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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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Trapped in a jaded cage.

The Jade Temptress - The Lotus Palace #2 by Jeannie Lin

Pingkang li during the Tang Dynasty of 848 AD.
An important general has been murdered, General Deng Zhi. The a Emperor wants answers.
Courtesan Mingyu (Bright Jade) finds the body. With blood on her hands she goes to Wu Keifang, the policeman who was her nemesis, her torturer in a previous murder. Why? What is it that draws Mingyu back to him?                                                                     

Once more, 'The Pingkang li, with its dual persona of sensual decadence and refinement becomes the place Lin explores the roles that women took on in society, investigates a murder and explores the nature of love. Front and centre is infamous Lotus Palace, home of the celebrated courtesans of the Pingkang li entertainment area and the backdrop to crime and treachery, fear and revenge, and the political intrigue surrounding the courts of the Emperor.
Now Wu Keifang has to battle an important official, Inspector Xi Lun, who seems bent on destroying his master Magistrate Li, find the murderer and resolve the puzzle of himself and Mingyu. They shared a kiss but 'they both knew nothing more could become of it.' Does the kiss represent honesty between two people who are faced with dishonesty every day, or is Wu for Mingyu a man who truly sees her as she is, not what he wants her to be?
During the investigation where Mingyu is accused of Deng's murder, she is  forced to contemplate the nature of the place she works, a place of so called harmony. Now she recognizes that that harmony is not the peace she previously thought but that of silence. A place where all feelings are buried deep, silenced and subjugated to tranquility, gaiety and beauty--the facade of the Pleasure House. Wu becomes that place for Mingyu where true feelings can be, can exist, a place of safety and honesty.
Mingyu's sister Yue-Ying and her husband Bai Huan support Mingyu and help Wu in his search for the truth.
Skilfully written, the various lines of Lin's textured brush strokes hold your interest in the emerging picture, the figures occupying the landscape suspended in tension right until the very end.

A NetGalley ARC

Explosive secrets and hesitant love!

Secrets at Court (Royal Weddings) by Blythe Gifford 

1361. A tale of princes, love and discarded husbands. Secrets skulk in high places, surrounding annulled marriages and ecclesiastical decisions. The story of Joan of Kent, and her irregular marriages is witnessed through the eyes of her constant companion Anne, the lame daughter of Joan's former companion. 
Anne is the focus through which the fascinating woman who would become Prince Edward's wife is revealed. There is a deep mystery surrounding Joan of Kent, all tied up with ecclesiastical courts and this wilful woman intent on shaping her own destiny. Anne comes to know the force of that intent. Gifford's Afterward is interesting in locating the historical questions that surround Joan, The Fair Maid of Kent and Edward, The Black Prince.   
In reality, Joan and Edward's marriage is the larger than life background, the raison d'être for the interaction between Anne of Stamford and Sir Nicholas Lovayne and their story.
Anne holds the secrets of Joan's former marriages, their disturbing timelines. For that knowledge alone Anne will eventually be a source of danger to the legitimacy of any children Joan and Edward might have. Fortunately Anne is not only intensely loyal, she's grateful to have a place where she is protected from the life that others with her affliction experience.
(The observations about the crippled and afflicted, their fate in these times, the attention to the difficulties of riding for Anne, even her experiences amongst the pilgrims, focus our attention on Anne's struggles and fears and the import of the secrets she holds for her very survival. When Anne contemplates the lame begging in the streets and compares her lot to theirs, the realization that the veneer of protection between them and what her life could hold is frighteningly thin.)
The tension between Anne and Nicholas is palpable. Anne of course is continually having to hide her mistresses secrets from the discerning eye of Nicholas.
Who is Nicholas? He's the Prince's man, a mercenary who's fought his way to this position. A man who wants no ties but cannot help but sense the strength of this lame maid. He sees her, who she is, when no-one else does. He is attracted to her. He is also the man charged with seeking the annulment of Joan's former marriage from the Pope and the approval of her marriage to Prince Edward from the English ecclesiastical court, the Curia. A man charged with uncovering secrets.
A dangerous dance ensues between these two. A dance of secrets withheld and secrets sought, of painful revelations and ultimately of love.

