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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, December 30, 2014

...intriguing highlander travails

Knight in Highland Armor: Scottish Historical Romance (Highland Dynasty Book 1) by Amy Jarecki 

1455 Scottish highlands. Not quite the time of mail order brides but writing and asking for a bride via a letter maybe more the norm for these medieval times. Lord Colin Campbell's beloved wife Jonet has died in childbirth. Colin has been commanded back to Crusades for the third time by the grand Master of the Order of St. John. Colin is a Knight of the Order.
Colin applies to the King for a wife to be a step mother to his new bairn. The older plain woman he envisages, whom will fall in with his marriage for necessity plans, is not what Colin gets. Rather he is married to Margaret Robinson. Young, attractive, determined and talented. Margaret is hoping for someone younger and more loving. Someone who will recognize her abilities and stand by her side.
Their's is not a marriage made in heaven, but it could well end that way.
Though the trials and misunderstandings of unsolved grief, of lack of communication, of long years of enforced separation, of treachery and more litter their path, they find their way to each other.
A romantic story shines through the harsh beginnings and flowers despite the rocky conditions surrounding this particular highlander knight. Loosely based on the life of Colin Campbell, the first Lord of Glenorchy, Amy Jarecki once again gives us an intriguing novel rooted in the shrouded mists of the past.

A NetGalley ARC

...the continuing tradition of the grapevine

Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo     

A story of lives that meet and part and meet again, like the ebb and flow of waters kissing the sands. Of daughters lost and found, of mothers and sisters, lovers and husbands.
Abandoned at 3 years old, Julia Parlatone comes to know her mother Sarina's story through a battered diary and others belongings she finds locked away in a trunk in the basement of her childhood home in Queens.
Stella Mia, the song her mother sang to her, the part of her mother Julia remembers.
As Julia journeys to discover the lost part of herself and the truth about her mother we are carried willy nilly with her. And what a story Sarina's is. A story of an abusive childhood, of change and family, of sacrifice and love. I ached for them all. For Sarina and her siblings, for Julia and her father, for Julia and her mother, for Carlo and Sarina.
Poetic in its description of  Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, I truly felt the warmth of the sun and the dazzling light of the clear seas.
A moving and compelling story that pulls you in, that doesn't let go and doesn't give an inch. At the last we come to understand with Julia the symbolic allusion of the grapevine, and of love and loss and life.

A NetGalley ARC


The Duke In My Bed (The Heirs' Club) by Amelia Grey 

The notorious Heir's Club, a byword for those indolent young men cooling their heels in the waiting room of life. Heedless of life and limb, the next wager is the thing. But a wager's gone wrong, a friend is deceased, and a reluctant vow was given. Two years later and Bray Drakestone, Marquis of Lockington is still running from his vow, to marry one of his challenger's five sisters. Throughout the London clubs the bets have been placed. Even the Prince Regent is becoming anxious, urgent in his desire to see the matter brought to a close.
Bray Drakestone carries the pain of his friend's senseless death. That does not mean that he wants to honour his vow! Yet in the face of the eldest Miss Prim's reluctance to even see him he once again recklessly wagers. This time that the non compliant Miss Louisa Prim will not only agree to marry him but will propose to him.
So we have the conundrum of neither wishing to marry the other yet seemingly doing as much as they can to have the other's ambitions foiled. 
An amusing tale despite being based on a careless and needless tragedy.

A NetGalley ARC

Tony Venables Hunter of Sherwood series. Riveting medieval thrillers!

Hunter of Sherwood: The Red Hand #2 by Toby Venables 
(A Guy of Gisburne novel)

This medieval story based around a legend of the past combined with riveting action captivates and ensnares.
Guy of Gisburne and Galfrid have returned to England. Pleased to be back after his horrific time in Jerusalem Guy finds himself once more fighting a pitched battle against nameless foes with little more than his intellect,his experience and trusty squire to rely on. Prince John's stronghold at Nottingham has been breached and it's up to Guy to find out who is threatening England. Who has sent John a macabre message written on the skin of one of John's men, signed with a bloodied handprint with the sinister message that 'the circle is closing?' It seems two of John's knights have been murdered and their hands removed.
' A red hand is coming...' a remembered utterance from one of Tancered the renegade Templar's knights in the sewers of Jerusalem. And a new fear...Dragons!
Is Hood involved? He has the perfect alibi. What is happening? Someone or some persons are threatening England. Anarchy and chaos are on the threshold. Prince John calls Guy to solve the mystery, to shed light on the source of the threat.
I love this fresh new take on the Robin Hood myth. Guy of Gisburne is the unsung hero who has steadily grown in stature and leaves in his wake a new legend.  In this retelling of the story of Robin Hood, Guy's support of John is presented in a kinder light. Richard is exposed as a headstrong, careless King who views England merely as a vast source of funds for his beloved Crusades. As Gisburne remarks to John, 'Men are rarely remembered as they truly were...Kings even less so.' Until now I'd whole heartedly supported the traditional Robin Hood story. Now I find myself in charity with John and angry with the selfishness of Richard.
The fact that this series shatters my previous conceived ideas around the legendary figure involved and turns them on their head without causing me to miss a beat is really quite unexpected and all kudos to Toby Venables writing skills. Guy has become my new hero and Robin or rather Hood, the new villain. As the story progresses the slight shift of names amongst Hood's followers is cleverly interwoven as these once familiar characters are reintroduced in a more sinister fashion. Friar Tuck has become FriarTook, a radical, anarchist monk afire with his mission, Will Scarlet is Will Gameswell, now Will the Scarlet, and Little John is John Lytell.
The supposed love triangle between Robin, Marion and Guy is also dealt a swift blow.
Beyond this is Venables flow of descriptive prose. His portrait of a London has you there, on horseback with Gisburne, the flow and ebb of people and animals, the smells and sounds, both harrowing and fearful. Guy's sardonic thoughts about the people telling, 'The survivors formed a species entirely their own...these creature were called Londoners.'
A gripping, fast paced medieval thriller continuing the story and high standard set in the previous title in the Hunter of Sherwood series, Knight of Shadows.

A NetGalley ARC

Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows #1by Toby Venables
(A Guy of Gisburne novel)

A longtime fan of the various takes on Robin Hood, this foray into the legend took my breath away.
Venables has turned the legend upside down and given Guy of Gisburne a completely new and believable place.
A medieval thriller. A rich, tightly woven plot that never falters and takes us from England to the mercilessness of the Crusades and back, complete with religious artifacts and renegade, fanatical Templars.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

April Taylor's Tudor Enigma series

Taste of Treason (The Tudor Enigma #2) by April Taylor

Sunderers, strife and division. The Intrigue continues!

