum'. Except, those Ho's and Hum's soon turned into 'Oh My's. All I can say is that this new Regency Mystery is masterful--a page turner!
The Earl of Wrexford, a brilliant man of science, doesn't suffer fools gladly and has been carrying on a damning, acerbic public conversatio with the Reverend Josiah Holworthy.
When Holworthy is found with his throat cut and his face disfigured by chemicals, the Earl is suspected of his murder. His case is not helped by the cleverly penned caricatures from the caustic artist A.J. Quill that hit the London streets featuring the very public fight between the two men.
Widowed Charlotte Sloane is a talented and clever caricaturist always looking for someone to skewer with her rapier pen work in broadsheet illustrations, created under the name of A.J. Quill, the public name used by her late husband.
When the Earl and Charlotte meet, their combined aim is to find who the murder is and how that ties into the use of chemicals. Arcane practices rear their head. Their search for information on the various chemical compounds in relationship to alchemy is fascinating, as is the fact that Newton apparently was interested in this study.
Charlotte is somewhat mysterious, including how come she understands Latin, (maybe that will become more evident in the future). Who is her mysterious friend Jeremy who has access into the ton?
There is a plethora of fascinating secondary characters. Tyler, Wrexford's valet, Raven and Hawk, two young urchins, street savvy and endearing, and informants of Charlotte's.
The Author's notes about satirical caricaturists and alchemy is illuminating.
A dazzling start to a new series. I'm hooked!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fantasy lovers' fest!

Sword and Sorceress 32  by Elisabeth Waters


                              


Another stellar collection of fantasy stories with a female protagonist, who is either witch, warrior or sorceress, or a combination of all.
The forward to these collections is always an informative read, and the one here is no exception.
I have been reading these collections since they first began and have always found rewarding the range of subject matter and  the quality of writing.
Many of the top fantasy writers have begun their careers here.
If one must have favorites I particularly enjoyed, although the list could go on ... and on...
Sound of the Moon by Robin Wayne Bailey
Wight Nights by Steve Chapman
The Girl from Black Point Rock by Deborah J. Ross
Add a Cup of Terror by Michael Spence & Elisabeth Waters

A NetGalley ARC

****

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Beware of things unseen!

Booke of the Hidden (Booke of the Hidden #1)   by Jeri Westerson


                            

This was so not what I expected. It was a crazy, wild ride and such a departure for Westerson.
(And to think she dreamt about the major elements of the story--amazing--ah the subconscious!)
A new entry into the urban paranormal genre complete with a mild mannered Wiccan group, a woman escaping a bad relationship who flees from California to Maine. Was she summoned or was it all just coincidence? Right!
What do you do when you break down a brick wall in your new abode and find a musty old book. You open it and summon ... things that go beyond the wildest imagination for Kylie Strange.
I loved the magical cross bow.
I loved the demon (not quite the daemon lover of Scottish fame) or whatever Mr. Erasmus Dark might be. The quips Kylie directs at him are hilarious.
I'm not sure about Sheriff Bradbury.
I loved the Wicca coven including the teenager who is a cross between Wynona Rider and Julia Stiles.
Suddenly, for the coven and Kylie, fighting demons, incubus and such us becomes the norm.
Then there's the coven dedicated to dark, and a different demon.
And let's not forget the sector of town who once upon a time, in the past, would have happily burnt all of the above at the stake, of which one member has hereditary links to Kylie.
A great start to a new series.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Cinderella Sisterhood meets Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.



                              

So continues the exploits of an enchanted pair of shoes helping young women trapped in less than stellar circumstances.
Lady Clarissa Milford is keeper of the shoes and faerie godmother, bestowing these magical 'elegant dancing slippers ... fashioned of rich garnet silk and covered in tiny crystal beads that sparkled in the daylight,' as she sees fit.  As Lady Milford explains, they must be returned when no longer needed.
With half a mind to refuse charity of any sort, Rory tries the shoes on and 'Softness enveloped her feet as if the shoes had been stitched by a master cobbler expressly for her [she is] ... buoyed by an irresistible sense of lightness.' The shoes lure the person in it seems and then mould themselves almost parasitically to the wearer. Magical!
Aurora (Rory) Paxton was banished to the country for eight years after being caught in a compromising position with an Italian diplomat. The cad turned out to be married. Her disgrace seems to have been a handy excuse for her stepmother to keep Rory away. She wasn't even notified of her father's death until after the funeral.
Now, eight years later Rory's stepmother Kitty needs her help. Kitty is being blackmailed over a packet of love letters from years ago. Just as Rory's half sister Celeste has become engaged to a wealthy Duke, old enough to be her father. Mmm! 
Kitty is fearful that should the letters become public the Duke will be frightened off.
Of course Rory is still treated like a second class citizen by her stepmother. When she goes to investigate a likely suspect, Lucas Vale, Marquess of Dashell, by becoming his mother's companion, things take an interesting turn.
And we mustn't forget Rory's secret life as the women's rights broadsheet contributor, Miss Cellany.
A regency romance with a difference.