A NetGalley ARC

Captured indeed!

Captured by the Pirate Laird (Highland Force #1 ) by Amy Jarecki  

1559, Scotland in the time of Elizabeth I.
Lady Anne Wriouthesley, daughter of Lord Southampton, sets sail to join her new husband, a man she's never met. She has been married by proxy to Lord Thomas Wharton, First Baron of Wharton. A man thirty-nine years older than her. A man with children older than she. Indeed, the impersonality of the marriage left Anne feeling like a chattel, like bartered goods. Anne however has been raised to carry out her duty to her family, a duty she is honour bound to transfer to her husband. Wharton is a ruthless man thoroughly hated by the Scots, who'd earned his title by joining the Earl of Northumberland raiding, killing and burning his way across Scotland, showing no quarter, in his endeavours to keep the Scots in check. Wharton is now Northumberland's sheriff for the region, 'the plundering bastard and his murdering sheriff,' as Calum describes him.     
Enroute to meet her new husband, Baroness Anne's vessel, a wealthy merchant ship, is attacked. Captured by pirates, Anne is locked into her quarters and into the pirate laird's heart. And Anne, her first thoughts are panic, her second are why must the pirate captain, Calum MacLeod, be so wickedly handsome.
MacLeod's people are a poor highland clan scrounging for a living doing what they must to survive, including taking to piracy and plundering wealthy English ships.
Abducted to the MacLeod's island refuge of Raasay, Anne finds more in common with his people than she thought. She also finds out what love could be, but her path must follow a different route.
This is really just the beginning of Calum and Anne's story. As Calum finds a way to ransom his love back to her rightful husband, Wharton's vengeful soul plans bloody retribution against him and his clan.
Jarecki's story line takes a different tack to most Highlander romances and the result is definitely rewarding.
I was spurred to read Captured by the Pirate Laird because of the great write-up another reviewer , Julie on Goodreads, gave this title. I see that the talented Grace Burrowes is a mentor.  Jaraecki has produced a fine tale.

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Breathtaking surprises and glittering action!

Sworn To Secrecy: Courtlight #4 by Terah Edun

Wow! From the first to last page, a suberbly crafted action packed read!
Hardly an auspicious family reunion. Ciardis Weathervane no sooner finds her mother and brother than all are threatened. Inga the frost giantess and Kane are attacked at the Imperial ball, Ciardis is simultaneously threatened by both the Emperor and the shadow council. The Emperor  places Lillian Weathervane under house arrest and blackmails Ciardis with her mother's life into seeking the truth about the Ameles Forest and the Princess Heir. Dragons fight in the skies, and this is just the beginning. Twists and turns deepen, old enemies and old friends resurface, new enemies and new friends emerge as secrets are revealed in the desperate race to stop the Blutgott.
Prince Sebastian and Daemoni Thanar join forces, well for a time, at Ciardis behest and all move forward.   
Tension is high, action is key, Edun's writing doesn't faulter, it's tight and piercing, like the magic of the Cold Ones that Ciardis wields. Bravo!
I do like the sparkling dry humour that weaves it's way in and out of the storyline, whether it's Ciardis commenting upon her own actions or a moment in response to others. This humour is an island of light, a respite from the determined focus of action that spirals ever onwards, faster than you can draw breath.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, February 24, 2014

Recovering place--a shared vision!

Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill (Religion, Culture, and Public Life) by Mark C. Taylor

