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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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Treecats, protection and status--an important addition to the Harrington milieu.

Treecat Wars, Honorverse: Stephanie Harrington series #3 by David Weber &  Jane M. Lindskold

Third in the series about Stephanie Harrington (Death Fang's Bane--first human to be adopted by treecats) and Lionheart,  (treecat Climbs Quickly of the Bright Water Clan) Continuing the story of the struggles, prejudices, greed and political intrigue surrounding the treecats becoming part of the wider universe.
Tree cats on Sphinx are still being looked at to determine whether or not they should be  declared sentinent.  The battles continues with the major foe being unscrupulous land dealers and powerful lobbyists desirous of making good on their land portfolios at the expense of this vunerable group of beings.
The battle takes Stephanie off planet to Manticore and back, members of the group, wanting to disrupt the process of treecat status, having pulled strings to have her removed from Sphinx.
Attention to the treecats on Sphinx lands in the laps of Stephanie's friend Jessica and boyfriend Anders.
The aftermath of the fires in Fire Season is explored from the human and the treecat perspective.
Unwillingness to share land, a cold blooded killing, starvation and fear push the treecat clans to the brink of war. A Person (treecat) on the edge of insanity had, 'in defiance of custom, tradition and common sense...killed another.' This would have far reaching consequences for treecats and humans.
This third novel in the series ends with the presence of those who want to halt the process of  treecats being declared sentinent as yet undetected, and therefore to all intents purposes, at large to continue their nefarious campaign.
A must for fans who wish too know all there is to know about the Harrington family antecedents and treecats in particular.

A NetGalley ARC                    

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'In that one thing--hope--we are brothers'

Roots of Betrayal (Clarenceux Trilogy #2) by James Forrester

...poignant words between Clarenceux and raw Carew, pirate extraordinaire, at their last moment together.  Just prior to this Clarenceux declares the family motto he might adopt if so inclined,'In all our struggles, the last word is hope.'
1564, Southampton Waters: the calm before the storm. Captain Gray is in his cabin with a young girl, his men are dicing on deck, all quickly broken by the cry of 'Boarders--Boarders on deck!' The only warning before all hell breaks loose and the ship is captured.
The opening scenes of a pirate raid propel you quickly into scenes of violence overlaid by a distinct impression of honour or a code that Crew, the pirate Captain adheres to.
Carew is seeking the Catholic treasure and Gray has information he wants.
And in London, William Harvey,  Clarenceux King of Arms, is reflecting on papers he holds for safekeeping. Dangerous, treasonous papers that would likely kill him, and the path that's lead him to this point.  With the documents in his care, 'never did he feel safe. Not for one moment!'
Clarenceux's trials and tribulations continue in this historical thriller of the first water.
All roads keep leading back to Clarenceux and the documents he has secreted, holding in fear and trepidation.
For Clarenceux, circumstances just keep deteriorating. Pursued by the Knights of the Round Table (the Catholic dissenters), Cecil and Walsingham, and raw Carew, he is  fighting once more for his life, for his family and his quest for peace.
I love the way Clarenceux's knowledge of heraldry is given space to be a strength that he puts to use in these unremitting circumstances he's been thrown into.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Machyn's life is once more dictated by powerful and implacable forces.
Murders, spies, plots and counterplots, torture and treason and betrayals surrounding the truth about Tudor England and the Elizabethan throne make for mighty fine reading and a story one can revel in. Stimulating and enjoyable. Although the gritty reality of Tudor life leaves one grimacing. 'Roots of betrayal lie in friendship, in treason loyalty,' indeed!

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

mistresses, misunderstandings and the misunderstood!

'Could a man not be snowbound with his wife without half of England arriving to interfere?'
And as I read along I certainly seconded the Duke of Claxton's sentiment.
The plot is thick with characters. their interplay is endearing, frustrating, humorous at times, sensual and sensitive at others. 
I quite like the major players, indeed I had moments of sympathy for both leads, 
The basic story line is couple marry, couple separate through misunderstanding and tragedy, couple have a chance to reconcile, more misunderstanding, progress is made hearts repaired, more misunderstanding, reconciliation. We see these things happening through the voices of both the Duke of Claxton, Vane Barwick, and that of his Duchess, Sophia.       
Certainly, the descriptive prose brings alive the winter scenes, the dashing around on sledges, the crunch of ice underfoot. The charming scene in the church of trying to find the third part of the quest is indeed humorous. The pain that both Vane and Sophia are feeling, the way they keep missing each other in their understandings is poignant. Their interplay with others is well done. All is good. Maybe there were just too many bedroom scenes but, for the characters themselves perhaps not enough!
The story line had interesting elements, the characters are believable and yes I did want to jump onstage and tell them both to listen to each other from time to time. There are some fine tension points throughout that maintained my interest.  All the elements are here and indeed this is for you if you're in the mood for something not too taxing.
I do think Dalton's 'baby' [read the forward] has a lot to recommend it despite my not being as enamoured of it as I really wanted to be.