A NetGalley ARC

***

I'm bedazzled!

The Bride Who Got Lucky (The Bride Who Got Lucky (The Cavensham Heiresses #2)  by Janna MacGregor



Oh my! I loved this. I adored the intelligent, stubborn Lady Emma Cavensham trying to find justice for her dead friend Lady Lena Eaton.
I was smitten with the damaged the Earl of Somerton, Nicholas St. Mauer who had been alone and rejected from an early age. It was after a terrible encounter with his father at Eaton, that Alex Pembrooke interfered when Nick was being bullied by other students. This later becomes the doorway into to a relationship with Pembrooke and Emma's family. 
Rejection by his father, Drake St. Mauer, the Duke of Renton, has put Nick onto the trajectory of  desiring to surpass his father’s wealth and to isolate himself from the hurt of meaningful relationships.  He has decided to not marry. Nick focuses all his attention on the acquisition of wealth. He engages in trade to do with merchant ships and their cargoes, and purchases ships for new trade routes. Vengeance would be sweet. 'He could taste victory.' 
I love the sometimes dim witted (where Emma's concerned), but fiercely loyal men of the Cavensham family. Their presence is a wonderful addition to the story.
Lord Somerton keeps encountering Emma on her forays into what could be dangerous, or at the very least scandalous places, and coming to her rescue, or imposing rescue on her, whichever fits the bill. His thwarting of Emma frustrates her. The repartee they engage in is amusing and invigorating. I loved Emma's thoughts after the first such encounter, When 'his laughter followed her all the way to her carriage. Insufferable cur.'
When Emma is driven to investigate her dearest friend Lena's husband, the despicable, hateful Lord Aulton, to make him pay for Lena's murder its Somerset who keeps rescuing Emma from her own fearlessness. With her brothers and father just a few paces behind.
These rescues ultimately takes a course that is in keeping with the times.
The last scenes left me somewhat teary with happiness.
As far as I'm concerned this is a rare winner in the regency romance stakes, complete with intrigue, interest and wonderful lead characters.

A NetGalley ARC

*****


“Just one speck of dust can blind an eye.”



                                

A rather fascinating story that explores the idea of love and marriage, duty and faith.
Belle's father has driven the family finances into dun territory with his investments in continual failed schemes. At last it seems his 'griller' invention might be a way to break through. Alas his bad luck or serious miscalculation continues. The family is left destitute.
Their property is bought by Adam Herschberger, the local recluse who has withdrawn from the Amish society due to people's responses to his scarred face. Many call him The Beast--as Belle notes, hardly the godly action of a faith community. 
Belle goes to Adam to see if she can be his housekeeper in exchange for the family being able to continue to live in the house.
Instead Adam offers her marriage.
The story of Belle coming to the belief that God has called her to marry Adam, the many tribulations she must face as she tries all she can to make this marriage work are extraordinary.
A intricate look at relationships and the communities they are part of.
The look into Amish customs adds an extra level of interest.
Bible versus are scattered throughout the story, all having a relevant place consistent with the action, illuminating the moment.
A very special and appealing love story with a difference.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Another star crossed romance!



                               

Really, by now the ladies of the ton should know better than to entertain Lucy Hunt's grand schemes relating to marriage. 
'Lucy Hunt. The young, dashing Duchess of Claringdon was a favorite of the ton. She was rich. She was beautiful. She was outspoken. And she was master of planning plots' always a near disaster and with a generous helping of agonizing anticipation.
Meg has loved her best friend Sarah's brother, Viscount Hart Highgate, since she was sixteen. Hart has decided to marry but his parents' example leaves him cold. There's no way Hart would even consider Meg, especially as they're parents have been at odds for years. With parents like these two have who needs enemies. Although he does have five good reasons to help Sarah find Meg a husband.
Lucy Hunt decides to take Meg Timmons under her wing and help the situation along. Talk about from the frying pan into the fire! Meg's romantic efforts guided by Lucy certainly run that course.
Sometimes a romance starts with a kiss and life unfolds beautifully, but for Meg and Hart the obstacle course is rough with gaping pitfalls.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Recluce! Order and chaos! Addictive!

by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.



