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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Addictive!

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12)  by Elizabeth Hoyt



 As always I am in awe of the characters and situations Hoyt has created in the Maiden Lane series. An addictive collage of interweaving stories.
The Duke of Desire is at once devastating and delicious, a Beauty and the Beast reflection that calls to the soul.
Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore carries scars that repel and attract. His emotions are bound by his past. Cynical, dark and damaged--he looms large. He is a wonderful contrast to the intelligent and stubborn Iris.
Raphael has set out to destroy the Lords of Chaos. He had been introduced to Lords' depravity as a child when his father lead the group. A happenstance that has left him seared to his very being. He fled England and has just now returned. He is pursuing the hunt when fate intervenes and Raphael, having infiltrated the group, finds himself at a hellish bacchanalia with Lady Iris Jordan being served up as the main dish. The picture is horrifying, the attendant Lords 'were fighting over her like feral dogs over a scrap of meat.' 
Raphael had met Iris some months before and felt a powerful attraction to her. Now he must rescue her from this wickedness. Of course there are twists and turns and things don't quite go to plan. I will say no more other than marriage was not the first option, rather the second. The story engages Iris and Raphael in the push and pull of that original attraction, leavened with a hearty dose of passion, as they attempt to either move forward or disengage from the relationship thrust upon them. A fascinating process.
I love that Iris Jordan, whom we met in the Duke of Pleasure, as the lifelong friend to Katherine, the late wife of the Duke of Kyle, now comes into her own. Not that she wasn't a force to be reckoned with in that story. But here, in the Duke of Desire, Iris truly emerges like a swan, given the freedom to unleash her true personae.
The balance of dark and light between Raphael and Iris is brilliantly woven. Each is a balm to the other as their story unfolds, with all the looked for angst and sensuality. I loved it!
I cannot tell you how sad I am that this is the last full novel in the series. I am desolate!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, October 13, 2017

A fearful winter!

A Hunt in Winter (A Joe Swallow Mystery #3) 
by Conor Brady



1888 'Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow (now promoted to detective inspector)' is faced with the murders of three young women sending the residents of Dublin into a frantic state of fear and panic. Are the murders linked or not? Is this a Jack the Ripper copycat or has the Ripper come across the Irish Sea?
Swallow is part of the Dublin G-Dividion. 'Fifty-odd detectives investigated crime across the city, and were also the administration’s first and principal bulwark against political subversion. Their responsibilities ran from protecting the chief men who governed Ireland for the Crown to keeping watch on Fenians ... and the ever-multiplying groups that wanted, for one reason or another, to overthrow the established order.'
At this moment the G-Men are needed to come up with answers to the murders. Not be diverted by the wishes of the whose sole motivation is to keep tabs on various Irish groups at the behest of the Crown. The G-Men are at odds with the Secret Service officers, mainly men with a military background, who are currently looking for anything to get on the leader of the Irish Party at Westminster, Charles Stewart Parnell. Their lines of enquiry are looking to blacken Parnell's character in the hope to end the bid for Irish home rule. They want the G-Men's official note books. And that looking for notes leads to a personal tragedy for Swallow.
His bĂȘte noir is Major Nigel Kelly. Swallow thought him a fraud and a poseur. 
Swallow's boss, John Mallon, the chief superintendent describes Kelly as, 'a sour bastard, and a dangerous one [with] a face like a wolf, and the instincts of one.'
I absolutely disliked Kelly at a gut level. The adversarial position between the two law enforcement branches runs deep. The tension between them is palpable. As is that between Kelly and Swallow.
How those tensions run through the criminal investigation and color the political investigations  gives legs to this vivid drama that grabs this particular historical period with a rawness that's both particular and defining.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A wonderful romp!

The Highlander Is All That (Untamed Highlander #4) by Sabrina York


                          

What a giddy, hilarious bunch of young women are the St Claire sisters. I loved them and their quasi dragon Aunt Esmerelda, a powerful member of the ton.
And it's into this household two Scots are sent by the Duke of Caithness to stand in for him and chaperone his cousins during their London season. Well all that 'standing in' doesn't quite go to plan. 
Elizabeth St. Claire is enchanted by the idea of all things to do with the Highlands and when Hamish Robb arrives she attracted to him from the very first greeting. The thing is Hamish feels he can't betray the Duke and that he's not wealthy enough for Elizabeth. A conundrum! Elizabeth is not in agreement with Hamish's sentiments.
And then of course there's Ann, Victoria and Mary! Each has a storyline that plays out quite delightfully.
There are some amusing scenes. I loved it when Lady Jersey chases down Hamish at an event and corners him in a library.
The St Claire sisters' season is like no other, peppered with wonderful scenes of mayhem and romance.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A sparkling historical mystery!



St Petersburg in January 1900 before the Russian Revolution. Alexander's walk through this fabulous city is  charged, exciting and wonderfully descriptive.
Lady Emily Hargreaves is once again up to her fur hat in a murder. And no ordinary murder. Right after her sensational debut of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake the soloist, Irusya (Irina Semenova Nemetseva), is found outside the stage door, face down in the snow dead, bejewelled in her own blood.
Then there's the mysterious, ghostly dancer who appears dressed as the dead ballerina flaunting a silken red scarf symbolic of the death Nemetseva met, captivating the populace and muddying the waters of Lady Emily's investigations. Because, of course Emily is right in the thick of things, murder, Revolution, threats to Tsar Alexander, all grist for the mill.
And then there's the delectable Hargraves himself who quite turns my head, let alone Emily's.
The story wends from events prior to murder and then after. Including the story of Katenka (Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova) and her brother Lev, an activist, Irusya's relationship to both of them, and others beyond this circle who might have cause to dispose of Irusya.
What a treat! A walk through a charged time in history, accompanying Lady Emily on her investigation of a particularly poignant murder.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Saturday, October 7, 2017

'Damn you to hell, Axbridge.'

