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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, January 28, 2014

Pendragon and Pruitt, detecting extraordinaire!

The Arnifour Affair (A Colin Pendragon Mystery) by Gregory Harris
A mystery set in the latter part of Victorian times à la Sherlock Holmes with Dicksonian overtones.
Colin Pendragon is a talented detective channeling the shade of Sherlock Holmes' arrogance and abilities. His companion Ethan Pruitt plays Watson to Pendragon's Sherlock persona.
It took me some time to realized that their relationship was discretely different to that of Holmes and Watson. And then there's the strange landlady, Mrs Behmoth who is both alarming and endearing. Certainly a far cry from Mrs Hudson. (A strange household indeed. In fact, I was quite enamoured of this quirky little group. Future novels I hope will divulge the story of how they came together. There are hints along the way.)
Disgruntled by Scotland Yards enquiries, Lady Anifour comes demanding that Pendragon take her on as a client. Her husband has been murdered, her niece beaten and left in a coma. She demands that Pendragon find the culprit.  
The Anifour household is a hot bed of dissatisfaction, a dissolute son, an up-tight, pinched lip housekeeper, a distant daughter, a gardener whose more than a gardener and the gardener's son. (one can sense D.H.Lawrence looming in the background)
Then we have the appearance of an interesting young ragamuffin from the bowels of the London stews asking for help to find his younger disappeared sister.
That search takes Pendragon and Ethan deep into the underbelly of criminal activity, the opium dens and brothels, and for Ethan, into a tragic past he has fought to conquer.
These visit's are poignantly dark moments for him. The reader has hints of Ethan's former life without Pendragon. We witness his very personal struggle against the seduction of opium and the hints of what his old life might have entailed. His coming realization of the thin line between succumbing or not to the lure of the poppy is heartfelt. These scenes elicit our sympathy and understanding as he fights the temptation.
The murder trail, like that of Hansel and Gretel's, is littered with breadcrumbs.  It leads to places unexpected and I for one was left wondering right until the end.
I'm looking forward to the next adventure in the series!

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, January 27, 2014

say no to fad diets!

Can I Have Chips?: fill up, lose weight, feel great by  Louise Graham

Is this book saying anything I didn't already know. No
So what's valuable or interesting about it?
1. The information is packaged in manageable bites. It easily accessible .
At the end of each chapter is a 3 or 4 bullet point key summary
2. You can see it as a refresher course if you will. To bring you back on track and focused
3. We become immune to the message reading the same book. Reading known information in a new package can be just the pick me up you need.
4. Several good reminders for me:                     
Dieting can trigger appetite 
Eating carbohydrates that are harder to digest you are less hungry. Included are interesting ratios to protein, fat and carbohydrates. (Chapter 8)

Sugar does comes in as the villain in the piece.
As Louise Graham says in the article, Sugar, Scapegoat or Villain? attached to her blog, [http://www.canihavechips.co.uk/blog.php]
'the best way to break your sugar dependency is to go cold turkey' and that her book 
Can I Have Chips? explains 'how to replace sugary processed foods with less fattening wholefoods.'
Further in the same article was a timely reminder to me at least,
'Don't feel tempted to replace sugar sweetened drinks with diet drinks. They perpetuate your taste for concentrated sugars when you are trying to lose the desire for so much sweetness. Start drinking water (that's the stuff that comes free out of the tap), not only will you break the grip of your sweet tooth but you lose some of your excess weight in the process.' 
[Huffington Post, UK (01/20/2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/louise-graham-/sugar-scapegoat-or-villai_b_4628169.html]

The suggested menus make your planning easier, combining as they do the protein and recommended carbohydrates.
The recipes are included but again nothing new.
The real challenge is making the process work for you.
Readable and understandable.

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wilful beauty meets taciturn Laird!

