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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, December 30, 2013

Short but sweet!

The Earl's Christmas Colt (Entangled Flirts) by Rebecca Thomas

Quite a lovely story about duty, love and marriage.
Out of the blue, Lady Arabella Sutton is informed by her brother Will that she will have no second London season. She is to be married within a few days to Will's friend and future duke, Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale.
Arabella is never happier than being with her horses. Marriage is not part of that equation. In shock she flings herself onto her horse and rides off, despite a looming storm.
Forced to take shelter at a local inn when her horse turns up lame, Arabella runs into a handsome, gentlemanly horse breeder at the inn's stables. Mr. Carrington undertakes to assist her with securing a room.
Whilst he is about that Arabella overhears two serving maids discussing the guests. Apparently an Earl, Oliver Westwyck is staying here. Her erstwhile fiancé!
Frantic lest her reputation suffer if he discovers her alone at an inn, a panicked Arabella convinces the inn's groom to give her a horse. Despite the encroaching darkness she flees back to the family estate, determined to take shelter in a nearby estate cottage for the night.
Mr. Carrington, fearful for her safety, follows her.
Arabella is torn between her duty to her brother, her reluctance to marry an unknown suitor, and now a perplexing attractive horse breeder.
A short, nicely written, regency romance and I do like the cover.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Love will find a way!

The Temptation of Lady Serena (The Marriage Game) by Ella Quinn 

The beginning of the story seemed a tad stilted but then maybe it just reflected the gauche innocence that is Serena. Out of her environment, stiff and unsure, Serena has been living a lonely life, managing the family's large estate whilst her brother's been part of Wellington's staff during the war. Said brother has returned with a wife who wastes no time in sending Serena off to London and out of her way.             
A cousin to Phoebe (from The Seduction of Lady Phoebe fame), Serena meets Marcus' friend Viscount Robert Beaumont and promptly falls in love. Robert finally determines he might wed her on 'his terms.' 'Love was not right for Robert. Could he have her without it?'
Her gentle demeanour hiding a firm will, Serena declares she will only marry him if he loves her.
Well we spend some time with Robert chasing Serena across the channel, acting like a thwarted bear, and in general in a surly mood. Serena leads him a merry dance, albeit always seconds from surrender.
At last Serena starts to come into her own. I adore Robert's grandmother, Lady Beaumont who supports Serena's tactics and am intrigued by his Aunt Freddy who has secrets of her own. Both strong characters with a sense of humour.
Certainly the pace and the interest level picks up, after what I feared might be a steady decline, both mine and the plot's, and challenged with a few twists and turns.
I must admit that I am constantly being amazed by the intimate adventurousness of these Regency ladies I keep coming across. Serena and Robert do manage to find quite a bit of  private time where, 'there was...only him.' Ably assisted by Robert's valet and Serena's dresser.
However, no regency novel worth it's salt leaves out the possibility of intrigue. That's provided by the problem of local children on Robert's estate being snatched to work in the mines or worse. A grim reminder of the life of the poor. And introduces another piece in the puzzle. 
A thoroughly enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

Compelling steampunk finale!