A NetGalley ARC

a slow start but clarity emerges

Daughter of Camelot (Empire of Shadows #1) by Glynis Cooney

Wales at the waning of Camelot. The High King's star is failing. Guinevere has been unfaithful, Lancelot has killed Gareth, Merlin has disappeared from court and the land is on the edge of breaking up into smaller kingdoms Arthur had bound together. Darkness is about to descend.  The tide is turning against the High King. The threat of  minor kingdoms devouring each looms. 
The opening scene of Deirdre  practicing sword play with her brother Rhys gave evidence that here was a somewhat unusual sort of girl for the times. Indeed she is. Deirdre has ambitions beyond being a wife and mother and yearns to go to Camelot. However dreams are not always answered in the way we would wish.
When Deirdre is sent to the court at Degannwy with her sister Nia she is the  butt of unkind comments. Reviled by the superstitious for being a twin, and all but accused of being a witch she is spurned by the devout and the jealous.  Deirdre's actions are more often than not foolish and wayward. But then she is fourteen, a twin, and always on the outer. Mind you she discovers the attraction of men but her choices don't always seem wise.       
Certainly by her unthinking actions she sets herself in peril. Perhaps her father should have had her schooled in acceptable behaviour for young women earlier in order to know the traps she could likely fall into, how innocent actions can be misinterpreted and ruin be a likelihood.
Politics interfere and Deirdre is to return home. Enroute back home to Dinas Emrys she detours to the castle of Din Arth where her knightly infatuation, Einion is. She is attracted to Einion but I must confess there's something about him sets my teeth on edge.            
Here her treatment of another young woman, Heledd left a bad taste in my mouth. Her act of vengeance was beneath her--although readily understandable. I guessI don't want my heroines to be spiteful. Even though Deirdre feels sorry about her act--it is too late for Heledd. Sorrow doesn't change what she has orchestrated. Her action is more evidence of her immaturity and thoughtlessness. 
Drawn to the horse goddess Rhiannon through an amulet given to her by a crone at the horse fair, Deirdre struggles to hold her Christianity alongside older faiths, especially
in the face of the rise of fanatics. Further discoveries about her mother are unsettling.
Queen Awel requests her help and Deirdre's path is set. 'It was a quest. I could prove myself to all who doubted me and perhaps through this I could find my deliverance.'
Politics and religions clash, myths and love are interwoven, and all entangled in this story of Wales at the fall of Arthur, the High King, with Deirdre in the thick of the action -- from espionage to battles, to thwarting kidnapping plots aided by her friends; Sioned, the dwarf Dewey and the companion of her youth Ronan.
I keep hoping Deirdre will grow into a more considerate and considering person. She seems to tumble from one situation to another and is hard on friendships, although contrite when her temper has cooled.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Never make a Mage angry!

Battle Magic (Circle Reforged #3) by Tamora Pierce

Once again a foray into the magical world of  Emelan leaves you breathless and wanting more. The richness and texture of Pierce's novels drags you right in from the start and holds you there captive as you walk the walk and feel the emotions of her characters.
Living Circle adherents and  plant mages Dedicate Rosethorn and Briar, along with apprentice rock mage Evvy (Evumeimei), have been travelling for two years and we find them in the Kingdom of Gyongxe, the home of many faiths. Actually a sanctuary for faiths we discover as the story continues. The first temple of the Living Circle is here. This is a  place where the mountains meet, ruled by the eleven year old God-King, where painted gods move on walls and statues come to life.
The Three journey into the Kingdom of Yanjing and there find disturbing evidence that the  emperor, a man of of exceeding ambition and cruelty has turned his face towards the seat of the gods to declare his god head. He intends to invade.  As Dedicate Dokyi later says, '[the Emperor] hears Gyongxe is the spindle on which the world turns. He thinks if he takes Gyongxe, people will say he is the spindle.' 
The three leave to warn the God-King and the temples. As they leave they release a captive prince, Parahan. All are pursued by the emperor's soldiers and mages.
Evvy is captured and tortured. In her tortured state she is drawn through rock to safety by the song of Luvo, the heart of a mountain. Luvo becomes an important friend and force to be reckoned with.
Terrible battles, shamans, mages and and walking gods are part of the ensuing conflict.
As Rosethorn declared, 'Weishu...the emperor of Yanjing was a monster in human skin.'
All are fighting for a secure, safe world against insurmountable odds.
An absolutely fabulous addition to the Circle stories.