Highlander Mine by Juliette Miller

Wow! Highlander Mine certainly sustains an interesting and occasionally steamy storyline. Enough of both to more than satisfy those hooked on the highlander historical romance genre.
Fleeing from Edinburgh to the Highlands pursued by a dissolute and dangerous villain ('a lawless and malevolent beast'), Amelia (Ami) and her nephew Hamish cozen their way into a powerful Highland Laird's keep.
The Laird, Knox MacKenzie is a veritable Adonis, at once a paragon and yet decidedly human.
Amelie is half angle, half devil and doing all she can to protect her family. She exhibits a fiery nature, coupled with an unknowing attractiveness that marks her as a challenging burden for  The MacKenzie.
Witty humour runs through Ami's and MacKenzie's interchanges adding to the enjoyment of the moment. I laughed when MacKenzie said to Ami,
"Your fiery spark and your lively beauty surpass anything I might ever have imagined."
To which Ami snaps back, opening her mouth before she thinks,
'"My beauty is nothing compared to yours," I hear myself say.'
The unfettered innocence of this woman he's just met telling this stalwart highland warrior lord that he is beautiful is brilliant.
Hamish is a charming child. Given his upbringing it's a wonder that he retains his child-like trust and innocence. He provides many of the pivotal moments throughout the storyline and is the impetuous for directions that Ami might take.
Interactions with MacKenzie and others of the castle community are truly amusing at times, poignant at others, and always contrasting the darkness of the life Amelia and Hamish have fled.
The comparison between the dangerous underbelly of Edinburgh's gaming houses and the pristine beauty and encompassing sanctuary of this highland community is at first striking in a 'noble savage' way. We are dazzled by the comparisons through Ami and Hamish's eyes. Yet as Miller points out through Knox and Amelia's interactions there are threats inherent in the holding of the highlands necessitating clan armed forces. In this, the city and the highlands are not so very different. The dangers are universal.
A 'verra' enjoyable read! 'A pure like it!' (I really like it!)

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Achingly satisfying!

Douglas: Lord of Heartache (The Lonely Lords) by Grace Burrowes

I commented on Douglas in my review of Andrew (Lord of Despair) and am delighted by his story! If ever a Lord needed understanding, this is that one.
Needing to check out a property of Lord Andrew Greymore's he might buy, Douglas Allen, now Viscount Amery, persuades Guinevere Hollister, cousin to Greymore and Gareth Heathgate, and current steward of another of Greymore's properties to accompany him to Sussex. He needs someone to give him advice as to the suitability of purchasing the place and Greymore recommended Guinevere. Lady Heathgate is supposedly to meet them there to act as chaperone. Unfortunately Lady Heathgate is delayed by illness.
(I am also much struck by the role of women at this time in this society, and the lack of acceptance of their talents. Certainly Gwen is an expert in the field of husbandry and stewardship as is pointed out time and again.)      
There is too, Gwen's illegitimate daughter Rose, who is precious. Some of her questions and conversations were just delightful.
I'm loving the determined awkwardness of Gwen and the stilted carefulness of Douglas.
I love the way he sets about to cater for that awkwardness of Gwen's, the way by his unfailing care and gentle manner he actually touches her soul.
The dance between Gwen and Douglas is one of retreat and advance. Slow and unhurried, two damaged people finding each other.
One rather beautiful love scene pushed itself forward into my consciousness, which reflected the biblical sense of 'covering' (mayhap a Ruth and Boab moment) and all that is implicit in that thought.
Douglas is a shy man but so determined, as comes through time and again.
When who Rose's father is, is revealed a whole new possibility of anguish opens up for Douglas and Guinevere.
Certainly, when in another twist the Duke of Windham becomes involved, there is Deception, Control, and Blackmail.
I loved the scene at the church entrance. So gratifying!
In Burrowes' Acknowledgements we are told where this novel is placed in the overall relationships of the Windhams and a little of how the story came about.
This is a truly romantic tale, beautifully told and refreshingly honest.
Douglas makes a true and unsuspecting knight, who thankfully dons his shining armour without hesitation. Guinevere is a very hurting Lady in Distress, never expecting a knight, and I cheered when that worthy captured her heart.
Gwen and Douglas have both experienced darkness, it's time for the dawn to break.

A NetGalley ARC

...tempting indeed!