Having just finished #1 Court of Conspiracy in the Tudor Enigma series I  just had to purchase this second alternate Tudor period mystery where religion and magic intertwine. The cleverly developed plot uses the religious upheavals of the time to deepen the mystery and intrigue, whilst injecting the very real superstitions and fears then present with magic, constructing a new reality.
The attack upon the English throne by the Sunderers continues. Luke Ballard is now a Dominus.  He has moved beyond the journeyman stage of his calling as an elemancer to that of an Elemagus. Luke is in danger on more than one front, as are Bertila and her father. The local priest Gerard Frayner, a convert from Catholicism is determined to have Luke and Bertila denounced as a sorcerer and a witch. The sunderers continue their deep and darstardly game with the future of England at stake. Henry IX is now married to Queen Madeleine of Scotland. Madeleine and the heir she carries are under threat. Henry is furious. When we last saw Luke, Henry had also appointed him Privy Inquirer into Divers Mischiefs and Grievances. Henry demands that Luke find the culprits. The situation is complex. A strange symbol of a many legged spider like creature has appeared. The Queen Mother, Anne Boleyn, informs Luke that this is the mark of an inner circle of the malus nocte sunderers, the Custodes Tenebris.  Luke discovers they are led by someone called Asmodeus.  Luke's investigations are harried. He no sooner grasps one corner of the web the Custodes Tenebris have constructed in this deep game when another comes into play. His energies are being divided. Henry is like a raging lion in his fury and fear for his pregnant wife and future heir.
Luke has to fight on several fronts and keep Henry satisfied. Are the French, the Spanish, maybe even the Sots involved? He calls on others to help, including the captain of Henry's guard, Byram Cresswell.
The plot is twisted, multilayered and engrossing.
An excellent read!

Court of Conspiracy review

Saturday, December 27, 2014

excellent alternate Tudor mystery!

Court of Conspiracy (The Tudor Enigma #1) by April Taylor

An alternate Tudor universe where Anne Boleyn is very much alive and the Queen Mother. Henry VIII has died and their son Henry IX is King. Anne holds at bay those who would attempt to rule via the young monarch. Now though the very life of the young king has been threatened three times. Anne must 'plot her strategy and make England, and the King, safe.'
Luke Ballard is chosen to ensure that. Although a lowly apothecary, Luke is so much more. An elemancer, a user of magic he channels the power of one of the four elements (water, fire, wind or earth). Luke's element that he uses to perform his magic is fire,   Elemancers work their magic 'through the Grace of God for the good of all.' They are helped by their faithful  familiars, a breed of dogs called Greysprings.
It seems dark magic is at work, a sunderer, the opposite of elemancers, is at large and the net they have cast endangers those dear to Luke. Sunderers 'foment strife and imperil those who get in their way.' The worst of them are the malus nocte,  elemagus turned sunderers. Some also have their familiars, umbrans, dark dogs who assist in evil deeds.
Courtly and political intrigue are rife and magical perfidy stalks the King. Luke, at Anne's bequest is thrown into the heart of this dire situation. Those close to him come under attack and he must call on all his strength of will to win through.
Luke is supported by a loyal group of friends including Anne Boleyn's lady in waiting Gwenette Paige, his mentor the elemagus Dufay,
History, crime and magic lay the ground for this most satisfying and different read.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chaos, bananas and mystery. A treat indeed!

Bonfire Night (A Lady Julia Mystery #5.7) by Deanna Raybourn 

1890 near to All Hallows' Eve. Nicholas Brisbane of the 'witch black eyes' and Lady Julia with a heart of gold, an enquiring mind and a gleefully abandoned love for her husband are in the middle of house renovations which are creating havoc. Nicholas and Julia are now parents to the lively Jack.
Julia is questioning her mothering skills as she keeps forgetting about Jack and leaving Him behind. Fortunately Julia's maid Morag has taken charge of Jack. The chaos is added to by Plum and Perdita. Not to forget Perdita's baby Jane, just learning to talk.
So when Nicholas is mysteriously left a house in the country conditional on being there to collect the rents on All Hallows' Eve, Julia is more than ready to pack up the family and flee to a place that offers intrigue, a challenge, a refuge from the renovations and something other than bananas to eat. 
The village of Narrow Wibberley and the crazily built house Thorncross,' the most haunted house in England,' are not disappointing. There are certainly things that go bump in the night. The game's a foot with a surprising ending. A fun novella with the sleuthing family we have come to enjoy in unexpected ways.

A NetGalley ARC

Apparently the last in the series, it is sad to farewell such a stellar cast and the intriguing, sometimes dark, places they find themselves.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

...a slick thriller!

Snow Woman (The Maria Kallio Series #4) by Leena Lehtolainen, Owen Witesman (Translator).     

Detective Maria Kallio is called to investigate the disappearance of Elina Roseberg, the director of a woman's retreat center, near Espoo. Maria had some previous contact with the center in an advisory capacity. Concurrently, a deranged killer, Malmberg,  is on the loose and it becomes clear that those who put him away, Maria and her partner Palo are his main targets. As events transpire a subtle thread connects the missing woman's life with the escaped killer. Who though is responsible for Elina going missing? Each of the retreat member is a suspect. 
The storyline is tight, the translation flows nicely and events unfold at a good pace. The psychological buildup of events draws you in.
Maria works in a charged, tough environment. There is little room for feelings. Sometimes her very femaleness renders her an isolated island amongst all the testosterone.
An enquiring, sensitive and thoroughly likeable character,  she often sees things that her detective partners miss.  Is the reference to both Elina and Maria as 'snow woman' merely situational, albeit for different reasons, or can one draw deeper inferences from this? When related to Elina it is a comment on how she is found, the unknown-ness, the quiet mystery of of the situation. With Maria it's playful and yet brings into relief her deeper character. There are aspects of Maria's personality that seem to be frozen, repressed. Her life though is thawing, the sun is breaking though. Changes are happening. Continuing that theme, the Finish landscape is bleak, frigid and depressing. You can feel the cold seeping into your bones.
I must say that the ending is surprising, the suspense being held right through until the last few pages. I did not see that coming!

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, December 6, 2014

...a heart warming foray!