A NetGalley ARC

'she tasted of whiskey and sin'

Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait (The Duke's Daughters, #5) (Windham, #8) by Grace Burrowes

Oh My!  Burrowes does it again with those tantalizing, exploratory love scenes as the mostly innocent heroine spreads her wings and partakes at the cup of passion.
But there is so much more in this Christmas tale. (As I remember, wasn't another Windham daughter involved in Christmas romance and adventuring, the fair Lady Sophie? Oh, and let's not forget Lady Louisa's Christmas fare! )
Christmas is obviously a time for more than stolen mistletoe kisses for those Windham lasses. In fact it's become quite a tradition!
For Guinevere (Jenny) Christmas has become a time of remembrance of the brothers she's lost, the talent she is unable to use, and the children she seems doomed to never have.
I really liked Elijah and his care for not only Guinevere's emotional being but her artistic soul.  That he was willing to set her free, to let her seek her artistic destiny, even though losing her would bring him heartache, marked him for me as a true hero, sensitive and caring.
But more than this, once again Burrowes' fascination with the arts in Regency days, and particularly women artists and their struggle for acceptance at this time is present. I noted her representations about the Royal Academy and allusions to its stranglehold on artistic endeavours and her comments on English attitudes of the time towards woman as compared to attitudes in Europe. Burrowes continues her artistic narrative, begun in Beckman with child genius Allie, and continued with Polonaise in Gabriel. Where shall Burrowes take us in future journeys with respect to artists I wonder?

Definitely a Christmas read of tidings and joy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

an enticing addition to the steampunk/mystery milieux!

A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair #1) by Emma Jane Holloway

So first we had all things Austen, both on and off stage and in alternate universes. Now, it seems we have the off stage world surrounding Sherlock with a hitherto unknown member of his family, his niece Evelina. We've been bombarded by film and television recently, why not an alternate Victorian era populated by loved figures from yesteryear amidst steampunk paraphernalia and intrigue. As Evelina says towards the end, 'this is a time when steam barons dominate the Empire.'
Corporate monopolies and bullying,  political clout, bribery and corruption, the pursuit of alternative fuels, the determination of those who have, to hold at all cost.  Obviously nothing has changed in this alternate world. Even the great Sherlock is threatened.

We enter into Evelina's world via her stealthy sojourn in the attics of Lord Bancroft's house where stored belongings, 'made elephantine humps in the darkness. Attics were for storage...memories and the occasional secrets.' (I did enjoy this opening descriptor.)
Evelina is staying with her best friend Imogene. She is using the attics as a place to work on her automations. Evelina, we find out has an, 'unladylike fascination with mechanics'  she has imbued with magic. In this world magic is deemed immoral and illegal. Evelina has inherited magic from her circus grandmother's side of the family. Attics indeed are places for secrets!
She is nearly caught by grooms sent to find trunks containing Lord Bancroft's souvenirs  from Austria--a dismembered female body--an automation. The magic that emanated from the clockwork girl felt very wrong to Evelina.  More secrets! Secrets that could bind and destroy.
This fateful evening brings together many events. The murder of a maid, the advent of a friend from her circus days lurking in her bedroom, the involvement of Lord Bancroft, even Imogen's brother Tobias' mad scheme with automotive giant squid. Toby is the last person to see the maid Grace alive.  All events connive to fling Evelina into a burgeoning mystery of murder and foul sorcery. She is hemmed about by powerful entities from the steam barons to the uncomfortable Dr. Magnus. Evelina determines to solve the mysteries.
By the way, it took me a while to understand the significance of oath occasionally muttered by several of the young men, ' Disconnect me!' Then the light went on.
Her friend Imogene is intelligent, stalwart and endearing, game for anything. Beneath her fragility is a will of iron.
Some mysteries are solved, others left hanging but as Evelina whispers to Imogen, 'this isn't the end...not by a long shot.' 
I for one am ready to leap into the book 2, A Study in Darkness, I could barely put 'Silks' down, Darkness beckons!

A NetGalley ARC

After having viewed a television program, The Mind of Leonardo'  there are gems and links to the idea of steampunk that I need to think about and investigate more.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ciardis, what have you done!