A Study in Ashes (The Baskerville Affair #3) by Emma Jane Holloway

Evelina starts this episode with a bang. Blowing up the University of Camelin chemistry lab no less. Her world had narrowed to the university precincts bound as she is by the Gold King, Jasper Keating. Her price for allowing Nick to escape. All to no avail as he is dead.  Hauled before the University authorities she is for the moment confined to her quarters in the College of London. Who escorts her back to the College? None other than James Moriaty, the Blue King's man of business. We recognize the name for other reasons. Evelina is trapped by Keating, monitored by bracelets that create excruciating pain if she steps beyond her confines.
Imogen has been unconscious for a year. Her twin dead sister Anna is involved. A realization that's nightmarish in its unfolding. Her sister Poppy engages Sherlock Holmes to look into Imogen's illness.
And those dreadful Steam Barons. War lords run amok. The Scarlet Baron is plotting war, others are hedging their bets. Greedy and despicable, corporate plunderers, malignant growths spreading their rapacious tentacles across the country, destroying the country for their own gain. How I detest them. As the Schoolmaster (coordinator/leader of the Baskerville Movement) says, 'I want order with at least a teaspoon of social conscience...What the Steam Council offers is the amoral governance of greed.'                    
Riots are happening around London. Water is no longer free. Outbreaks of cholera are occurring. Men and women are plucked from the streets and forced into servitude and slavery.
Keating sets Tobias to monitor Evelina, a twisted psychological torture for them both.
There are some great to hue-in-cheek lines. Such as the school master to Evelina's would be rescuer, 'Before you rush off to rescue the fair maid, might suggest a nap? And maybe a bath?'
Minor characters I enjoyed: Striker, rough and dangerous but there's something about him.
Gwilliam, Leader of the ash rooks, Bucky, Poppy...really so many.
Plots are entangled within plots. The monarchy is threatened almost to extinction. The dead reappear. A new perspective is cast on Sherlock and the Baskerville legend.
Some of the touches, occasions and characters (literary or otherwise) that the reader knows about, and that Holloway refers to, are very much AhHa! moments. There's a sweet quasi-dark humour in their inclusion. When you meet them you find yourself saying, Oh Yes! Of course!
However, The Black Kingdom is the puzzling one in this part of the story. As Keating tells us, 'No one knew who ran it and no one really wanted to know.' The disturbing part is that Magnus had been there and has brought some dark kingdom (as Evelina calls them) spirits back. Ok and there was a couple of fairly disgusting moments but I guess that goes with the territory of Black Sorcery.
A grand and sweeping dystopian adventure in an alternative Victorian England! 
I loved it!

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Prayer is telephoning to God and intuition is God telephoning you.'

The Magic Path of Intuition by Florence Scovel Shinn

I liked that opening chapter subheading. I'm still thinking about it.
Intuition! So many of us ignore it, or feel guilty about it.
Often our first response to a situation is intuitive, but how do we put that in words?
So many 'if only' moments. This book is a chance to change that, a fascinating hitherto unpublished work by Shinn who died in 1940.
Imagination and visualization, all form part of the journey.
The affirmations in this quite beautiful production are a helpful guide to this growing process.
The vivid colours, the photography, the welcoming words, the encompassing swirly lines underlining each heading on pages, all contrive to draw us into the text.
I must admit the colours and production radiate a retro seventies 'get in touch with your inner self' feel about them. That's great because this is what the book is about, enhancing and recognizing your intuition as a powerful healing tool, tapping into the wisdom of the universe.
I have been reading a pdf version of the hardcover on my notebook.
The hardcover edition would be a nice personal acquisition, or a lovely present. 
Full of verve and momentum, certainly a book to ponder on.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A magical delight!

Mistress of the Wind by Michelle Diener

Certainly a change of pace from my previous encounters with Diener's Tudor and other historical works. This work evidences her prodigious talent, the depths of her writing abilities shine.
Beautifully crafted, this retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, is a pleasure to read. Poetic in its descriptions, the relationship that develops between Astrid and the Bear/Prince unfolds with an unfaltering intensity.
Sold to the Bear/Prince by her family, Astrid travels to his castle. She is to be held there for a year as his companion, not wife if you will, mistress if you won't. She is not to leave and can never see the prince as a man, although he visits her at night. The hurt of being sold is revisited at certain times in the novel. We hurt with Astrid.            
Astrid's cleverness, the humour we see hidden in her request for an axe after she,  with great trepidation, enters the castle stronghold and realizes she has a bargain to keep is precious. Her appeal to the wind, the sight of it dancing around her, adds a moment of relief as the wind brings her joy, in this the unknown. Of course Astrid finds it difficult. 
We understand her plea to see Bjorn, her plea for freedom to be outside. We understand Bjorn's fears of being trapped as a Bear forever, trapped into marriage with the Troll Queen's daughter, his fears of betrayal.
However, despite her love for him, Astrid's actions do condemn Bjorn. With the help of the wind she sets forth to rescue her love. Her journey, a quest with challenges and tests, introduces her and us to some wonderful characters along the way. I love Astrid's respect and the courtesy she shows to these beings. 
Astrid is more than we know. She is a secret even to herself. Her mother might guess, but  her father fears her. Astrid's abilities develop alongside her love for Bjorn and are key to helping Bjorn free himself and his kingdom from the Troll Queen's thrall.
Astrid's relationship with Bjorn has been a longtime coming. These two were destined for each other.
Evocative writing that invites us in, grabs our attention and draws us, drew me, willingly into this magical world that is so real, and so refreshing.
'Fairy tales are stories for the soul, and delving into East of the Sun, West of the Moon, to write this book was a pleasure,' says Diener in her forward. This story certainly captivated me. 

