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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, February 28, 2017

Love lost and love found!



                           

1742. Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has a problem. Widowed for over two years she finds herself in an alarming position. Her husband's will declared that she must marry within three years of his demise or else forfeit her son's inheritance. Not only that but his friend Bishop Craig must approve the union. Unfortunately, the rather unworldly Bishop has taken that to mean that he is to take a hand in bringing forward suitable suitors. However, all she's been presented with thus far are hardened rakes needing money and elderly bachelor gentlemen. Besides Daisy wants to enjoy her freedom and marry with her heart this time, not be governed by any man's will. It seems her dead husband has reached from beyond the grave to order her life. Men!
A letter from her first love, Robert Spivey, now an English naval captain, declaring his intentions sends Daisy and her son to the Scottish Highlands ostensibly to view her son's Scottish estate, but really to buy time until the return of her lost love, Rob. Any infatuation with her handsome neighbor is only temporary until her true love joins her.
Daisy encounters Cailean Mackenzie, the laird of Arrandale, and finds herself strongly attracted to him. Cailean has his own affairs to attend to, smuggling included. Maintaining his lands and building up his clan's prosperity in the face of English taxes is a burdensome enough task. A flirtatious Sassenach has no place in his life.
When Cailean learns who Daisy's heart is set on, his takes a blow, not that he has any time for this beguiling English widow, but Captain Spivey is a figure he's had dealings with before--none of them kind!
A love story with a few intriguing twists set against the rugged highland backdrop. Complete with a handsome Laird and a bewitching and troubled widow. What's not to like!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Five Gods World novella--a winner!

Penric and the Shaman (Penric & Desdemona #2) (Hardcover) by Lois McMaster Bujold




                 


Ok, I'm officially in love with Penric! He exhibits that combination of humour, compassion, thoughtfulness and gentleness wrapped up in a wryness that's wonderfully humane.
In this world of the Five Gods, Lord Penric, is now a divine and sorcerer of the Bastard's Order, a depository for the demon combinations he's named Desdemona, a conglomerate of twelve.
In this second novella, Penric is called on to seek out an escaped murderer, but what he finds is so much more! Along with the Senior Locator, Penric is sent to track down a renegade shaman Inglis, accused of murder.
As usual Penric confounds all as he investigates this case. Oswyl, the Locator (of the Father's Order) is frequently confounded by Penric. That Penric by his very youth and laid back appearance is frequently underrated by all he meets--is a strength, as Oswyl discovers.
Inglis, the shaman, confronted by the God of xx is nicely wrought.
I do like Penric's reflections about the gods and humour and the further small insights about the gods and demons he gives us.
Penric advising Oswyl is priceless: ' “A bit of free theological advice. Do not deny the gods. And they will not deny you.”... "Dangerous habit, mind you. Once you start to let Them in through that first crack, They’re worse than mice.”'
As always with anything Lois McMaster Bujold writes, very very satisfying.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Love and treachery!





                             

Lady Joan Armstrong Fraser and Sir Malcolm McKenna's story is one of building trust. 
1334. Joan has fled her abusive marriage to Laird Archibald Fraser.  With her small son she'd  returned to her home at Armstrong Castle. She'd married Archibald 'with blind naïveté, unaware of his true character.'
Joan's place in her father's home is tenuous and she knows that should her father marry the Lady Agnes that place will be even more so.
Meanwhile Malcolm has been accused of fathering a child on the daughter of Laird of the MacPhearson. Indeed, 'the MacPhearson laird is not only claiming that his daughter was seduced, but that she was promised marriage.' Malcom is shocked. He has no recollection of any such encounter.
A meet between the McKenna and MacPhearson clans has been arranged at the Armstrong Castle to come to an agreement or make restitution without bloodshed.
Unknown to Joan, her father has for his own reasons included her former husband in the negotiations. 
Danger and betrayal surrounds Joan. Malcom offers her a way out. Is she courageous enough to accept?
A delicate balance of fear and desire threads the relationship between Malcolm and Joan. Malcolm must build trust with this abused woman who fires his heart. Malcom proves to be a man worthy of the task in this highly charged highland romance. As he says to Joan, 'Fate has seen fit to give ye a second chance. Take it.' Can Joan take what's offered?
A worthy follow up to 'The Highlander Who Loved Me.'