Sworn to Transfer: Courtlight #2 by Terah Edun

What indeed? The story of a young woman, out of her depth, finding her way despite the odds, and despite the opinion of others.

Having received an ARC for this, I decided to read Sworn to Raise: Courtlight #1, first.

And Yes! I was captivated from beginning to end. Edun's writing style does remind me somewhat of Tamora Pierce and Sara J. Maas.
Ciardis Vane is the archetypal abandoned/orphaned heroine raised to believe she is a gypsy but is in reality is a Mage, a Weathervane, the last of a line of mages whose major talent is increasing the powers of others. Her gifts come to light when she is taken to be trained as Companion. She goes from drudgery to a position of prestige--albeit dangerous. Of course there are evil mages and careless, selfish mages, friendly trainees and courtly intrigue involved.
Now, after the Patron Hunt, having helped save the Prince Sebastian, the heir to the Algardis Empire, Ciardis is Companion trainee to Prince Sebastian, even though the relationship has not been formalized and Sebastian has been avoiding her. 'Transfer' opens with Ciardis on a ship in the middle of an icy storm waiting to meet an ambassador from Sahalia who turns out to be a dragon. 
Something is attacking the kith (the original, magical inhabitants of the kingdom) in their stronghold, the Ameles Forest. Death and destruction most horrible is being visited. Of course Ciardis joins the group sent to investigate.  It seems a shadow necromancer is at work.        
As I read, I kept harking back to Sworn to Raise and the crone at the Mordair Maze challenge, stating to Ciardis that she is, 'one who has the potential to shatter the imperial court.'
There are times when Ciardis is unsure of whom she can trust. When the battle is engaged she acts as usual, on impulse. My vote though is that rather than impulsive she is young in her powers. What she uses is her magely intuition although it does have an edge of the impulsive. Unfortunately that intuition does have the habit of leaving her in an even bigger hole.
An enjoyable read. I am now looking forward to Sworn to Conflict: Courtlight #3

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, September 19, 2013

...mystery and confusion, intrigue and clarity

Bella Wallis: A  Victorian Mystery Quartet by Brian Thompson

A quartet of novels (including the final novel of the series, The Whole Story) set in Victorian England featuring Bella Wallis, mysterious lady and author writing under a male 'nom de plume,'  Henry Ellis Margam.
I am repeatably fascinated,  confused and puzzled by Bella. She is a lady who as Bella reflects, lives in deception just like 'the sprawling fig' outside her drawing room window that 'suggested secret gardens beyond.  But in truth the foliage hid a blank wall.'
It seems however that via her slightly erotic mystery novels she portrays those in society who have done some evil act, albeit disguised, but with just enough reality about them for recognition by others.
Her novels are based upon some chance occurrence that Bella intuitively realizes as having that factor, that hook that her writing might build upon. Her writings in turn lead her towards murder investigations. Investigations that others of her circle take up.
As Bella muses about her writings,
'Her books always began with a modest discovery, like walking into a dark and trackless forest and finding a single pearl earring hanging from a twig.' 
Interesting characters pop up in her world. We are drawn to them yet often repelled by them or their actions. This coterie of friends and companions are varied and resourceful and stretch across the class lines, her French companion Marie Claude D'Anville,  the seedy Captain Quigley who supplies her with information and effects, Murch an ex soldier with a steely will who doesn't flinch from violence, Philip Westland possible government spy, to her elderly yet influential friend Lord Broxtowe who assists her endeavours with information about various persons of interest for her novels. 
Just as fascinating is that none of her circle is who they seem at first, although they stay true to our initial introduction.  As we meet them in new situations their reactions reveal more fully who they are, they develop and change--though not always in a way we admire.
As I have intimated I have moments of liking Bella, moments of frustration with her. She is at once both awkward and empathetic with people, hurtful and contrite, sincere and shallow, insightful and blind. In short she is quite human.
Thompson's descriptive writings as we follow Bella and her companions from London to Paris and beyond are quite compelling and almost Dicksonian in aura. A worthy vehicle for Bella's pursuits about the truth surrounding  her investigations.
Bella Wallis is a woman of contradictions, as are her stories. These contradictions, her impulsive reactions, and Thompson's prose, are what held my interest throughout, even when I didn't like her--and when I did.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Samurai, Swordsman, Intrigue and Integrity - Laura Joh Rowland's Sano Ichiro Novels