I continue to find Modesitt's thesis on chaos and order absolutely fascinating. I have been a devotee of all of the Recluce series right from the very first release and I have never grown tired of them. Indeed I enjoy every fiction novel Modesitt has written. Truly talented, I am continually enthralled by, and addicted to, his work.
As a supposedly White Mage and practitioner of the chaotic arts, and apprentice to his uncle, the White Mage Kaerylt, Beltur struggles to be a good enough magician. It seems he looks at things slightly differently from others. There is an order to his use of chaos, which is contrary to what is the norm. That use of order is hinted to him by the red-haired healer Margrena, a young healer he finds himself attracted to.
When Kaerylt and Beltur are called to report before Denardre, Prefect of Gallos, they are attacked as they leave the Prefect's presence by the Prefect's Arms Mage, Wyath. Beltur is forced to flee Gallos. He seeks shelter in the City of Elparta, Spidlar, a place where Black Mages, those committed to the practice of Order, reside. Here Beltur is able to extend his perspectives and understandings. He has the ability to detect chaos and order and use both, and with a master smith pursues the long lost art of casting cupridium. 
As Beltur's education continues he struggles with what sort of Mage he is.
I know looking for chaos in sheep, and rotten parts of piers might seem mundane but as the process of Belthurs learning continues so does our understanding of chaos and order, the cornerstones of the Recluce novels.
A trade war is forced upon Spidlar, by the arrogant, despotic Prefect of Gallos. Beltur becomes part of the armed forces where he is forced under fire to develop his powers in new ways. It seems Beltur has enemies amongst the Black Mages, who see his powers as impure, 'mongrel' in heritage.
Whilst initially not as stunning as some in the series, Mongrel Mage is a solid contribution to furthering our understanding of this amazing world that Modesitt continues to grow. It earns its five stars status because of its intricate exploration of chaos and order alongside an equalling compelling human interest story of self-realization, struggle, intrigue and love.
I am so looking forward to more in this splinter series, with Beltur taking center place.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Captivating!

The Highlander's Princess Bride (The Improper Princesses #3) by Vanessa Kelly


What fun! I adored this foray into the life of another regency illegitimate Royal, this time Victoria Knight, daughter to the Prince Regent.
Working as a governess for a respectable family should allay any concerns of safety and well being--one would think!
However when the brother of your employer attempts to rape you, defending yourself is not only a marvellous idea, but absolutely necessary. The fact that said degenerate tumbled down the stairs and broke his neck doesn't mean you murdered him. Even though your employer's wife absolutely blames you. Well after all the scoundrel is Lady Welgate's brother. Such was the rude awakening from the dream of a fulfilling life, transitioning from respectable governess to setting up her own selective school that Victoria had. This scandal along with her birth would be the death knell to that dream.
Sir Dominic Hunter and Aden St. George arrange for their cousin Victoria to leave town until whilst they smooth the situation over seems the wisest move.  Victoria heads for the wilds of Scotland to teach music to the younger brother of Nicholas Kendrick, Earl of Arnprio, and it seems to help manage all the grown and half grown young men, including the Lord's irrepressible grandfather, who inhabit the rather gothic castle domineering the landscape.
I really enjoyed Victoria's self-deprecating banter, evident when she hears of her employment conditions, “Lovely—a houseful of ill-mannered Highlanders, ones I’m expected to tame by virtue of my saintly presence."
Of course there's the darkly romantic and sinfully handsome Lord Nick to contend with as well.
Watching Victoria slay these young men and accept her as their own is marvellous. But will Nick accept her?
Nick's introspections are just as delightful as Victoria's, "If teasing a wee Sassenach governess had become the highlight of his week—perhaps his year—he’d come to a sorry pass, indeed."
I love the way the family starts of calling Victoria "Sassenach" as a term of derision that tempers to a term of affection. (Have I been watching to many episodes of Outlander?)
The complicating thing is that Dominic has told Victoria not to reveal her situation, or her birth details. Ah Secrets! They have a way of looming over you just at the wrong moment, and can be  potentially very dangerous.
A fabulous read, with the right amount of tension, humor and intrigue.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, October 27, 2017

Such a wonderful book!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir  by Jennifer Ryan.     