A NetGalley ARC

****

Let the heart rule!


Smitten by her childhood friend, Miranda Hodgkins determines that she will do all she can to entice Robert Carlisle into marrying her. Unfortunately she finds that her planned seduction is off kilter when she ends up in the bedroom of Robert's brother, Sebastian, the Duke of Trent. Startled to find that the beautiful masked woman 'Rose' reclining seductively across his bed is little Miranda, the determined playmate of his youth, Sebastian promises to do all he can to help Miranda win Robert's heart ... and along the way Sebastian loses his! 

Absolutely delightful!


Georgette Frost is a delightful force of nature. Lord Hugo Starling thinks he's rescuing her from a hare brained plot to try to find the gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint. What he's doing is miring himself even more deeply in her scheme.
Georgette's world turns upside down when she reaches twenty-one, which is very soon. She plans to find her brother Benedict and the gold and start a new and glorious life. Benedict we met in Fortune Favors the Wicked. 
Boarding a coach disguised as a boy is quite in order.  As an avid reader Georgette knows that, 'Many the blue-blooded heroine of a conte de fée had disguised herself to escape the cruel predations of a wicked relative'. Not that Georgette had wicked relatives, perhaps more unthinking. And now here is Hugo annoyingly overturning her plans. However, never daunted, Georgette leads the way, despite the Bow Street runner who seems to be keeping in step with them.
So begins a journey of humor, deceit, surprise and danger.
One of my favorite lines between Georgette and Hugo was when discussing the meaning of love, comprises of 'putting down a book for one’s companion when one only wants to read. That is love indeed!'
An enjoyable romp, made even more so by the frisson and wonderful repartee between Georgette and Hugo.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Second chances!

Shifting Currents indeed! Evocative Turner!

Turner’s Modern and Ancient Ports: Passages through Time   (Hardcover) by Susan Grace GalassiIan WarrellJoanna Sheers Seidenstein, Gillian Forrester, Rebecca Hellen, and Eloise Owens



                        

This catalogue is an excellent production supporting the exciting exhibition at the Frick Gallery, running from February 23, 2017 to May 14, 2017. Featuring paintings, drawings and a collection of essays by the curators involved with the exhibition, provide further food for thought about Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), his works and artistic  development.
I was captivated by the intriguing tile of one of the essays, 'Shifting Currents: Turner's Depictions of Coasts, Rivers, Harbors and Ports in the 1820's by Ian Warrell. It plays brilliantly to the idea of the exhibition. It's playfulness piqued my interest. That thought aside, all essays are equally authoritative, fascinating and illuminating.
The cornerstone of the exhibition are two paintings belonging to the Frick from the 1820's.  They reflect Turner's developing skills and techniques in his representation of the motif of the modern and ancient ports of Dieppe and Cologne; The Harbor of Dieppe of 1825 and Cologne, The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening of 1826. The transition that these two works represent are supported by a coherent and exciting cavalcade of other of Turner's works. Vibrant and energetic! This apparently is the first time that these two seminal paintings have hung side by side. 
Just as the exhibition is a window into Turner's methods, his abilities, use of color, light, absorbing subject matter, and so much more, so too is the catalogue. A further portal, a timeless chance to engage with all facets of the exhibition, both during the exhibition, and long after.
The catalogue is definitely a worthy addition for Turner aficionados and the interested, whether one is able to attend the exhibition or not.