To Wed The Widow (The Reluctant Bride Collection #3) by Megan Bryce  

Reluctantly, the Honourable George Sinclair returns from India at his brother's command to marry.  His brother the earl, Sebastian fears for his wife's life should they have more children. After four daughters and no heir in sight and Sebastian will not put the wife he loves in danger. It is up to George to produce the heir to the title. George, when he's not missing India, is smitten by the entirely unsuitable Lady Haywood and refuses to come to heel. He wants an affair with the languishing widow. The widow who has already buried five husbands. George's friends warn him off. 
They don't want him to joining the ranks of the regretful or possibly rewarded dead.
Both leads are determined and charismatic. George loves his brother and wants to do right by him. The thing is, the debutantes he might marry all have little appeal, the widow however does!
Lady Elinor Haywood doesn't want an affair. She wants love, marriage and children. George envisages Elinor as the mistress he spends time with whilst lack lustrely producing the heir and spare in a marriage of convenience. A clash is inevitable and delightfully understated.
Whither to then, for this most impossible liaison? What's it to be, duty or love?
Witty, heartfelt and very human in the telling. A very enjoyable read.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, December 5, 2014

...a treasure! 'a bright place full of color' even in the darkest hour!

The Oblate's Confession by William Peak 

Set during 7th Century England when Christianity is finding a foothold in England. When different groups of monks hold differing attitudes. A world where Christianity and ancient beliefs clash. A small boy, Winwaed, is given to a Monastery straddling two Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
A world where the power of spirits and prayer is primal, unfettered by the rationalism of today. 
We begin with the oblate as an old man retelling his story, giving his confession. We never know to whom. We don't know the oblates name until sometime into the story. That's all part of the mystery.
We see the world through his eyes as a small child. This is fascinating and powerful stuff. We see first hand life in the Monastery; we see the confusion of learning to live and work in silence, Winwaed's growing relationship with the hermit , his meeting a young girl. All heady interactions. 
Later we see Winwaed's understanding of the world influenced by the revelations of his father. This brings conflict for Winwaed. Whom should he believe, his natural father or his monastic fathers? After all he has known and trusted the latter for longer than the fleeting moments he is given with his real father. And yet the serpent of uncertainty enters Winwaed's garden of Redestone.
The story is littered with precious moments of contact with the hermit. Moments that we see through the child Winwaeds's eyes and, and moments when the dialogue shifts so that we see Winwaed seeing himself as a child and then as the adult recounting theses experiences through the medium of his confession. Moments like viewing Redestone from above and understanding what that encompasses. Moments when he and through him, we, can smell the dankness of the Forest and hear the buzz of the bees or the yip of the fox, or feel the warmth of the sun. That special experience of looking as directed by the hermit at prayer as part of the river Meolch's flow, a focusing meditative coming into being. We see that. At that time the child cannot.
This is an amazing recounting of monastic life that delves into the nature of God and of prayer and of our very human responses to both. The story pulls you in and captures life in such a telling way that you the reader seamlessly become part and parcel of the life reflected.
The Oblate's Confession is an unexpected gift.

A NetGalley ARC

'Ballroom Waterloo...it was as much a hell as the battlefield he'd escaped.'

The Earl's Defiant Wallflower (Dukes of War #1) by Erica Ridley  

Oliver York, the now Earl of Carlisle, inherits a title that has nothing more to recommend it than that it is. His dissolute father has driven the estate into the ground. The only way to keep a roof over his and his dependant's heads is to marry an heiress.
He and his friends have returned from Napoleonic war. For some the damage is obvious, for others not.
Oliver and his gallant friends, more battle scarred than any thing else are quite a menagerie. There is Captain Xavier Grey who has retreated into a listless amnesia or possibly we would say post traumatic stress disorder. He appears unable or doesn't want to communicate, but his friends take him around to the various ton happenings, invariably ensconcing him in the library. This of course feeds into the plot. 
Then there's the Yankee, Miss Grace Halton who desperately needs to marry, preferably someone wealthy, so that she can collect her small dowry and bring her ailing mother to England. Grace's wicked grandmother attempts to foil all correspondence between Grace and her mother. Indeed Grace is so closely guarded on the one hand and yet left to run the gauntlet of ton parties on the other that the disconnect is surreally outrageous. Basically Grace is thrown into the battleground of balls and parties with no protection. She's sniped at, given the cut, disdained by the young ladies and leered at by the dissolute roué's of the ton. 
How is she going to marry successfully and rescue her mother without the desired entree of family and breeding?
Of course despite the fact that neither are suitable for each other, Grace and Oliver and we are aware of the electricity between them but their relationship is one that can never be.
An easy fun read.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An unexpected treasure!

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip 

China in the 1930's. Spring Swallow, fated to be a 'bad luck' woman, is clear sighted and determined.
Promised in marriage whilst in the womb she is later married to the ghost of her groom, or a chicken depending on your point of view.  As a young girl Spring Swallow escapes her life of predetermined drudgery on her ghostly wedding day and flees to the city of Soochow.
She finds herself by chance rather than plan being trained in embroidery by Aunt Peony, a woman with dark secrets and passionate jealousies. As Spring Swallow's talent for embroidery grows more of the secrets of Aunt Peony are revealed, as are the personalities of the other 'sister' embroiderers.
(I was fascinated by the treatise on the art and technique of embroidering that Mingmei Yip exposes us to throughout the book. The book deserves further reading to dip more solidly into the artistic way of this medium.)
I really liked Spring Swallow's internal discourse throughout the novel. Indeed, life from her point of view is anything but dull, frequently terrifying, with humorous and tender moments. She is a young woman at once naive and knowing. Her loyalty to her teacher and her other 'sisters', her pursuit of their whereabouts and her taking responsibility for her 'family' is admirable.
The development of her relationship with the revolutionary Shen Feng is both unexplainable and yet completely realistic. Here is a young woman who has never known love, who believes in fate and who romantically finds her soulmate on a mountain top. Complete with poetry. No wonder she falls in love with him.
Spring Swallow's journey into womanhood and who she is does not stop with finding love. The truth of life is harsher. Her path is at times harrowing. From Soochow to Peking, from resolute safety to chancy freedom, Spring Swallow fully embraces life. By grasping opportunities, and not despairing she finds herself coming of age in unexpected ways.
A quietly fascinating read!

A NetGalley ARC

...heartfelt journey to love!

Tall, Dark and Royal (Renegade Royal) by Vanessa Kelly

The story of Domonic Hunter and Chloe Steele gives more background into the lives of those royals born to others.
Griffin Steel features heavily along with Justine.
We find out the story behind Chloe's disappearance, and are treated to the torturous sight of Domonic and Chloe circling around each other as their love, one that has survived more than 14 years, is tentatively declared and at last consummated.
The force of these three vibrant personalities; of the determined Chloe, the powerful Domonic in full protection mode and the compelling Griifin are brought into relief and fully displayed as their stories rub against each other. The support they offer each other is not to be sold short.
Chloe, lost in the guilt she feels denies Domonic and is determined to return to her life of rescuing young pregnant women lost and alone, much as she was.
Domonic, in love with Chloe from childhood, has to learn to let her be her own person.
And Griffin, is very much Griffin, supportive and decisive.
A touching story highlighting the cost of love and self worth.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

...still a winner 30 years on!