To Tempt a Viking (Forbidden Vikings) by Michelle Willingham  

Following on from To Sin with a Viking, author Michelle Willingham continues to explore the idea of arranged marriages that don't work despite the willingness of the couple to make it succeed, and what happens when they meet their soul mate. 
We are also given richer insights into the Viking culture and history during this time period, into infertility, into customs including fostering and adoption, divorce proceedings, and thraldom.
Ireland 875 AD. Having been captured by the Irish enroute to Dubh Lihn and taken away in Styr's ship by Caragh's brother, Elena Karlsdotter, Styr's wife, is again threatened when Danes attack the ship. Not wanting to be taken captive and sold into slavery or worse, Elena jumps overboard making for the shore. Ragnar Olafsson, Styr's best friend, follows. He has sworn to protect her. 
This is their story, Elena's and Ragnar's, their past and now their present, of what happens between them and what could could lay ahead. Friends from childhood, Ragnar has always loved Elena. Elena has always been able to talk with Ragnar, be comfortable with him. He was the one she turned to for advice, whom it felt natural to spend time with. She put it down to their long time friendship. But in these extreme circumstances she finds herself responding to his very presence in ways she has never before considered. Meanwhile Ragnar must do all that he can to protect her from enemies and from the secret of his enduring love for her.
I found the story of Elena and Ragnar richer and more complex than that of Styr and Caragh.  By comparison, Styr just seems to not have the depths that Ragnar has. There is a deeper exploration of Ragnar and Elenar's emotions through their personal histories, their sexual attraction for each other, the reasons for their actions and the consequences that follow.
Elena is a woman of quiet strength and deep longings. Ragnar's past sufferings have given him an inner strength and gentle understanding that undergirds his warrior image.
An enjoyable read!

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

'Bon chance!' Indeed!

Rebellion: A Thriller in Napoleon's France by James McGee    

 Captured by the French in Portugal, and taken before Marshall Marmont, an English Intelligence officer (in uniform) is ill treated despite have given his parole. Enroute from Salamanca, in the Pyrenees the officer escapes.
Three years later, 1812, Bonaparte has decided to move on Russia leaving certain Parisian factors seeing this as an opportunity to end his regime. 
Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is about to be thrust into the political turmoil of Paris. It seems tension seethes below the facade of acceptance of Bonaparte as Emperor. The British want to cash in on it.
A storm at sea as Hawkwood is crossing the English Channel was a realistically terrifying picture. I was there with Hawkwood staring out into the night at the watery inferno, lit by lightening, holding on afraid at the unholy magnitude of the sea at storm.
Disguised as an American in Paris, Hawkwood meets up with an old friend. Life certainly takes an even more interesting turn as the mission and old friends combine.
I liken Harkwood to other reluctant hero's like Bernard Cornwall's Sharpe or C.S. Forster's Horatio Hornblower. Englishman cut from the same cloth who have a duty to King and country to perform.
Action packed, historically accurate, stimulating and a grand adventure. A bonus for me is that the historical background brings gravitas to my understanding of the political times and conditions behind the regency romances of which I'm so fond. 
Sharply written, this thriller had me on the edge. 

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Dawning by Judy Griffith Gill

I am a huge science fiction and fantasy fan, and, oh yes, let's not forget historical romances, so I looked forward to this read, a futuristic romance. 
Whilst the storyline is interesting in some ways, it is just too familiar for me to become enthusiastic about. It is typically post apocalyptic, in this case a post biohazard war dystopian event, where Talented persons (with psi abilities), changed by the bio chemical fallout are being pursued, routed out, culled or subverted by Normals.    
The Dawning
I must say that the reading felt like I was watching a rerun of a familiar television series.
The good guys have headed for the hills where they have caches of food and weaponry. They offer protection and training to the talented.
Given the huge current controversy over drones and their usage their inclusion is timely. 
And of course there is the twisted minded presence, a talented who has gone to the Dark side (that is the State Authority for Purity and Safety, the Government law enforcement seek and destroy agency ) who is relentlessly searching for the main stars.
Andrew and Serena, are our star crossed lovers, confused by each other and their past, on the run, attracted to each other...and well you can guess the rest.
As a love story it sort of works, as a science fiction story it would have been better published in the 1980's.
That said, the writing is tight, the action is fast paced. There's plenty to get your teeth into. Grace is a curious mystery. Discovering her secret is fascinating.
Science fiction/fantasy, thriller and love story. Three great combinations but somehow it didn't pull me in.
Reading tastes are such a personal thing, like how you take your coffee. 
This is not one of my top coffee likes but it might be for you.