 A NetGalley ARC

*****

Monday, February 20, 2017

Regency Melodrama



                                  

The scene's set. It's the night before the big day when finally Lady Isolde Worthingham is going to say 'I do' and marry the man who holds her heart, Merrick Mountshaw, the Duke of Moore. But when Isolde witnesses her fiancé in bed with her so called best friend her heart breaks into a thousand pieces. And her best friend--nothing less than a scheming cat who goes to scandalous lengths to bag a Duke!
The marriage between Merrick and Leonora Hart is doomed to failure from the beginning.
Isolde hives off to Scotland for five years to try to mend her broken heart. After that time she is at last was persuaded to return to London. Because society is society, Isolde finds herself back in the arena of all that is fashionable--including Moore and his Duchess.
Lenora is even worse than when we last saw her, glittering, highly strung, barbed and dangerous. Merrick still calls to Isolde. But enough! Isolde has decided to find a husband and start a family. Love need not be a factor.
The man she chooses however is pursued by his own devils, and it's seems that unknowingly Lenora is heading into a marriage that will be far less far than the contract she envisages and nowhere near the polite union she's hoping for. Isolde's heart will not be involved but she hopes for at least a civil scandal free union, despite the draw that Merrick still is.
A reasonably enjoyable romantic farce with an eye opening prelude and three interesting acts. 

A NetGalley ARC

*** 1/2

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tension and temptation!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Intriguing!


                              

Fascinating story set in the Cairo souk, 1913.
A young girl from from a prominent family Marie Kewfik, is kidnapped. A man from the Kewfik stables, was stabbed. They seemingly are not linked. When a young girl, Layla, from the exclusive modern girls school, Khedivial Girls’ School, comes to the Mamur Zapt (Gareth Cadwallader Owen)the Head of Special Branch, to ask for his assistance, he finds himself drawn into an unusual political arena.
A talented 'nay' player is involved.
A wise old woman of the souk encourages Mamur Zap to follow the music.
Owen is married to the highly regarded modern woman, Zeinab. I was struck by their relationship.
A startling look at Egyptian life in the the early twentieth century, traditional ways of life, and the power of women in the souk.
I'm hooked!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Great Holmsian addition



                               

Riots, death threats, hate mail. All are gifts Conan Doyle receives when he kills off Sherlock Holmes. Doyle is tired, his wife is dying, Holmes stories are  mired in the banal and Doyle wants a change of pace.
Not so his fans. They have turned into ravening hoards demanding their hero back.
A humouress and lively read!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Secrets exposed!



                           

The MacNeil Legacy, where the 1860's Highlands and the New World intersect continues with Fletcher's younger half brother Duncan MacNeil. Since his arrival at the Isle of Hedabarr, Duncan has been out of step; a misplaced, bored, half Commache lad who's as handsome as sin, and as ready to indulge in as much of that as the young women of the island will allow. A recipe for disaster! In the end Fletcher, Duke of Kintyre reluctantly allows Duncan to return to the land he's missing. Just before leaving Duncan spends a few hours after the village fair with a gullible young woman Isobel Dunbar. Alcohol and experimentation equal seduction. Personally I find the young Duncan to be a thoughtless scoundrel.
Isobel falls pregnant from that unwise moment. A husband lost at sea is invented and all goes well for ten years. 
Duncan returns from Texas ready to take up the family business. Looking for a site for a cannery that will provide work for the locals, Duncan fixes his sights aonthe run down property owned by Isobel. And so the two meet again. That leads of course to Duncan discovering Isobel's secret. I know, things eventually work out, but I still find the more mature Duncan is high handed and insensitive even with the flashbacks to his part in the civil war in Texas.
I frankly did not like Duncan as a youngster and am not that fond of him now. Even after Duncan's return to the Island with an obvious maturity and emotional growth, I wasn't that pleased with him. Duncan and Isobel's story, and the secondary stories feel somewhat contrived. That include events and entanglements involving secondary characters. Mysteries are uncovered and neatly tied coincidences trip over each.
Still the family continues to be of interest and I still find Fenella to be my favourite character.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fireworks indeed!

A Taste Of Fire by Hannah Howell


                             

Antonie Ramirez is a heady combination of innocence and insight, wrapped up in a dangerously delectable parcel.
Welcome to deep, wide Texas where men are men and women are more than competent.
Honouring her dead father's wishes to repay Royal Bancroft for saving their lives, Antonie Ramirez enters the world of the Bancroft's like a Texan whirlwind. Royal finds himself in danger from outlaws trying to take his land over and from a young woman who confounds and attracts him in equal measure.
Sort of Zane Greyish with way more verve and romance, I really enjoyed this departure from the more typical western novel.