As an aside, I love the cover. Wistful, romantic and beguiling. A dreamlike quality. The colours certainly reflect what I imagine as the setting for the story.

A NetGalley ARC


Cross of Vengeance (A Burren Mystery) by Cora Harrison

In Ireland in the Middle Ages (1519) a Brehon was the Gaelic equivalent of a judge. The statutes that governed daily life in medieval Ireland were called Brehon Law.
Mara, Brehon of the kingdom of Burren, a magistrate and the professor (ollamh) at Cahermacnaghten law school, accompanied by her students, attends an important mass, the Feast of the Holy Cross, at Kilnaboy Church, home to a significant 'relic: a piece of the true cross...housed inside a gold shrine.' When the relic is destroyed or stolen the Brehon has a role to play.
Insights into the ancient laws of Ireland meander in and out of the storyline. I like the way each chapter opens with a quote from a relevant law, setting the scene for what is to come. The punishments for various crimes or abuses against the law is fascinating.  
Arson, theft, fanatics, heretics, pilgrims, dark passions, jealousy and avarice present.
Attitudes to Indulgences and Spanish inquisitors become part of the mystery.    
The effects of Martin Luther's 39 Articles has crossed from Europe to Ireland. Now, not only the loss of a holy relic is being investigated, but a murder must be investigated. The Brehon must solve both crimes.
The way Mara's students put forward their ideas and work together to form theories, points towards Mara's encouraging abilities as a teacher, reflecting the sort of person she is.
Mara's wry, unspoken humour at their inclusion of her in their discussions, their assumptions about her, is delightful. Such as in a discussion that included vellum making Slevin's hastens to instruct her about it's making. 'Mara smiled an acknowledgement. She liked the way boys of Slevin's age assumed she had little knowledge of practical matters.' All this points to the type of person she is. She has a quiet intelligence, is accepting and caring, and holds the authority of office with strength tempered by compassion. A velvet glove encasing a will of iron. The leadership of women as justices in Ireland in these times is eye opening.
Beautifully written, Harrison's descriptive prose of the land about as the Brehon travels are a delight. The mind's eye easily sees.
Mysterious, yet brimming with wise reflection, a captivating aspect of Harrison's writing style. Through Mara's eyes we see the burdens and joys of her office and a fascinating look at a regrettably overturneded legal system.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

...trials and tribulations in Charlemagne's times!