Laura Joh Rowland's series about the rise to prominence of  San Ichiro as a samurai detective are fabulous. I am loving this view into medieval Japanese life and into the world San Ichiro inhabits.
Times-Picayune referred to the world Rowland has created as, 'fascinating, detailed, colourful, and addictive.' I whole heatedly and enthusiastically concur.
I have taken to reading it with my trusty Dorling Kingsley guide to Japan by my side so I can look up all of the places mentioned and say indulgently and satisfyingly to myself, 'I was there,' or ' I need to go there.' Then I am transported into the life and times of  San Ichiro.
Reading good mysteries set in previous times is exciting especially if as in Rowland's world one can definitely envisage the times.
read more on Rowland's website   http://www.laurajohrowland.com/
San Ichiro series:
Shinju #1
Samurai's Wife #4
The Snow Empress #12
Bundori   #2
The Way of the Traitor.  #3
The Concubine's Tattoo.  #4
The Samurai's Wife   #5
Black Lotus
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria  #7
The Dragon King's Palace  #8
The Perfumed Sleeve  #9
The Assassin's Touch  #10
Red Chrysanthemum #11
The Snow Empress #12
The Fire Kimono #13
The Cloud Pavilion #14
The Ronin's Mistress #15
The Incense Game #16

Shogun's Daughter #17

...treachery in Ancient Japan!    

I have long enjoyed this series though lately have not kept up as I would've wished to.
Townsend's brilliant descriptive writing immediately transported me to Edo in Ancient Japan. The opening scenes plunged me into the horrific aspect of Edo (Tokyo) post an earthquake. All too fresh a reminder of the disastrous Tsunami of recent times.
The aftermath of the earthquake has not only weakened the buildings but has left people exhausted and dispirited. Graft and corruption is threatening the reconstruction of the city. The Shogun as usual is apathetic to his people's needs and leaves all to his favoured few--whom come and go as regularly as the wind changes.
Sano once again is an unenviable position. Fortune smiles upon his arch enemy Yanagisawa whilst Sano's star plummets dangerously.
The Shogun has a new heir. Doubts have been raised over the heir's legitimacy. At the same time the Shogun's daughter had died from smallpox, or is it murder?
Sano and his wife Reiko are investigating both these matters against the odds. Times are tense and all concerned stand on a hair trigger. 
Hirata, Sano's chief retainer, and follower of the mystical martial arts, has returned after a mysterious absence of four months. During his absence his wife Midori and daughter Taeko have moved in with Sano. Hirata's story continues alongside Sano's search for the truth surrounding the Shogun's daughter's death and revealing the Shogun's heir's as an imposter put in a place by Yangagisawa. 
Fortune deserts and Sano in turn is accused of murder. A guilty verdict means that Sano's family, servants and retainers will join him in death. His wife Reiko and son fight against time to solve the crime. Bravely,Hirato's young daughter, Taeko fights to find clues to Sano's innocence.
The story ends with Hirata's plight as prisoner of his mystical martial companions and us wondering about what is to come.
Because I know the backstory of Sano, his family and friends and enemies, I found little difficulty with  reentering the story with this episode. I feel that newcomers to Sano's world need to enter with an earlier novel. Fans like myself however will enjoy seeing more of the battles between Sanyo and his arch enemy, Hirata's continuing struggle to become free of his  mystical martial companions , Sano's struggle with Bushido discipline, and the hard task master that walking the Way of the Warrior is.

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, September 15, 2013

powerfully and subliminally present--social realism at its mostconfronting!

Max Ginsburg: a Retrospective

Social realist painter, Max Ginsburg's works are a wonderful commentary on the everyday life of inhabitants of New York. Full of  life and vigour, executed powerfully they expose the viewer to the full range of emotions of his subjects, the slump of the worker"s shoulder in Reading Break (1974), the delicacy of the face of Emily (2004) , to the reality of his nudes. His paintings are a celebration of the ordinary, of the everyday.
I loved his painting of his first wife Sonia peeling apples.  Ginsburg brings that Degas ballet dancer pastel quality to this work. In his indoor family works the play of light and lightness are gently telling. I particularly liked the light in Early Morning (1977) where Ginburg's daughter is holding her doll.
Ginsburg's still life paintings just by their content are a commentary on everyday life of our times. 
His 'workers' folio capture the moments between, revealing the simplicity of those moments between work and rest.
Ginsburg's War Pieta, contrasting with the old masters visions of the Madonna and Jesus,  referencing the war in Iraq, captures you forcefully even as you try to run away from the reality it speaks to.  Powerful, unrelenting and verifying the horror and tragedy of war and loss, it is juxtaposed against our memories of pietas that display a more subdued mourning Madonna.
Unfortunately I was only able to review a kindle copy. For sure I would be purchasing this as a book so that I could flip more readily between the pages, contrasting and observing, just enjoying!
Well worth the purchase!