A NetGalley ARC

****


Phryne flies high!



                          

Phryne is attending a dance marathon at a jazz club with 'a tedious but socially acceptable escort', Charles Freeman. Tintagel Stone the band leader leader and banjo player has a delectable pair of blue eyes. The last two marathon couples are exhausted but still dancing. One stumbles and falls--never to rise again. Phryne is flung headlong into murder, blackmail, missing persons, and a brief liaison--or two, although lamenting from time to time her anarchist lover met in Death at Victoria Dock.
The story ranges from St Kilda to the Australian Alps. Flying with Phyrne in her Tiger Moth  through that area, up through Mansfield and on to Mount Howitt plains were highlights of the story. Having walked some of this area I was instantly transported back there, to the sights, smells and sounds. Thank you Kerry Greenwood! As Phyrne reflects when walking to a hut, 'this cold wilderness was utterly unfamiliar, but it did not feel hostile, just indifferent to her fate. If she fell off this path and was broken into a hundred pieces nothing up here would be one whit interested.' 
Here are places where some find solace and others inspiration. The descriptions of this part of the world and the people, priceless! As Phyne says, 'they did not talk much and therefore liked to give every word its proper weight. She reflected that a writer might find this touching. Words were seldom given the respect they deserved.' (I loved this last sentiment)
The war references--Gallipoli and Pozières, and the effect of these battles on the veterans as always are stark reminders of the costs paid. 
Enjoyable as always.

A NetGalley ARC

****

'He was no Prince Charming. More like Prince Misery and Disappointment.'



                           


'He was no Prince Charming. More like Prince Misery and Disappointment.'

Interesting if somewhat harsh words for someone who thinks they're saving your life!
Jilted and left at the altar five years earlier, Emilia St. George is sure that this time her marriage to the grandson to a Duke, Honorable Edmund Worsely, will go without a hitch. That is until Emilia's former fiancée jiltee, Hamilton Sparrow turns up at the wedding and kidnaps her just as she's about to walk down the aisle. Sparrow, a former spy for the crown had spotted an assassin in the wedding crowd, and he appears to be tracking Emilia. Sparrow needs to get Emilia out of there, even if he does have to 'scoop her off her feet, and toss her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.'
Mind you, Emilia has had the mantra, 'You can do this' running through her head as she's standing in the church vestibule, so what's the real story here?
Somewhat hilarious despite the dangerous events that crowd the pace, Emilia finds herself reluctantly drawn to her cad of an ex-fiance! After all what sort of a man jilts you, and then kidnaps you just as your life is about to settle into an ordered if somewhat mundane path, and by the way who on earth would want to kill her?
By the way, I am loving the James Bond play on Quincy's titles for this series.
Adds to the piquancy and underlying humour of the novels.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Exciting and delightfully downplayed!

Death at Victoria Dock (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries #4) by Kerry Greenwood



                                
I have to say I love Phryne Fisher. I love her spirit of independence and savoie faire, a sleek fashionable woman, whose exterior hides a determined and compsionate heart. And
The epitome of the cool flapper detective and thoroughly modern woman fresh from the horrors of the European war theatre where she drove ambulances. Now she is here in Melbourne flouting convention at every turn, during the time between the wars when lives were recovering from unspoken terrors and full of hope. And her two side kicks, archetypal ex-diggers Cec and Bert are fabulously under-spoken, laconic characters.
Knowing the areas of Melbourne the story is set against, I enjoy figuratively walking down the streets that Phryne treads in her pursuits of information.
In this case, a late night encounter with an errant shot that smashes into her window screen and a dead body draws Phryne knee deep in Latvian  anarchists and revolutionaries, whilst pursuing a second case of a missing school girl.
In this story her maid Dot meet Constable Hugh Phillips for the first time and Phryne forms an attachment (short term) with a marvellously soulful anarchist.
When Dot is kidnapped, Phryne does not take kindly to such underhanded play. The chase is on!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Friday, February 10, 2017

A tormented hero!