The Scribe by Antonio Garrido, translated by Simon Bruni

Having been taught to read and write by her father, all Theresa wants to do is be a scribe and parchment maker. Theresa is battling with the prejudice of a woman's place in society. Given that this tale takes place in medieval Würzburg of 799, at a time when women's roles were even more proscribed, we can hardly be surprised by the attitudes of those around her. Garrido's writing is vivid and brings home the sights, sounds and smells of the time, and the hardships of Theresa's occupation. (Thank you also translator Bruni) At this time the surrounding country is besieged by famine. Denizens of Würzburg are in desperate straits.        
A talented parchment maker and scribe Theresa is treated to all sorts of indignities by her fellow workers and especially the master parchment maker, the despicable Korne.  When Theresa had to go into the deepest maceration pool to find her cow skin for her parchment making exam, let me say that my stomached heaved along with hers. After this first dramatic part I actually wondered how the story was going to continue or if I had somehow missed the pagination. Theresa's chapter appeared closed.
But this is only the beginning as Theresa, escaping capture, traverses forests and mauriding Saxons, is rescued by and rescues a young soldier, and eventually finds her way to a Benedictine Monastry in Fulda. Here Theresa becomes a scribe to a Alcuin of York, a monk and herbalist. A man with deductive abilities that make me wonder if this master is a former incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Alcuin is much more than a humble monk.
There is more afoot though. Graft and corruption is  linked to mysterious illnesses people are dying from. Murder and mystery are intertwined. Unusual friendships leaven the way.
Then there is the relationship between Charlemagne and Theresa's father.
With more twists and turns than a spider's web, this is an intriguing story of a young woman who dared to dream of more--albeit an incredibly stubborn young woman. A doorway into times of the past, portrayed with startling realism.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, December 16, 2013

Historical fiction or History with fictionalized human perspectives?

Sisters of the Bruce 1292-1314 by J. M. Harvey

I had just finished watching the episode of A History of Scotland that referenced Robert the Bruce and the hardships his family suffered at the hand of the British host. When I had an opportunity to read the ARC of this novel, I couldn't resist. As a result of The Bruce and his men killing John Comyn (1306), Edward I, called for the 'Raising of the Dragon'. Which meant that no quarter would be given to The Bruce supporters, including his family. This work follows the effect of war and this edict upon the men and more particularly, the womenfolk of The Bruce.  
The story is mostly expressed as a series of letters penned between the sisters, which adds to the sense of the personal. However this is more a history book than the fictionalized story of the sisters. This unfortunately renders it a dense and lengthy work. I found myself having to put it down and take it up over a longer period of time than I normally would. Should this have been two books, or a book from each sister's perspective? For better readability something along those lines would be more accessible.
[I was watching a newscast by Avon Romance with   http://avonromancelive.com/ the other day (with Eloisa James, Sarah Maclean and Julia Quinn. Eloise James was asked a question relating to history and fiction. Her answer talked about this very thing, about dumping swathes of history on your audience as opposed to using historical fact to enrich the novel aspect of the work.]

Getting back to the novel however, certainly in Sisters of the Bruce, the atrocity of the women's treatment and their subsequent physical, emotional and mental state is well presented by the Australian author Harvey. A history of Scotland that does persuades one to reflect on the human cost of war no matter the times.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, December 13, 2013

...'perhaps we are all monsters, those of us who walk the Green Path'...

The Cruel Path by David J Normoyle 

Poignant and stark, with moments of joy, this dystopian novella sets the background for survival, death and what is to come thirty years hence in The Narrowing Path. This is a glimpse into the history of Arcandis and The Refuge through the eyes of Ealnor, one of three brothers.
Teenage boys, those selected from the hierarchy of Arcandis society must walk the Green Path, and survive it. If they survive they will be future leaders.--the ascor. They will be amongst the chosen, certain of refuge when the surface of Arcandis becomes intolerable unto death. However the struggle will be ongoing, lasting a lifetime. There is always some one wanting to take your place.     

The Triplets, brothers, have been (unusually) raised together as comrades, rather than potential enemies competing against each other for survival.
Sorani, Frodan and Ealnor. They 'watched out for each other,...cared for each other, and...loved each other.' In a society that uses anyone they can to scramble, crawl or kill to get to the top of the heap, this is a rare thing. Only two of the brothers will be able to go forward, to be tested by the Green Path. Certainly the verse from John 15:13, 'Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends,' springs to mind. This is exactly what one of the brothers contrives to do. However this leaves at least one of the brothers racked with remorse and guilt.
Having previously read and enjoyed immensely The Narrowing Path, in The Cruel Path we are offered another insight into this harsh society; presented as it is against the strength of love. 
At the time of writing it's free on Amazon. Certainly can't beat that price!

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Clearly, rumours of her ruination still circulated.'