A NetGalley ARC and Retro Reads - Romance

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A story of it's times.

A Child of the Cloth by James E. Probetts 

I must admit the cover was what first attracted me to look further at this novel. I had just finished a NYC galleries refresher, and this painting by William Powell Frith (1819-1909), Lover's Seat: Shelly and Mary Goodwin in Old St. Pancras Churchyard (1877) is what drew me in. This referencing to portrait painters and poets of that period indeed sets the scene.
It also juxtaposes interaction between the two young lovers in the story.  
The soft gentle overtones, the adoring posture of the man, the shy downward glance of the woman. I swear Barchester Towers is around the corner, beyond that bench under the trees, just out of sight.
What the trees do hide is the reality of what was to be our sweethearts' situation; one of unforgiveness, of loss and sorrow, of love and redemption.   
Amelia, the daughter of a vicar has a secret love, an atheist!
Class differences and attitudes of the day are exposed. Just watch Downton Abbey to get my gist. Mind you I think the churched middle classes at that time were even more unforgiving than the upper classes.
Love and a life lost by someone else's bitterness is indeed a hard pill to swallow. Amelia is a woman of fortitude, forgiveness and generosity.
Picturesque descriptions such as walking down country lanes, recall times now gone, or once dreamed of. They further enrich the idea of ripeness and bounty, bringing this story of true and simple love down to an identifiable scale. I could smell the promise inherent in the wild strawberries. 
Throughout, is a sensitively undergirding exploration of Christian beliefs and actions.
A gently told, rather taking, short love story.

A NetGalley ARC

...no words necessary, Andre Norton writings, say it all!

Tales From High Hallack, Volume 1: The Collected Short Stories of Andre Norton

A treasure trove of Norton's short stories. 
Stories of powers unleashed, of battles from within and without.
Dark forces bent on persuasion, of stealing life force and so much more, of people turned towards matters beyond the normal ken. Of hero's of the light standing against the shadows, to the death if need be, for the benefit of those now and to come. Of gods made and unmade, of wise women in their element, of the not-so-wise, and of ordinary men and women touched by powers both big and little, light and dark.
In the story, 'Sword of Unbelief,' Jevron has been taken by evil men. We follow his trail through the grey Waste with his lady and companion, Elys. She has some small Talent, but to bring it forth in the place she eventually finds herself, would be to entice her own destruction. Her very soul could be riven from her. She must find another way out of this confrontation with a dark power to win free both herself and Jevron. Jevron and Elys have always been amongst my favourite Norton characters.
Facing the Dark and its rapacious greed is a constant theme. The Light reflects life, care and the power of love.
Having been a Norton fan for many years it is a treat to be able to reread many of her short stories gathered together in this first collection.
Some I've always loved and some I'm reading for the first time but the enjoyment factor, the promise of exciting windows into different worlds, is always present.

A NetGalley ARC

meet...'that girl...the weird mortician's daughter,' aka, 'Death Chick'...

The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe  

meet...'that girl...the weird mortician's daughter,' aka, 'Death Chick'...

...'or [maybe it's ] Wednesday Addams!' ___________ 3 1/2 stars

OK this is a seriously weird novel. It's taken the genre of the paranormal and high school students / YA Horror, to a whole new level. In fact it took me a couple of days to get into it.