Icarus Reid is all the tormented hero that one could want. A battle scarred, dedicated officer searching for truth and justice. If you remember Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he fell. Icarus Reid was certainly burnt--not by the sun (although he was an important satellite of General Wellesley), but by betrayal at the Battle of Vimeiro. A betrayal that caused incredible trauma for him. All Icarus lives for is to find the traitor.
Enter Letitia Trentham, an heiress who has the magical gift (yes true! compliments of a faerie godmother) of detecting when she is being lied to. Those who lie to her are perceived as a loud clanging bell. Unfortunately for Letty those clangers have been heard over the years by suitors seeking her fortune, not herself. Letty is becoming reconciled to a lonely life doing good works.
Somehow Icarus learns that Letty seems able to detect the truth from lies. Icarus wants Letty to assist him in his quest.
And here is where the story digresses from the norm. Letty agrees, which means as Larkin says the reader is taken, 'on a journey from the glittering ballrooms of the aristocracy to the dark underbelly of Regency England – with passion, danger, adventure, romance, and a little magic thrown into the mix.'
Letty joins Icarus in his search. Along with Letty the reader is treated to a 'darker, grittier side of the romance fence.'
Larkin refers to this writing as Regency Noir.
Author Gail Ranstrom (kiss and thrill:  https://kissandthrill.com/tag/regency-noir/ )  puts it this way, 'Traditional Regfencies are shorter, sweeter and more about life, customs, manners and courtship in ‘polite’ society from roughly 1800 to 1820.  Most often the plot revolves around misunderstandings and very sweet romances—the bedroom door is closed very tight.  Regency Noir, or dark Regencies, deal with the grittier side of the Regency period—the side that was rarely spoken of or acknowledged in ‘polite’ society.  The ‘real life’ that played out in the shadows.  My stories deal with mystery, suspense and romance about people who walk the fine line between these two worlds.  Occasionally polite, rarely sweet, and always dangerous'.
These descriptions certainly fits a number of Regency  novels I've been reading over the past couple of years. I find the term apt.
There are some quite wonderful secondary characters that add to the story.
I rather enjoyed Letty and Icarus' story.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Intense prequel to the Hallows series!

The Turn: The Hollows Begins with Death (Hollows #0.5)  by Kim Harrison. 



                               

To Trisk, a dark elf, it seems she's  been fighting  her whole life for recognition. Her brilliance in the field of genetics goes largely unacknowledged. That's what burns her up. Her elf rival Kal will stop at nothing to interfere with her research.The fact that Kal cannot see beyond his driving ambition and blind jealousy to the damage that he will inflict on all species--human and paranormal plays to Kal's driven obsession. Plague sweeps the planet, and Kal is ensuring that Trisk is blamed.
This is the world before Rachael Morgan. A world where paranormals are hidden, tweaking humanity's developments.
There are some fascinating characters including the human scientist Daniel, Quen her elf friend who's a security wiz, and the pixie warrior Orchid. 
I was enthralled, aghast at the darstardly Kal and totally sympathetic towards Trisk.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

She was 'a temptation, a challenge, and utterly off-limits.'

                                             

'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a daughter of a duke is raised to believe she can do as she dashed well pleases, which may lead her into all manner of difficulty.' (from To Lure a Proper Lady).
These are words from Lady Elizabeth's pen, and so pertinent to the Duke of Sherrington's second daughter, Lady Caroline Wilde. Caroline refuses to ride side saddle, instead rides astride in a pair of men's breeches. Startling indeed!
Indeed Adrian Crosby's introduction to Caro is on a rainswept day when he mistakes her for a youth attempting to help another youngster who's fallen from a horse.
And yet Caro knows she can't do what she dash well pleases, even though she will give it her best shot. There is only so far she can go to breach the men's only circle of the hunt and she dearly wants to be allowed to ride with the illusive Sir Bellingham who conducts one of the best-known hunts in England. This is Caroline's all important goal--to be allowed to join the hunt.
I am so enjoying these Duke Defying Daughters! I love this family. First we had Elizabeth's story, now we have Caroline's. Caroline, the horse mad hellion whose desires are centred around being able to ride with the hunt something women can't do.
Add to that the fact that the wicked Pendleton is still in the picture, still coveting Caro's horse Bodeccia, bodes no good for Caroline. Introducing into the mix the new land agent for the Duke's estate in Suffolk, Sherrington Manor--a land agent determined to try to get the property back on its feet, even if Caroline's horse training land should revert to being used for crops. Caroline has other plans. She didn't count on the electric attraction between the two.
(After reading this I reread Elizabeth and Dysart's story, To Lure a Proper Ladythe first in the series and enjoyed it just as much the second time around.)
To Tame a Wild Lady is a wonderful roller coaster ride of thwarted desires, mysterious happenings and reluctant duties.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