Compromising Willa (Entangled Scandalous #3) by Diana Quincy 

Secrets and ruin. How do you face down society and retain your dignity when your reputation is, if not in shreds, decidedly singed around the edges?
Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope is re-entering society after her disastrous first season.
Damning rumours are circulating in the various clubs about her, and even years later she is shunned and barely noticed.
Pursued by the new the Earl of Bellingham, a childhood friend, and author of her predicament, attracted to the Duke of Hartwell, a friend of her brother's, Willa is unsure of where to turn. Besides she has other fish to fry. Marriage is not even surfacing on her horizon.
I like Willa as a main character. I like Hartwell. I thought I might like Bellingham but he was such a 'Bad Man' that I happily hissed and booed him from the sidelines whenever necessary.   

The beginning of the story had me thinking this is a different. It captured my interest. Sadly the journey to closure was not as well maintained as I thought it would be. Maybe it was that the bedroom scenes overtook the storyline. Or the amount of misunderstandings and mistaken meaning between Willa and Hartwell was discouraging for me, and downright frustrating for them. Although, I did appreciate that Hartwell kept rescuing Willa from the various situations she kept finding herself in.
Willa's distinct tea blends, and her secret involvement in a coffee house where poor women worked to support their children is a gem of an idea that should have been more fully realized. Reference to Mary Wollstonecraft's writings are made providing a background to Willa's efforts towards social responsibility. This is the second regency novel I've recently read where Wollstonecraft's name makes an appearance as being an influence on the heroine's more radical ideas. Certainly, as a philosopher and women's rights advocate of her time, she is an ideal figure for authors of our times to use to introduce more modern thinking into their plots. 
There were a couple of other threads in 'Willa' that would have made intriguing unravelling but weren't.
All in all though, an enjoyable read despite my comments.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wonderfully romantic novella! Just loved Anne! (and Pinky)

The Scandal Before Christmas: A Holiday Novella (The Reckless Brides 3.5) by Elizabeth Essex 

'Twas three weeks before Christmas, 
And all through the house,
Nothing was stirring, not even a mouse.
The fire it crackled, a comforting sound
I grabbed a hot chocolate, and a novella I'd found.
Excitingly romantic, a handsome young hound,             
Ordered to marry,  he circled around,
A navel lieutenant, a younger son,
Suddenly found he was the one.
Viscount in waiting he was to be,
He stood his ground, wanting to flee.
He plotted a near treacherous course,                         
Down a path he was protestingly forced.
The answer he puzzled and wrestled and fought,
To do not what he wanted but just what he aught.
By magic and chance he found his true start,
A wren by perception, an eagle at heart.
All browns and greys, a shy little dove,
Hidden from light, a dark little glove,
Transformed to splendour, when gifted by love.
His spinster bride, Anne Lesley by name,
Ian Worth's lady, really anything but tame.
Assisted by Pinky, valet and friend,
Sailed into safe harbour right at the end.
A wondrous read, a sunshine, a ray,
Of romance and pleasure that lightened my day.

(apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, 'The Night Before Christmas.' 1822.
Ok, the original was going around in my head and I couldn't help myself)

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wow! Never a dull moment with Ciardis Weathervane!

Sworn To Conflict (Courtlight #3) by Terah Edun

The unsuspected continues to startle not only me but Ciardis herself, and all those who come into contact with her. But we're all up for the adventure of it. I have to say I just love the person that Ciardis is--loyal to a fault, compassionate, innocent in her reactions and honourable.
Last seen Ciardis had confronted the Shadow Mage and then somehow been teleported or transported. Where? Smack bang in the middle of a battle far to the frozen north is where! Forced into a healing sleep for two weeks Ciardis awakes and finds herself with her once prospective sponsor General Barnaren, Prince Sebastian, the Lady Serena her original feather brained sponsor, and others who have chased her here. The battle is masking a greater and more dangerous secret!
After a meeting with the Old Ones, the elementals of the Northern lands, and being gifted with a infinitesimal portion of their power, Ciardis is swept away once more to the Sanctuary.
During her time in the Northern lands Ciardis connects with lost family members, the Frost Giant Inga, her guard Kane, the Daemoni Thanar, the Lady Vane and a host of new and compelling characters.
Is Ciardis impulsive and rash as she's been accused of more than once? Does she respond from some hapless intuition, or is it a combination of intuitive understanding on some deeper level combining with her Weathervane gift, that produces these seemingly random responses? Responses that often turn out to be saner than everyone else surmises, including Ciardis. The interesting thing is how much loyalty Ciardis tends to inspire. 
Another wild ride with Ciardis! The improbable is anything but! Hang on to your proverbial hats and enjoy!
Now, I'm hanging out for the next episode, Sworn to Secrecy.