The Duke of Danger    (The Untouchables #6)   by Darcy Burke


                          

Not a sentiment to encourage love and romance. But when Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, kills Lady Emmaline Townsend's husband in a duel she finds that her husband has left her nothing but debts.
The 'Duke of Danger', an unfair label given 
Lionel by the 'wallflower' young women before they became more intimate with some of that group. To be fair they do wince when those nicknames are now mentioned in their presence,
Lionel has an unfortunate reputation for duelling. His opponents end up dead. Hence his sobriquet. Those deaths haunts him. He is a man of honor and each death eats into his soul.
His latest victim, Viscount Geoffrey Townsand, is the husband of Lady Emmaline Townsend. Unfortunately Townsend's wound turned septic, hence Emmaline's situation. Lionel is more scarred than his friends imagine by the result but he cannot reveal the reason for the duel or Townsend's dishonourable behaviour. The scandal around the event would besmirch Emmaline.
Emmaline is unforgiving of Lionel and will have her revenge, even if it as a last resort is to save herself from her parents antics. 
Her parents are forcing her into an unwanted marriage with Sir Duncan Thayer, who 'was horribly unattractive, with a hooked nose, protruding front teeth, and rather fetid breath if the rumors were accurate. Worst of all, he possessed a lecherous nature. Every time she’d met him, he’d looked at her as if she wasn’t wearing any clothes.'
Lionel had given Emmaline his card and told her he would give her any assistance she needed. He was hers to command. Not that marriage had been on his mind, but for Emmaline desperate times call for desperate measures.
I must admit a soft spot for the marriage of convenience trope where angst and coldness turns to a smouldering relationship albeit assailed with doubts. How the author solves the entanglements  to  give us an HEA result  is always fascinating.
As the plot unfolds we find that Viscount Geoffrey Townsand was up to some nefarious doings. The mystery deepens and the facts surrounding Geoffrey's actions are unexpected.
A satisfying read.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Frontier troubles

The Scotsman Who Saved Me (Seven Brides for Seven Scotsmen #1)   by Hannah Howell.  



The story begins in the Arkansas Ozarks in 1860. The MacEnroy brothers come across a burnt cabin, dead bodies and two survivors Lady Emily Stanton and her nephew Ned, hidden in a tunnel in the root cellar. The events go on from here.
There were some amusing parts. Iain's wooing attempts of Emily for one. The 'shagging' discussion was particularly noteable. (I did investigate to see if that word was in use in these times and apparently it was. Check the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
I liked Iain MacEnroy, I Emily Stanton. There's a batch of interesting secondary characters in this story who stand out. I really liked Mrs. O’Neal and Mabel who was happy to shoot a nasty character if Emily wanted her too.
There's a dastardly cousin Albert hunting down Emily and her nephew Ned. There's a nefarious Bank Manager trying to take the MacEnroy's down, and then the canny lawyer who assists Iain.
The playfulness of the series title referencing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was truly clever.
I am a huge fan of Hannah Howell's. I adore her Wherlocke and The Murray's series and have read them all.
By comparison, The Scotsman Who Saved Me just doesn't have the same intrigue, suspense and wonderful characters that I expected. Which is sad because I so-o was looking forward to reading this new Howell offering. It could be that I just don't really enjoy historical westerns, even when handsome Scots are part of the scene. This is not my preferred historical genre. Obviously others really enjoyed this novel. So I think I have to put my response down to personal preference. 
All in all though, an easy and enjoyable read after my head got around the brogue usage.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fools rush in, maybe!

The Rogue's Conquest (The Townsends #2)    by  Lily Maxton.  



                            


Half way through reading Rogue's Conquest I realized I'd been smiling the whole time. How good is that! I was obviously enjoying this light hearted story with an intelligent wallflower heroine, whose interest in beetles surpasses all else and does rather take her into some stuffy, closed-to-women places. Albeit that Eleanor Townsend ends up in that place presenting her paper as a man. Whatever, when means must!
Of course Eleanor's sister Georgina must take some of the blame. After all she's the one who suggested Eleanor only need disguise herself as a man (one Cecil Townsend) to present her paper on the mating habits of stag beetles to the Natural History Society.
When Eleanor asked Georgina why she was helping her, Georgina delightfully threw out the line, 'You know I’m not good with dull. I’m counting on you to liven things up for me.' Upon which Eleanor mused that she was a strange sort of girl. (By the way, I already have the expectation that Georgina's story will be extraordinary to match her rather different view on life for one so young)
All would have been successful if pugilist, turned gentleman, James MacGregor who had attended the meeting for his own reasons, hadn't picked up on a  small tell and discovered 'Cecil's' secret.
And he might have left it there if he hadn't wanted an entree into the sphere around the beautiful Lady Sarah, daughter of the Earl of Lark. James wants to woo and win Lady Sarah.
But there's the small matter of his attraction to Eleanor that keeps getting in the way of his objective.
Eleanor and James' story really appealed to my sense of the ridiculous. I loved the strait forward earnestness of Eleanor, the hoyden in Georgina, Robert Townsend as the best of brother's, and the abandoned and rejected  child within the gentleman pugilist, James MacGregor. I also realized I'd missed the first in series and must read it now!
A somewhat whimsical romance that I really enjoyed.

A NetGalley ARC

*****