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley  

A timely re-release of a classic fantasy and winner of the 1985 Newbery Medal.
I must confess though that The Blue Sword holds a dearer place in my reading heart.  And don't even get me started on Deerskin!    
About the same time Tamora Pierce's Allana was being told for the first time, so was McKinley's story about Aerin, the princess who was different. Aerin carries the burden of negative public opinion, being seen as less than adequate. What do these two have in common? Both are strong female leads who fights the odds and win through. Both move forward at great personal cost against seemingly hopeless situations, armed only with sheer grit and determination, and a lot of tears shed in quiet places.
In this tale of discovering one's abilities, Aerin is the princess who didn't inherit the family magical gifts. So to many there's obviously some fault within her. In fact magic done anywhere near Aerin makes her feel decidedly queasy.
Of course the nasty types say that's because her mother was a witch who ensorcelled the King. The King does not say that.
Aerin seems clumsy, inarticulate and insecure. I love that she eats off common clay plates as they can be easily replaced when she inadvertently drops one. No fine breakable china for her.
She's only happy when she's out riding her father's retired warhorse or working out how to fight dragons. She will become Lady Aerin, 'Dragon killer,' and that too will bring its share of physical and emotional pain.
Thirty years on and The Hero and the Crown is still an engaging fantasy novel.
The careless petty malignancy of Aerin's cousins Perlith and Galanna still stings.
The hurt of not belonging, of being invisible is still powerful in its telling. 
Over the year's I've reread Aerin's story several times and am never disappointed.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, November 10, 2014

...dark and dangerous secrets

Secrets in Scarlet (The Rookery Rogues Book 2) by Erica Monroe 

Sergeant Thaddeus Knight is not your normal 'Peeler.' For him being part of the Met is a calling, a duty, a responsibility to do his best for the inhabitants of the rookeries, and he's thorough. A Shakespeare quoting, Eton raised grandson of the second son of an Earl, as his father keeps declaring. Thaddeus has 'bloodline.'         
When a young girl dies in his arms Thaddeus driving intent is to find her murderer...and that leads him to Poppy O'Reilly. He is drawn to her from the first. For Poppy however, Thaddeus has 'danger' tattooed across his forehead.
I enjoyed this novel far more than the first in the Rookery series, A Dangerous Invitation. The writing is crisp. The storyline is tighter. The introduction of Poppy and Thaddeus folds seamlessly around the young murdered factory girl. Despicable crooks are a threat to all. Once more the rookeries, the dark underbelly of London in the 1830's, is revealed, a source of intrigue, mystery and romance, and yet an intimately human community, caring and communal, with its own set of rules for support and survival. There's thuggery and treachery.
Old characters are revisited, and new introduced.
The scarlet theme runs through, of blood shed, of poppies flourishing, of women betrayed and secrets killed for, of darkly dangerous hinted at situations.
An excellent read.

A NetGalley ARC

'A dangerous man'!

A Spy Unmasked (Entangled Scandalous) by Tina Gabrielle 

A singular reflection by Lady Sophia Merrill about Ware as they are chased through Viscount Delmont's estate grounds.
London 1820. Robert Ware, the new Earl of Kirkland, tortured soul, decent man and Home Office spy collides with Lady Sophia Merrill, gorgeous, intelligent young woman, with enticing or fiery green eyes (depending on how you interact with her) and the determination of a terrier.
Their meeting is one to remember. It's not everyday your interrupted whilst trying to break into your host's safe. It's not at every masquerade that you end up fleeing for your life accompanied by the most interfering, gorgeous bundle of womanhood, or depending on your point of view, the most impertinent, frustrating, demanding, Adonis of a man.
Sophia is searching for clues as to who murdered her father, the Marquess of Haverton, an eccentric inventor, dubbed the 'mad' Marquess. Robert is searching for clues to a case he is investigating for Her Majesty's government centring around the London Inventors' Society. Right from the moment these two meet, the sparks fly and the awareness thermometer sizzles.
Thrown into each others company by his superior, the Marquess of Wendover, Sophia and Robert are determined to outwit those responsible for a spate of murders associated with the Society and involving the decidedly despicable Viscount Delmont. However, it's the master mind behind the nefarious doings that they seek.
A nicely paced story balancing intrigue and romance, and surprises all round.

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, November 8, 2014

....richly evocative, immediately accessible!

Night of Pan (The Oracle of Delphi Trilogy Book 1) by Gail Strickland 

Evocative, poetic and moving. The story of the 300 takes new wings after King Xerxes and his Persian army defeat King Leonidas at Thermopylae, Greece 480 BC. What of Greece now?
Thaleia as the oracle come in to being, surrounded by treachery and greed, on the cusp of womanhood and great events is a striking female lead easily identified with. An epic character brought to life by Strickland's startling descriptors. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

I loved the cover. It reflects the moment when the satyr Pan tucks poppies into Thaleia's hair. 'The poppies burst into life and multiply until [Thaleia's] hair is a storm of green stems, a filigree of leaves and blooms...' Thaleia moves beyond herself, beyond the girl, to become the divine messenger, the oracle Pythia, with 'poppies dancing like Medusa's snake-hair.,'

Strickland has combined a pantheon of Greek gods and historical happenings seamlessly with the very human story of a young girl/woman caught up in their drama and the destiny of her homeland.  A YA novel at its best.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

...treachery and hope!

A New York Christmas: A Novel by Anne Perry 

Anne Perry's  superb writing skill continues to delight me. What goes on beneath the surface of her stories is always a pleasure to ponder. In A New York Christmas sacrifice and love shine through. Questions follow questions, seemingly dark and despairing, and yet a light shines through and truth is revealed.      
It's 1904 and Thomas and Charlotte Pitts daughter 23 year old daughter Jemima journeys across the Atlantic as a companion to a wealthy young woman Delphinia Cardew,who is to marry into a wealthy New York family--the Albrights. This was to be Jemima's 'first real adventure of her life.'
There are strange undercurrents amongst the Albrights. Jemima is unsure about Phinnie's brother-in-law to be, Harley. Phinnie moves between spoilt heiress aware of her alleviated societal place and insecure young woman.
A mystery surrounding Phinnie's mother Maria comes to a head and Jemima finds herself in jail charged with murder. The Albrights draw ranks and Jemima, although still residing in their house, is left to fend for herself. Will she ever see London and her loved ones again?
In her search for the truth and in order to clear her name Jemima finds herself travelling the length and breadth of New York, supported by the young police officer her arrested her, the upright and delectable Patrick Flannery.
For Jemima, a Christmas time miracle is going to be needed.
Spurred on by the thought that she needs to clear her name or suffer incarceration, Jemima applies the logical thought and investigative skills that she has imbibed from the hearth.
Intrigue and surprise are part and parcel of the final outcome.