Once I did, I found it hard to put down, disquieting as it was.
Anne Merchant has been sent to an elite school, Cania Christy Preparatory Academy to recover from her mother's death.
Parents come from all around the world begging for their child to attend Cania Christy.
They pay huge prices for the privilege.       
Indeed, Anne cannot help but wonder how her father can afford to send her here.
Students are totally dedicated to be winning the coveted goal of being Valedictorian, known as the Big V prize. To Anne it's all crazy! Capital C Crazy!
The route to the top is vicious. The school rules are incredibly strict, including no mixing with the villagers.
Parents may only visit once a year. No phone contact without a guardian monitoring the call. There's no internet, no mobiles and no computers!
All students have a guardian to foster and mentor them in the Big V Race. Anne's guardian,  Teddy, is particularly obnoxious.
However things aren't even quite this simple. I for one wish they had been.
Wiebe's writing, the twists and turns, the pace of the novel are all excellent. The premise of the novel is indeed creepy. Despite all this, I actually did not like the story that much.
The awakening to what is actually happening at Cania is gradually built, heightening awareness, both Anne's and the reader's.
Tortuous, ominous and at times repellingly fascinating, this was a startling read.
Talk about 'supping with a long spoon!'

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, January 13, 2014

'Rogues were like insects!'

The Rogue Returns (Nottinghamshire Series) by Leigh LaValle

An amusingly different remark about rogues muttered at one stage by Lady Helen Gladstone.
Admittedly not the normal declaration rogues inspire. If I hadn't already suspected it, this comment alone alerted me to consider that this novel was shaping up to be way more than a 'common garden variety' regency romance.
Helen finds herself literally digging for gold, making a mad rush across the mountains to secure a fortune, pursued by dangerous men, traveling with a devasting rogue, and being assuaged by feelings she had never before experienced.     
Roane Grantham is a wonderful hero. Magnificent! is the word that frequently echoes across Helen's thoughts. Compassionate, damaged, hiding dark secrets, reflective, truly magnificent, and terrified by the treacherous desire he feels for this woman he refers to as 'buttercup.'
As Roane comes to appreciate, Helen is 'a woman who has everything to loose...A women with strength of spirit, [and ]a steel will.' 
Helen is stubbornly and fearfully determined, searching for the much needed gold her dead brother has hidden, in order to restore her family's fortune. She is achingly attracted to the rogue she is traveling with, more so than she wants to admit.
The air between them is totally electric. Mmm, like a storm breaking on a sultry summer's eve!
Helen is quite endearing as she clambers aboard a huge mare, clinging to the little things that make her feel confidant and in charge. Like looping her ridiculous tiny purse around her wrist before riding off across the english countryside to ford rivers and climb through mountainous passes, all the time declaring, 'A lady travels with a reticule.' A wonderful cameo!
And Roane? Roane is so 'much more than a rogue.  Much more.'
A fast paced, very different and enjoyable read!
I am definitely off to catchup with the rest of LaValle's writings!

A NetGalley and author provided ARC in exchange for an impartial  review

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An apologetic rogue!

One Rogue Too Many (Rival Rogues) by Samantha Grace

Gabby (Lady Gabrielle Forest) had loved Anthony Keaton, the Earl of Ellis, since before she was thirteen.
Ah! That first scene where her love and trust is 'crushed and trampled' by an embarrassed, gauche young man she'd called friend. I ached right along with fourteen year old Gabby.
Six years later Gabrielle's love isn't dead, yet! Wounded, yes! Trust however is another matter.
After all what would you do if the man who finally said he wanted to marry you had hared off without a word and turned up four months with no explanation?
Misunderstandings and misinterpreted actions litter the way. Another suitor and a maybe mistress blur the edges. Anthony and Gabrielle are equally responsible as they sabotage their relationship without any help from others. The course of true love is strewn not just with pebbles but with boulders. The road is not just rocky, they have to scale cliffs before matters can be resolved so that we all are content.

p.s. I chose my title from a line where Anthony groans and mutters to himself something like why can't I be an unapologetic rogue? Which added a touch of humour at a much needed moment.
I ended up giving this 5 stars. Am a little unsure why as I don't even give my fave authors that. I believe it may be something to do with the person of Gabby. There is something gamine like, Audrey Hepburn like about her.
I also realized that I have the story of Vivian and Luke,  Lady Vivian Defies a Duke (Beau Monde Bachelor).  So must get reading to see if I enjoy that as much.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, January 10, 2014

Artistic espionage and murder in 1745?