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, September 14, 2013

'never give up hope'

Darius: Lord of Pleasures (Lonely Lords #1) by Grace Burrowes

I found the idea, the description of Darius as an object, quite painful. The way he closed himself off from his associations with bored wealthy women, who are a means to an end was distasteful. 
The premise of Darius Lindsey's relationship with Lady Vivian Longstreet is at once believable and yet thoroughly unbelievable.
As I read I became more understanding of the demons that drove Darius and thus more accepting. This in turn increased my enjoyment of the novel. 
Perhaps Burrowes' dedication says it all,
'This book is dedicated to anyone whoever made a poor choice and felt overwhelmed by the consequences. Maybe you can't overcome all those consequences today, but never give up hope.'
And there you have it hope and redemption are available and fortunately for Darius this becomes his reality.
In the end I was intrigued by Darius the person, but despite this, I am still somewhat ambivalent about Darius the novel, although I read it twice. Mmm!

...of princes, kings and grudges

The Outlaw Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Richard, Coeur de Lion, an enigma. A man who was king and yet left his kingdom to corrupt and power hungry lords, beggaring his country for the sake of the crusades. Why is not the question. It does however provide the background for this story. It places Prince John, his foibles and his policies, his governing of England whilst Richard is away, and when he later becomes king, firmly in the limelight.
A teenage altercation with Prince John, shown as an arrogant, womanizing, drunken, spoilt whelp who held grudges long and deeply sets the path that Fulke FitzWarin will tread. Growing into a man of the same elk, John further fans this antipathy between them when as king he denies Fulke justice in the matter of his birthright holding, Whittington. Fulke refuses to pay homage to John and is declared an outlaw.  By now an accomplished commander and knight, Fulke proceeds to harass John at every chance. Fulke becomes the thorn in John's side.
With this background, fiction expounds on fact. Elizabeth Chadwick  has taken a story hidden in the mists of time and revealed it to our present eyes via what is essentially the love story between Fulke FitzWarin and Maude le Vavasour, the wife of Lord Theobald Walter. Both characters are impressive and fully elicit our sympathies.
When Fulke's mentor and friend Walter dies, they marry at dying his behest, both to thwart John and keep Maude safe. Fulke had been Theobald's squire. There had always been  strong attraction between the two, kept strictly in control out of deference, love and duty towards Theobald. 
Around their life's story rages the battles for kingdoms between John and his principalities in France and Wales. The fight for the charter of liberties, a code of conduct (Magna Carta) becomes an important part of this background. 
As Fulke explains to Maude,  'It means that never again will [a ruler] withhold land from a man on a royal whim. Never again will a woman be constrained to marry against her will, or an heir pay more than he should Ro inherit his father's lands.'
Bringing history alive is a wonderful skill and Elizabeth Chadwick has it in spades.
A thoroughly enjoyable medieval historical novel--empathetic and interesting.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interesting_____________31/2 stars

The Love List (Half Moon House Series  #1)by Deb Marlow

Despite my initial inclinations that this might be mediocre I was drawn into the drama of The List.
The secretive, withdrawn Duke of Aldmere and the forthright beautiful lady Brynne Wilmot are drawn into the dastardly intrigue perpetuated by the corrupt Marquis of Marstoke.
Wickedness, political intrigue and one young woman's courage to carve out a different fate for herself despite being shunned by the ton are all bundled together in this deceptivey simple story. 
Distraught when she realizes that her father is determined to marry her to an evil man to further his political aims Brynne flees to Hestia Wright, a notorious courtesan to kings and powerful men who now offered solace and sanctuary to other women, mostly  prostitutes and desperate women struggling to find an alternative life. No woman was turned away.
Underneath are several key ideas. Being true to yourself despite the odds, having the courage to love, marriage as a contract of power between families and the plight and the rights of women in the society of the time.

The Duke of Aldmere is powerful, terse and emotionally locked off. As Aldmere reflects to himself, 'he'd got so used to repressing every emotion that he barely felt them anymore.'
His history is revealed as Brynne makes inroads upon his inner self. [ok, I really didn't like the use of 'got']
This is all played out against the background of the Prince Regent's  apalling marriage with the Princess Caroline.
Hestia Wright's story, the courtesan to whom Brynne fled, is revealed at the beginning of  each chapter presenting a tale to come I'm sure of evil being undone.
A love story, a story of women across the class divide this was an intriguing read.
I look forward to more in this series.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

...masterfully poignant. A must read!