A NetGalley ARC

Mechanicals, mayhem and moonlight!

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger

Sophronia's training at Miss Geraldine's continues. Now she's into lessons on seduction, fans and flirting. As the plots develops we are left in no doubt that there's something very special and unique about Sophronia.

(I couldn't help it. I started to play with her name. Fascinating and fun, especially when reflecting on the strengths that Sophronia displays, those qualities that make her such a fabulous character.
Sophistry is "a specious argument for displaying ingenuity in reasoning or for deceiving someone." ( Dictionary.com) And if Miss Geraldine's School is not taking Sophronia's natural talent and training her to develop her ingenuity to deceive, then I'll eat my hat!
But Aha! you say, what about the  'ronia' part of her name? A Ronin is a Japanese samurai warrior.  According to the Urban dictionary,  a 'roni' is mentioned in a song by by Bobby Brown,  " After all this time, I finally found myself a 'roni'. " (a special kind of girl) So drawing a long bow, if you put all that together you could say that Sophronia's name implies all of the above. Indeed, as we know Sophronia does combine all these facets. Wow!, no wonder she's so dynamic!)

The friendship between Sophronia, Diminity, Agatha and Sidheag is as strong as ever. Problems loom on the horizon for Sidheag (Lady Kingair) and the werewolf pack. Monique is still up to no good and Soap is ever there and ever dependable. Lord Felix and his kohl eyes are as ever entrancing. Another energy packed race against unseen foes, betrayals and
the melding of vampire and werewolves interests for and against machinery into a steampunk novel of Victorian Great Britain that is as diverting as it is captivating.
Sophronia continues to be that wonderful combination of loyal, shrewd, creativity, intuitive and daring do! When she focuses on a problem and begins to draw all the threads together I swear I can hear her brain whirring and clicking into place as she adds up the whys, wherefores and whatnots. Certainly her training has just shifted that ability into a higher gear.
The plot rattles along at a galloping pace, never losing control. The supporting characters are interesting and strong and we are treated to even stronger "What Ho-ing!"
I read the three books over two days and am now so totally hooked that I can barely wait for the fourth in the series to be published.

A NetGalley ARC

...love and duty!

A Rake by Any Other Name (Somerfield Park) by Mia Marlowe

A father in a wheelchair with his mind wandering, an estate on the edge of ruin and now an heiress with deep pockets courtesy of the Indian trade being dangled in front of him are not what Richard 
Barrett, Lord Hartley wants to face when he's recalled home by the family to set things to right. After all, he's in love with another and all but ready to declare himself. Marriage to another is no part of his plans. The heiress, one Miss Sophie Goodnight wants none of Richard, nor for that matter any man. A true original, forthright in speech and action, who daring quite takes Hartley's breath away. Certainly when these two meet the sparks fly, and the they need to tread carefully to avoid conflagration. Sophie is touchingly innocent in that forthrightness, in her desire to set the world to rights and to be accepted for herself. Her confidence or rather difference comes of course of being brought up in the more exotic and colourful background that was India. Whilst this does not make her the ideal tea party hostess it does make her a bright accent of colour against the more formal rule abiding aristocracy. Hartley finds himself more and more drawn to Sophie, although of course his one true love, Antonia is in attendance at the family holdings. With a hint of scandal and more this was a most heartfelt read. 

 A NetGalley ARC

Monday, November 3, 2014

History and mystery entwine!

Pretender at the Gate (Markinch #2) by S. J. Garland 

An exciting tale of intrigue, loyalty and betrayal set against the Old Pretender, James Francis Stuart's initial invasion near Edinburgh in 1708.
Captain Esmond Clyde-Dalton is the excise officer at the village of Markinch. In reality he works for England's master spy, Colonel Manners . Fresh from the new world, Esmond's choice of tomahawks as hidden weapons hints at a darker past. His relationship with Manners hints at even more tangled depths.
Philomena Clunes and her father Magnus Clunes have been arrested as jacobite sympathizers. Esmond is in love with Phil and follows her to Edinburgh to see to her safety and her innocence. En route to Edinburgh Castle dungeons Phil is seized by masked rebels and spirited away.
The back alleys below Edinburgh Castle come vividly to life as Esmond and his new allies search for Phil--always just one step behind.
An engrossing read, seething with the emotion felt on both the English and Jacobite sides as forces in Edinburgh prepares for the Pretender's invasion. The invasion's supporters includes French mercenaries and a number of unknown Protestant Scottish clan lords
Esmond is desperate to rescue Phil and to find a treasonous List of supporting Protestant Lords.
A harrowing chase from Edinburgh in wintery conditions and across the Firth of Forth as the Pretender is approaching feeds the tension of the situation. Unexpected twists and turns feed the ever growing mystery and frantic search by Esmond to find Phil and clear her name, and to free himself from Manner's tyranny by finding the List. A riveting read! So much so, that I just had to buy the 1st book in the series to get the back story on Captain Esmond Clyde-Dalton, a character I sympathize with immensely. 

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Love comes a calling!

The Viscount's Christmas Temptation (Dukes of War Book 0) by Erica Ridley 
How can one resist a blurb that has a confirmed rake 'up to his cravat with tinsel'?
That was enough to intrigue me. And intriguing this novella definitely is!
What a challenge Lord Benedict Sheffield sets himself?
There's twelve days before Christmas...'and twelve nights to teach lady Amelia to enjoy life.'
Lady Amelia Pembroke is certainly a take charge young woman who works at a task with a Machiavellian eye for detail and is always six moves ahead of the game.
When she determines to take up or over the Sheffield family's annual Christmas ball it's full steam ahead.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A tangled treat!