                                          

Capturing the desperate times, the loss and grief that touched every corner of ' this sceptres isle.'  This novel really goes to the heart of things for women on the Homefront in WW2 England.
There's the microcosm view of society through village life (as Miss Marple always says)
The angry gentry in form of the Brigadier, the women of his household
 bullied and fascinating whose lives and secrets are pivotal to the novel. Then there's the village nurse and the midwife, the black marketeers,  the requisite domineering lady of the village and a host of others. 
There's the wonderful Miss  Prim who takes the village women from a subservient role of women knowing where their place is to one of active courage.
There's spies and romance.
The story is written in letter form, which adds to the drama and the feel of the era.
I was glued to every word and to every plot twist that fell off the page into my rather active imagination.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Danger and intrigue stalk!

Bound to a Spy (All the Queen's Spies #2) by Sharon Cullen


Rose Turner and Will Sheffield are unexpected characters. They are thrown together under fateful circumstances. Will, a spy for Queen Elizabeth I, is attending Mary, Queen of Scots' court, befriending the Queen's petulant and self-centered husband Darnley. He is keeping an eye on the various levels of simmering discontent and rumors swirling around the court as Mary and Darnley's son is about to be baptized. He doesn't expect a plot to murder the Earl of Darnley to be on the list of planned activities. 
Rose is a reiver's daughter, a wild young lass more akin to the freedom of the outdoors than a stuffy rigid court. Her mother had been an attendant to Mary's mother. That's how Rose finds herself at court attending Mary, bearing her mother's high expectations of finding a husband and station in life. What Rose wants is to be back home with her family and animals. Which in a roundabout way is how she stumbles onto the plot to kill Darnley. Will himself is spying on the plotters when he sees Rose accidentally overhearing the conspirators. He also sees that one of them discovers Rose's dropped shawl when she hastens to get away.  Will seeks to protect Rose and in the midst of all the dangerous subterfuge is smitten by her. One thing leads to another--Rose is in grave danger, Will is denying his feelings for her, Darnley is a depraved, lecherous seducer and is stalking Rose, and one of the traitors is looking to trap Rose into marriage--a marriage she wouldn't survive. Danger, tragedy and death loom large on Rose's horizon and Will is all that can avert that. The search for the plotters' identities is key to Rose's safety. As Will struggles with that Rose battles with whether or not to tell Mary of what she knows. A decision that could cost her all.
I enjoyed both Will and Rose. I shivered fearfully with Rose as she tried to hide from Darnley, sympathized with her situation and thoroughly enjoyed this contribution to All the Queen's Spies. 
Cullen has taken this historically turbulent time and created a riveting romantic drama. 

A NetGalley ARC

****

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Well paced murder mystery.

Dark Signal: A Kate Fox Novel (A Kate Fox Mystery #2) 
by Shannon Baker


                           

There's a new sheriff in town. Kate Fox catches a trying case on the first day of the job. Death by train is not a common murder method but it looks like in this case it just might be so. Mind you she has to convince the railway authorities and the state police that this is more than a railway accident.
This is the second in the series but it doesn't lose too much by starting here. Although there are family happenings that I am sure would be clearer if I'd read the first novel.
The setting in the Nebraska hills adds to the sense of isolation and small community life.
Don't be fooled by small town atmosphere, the 'shucks ma'am' images stepping right up against the 'school of hard knocks older women' are gems.
Kate Fox might be new by but she sure isn't going to be fobbed off by the good ol' boys who can't quite get their heads around the fact that Kate is no longer the previous sheriff's wife but The Sheriff! And when ex hubby Ted keeps being given information about a case he no longer has a right to know about, Kate needs to bring those recalcitrant officers into line.
Oh, and there's three interesting males who have come into Kate's sphere. Ok at least one might be a suspect, but still! 
I loved Kate's internal dialogues, funny and insightful. 
The title is at once subtle and yet a comment on things to come.
Slick and intriguing, this was an excellent read.

A NetGalley ARC

****