Whispers of Vivaldi: A Tito Amato Mystery by Beverle Graves Myers 

This has it all really. A complex historical mystery set in magical Venice.
Castrati, feuding opera houses, rumour and slander, intrigue, deception and murder, and of course, action via gondolas.      
Teatro San Marco, Venice's premier opera house is failing.
Singers and musicians have been poached by a rival company. Now that competitor is looking to steal away the official Venetian patronage that The Teatro enjoys.
As a counter tactic and a last bold move Maestro Torani, Venice's most revered opera director, is persuaded by Tito Amato, himself a Castrato, to stage a new production by a Venetian, The False Duke. A production that fittingly echoes reminders of Venice's renowned son Vivaldi.
Looking to bring something different to the performance Tito goes to Milan to entice a Castrato, Angeletto, to star in the performance. Rumours and gossip however are already proclaiming that the Castrato is really a woman.
Disaster strikes when, Maestro Torani, Tito's beloved mentor and friend, is murdered during a musical soirée held at the palazzo of The Savio alla Cultura, Signor Arcangelo Passoni, a member of the Doge's inner council. Circumstances have Tito as the main suspect. 
As I moved further into Tito's story, my interest was well and truly claimed. I was fascinated by the places, the descriptions of Venice and the people met.
There are some excellent lines. I was struck by Tito and his manservant Benito's discussion about motives for Torani's death, 'Murder is much like the opera--it hinges on life's great passions: love, hate, envy, revenge.' (I'm sure there is a clue here if only I could see it. I nod my head at this accumulated drop of wisdom)  Of course, as with anything, all is referred back through 'The Opera!'
As I came to know Tito more, I came to appreciate the superb gift he is to the storyline and the reader.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hidden pleasures and duty collide!_______3 1/2 stars

Between a Rake and a Hard Place (Regency Rakes)  by Mia Marlowe and Connie Mason

In this third and final of the Regency Rakes series set in 1817, we meet the last officer,  Sir Jonah Sharp, being blackmailed by Fortescue Alcock over the crushing English defeat at the Battle of Maubeuge, just prior to Waterloo. Jonah's brother officers, Lord Nathaniel Colton and Lord Rhys Warrington, having staved off the threat of ruin by the despicable Alcock, are helping Jonah clear his name of the intrigue and treachery that has been whispered at, but unproven. Jonah must prove his innocence or tarnish a young woman's reputation to avoid his family's name being dishonoured by the scandal.
This time we watch the road Jonah travels as he tries to avoid manipulation by the leech  Alcock. Fortescue's grand plan is to bring ruin to another of the contender's for the Royal Bride. For his services Alcock has promised evidence of treachery, or at least evidence of the truth about the doings at Maubeuge.
The trio has learned that a man who can assist is at Portsmouth. Unfortunately Lady Serena, the bride contender, unwittingly takes a hand in obscuring their search.
Based on the true search for a royal bride to secure the English throne for one of the unmarried sons of King George III, vulgarly referred to by the press at the time as 'Hymen Race Terrific.'
Jonah, Lord Nathaniel Colton and Lord Rhys Warrington worked during the war effort at the instigation of an organization called the Triad. They were assassins for their country.
His work has wrung Jonah out. He hides a damaged soul, having been called on to take lives as he has. Serena lightens his way.      
Lady Serena Osbourne is an unusual young woman. She has a list of things she wants to do before she makes the political marriage of a lifetime. A marriage she sees as her duty and an opportunity to guide a future leader of the nation.

A list 'of hidden pleasures' that she wants to fulfill before country and duty intervene.
Item 1: Wear men's clothing in public            
Item 2: Gain admittance to an exclusively male club
Item 3 etc. etc.
Jonah rescues Serena from a potentially scandalous situation when she attempts the first two items on her list. Fortunately for Jonah's mission their relationship looks set to develop in a rather more interesting way than either of them conceived.