The Accidental Countess (Playful Brides #2) by Valerie Bowman 

Second in the Playful Brides series. Once again Lucy Hunt, the newly minted Duchess of Claringdon hatches a hare brained scheme and all fall into line. Really, I am struck by the fact that these friends
and acquaintances lead themselves to the charade so readily. Such is the power that Lucy wields that others follow her mad capped, pied piper's tune. This time it is Cassandra, Lady Munroe and Lucy's best friend who is swept deeper and deeper into a tangled web of tortured love as her cousin Pen's betrothed, Captain Julian Swift, returns from the Napoleonic wars.
Cass and Swift have kept up an amazing correspondence throughout this time. Swift, determined to break off his arranged marriage and seek Cassandra searches for his fiancé, Cassandra's cousin Penelope. Pen is supposed to be away with her friend, the very non existent Miss Patience Bunbury. 
Cass, at Lucy's insistence, takes on the mantle of the mythical Miss Bunberry at a hastily flung together house party held by Lucy posing as Lady Worthington. I know, I know, Lucy's grand plan just keeps on developing!  Swift of course attends.
Swift is struck by the beauty and sensitivity of Cass as Patience. Cass is in disarray...and in love. Lucy has tied them all up in knots and it's anyone's guess at how the plot will unfold.
A madcap romp with all the features of a farce worthy of Oscar Wilde.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, October 27, 2014

Spies and sighs!

Madeleine's Christmas Wish (The Marriage Game) by Ella Quinn

An enjoyable love story where the action is confounded by the past and confused by the future.
Madeline, Comtesse du Beaune has been running the family vineyard. The lands are far enough away from Paris that that the family has escaped the fate normally held for the aristocracy. Fortunately her father had declared for the revolution. Now Madeleine's father is dead and her brother is missing. Napoleons's star has waned and Louis is on the throne. Madeleine is abducted and forced into agreeing to work in an English brothel as a spy. This is the price she must pay in order to leave her sister and mother unharmed. But with the black hearted Citizen Coupe having devised her downfall nothing is guaranteed.
French spy, George's, Marquis Cruzy-le-Châte, a companion from Madeline's childhood fortuitously has business on the beach the night Madeline disembarked on the Dover coastline. Fate lends a hand and paths cross for these two, whose families had decreed their future years earlier. Will the past forge a brighter future in togetherness?
Filled with just enough twists and turns to add the right amount of intrigue and romance.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

...unexpected gifts at Christmas.

Once Upon a Christmas Kiss by Manda Collins 

Miss Winifred Nightingale, a gentlewoman turned governess, has along with her sister Cordelia, been invited to a Christmas house party.       

Sir Lucien Blakemore has come to the same house party. He and Winnie know each other from Yorkshire and have a friendly acquaintance. Things of course change and Lucien and Winnie find themselves thrown together in an unsuspected manner. 
Both Sir Lucien and Winnie are well developed characters that demonstrate both human frailties and strengths.
We have a bad man in the form of an uncaring womanizer from Winnie's past, a dreadful local lady who is a major force, well a bully really in the social circle of the local village, her daughters, and various other house guests. 
Nasty and strange things keep happening to Winnie. Both she and Lucien are perturbed. What is happening and why?

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

...begetting the Earl!

Beguiling the Earl (Landing a Lord #2) by Suzanna Medeiros  

Catherine Evans has been besotted with the Earl of Kerrick, her brother-in-law's best friend, since she first met him. She had hoped for the feeling to be returned during her coming out season. She certainly didn't expect him to become engaged to one Rose Hardwick, but then, to be fair, neither did Kerrick.             Kerrick's interest in Lord and Lady Thornton's daughter, Rose Hardwick, was instigated by forces at a higher command.
Catherine interest in Kerrick is instigated from the heart.
Kerrick's interest in Catherine? Hmm?
And Rose's interest? Well, that's another story entirely.
But who is behind Lord and Lady Thornton's interest in attaching Kerrick for their daughter Rose? And why?
A tad predictable, but an enjoyable read with likeable characters as political machinations, matchmaking fathers and unknown traitors interrupt the course of true love.

A NetGalley ARC

A legendary love comes alive

The Sharp Hook of Love  by Sherry Jones  

A tragic love story that transcends the mists of time to re vitalize and reaffirm the strength of love itself. Heloise d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard fought the constraints of life and beliefs in twelfth century Paris. They made mistakes, they suffered, yet they experienced incomprehensible joy. Their love burned brightly, of such magnitude it spawned a legend that ensured their love would never be extinguished. This retelling makes us see Abelard and Heloise's humanness, their lives, and the struggles that encompassed their love.
They were bound by the changing religious opinions of the day, by Heloise's uncle's plans for her, and by political manoeuvrings that reached into high places.
Jones has used snippets of Heloise's lost love letters to effect as chapter introductions.
The philosophical discourse between them, the scholarly aptitude of Heloise is well presented. The day to day agonies of Heloise as she seeks to fulfill her dreams, dreams that will not come to fruition, are painful. The very personal interaction between the couple grounds their story in the reality of their day to day lives, and in doing so, grounds their story for us in that same reality.
A transfixing read!

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, October 9, 2014

wolf-ly love at Christmas time...

A Highland Wolf Christmas (Heart of the Wolf #15) by Terry Spear

A light and readable Highlander werewolf love story.   
Guthrie MacNeill is in cupid's path and the arrow's flying from Calla Stewart.
With his clan's finances to protect and a luscious wolf maiden needing the same, Guthrie is conflicted. Could Calla be his mate? Is he acting on the rebound?
Calla meanwhile is asking the same questions. After all this is the man whose boxer shorts  she'd hoisted up the flagpole before her friend Julie's marriage to clan leader Ian.
And having walked out on her fiancé Baird McKinley virtually at the altar, she needs some time and space to come to grips with her near disastrous marriage, and to continue to develop her business as an events planner. Julia wants her to help plan the McNeill's Christmas celebrations.
Neither Guthrie or Calla count on Baird's continued obsession with her.
McNeill clan favourites are ever present in the background.