BurialRites by Hannah Kent

Anything set in the Northern areas close to the Arctic circle grabs my attention. I am a sucker for Scandinavian mysteries. All that bleakness and those repressed inward looking  emotions.
Reading an interview with Hannah Kent piqued my  interest. Burial Rites is not so much an historical mystery as a saga. Set in 1829 Iceland, this is the fictional story behind condemned murderess Agnes Magnúsdóttir.
Wow! I think I reread the prologue to Butial Rites at least four times. The poetry inherent in the  language grabs you instantly. The second sentence took my breath away with its childlike pathos. I was  hooked! Kent's turn of phrase is rather wonderful such as when the District Commissioner, Bjorne Blondal, admonishes the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson (Toti)  that he might be ,'too pale in experience' for the task he is being given, that of spiritually counselling the murderess Agnes Magnúsdóttir.
I loved the scene where Toti leaves to begin his task and in a couple of paragraphs has revealed his uncertainties and prejudices.  'He silently mouthed the word to himself. Murderess. Mordingi. It slipped through his mouth like butter.' From there he goes to the heady idea of saving her (soul) for she is after all, 'my sister in Jesus.' Whom he meets is a flawed human, sister in pain. We see in Toti an emerging chrysalis, a spiritual brother breaking to compassionate person.
Kent masterfully builds tension and intrigue, layer upon layer, using exquisite descriptive language and contrasting thought as the characters reveal themselves all juxtaposed against an unforgiving landscape. Relations throughout are strained and restrained, free yet constrained particularly during the long winter travails.
Told mostly through Agnes, one empathizes with her struggles, the hardship of her life and her love betrayed. Toti and Margret, and others of this dispersed community ask the questions we might want to.
The warmth of the sumer sun and the smells during the haying, the contrasting winter cold, the odour of bodies sleeping in common spaces in the winter nights, the slaughtering and stench of blood and smoke, all are bought to life in quick, clever words framing the emotions of those met along the way. 
Agnes story is a lament,  a saga, where patches of brightness bloom, wither and die quickly. An unforgiving story sprung from a harsh and dour land, of a soul abandoned early on, setting the tone of her life to come. She is a free spirit and hampered by her knowing, yet unknowing grasp of relationships. 
One of the  most poignant moments of grace comes towards the end when Margret dresses Agnes for her execution. 
And let's not forget the caring of, the Assistant Reverend, Toti as he steps with Agnes, frail human that he is, walking by her towards her fate with care and sorrow.
Kent's research is impeccable and her storytelling skills exquisite.

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, September 8, 2013

'fate had cast them as enemies from the start'

Bride of the Wind by Heather Graham

OK first let me 'fess up. I really am not too much of a fan of Pirate type romances. Well, an exception is Beauvalet by Georgette Heyer. But then Heyer is always and forever an exception. The last pirate romance I read just didn't do anything for me. So with those those riders let me go forward.
Set during the Restoration period, 'Bride...' was off a rollickingly start complete with a pirate attack by the dreaded pirate Dragonslayer. Our heroine was predictably feisty and demanding, afraid but not cowered. The dreaded Dragonslayer/ravisher's entry into the cabin was again pretty predictable. Shades of avast there etc. I thought uh oh! pirates again!
Thankfully, all those preconceived ideas were to change. We were given the backstory.

The cast:
The Betrayed and Misguided Hero:
Lord Pierce DeForte, Duke of Werthington, turned infamous pirate Dragonslayer and hot for revenge against the woman who betrayed him most cruelly. Close friend and comrade to King Charles II, De Forte is described by Rose as commandingly tall and strikingly handsome, even though she thinks him a lout.
[For some reason I did wonder about our hero's name. Apparently in Middle French in the 1680's fort meant the "strong point of a sword blade." An 'e' was added in the 18th century and as forte it came to also mean "the strong point of a person"  Or as we would see it a person's strengths. Ok so it may be a long bow but certainly our hero is strong and handles a sword well. After all he does turn to piracy with quite some skill.
(thank you Dictionary.com, "forte," in Online Etymology Dictionary) 
...and I don't even want to start on the relevance of Pierce as our hero's given name. You can play with that. But I do like one meaning, that of shining through the darkness 'cause that's what DeForte has to do].