The Victorian Rebels series continues to slay me!


'these young wolves, were on the hunt for trouble, only waiting—straining—to be unleashed by one affirmative gesture from their alpha. As dangerous as they might prove to be, she knew at once that the young soldiers, now fanning into an arc, hadn’t been the source of her internal alarm. Their leader had.'
A coldly dangerous, heart-stopping, opening! Enough to make this reader realize that so much more was to come.
By night Imogene Pritchard has been working off her dead father's debts at the notorious club The Bare Kitten as a server. By day she is a nurse in a London hospital.
Only this night 'Ginny' as she is known finds herself I way over her head waters, charting unknown territory that would influence the rest of her life.
When Collin "Cole" Talmage, Duke of Trewyth claims her for his own that claiming goes both ways.
Cole, a crown assassin and spy, holds onto his dream of that night spent with the kitten 'Ginny' as a talisman against the most difficult of times. He continues to search for her.
Imogene runs from that night and yet never forgets the Duke.
When they both meet again, Cole is angered by his helplessness and attraction to this woman who is not his 'Ginny.' 
However another problem arises, women are being murdered-and the women all resemble Imogene. 
What a woman Imogene is. Fearless, strong, compassionate--and in love with a man who does not know her.
This return to Byrne's world of dangerous men and women is another winner.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Riveting!



                               

Swept away! Yes, I was utterly swept away and caught up in the story of the Marble Maiden, Angelique Archer, doing what she can to save her family. An honest and brave woman, intelligent and gifted--in the way that sets this masterful historical romance in motion.
Exclusive club owner Alexander Lavoie had noticed the masked woman who came to play, purchased a bottle of brandy, won at vingt a and left with her winnings in hand. When one of her opponents became too presumptive, he intervened--and was lost!
Murder, mystery and mayhem along with fierce gathering emotions strew the pages like the fine diamonds Angelique will wear around her neck!
Totally engrossing! I didn't lift my head from the moment I began reading.
Some wonderful vignettes, humorous and yet so-o dangerous! I loved the way words were exchanged between Alex and Angelique. 'Persuasive' put forward by Angelique about Alex's reaction rather than 'threatening'. Something that Alex catches and acknowledges. Very droll asides in charged situations abound. Delicious!
Questions enlarge the storyline. Many, many questions, including those surrounding the disappearance of the Hutton Fortune!

A NetGalley ARC 

*****

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Another sleepless night!

A Short Time to Die by Susan Alice Bickford


                                 

The remains of two bodies have been washed out of the mountains (most likely the Santa Cruz Mountains) into Santa Clara County and the police are investigating. Specifically Detective Vanessa Alba and Detective Jackson Wong.
The bones are four or five years old. A DNA FBI data base search confirms that the bones belong to a Louise and Troy Rasmussen, a mother and son, part of the Harris clan.
Their investigations lead them back into 'them thar' hills to Charon Springs, New York, home of the clan. As the Chief of Police of Avalon says, 'the Harrises have been a malicious disease in this area for as long as [his] grandparents can remember.'
The officers and we are soon caught up in the vicious entanglement of a lawless family that ruined people's lives and ruled their small bit of turf in the mountains with an unpredictable and ferocious iron fist.
The central character is Marly Shaw. It's through her eyes that we become engaged with this dysfunctional community and its various layers. The action switches between past and present. Marly in her last years at high school and the present investigation by two police officers. I have to admit that I was glued to this story with its unexpected twists. Sleeping ran a bad last.

A NetGalley ARC

*****