A NetGalley ARC

Playfully quixotic and shrewdly insightful

Season For Desire (Holiday Pleasure #3) by Theresa Romain

Japanese puzzle boxes, a treasure hunt, an abducted lady, a darstardly villain, an American in a search of his heritage and all at Christmas time.
Brimming with unforgettable people, Lady Audrina Bradleigh is thrown into the maelstrom when her abduction goes wrong, she's rescued, and then forbidden by her harsh father to return to London for her dearest sister's wedding, in case the scandal threatening to surround her puts an end to the upcoming nuptials and her father's chance for a Duke in the family.   
Audrina is a rather marvellous character, searching for understanding and acceptance, in a male dominated world where woman are expected to know their place. Audrina wants none of that. She wants to forge her own way.
Giles Rutherford, is an American helping his father follow his dream, his 'adventure.'
A totally unexpected read with a cast of very amusing and diverse characters. Indeed, Romaine provides us with a mixture of the quixotic and earthy people who lighten the way, and the occasional idea or sentiment expressed so delightfully that they give pause for reflection.  I loved the idea of graphed paper and construction, the hint of the drafting paper for an architect upon which dreams are rendered. There really are a host of gems like this that nibble at our consciousness.
As deeper understandings, respect and attraction grows between Giles and Audrina, so the quest that Giles and his father, Richard are upon, becomes more mysterious and enveloping.
Larger questions about relationships, love and life bounce along in the background, grabbing our attention and adding to the action. Like Audrina's reflection, that to be accepted and loved, 'just as she was...was one of the most seductive thoughts a woman could entertain. Well, she could think of others,' is a wonderful example of Romaine's wry humour and relational wisdom.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A captivating romantic intrigue!

If He's Daring (Wherlocke #6) by Hannah Howell

This is a lively, different and satisfying read, with a touch of the supernatural.
Definitely not your normal Stuart period historical romance.
Fate kindly takes a hand when Lady Catryn Gryffin de Warrene, displaying the termagite tendencies only a mother fearing for her child's safety employs, takes unusual steps to pursue her son's kidnapper
Sir Orion Wherlocke was kind enough to leave his carriage ready for the purpose of pursuit. Though to be fair, he was inside his mansion at the time contemplating another sort of pursuit, of the charming widow variety.
Unfortunately Catryn did not know that Orion's son Giles was inside the carriage when she hijacked it.
So a long list of people all pursing each other begins this rather startling adventure.
There is something otherworldly about Catryn and her son Alwyn. Catryn has strong premonitions. Alwyn sees dead spirits.
Howell's well placed humour blends gratifying characters and a rollicking, adventurous storyline. Her sly sense of the comic adds immensely to the various situations our heroes find themselves in.
Catryn is strong, determined and ready to brave all for her son.
Orion is capable, slightly detached and ruthless when necessary, especially where his family is involved.
Two such strong forces are bound to ignite strong passions when they meet, like colliding stars they are incandescent.
As the story progresses deeper darker mysteries are unravelled, involving sibling rivalries and a renegade Wherlocke cousin.
Catryn discovers answers to many questions she has occasionally puzzled about.
The Wherlocke children are delightfully entertaining with their quaint mix of squabbling and the serious discussions.
I enjoyed Howell's writing immensely and have put her on my 'must read more of' watch list.

A NetGalley ARC

Different and intriguing!

A Matter of Grave Concern by Brenda Novak   

Body snatchers, resurrections and missing persons illuminated against the backdrop of the dark side of London, is the setting for this historical, 'black noir', romantic thriller.
It's 1830, and only eighteen months since Burke and Hare, resurrectionists who took the short cut, murdered people and sold their victims for dissection, are still front and centre in Londoner's consciousness, particularly those who are burying their loved ones.
Schools of medicine are looking for bodies to dissect. Surgeons-in-training need more than animals to work on to increase their knowledge and abilities.
When Abigail Hale, a surgeon's daughter, desperately attempts to procure bodies for her father's college, the Aldersgate School of Medicine, she runs into obstacles that most of us would flee from in terror. Instead Abigail walks headlong into a dangerous situation with nary a hesitation.
Abigail finds herself at odds with a resurrectionist's gang led by a brute of a man, Jack Hutsill and a mysterious member of the gang, Maximillian Wilder. Max is not all he seems. He is looking for his half sister Madeline who's vanished into the underbelly of the city. She was last seen in the company of Jack.
When Abigail and Max meet, Max is forced to protect her as best he can. The sparks fly between them. 
The thing is Abby is headstrong, naive and a constant danger to those trying to protect her.
An intelligent young woman starved for affection, she just doesn't truly know how to be anything but forthright. I did sympathize with her. Her bald comments about all manner of things including her readings on copulation reveal her unusual upbringing.
I applauded Abby's pluck and creativity from time to time, and railed at her stubbornness at others.
But honestly, mostly I lost all patience with her, wanted to walk on stage, and tell her to just get out of there. She can be a very frustrating person. Not just for me as reader, but for all those she comes into contact with. Being so determined Abby is always walking straight into danger dragging those within her orbit down some unending dramatic rabbit hole.
Max and Abigail's developing relationship is interesting. However Max's later treatment of Abigail didn't ring true to the person he was portrayed as earlier. Yes, he is torn between duty, convention, his mother's will and his love for his sister. The person he feels he ought to be is at odds with who he is. Max doesn't quite live up to the earlier impetuous of a man who will stop at nothing for those he cares for. I can only conclude that he is heavily conflicted.
Despite this, an intriguing read if you have a taste for graveyards at midnight, bodies being carted around under cover of the dankness of London streets and romantic tensions.

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, October 4, 2014

...magic abilities and 'the dragon's advantage!'

The Silver Pear leads on from The Golden Apple, taking us down new paths and experiences of the Great Forest and Wild Magic. Here we become more intimately involved with Rane's brother Soren and a delightful new sorcerer Mirabelle. Like the golden apple, the silver pear is a magical talisman given to Mirabelle by her sorcerer father.
It is stolen after a battle with a sorcerer her lord, William of Nesta. had illegally employed after Mirabelle had refused to 'question' men who kept suddenly appearing in the courtyard of his keep. Mirabelle and Soren join forces to search for the silver pear and Rane.
Meanwhile Kayla and Rane traverse the Great Forest. Kayla to search for training in the use of her witchly gift with wild magic, Rane searching for Soren.    
The Middleland sorcerers are vying for supremacy, focused on taking over the various kingdoms. All four, Rane and Kayla, Soren and Mirabelle are caught up in a battle that will determine Middleland's future.
The Great Forest, as always, is a place of unpredictability, both a refuge and a danger, both friend and foe.
As with the cover of the Golden Apple, the cover of The Silver Pear is delightful, showcasing the beauty and mystery of Mirabelle.  At one stage, within the safety of the Great Forest, Soren reflects on the feeling of sunlight as compared to Jasper's cold dungeon.  He looks back and catches Mirabelle bathed in the sunlight,
'It streamed in through the trees,illuminating Mirabelle in a diffused golden light. ... his eyes kept catching on the way her pale hair seemed to absorb the sunshine, reflecting it back so it glowed.'
We see Soren seeing Mirabelle. A precious moment that this charming cover by Laura Morrigan captures perfectly.
Another beguiling fantasy from Diener.

A NetGalley ARC

So exciting! A fledgling new series takes wing!