The Misunderstood Heroine:
Lady Rose Woodbine (American heiress) sent to England by her father to marry a wealthy lord. She is totally out of temper with DeForte. Really all she wants to do is to go home to Virginia and be able to marry for love.

Bad Man:
Lord Jamison Bryant (Rose's guardian by mischance) who whilst wondering where it all went wrong reminisced that as a young boy he would set fire to small logs and tie them to the tails of helpless cats. He recognized that he had a flaw and as an adult realized that many others did too. Look no further Jamison! Ye Gads! This is no little flaw! 

Mean Girl:
Beth, Jamison's whore (that's what he calls her), who is so desperate to see him pleased she will even help him with any nefarious means at hand to snag the fair Anne whom he worships, and in whom he saw in some twisted way, his salvation. The fair Anne cannot stand him.

Betrayed Beauty:
Lady Anne Winter, all but affianced to Lord Pierce and the object of Jamison's desire.

Cad and all out Rotter:
Lord Jamison's friend and Lady Anne's half brother Lord Jerome Cherney. Proliferate gambler and totally despicable.

Pierce DeForte and Rose Woodbine plough into each other during a hunt. Sparks fly and the fighting lines are drawn--at least by Rose. Caught in the machinations of unscrupulous cowards, beset by political constraints, these two lead us a merry dance from disdain to the depths of despair and to despised attraction as destiny seeks them. The fire of anger burns bright between them, the tempest of passion takes them in it's grasp. Will it ever turn to love?

Despite my pirate prejudices Bride of the Wind had more depth than I originally thought it would. Mayhem, murder and mystery are gathered in along the way. And I really vacillated about a 3 or 4 star rating.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, September 6, 2013

3 1/2 stars of whimsical murder and mystery

Dirty Harriet Rides Again by Miriam Auerbach

The opening scene is of Harriet having ditched her... black leggings, black tank top and leathers...for a rented Vera Wang...with four-inch sandals. Little did our leather wearing, hog riding, gun toting, gorgeous  investigative babe know that she would be caught in the middle of a murder case at her gay friends' wedding. Harriet fortunately is on hand to use her investigative skills at this crucial moment.

Harriet Horowitz is a recent ex Boca Babe Searching for a new reality. She  is a domestic abuse survivor, turned Private Investigator, a smart, yet self deprecating character, whose internal dialogue catches us up with her story. This running commentary is delightful--savvy and humorous. Add to that, her relationship with her bike and her martial arts skills, oh, and her relationship with said skills instructor. Harriet is a warrior woman, larger than life.
Watching her tangled steps as she works through her  'life changing struggles',  we sit on the sidelines cheering. Developing friendships is a new challenge. As Harriet says, 'recovery was forging real relationships instead of faux friendships.'
Mind you Harriet's philosophical conversations with her alligator neighbour Lana get a little wild, but they clear all our heads.  An alligator for a life coach is somewhat handy.
When the murder investigation moves from not just one death but three, Harriet turns out to be on quite the ride.
I enjoyed many aspects of Harriet. I really liked her. The murders themselves are for several reasons just bizarre. An amusing tongue-in-cheek mystery showcasing a hard hitting and likeable lead.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Delightful...the brooding Gabriel revealed!

Gabriel: Lord of Regrets (Lonely Lords#5) by Grace Burrowes

I was at sixes and sevens about this instalment of Lonely Lords. Whilst I enjoyed it I felt I did not actually love it as much as I wanted to. I couldn't put a finger on what it is that made it enjoyable rather than an mmm! thoroughly delectable experience.
Perhaps I expected more of the brooding Gabriel North. Perhaps I expected too much. Certainly he is warm and considerate of Polonaise on many levels. His internal reflections show his care and depth of feeling.
Perhaps it was the dithering and hiatus of Polonaise in her refusal to marry the delectable Gabriel that wore me down. 
Allemande was ever fantastic with her child's clarity of insight and her focuses on all things to do with pigs and Gabriel. Her insights about various people's reactions and her feelings are hidden in her comments upon the animals. Indeed these moments were highlights.
The side story of Aaron and Marjorie were captivating. Kettering the lawyer has now become my newest 'interesting' character, as has Tremaine.
The descriptions of Polonaise sketching  and creations capture beautifully the depth of talent our heroine has. So perhaps I can excuse her her hesitations on the grounds that her creative talent will always intrude upon her reality.
As I reworked my musings and struggled to say what I thought I realized that this story truly does have an immense amount of interest and twisty episodes. I was  completely captivated! I amend my earlier comments. Reading Gabriel is very much a delightful experience!

A NetGalley ARC