A NetGalley ARC


Defy by Sara B. Larson

The Kingdoms of Antion and Blevon have been at war for years as the result of the Queen of Antion having been assassinated by sorcerers from Blevon. All sorcery has and continues to be rooted out in the Kingdom of Antion.
When her village, situated deep in the jungle, is attacked by a Blevon sorcerer and his soldiers and burnt to the ground by strange fire, a young girl, Alexa, is forced to disguise herself as a younger brother. Her parents have been killed and what's left of the village population is being led off into bondage by the armed forces of King Hector of Antion.
King Hector is a hard and unforgiving man, ably assisted by his trusted advisor, Iker,  a man whom all are terrified by.    
Having trained in sword fighting with her brother and father all her life she survives as a soldier. Both talented fighters, they rise through the ranks to become part of the Personal Bodyguard for the prince. Alexa is the superior fighter, Marcel does the thinking.
But there is something more about Alex / Alexa. She can almost feel when sorcery might be involved. She senses something at key moments, but what it is is unclear, yet it alerts her to the level of danger.
Prince Damian is somewhat indolent and pleasure seeking, and yet there is something about him that makes Alex wonder if he sees more, or is more than he seems.
Alex feels a growing attraction for the Prince, a drawback in this dangerous game of hiding her true self. All feelings must be suppressed. Otherwise her fate will be an abhorrence.
By becoming a boy Alexa, as Alex, escaped the usual fate of women and girls in her position. In the Kingdom of Antion females are indeed the victims of this war. They are reduced to objects. They are placed into breeding houses. As soon as girls menstruate they are raped constantly by the general guards until they became pregnant with future soldiers. A scene of diabolical inhumanness to horrify and disgust. Women reduced to objects of war. This was the part of the story that stayed with me. 
Alex becomes the centre of two men's attention. Will she chose either when doing so goes against her survival thus far?
Into this mixture of war, brutality, and black sorcery, intrigue and murder, a story of overcoming, of love and justice grows, and a gratifying tale is woven.

A NetGalley ARC

Didn't miss a beat!

The Forever Engine by Frank Chadwick

England in the future, the year 2018.
It all started with a coin, sort of.
Not just any old coin mind you but a Roman counterfeit coin. Maybe!
Jack Fargo, an American History Professor, and an ex Afghanistan War combatant is called to the United Kingdom to help investigate what is happening. He is a man with a talent, 'an ability to connect the dots.'
Unfortunately a gigantic explosion of some sort occurs, a temporal-effect wave, and Jack is is flung back to an alternate past of 1888, right into that 'Indiana Jones type' [exploit]. (Jack's word here was somewhat stronger). Flying machines are ironclads and dirigibles. Mars has been visited since the 18770's and is a source of the material liftwood that assists  with flight.
Names like Baron Renfrew, Edison and Tesla pop up amongst others.      
We have a mysterious attractive spy for the French Commune, Gabrielle Courbiere,  who is so focused on things that she doesn't even acknowledge what to anyone else would be a set down. This takes the wind out of the sail of her would be taunters very effectively. Her interaction with others at times is quite amusing.
Jack's quest is to find a way to return to his own time and his daughter Sarah. His search will take him through France, to Bavaria, Serbia and beyond with a group of different yet interesting characters.
An excellent understanding of both the history and politics of our times and of those of the past in order to make the connections and alternate happenings believable is crucial. All kudos to Chadwick. He has demonstrated that ability in spades.
The What If's certainly open up a wonderful panorama of nuanced possibilities.
A cleverly written steampunk novel, that is at times tragic, at others humorous, but mostly a jolly good read that kept me up longer than I should have been.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nefarious doings!

Ashes & Alchemy (The Gaslight Chronicles) 
by Cindy Spencer Pape 

Nefarious doings!