A Call to Duty (Manticore Ascendant #1) by David Weber and Timothy Zahn

A brand new series in Weber's Star Nations saga that spawned Honor Harrington, set before Manticore's ascendancy when the Star Kingdom was one of many the Diaspora nations and when Haven was still fairly young.
Travis Uriah Long is an exciting new character with that sense of honour, truth and gutsy characteristics that those gallant icons we loved in the Honor novels displayed. On the converse side there are those money grabbing politically adapt morally bankrupt characters and downright evil plotters as well.
As I see, it the character that could go either way is Travis' half brother Gavin, the young Baron Winterfell, who's tied up with the 'let's get rid of the RMN' group. Will he go the way of the corrupt or will he become a bulwark for the navy group. Only time will tell.
So when it seems politically expedient to cut up the Royal Manticorian battleships and send that budget somewhere else the anti navy (politically bankrupt) group is baying for blood. After all there's no-one out there who has their eyes focused on Manticore, or is there?
Caught in the middle is the monarchy. Hopefully they are lying in wait and not sleeping.
I look forward to the continuing surprises this series is going to bring.
With Weber and Zahn at the helm I'm sure we're in for a great ride!

A NetGalley ARC

...the way of the sword!

The House of the Four Winds: One Dozen Daughters #1  by Mercedes Lackey James Mallory

The Duchy of Swansgaarde has been blessed with twelve beautiful princesses and one prince. Twelve royal dowries would impoverish the small Duchy so it was determined by the princesses at a family council that the only way forward was for them to leave the Duchy on their eighteenth birthday and seek their fortune. Each daughter is allowed to pick a trade on her tenth birthday. Duke Rupert advises them to expect the best and plan for the worst. Wise words indeed.  
It is Princess Clarice of Swansgaarde's eighteen birthday. She goes forth to make her way in the world. Princess Clarice had chosen the way of the sword.
Her search for her fortune, her life's journey, is an eventful story full of merit. The New World is her destination. Disguised as a young man, Mr. Clarence Swann takes ship. Pirates, entrapment and ensorcellment are encountered. The major characters are interesting but somehow the story just didn't come off with the verve and energy I expect from these two authors.
A new twist to the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the premise of The House of Four Winds is fascinating with a wide vista of potential for the series.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chia's helping properties!

The Chia Cookbook: Inventive, Delicious Recipes Featuring Nature's Superfood by Janie Hoffman

Here's a great opportunity to take a serious look at chia and learn more 'about foods with health enhancing powers.' As Hoffman descibes it, 'these minuscule seeds from the mint family have an astonishing amount of omega 3's, protein, fibre, calcium antioxidants and more.'
Obviously for Hoffman they have been a miracle food.
Janie Hoffman is the founder of Mama Chia, an organic chia-based food and drink company in 2009.
These credentials  give substance to what is an exciting voyage into new possibilities for a healthy regime. As she says and proves you can do more with chia than sprinkling it your food for a healthier lustre, and this cookbook helps to achieve that goal. There are hints on buying, storing and using.
The peach chia jam was a winner in the just ended peach season. Caprese baked eggs, smokey baba ghanoush, and much much more.Yum!
This book explodes with interesting and exciting ways to enrich your nutritional regime.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Christmas delights!

Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, Valerie Bowman

Old favourites and delicious new tales to lighten hearts at Christmas time! Common themes emerge: heiresses, damsels in distress, knights in shining armour (figuratively speaking), villains, men being pursued by title seeking harpies, damsels being pursued by fortune hunters; all of course at this holiday period.

One Hot Scot by Suzanne Enoch      
Oh my! Thrown from a horse, fleeing from kidnappers and confronting a stunningly gorgeous naked brawny fellow emerging from a lake just as you've helped yourself to his plaid kilt to ease the chill you were feeling! Life for Duncan Lenox and Lady Julia Prentiss was taking unexpected turns.

Once Upon a Christmas Scandal by Alexandra Hawkins

1826 All her father's actions had done by increasing dowry was to ensure every fortune hunter in England would cross Lady Ellen path. One of these is Lord Derek Swainsbury.
A twist to the plot enhances what seemed to be a simple tale of an heiress pursued by fortune hunter.

The Scandal Before Christmas by Elizabeth Essex

I have reviewed this previously. On the re-reading it is still one of my fav. Xmas regency short stories.
1816 and it's six days before Christmas. Lieutenant Ian Worth's bully of a father the Viscount Rainsford declares that Ian must find a wife. Ian's brother, the heir, has had an accident, is in a coma and the succession is in doubt. Despite Ian wishing his father to purgatory and back Ian means to look for a wife. A chance meeting with Colonel Oliver Lesley an older naval friend, elicits the information that the Colonel has an unmarried daughter. Ian invites the family for Christmas with a view to wedding Anne Lesley, thus solving his problem. Anne unfortunately is shy and retiring and sad to say, remarkably plain. Ian wonders if he will spend more time at sea than he has first thought.
I love Anne and a Pinky, Ian's man, a batman cum butler.
I love the way Anne comes into her own. I love that she finds her 'voice.' A really lovely story.

It Happened Under the Mistletoe by Valerie Bowman

1817. Ah! Those dreaded house parties! Traps for unwary players. Oliver Townsende and Miss Cerian Blake are both fleeing unwanted suitors. Oliver, a newly minted Duke and Cerian, an heiress, meet in an unexpected place fleeing the eager hordes with mistletoe sprigs in their hands. I particularly enjoyed the cat that just might be Cupid in disguise.
Really, from the description of house parties I've read over the years the regency period seems to have been more the Ravishing Regency years. Still the setting provides us with an elegantly, witty Xmas story.

A NetGalley ARC

Reivers and romance!

Moonlight Raider (Border Nights) by Amanda Scott 

The Borders, Scotland,1426. Ettrick Forest on Clan Scott lands. A young woman, Molly Cockburn has fled into the night in nothing but her chemise from her father's keep. Pursued by her brother's sleuthhounds and her enraged family, she is escaping the travesty of a forced marriage to a brutish clan leader. 
A young Scots Lord, Walter Scott of Rankilburn, newly come to the position by way of his fathers death grieves his loss alone in the forest he rules.
Romance, lawlessness, and fulfilling promises to the King all become part of the story. Wat (Walter) is an honourable young man with an icy temper. Molly is an innocent young woman, grown to womanhood amongst men. Her knowledge of relations between men and women is sadly lacking. Which is a piece of information that becomes an important part of the plot. Well crafted this is all in all an engaging story.

A NetGalley ARC