p..s the price is great for such an excellent read?

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

' "Dratted man"... Dear, dratted man'...more Burrowes' entangled delights!

Andrew (Lord of Despair) by Grace Burrowes

'He should never have left in the first place.'
So true and the story of the Alexander family continues, this time focusing on Gareth's brother Andrew and Felicity's sister, Astrid Worthington, now Astrid Allen, Viscountess Amery. You may remember the interplay between a younger Astrid and Andrew at that time.    

Lord Andrew Alexander has returned from abroad having fled his demons--his guilt at the drowning of his brother, father and Gareth's fiancé, and his good intentions with respect to not burdening Astrid with his heaviness. But, as Andrew reflects, 'Haring off to the four corners of the globe hadn't solved what was wrong with [him].
Astrid has been married in his absence, not happily, but comfortably. She is now widowed and pregnant.
Intrigue rears it's ugly head though and it seems that Astrid may be the target of someone who has something to gain by her demise. What's more, it may be that the death of her husband Herbert may not be the accident first thought.
Who benefits most is the question. I had my suspicions.
How can Andrew appease his tormented soul and protect the woman he loves from all this and from himself?
Ah! The wheels of love grind round and about torturously and mysteriously.
Astrid is a delightful person. Forthright and honest, we can't help but take her to our hearts.
I must admit to sparing a puzzled thought for Lord Douglas who seems to be carrying a heavy burden and yet seems unaware of many things, is emotionally contained, even stilted.
So we have pregnancies and possible murders and Saint Andrew thinking he is a vile, unworthy person and self flagellating by deserting any idea of love being a goal he can partake of.
There is an interesting foray into child birth of the times. It was fascinating seeing birthing practices or non practices of the time through Felicity's delivery experience with the assistance of Andrew and Astrid. More advice is given by their brother David Holbrooke.
We have some loose ends being tied up and the result is a finely crafted novel to enjoy.

p.s. I really recommend looking on Burrowes' website at the Lonely Lords Family Tree to see how the families hang together.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Charmingly quixotic! Piercingly insightful!

My Venice and Other Essays by Donna Leon

What a delightful group of essays! Witty, sometimes hilarious, often self deprecating, always with an brilliant edge. Nothing is off the table. The conversation cuts a wide swathe through life in all it's complexities.
Donna Leon brings Venice alive. Through the eyes of both an inhabitant and an expat we taste the puzzling differences and laugh at the idiosyncrasies, and the similarities.  

I really identified with her piece about buying her villa! Sweeping in, being mesmerized by the view, but blind to the detrimental structure of the building. Ah, Bellissimo! Swept up by the view and the ambience, forgetting about the plumbing, the flooding roof and and collapsing walls. For Leon, 'it was love at first sight, and not for the first time, was to prove [her] ruin.'
Each essay is a little gem and tells us something about Italians and Venice that as tourists we would never discover for ourselves. I must admit there are some moments when I felt positively guilty about being a tourist in Venice.
But Venice is only the beginning. Leon pulls no punches when she talks about male female relationships in Italy. Her dismay about attitudes is palpable. 
We journey to the United States and New Jersey with equal vigour. Certainly the streets and the people spring to life in all places. Life viewed through Donna Leon's eyes is certainly a grand experience.
Grazie tanto! Ms. Leon.

A NetGalley ARC