London, 1850.  Residents must wear masks to protect themselves from the coal smoke that hangs heavily in the air. A product of the devotion to all things steam.
It is a cold and bitter night. Police Inspector Sebastian Brown is disturbed by a woman collapsing on his door step. Searching for a doctor who lives near to Sebastian, she has crossed London without a mask, 'tantamount to a death sentence,' braving the frost and fog, and the possibility of vampyres or cutthroats.'
Her daughter is deathly ill. Sebastian accompanies the woman, Minerva (Minnie) Shaw, to fetch her daughter, Ivy.
What they find is a murdered friend, a room indicating chaotic search, and a missing sick child.
Murders and a mysterious illness that has the patient sweating a black soot are just the beginning.
The black soot residue appears to be a bacteria capable of taking soot out of the body. In this London those who can, wear masks to prevent sure death. Children are being experimented on in the name of science!
Liam takes an interest and calls in his wife Wink, 'a scientific genius', to use her expertise.
It becomes clear that this, in more ways than one, is a case for the Knights of the Order (of the Round Table) to investigate.
Sebastian has some power. For one, he can tell when people are lying. A useful talent in his profession. He takes Minerva and her daughter Ivy into his home and heart. It seems that Ivy is more than most would guess. 
A delightful novella that highlights a secondary character in the series. A worthy addition to Gaslight Chronicles.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, January 3, 2014

I'm addicted!

The King's Hounds (The King's Hounds #1) by Martin Jensen 

Ok, I'm addicted already to this series. Certainly I hope for more translations to follow.
King Cnut is in Oxford to hold a Witenagemot (a National council assembly of the King, nobles and bishops) trying to bring the various English peoples now under his command (Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Danes, most recently, Vikings) together as one people. Kin Cnut wants this to move forward. But a well known South Saxon thane, Osfrid, has been murdered. A man who was known to be Cnut's enemy. King Cnut Cnut wants the murder solved so that his plans for unity, peace and kingship aren't thwarted.

Winston the Illuminator has been commissioned by the King's consort, Lady Aelfgifu, to paint Cnut's  portrait.
Halfdan an ex half Danish nobleman (his father chose the wrong side) is here to seek a living or more certainly, the main chance. The two met on the road and travelled to Oxford together having a couple of adventures enroute.
Cnut choses Winston and Halfdan to conduct the murder investigation. He gives them three days to find the guilty party.
As the two move forward with their investigation the singular murder is suddenly crowded with bodies and potential suspects...and the list just keeps growing.
There's betrayed wives, hints of treason, angered landholders and more.
The action moves smartly along aided by an excellent translation from Danish into English by Tara Chace. She is to be applauded in enabling the smooth flowing and very readable dialogue.
The novel gives a credible insight into the life and times of this period in English History.
A very enjoyable and often humorous read. Bring on the next in the series.
How quickly can a translator translate?

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Darkness and passion in 1750's Venice.

Venice in the Moonlight by Elizabeth McKenna

This story had me with the first line! The image portrayed is wonderful! A surreal moment!
That moment captures with a totally restrained focus the helplessness and seething anger of Marietta Gatti, set against the background of a dysfunctional marriage and family. So much is weighted by so few words.
OK so I have just been to the Magritte exhibition at the MoMA, NYC and combining that with Dali, the picture of peas being not squashed but smashed by a silver spoon against the background of  imagined expensive plate is quite fascinating.
A despicable husband and an even more terrible mother-in-law have been the bane of Marietta's life for the past 5 years.
When released, or rather driven from that life, Marietta returns to Venice to track down her father, a renowned painter. He has never contacted her in all the years of her married isolation. There are many questions to be answered.   

En route to Venice from Verona, the public coach is involved in a mishap. Marietta and her travelling companions are rescued by Nico Foscari, scion of one of the primo families of Venice, with the reputation of a rake.
Once in Venice, Marietta encounters more heartbreak, dark mysteries and possible murder. 
We are introduced to persons of interest residing in Venice during this time, Casanova for one is playing a deep game, and then there is Consul Smith. What has Nico's father, Savio Foscari, to do these men? Even more of a conundrum.
Marietta is unwittingly caught up in frantic heretical practices by members of the leading houses of Venice. With their access to trade and wealth dwindling, these men are desperate to return Venice to her position of power by any and all means. 
Meanwhile, Marietta's resolve to reorder her life has Nico totally puzzled. Her seemingly bizarre actions have him rescuing her more than once.
As the paths of Marietta and Nico continue to cross, Marietta's attraction to the enigmatic rake grows. Nico is by no means immune. Whether their relationship will develop in friendship or love, or both, remains to be seen.

an author provided ARC in exchange for an impartial review