Stunning photography supports page after page of snapshots of thought provoking reflections.
I was simultaneously arrested by the clarity and beauty of Taylor's photography and captivated by his soliloquies.
Taylor's thoughts about 'globalization' and 'localization', about 'space' and 'place' are a simple yet stunning revelation, a truth that modern man in the hustle and bustle has forgotten. And that Taylor has reconnected with 'place' in his journey at Stone Hill. We vicariously connect through the beauty and insights Taylor presents.
Taylor talks about working on a multiplicity of levels and of Hegel referencing disciplines as presenting the same truths in different ways. But Taylor goes beyond the static and leads us to the vividly alive window onto his world,  uncovering his recovering place. The place he shares with us through visual design and reflection. As Taylor says, 'As I became more deeply involved with art media and technology, I began to appreciate the importance of design for conveying insights'
Taylor further states that, 'art helps us envision the future that we might realize. The task of reflection is to apprehend what thought cannot comprehend in figures that only the imagination can trace.'
Certainly this handsome volume culminates as a rewardingly aesthetic approach to ideas enmeshed in design and gives the reader the opportunity to soar in thought aided by reflective imagination.
A sincere and thoughtful work, an artistic presentation to delight in, and a gift to treasure!

A NetGalley ARC

...shrouded in secrecy

The Wives of Los Alamos: A Novel by TaraShea Nesbit

Told in the first person plural, this work holds in tension the distancing that reflects a time in history that was simply put, awful. The story of place and persons beyond the unleashing of the atom bomb that must always to some degree be shrouded.
The story of the families and women at Los Alamos, is in many ways the story of their internment, shrouded in the unknowing. The women know nothing of what their husbands are doing, and the scientists know little about what they are unleashing. We now know the significance of the mention of red faces after tests, looking back as we are, after the fact.  

The day to day struggles of making do in a government run place, neither feast nor fowl, not scientists and not army, again emphasizes the degrees of separation, the shroud of silence that surrounds this community. Even the gossip is told at a distance. And that is the curious thing, how the writing style emphasizes the distance of the community, away in the desert, cloaked in secrecy.
The things the women do know are the day to day struggles for food, housing, schooling, and being wives of the forties, wives during wartime struggling for normalcy,
'In the day we wore gingham, at night we wore our prewar silk stockings, our prewar silk dresses.'
These are wives separated from their communities trying to build a new one, trying to create lost support groups. The sense of community of women supporting women is strong.
The contrast between themselves and the women scientists is interesting. The women feel that they don't have the freedom of those female scientists. But then neither do they have the same pressure.
Perhaps the last chapter is the most telling and most terrible of all. The few lines about the Bikini Islands and it's people demonstrates uncaring government agencies at their worst.
A thought provoking treatise about a terrible moment in time, the ramifications of which, for the world at large have been uncountable, as a new age was ushered in.

A NetGalley ARC

Excellent! Vivacious debutante meets decided rake!

The Trouble with Honor  by Julia London 

Honor, Honor, Honor! What are you up to?
It all began with a game of cards!
Then there was the bonnet affair. This certainly blew the lid off  the childhood angst between Honor  Cabot and her step brother's fiancé, Monica Hargrove.
Then there was George Easton himself, illegitimate son of a Duke and nephew of a Prince.
As Honor was won't to say She was a swashbuckler at heart, as was George.
So when these two meet, the odds against conformity escalate. Indeed, that first meeting is most memorable!   
And now Honor's mother is showing signs of slipping into madness and Monica is encouraging the idea of Honor and her sisters into marriages or seclusion. After all, does Monica really want her life cluttered up with all these women. Or at least that's what Monica's mother intimates.
Just what is Honor to do?
Why, a mad start of an idea of course! and after all, George Easton does owe her. And this idea will aim a blow at Monica's pretensions!
I smiled at Honor's audacity and on at least one occasion I cried at her courage.
Honor, Honor, Honor! What shall become of you?
A somewhat different and very enjoyable!

A NetGalley ARC

High 5 for Paradox #2 and kickass Devi!

Honor's Knight (Paradox series #2) by Rachel Bach 

Once again Rachel Bach doesn't disappoint!
Honor's Knight is a space opera with heart and Devi is the source of that heart.
Devi has lost her memory, but is still seeing glowing bugs that no-one else sees, the tips of her fingers occasionally appear to be stained black, she is pursued by the xith'cal and then the lelgis (or phantoms as Devi calls them).
Who is Brian Caldswell really, what is the mystery of the daughters (Ren) and why are there gaps in Devi's memory?                      
Who is the cook and why is Devi gut wrenchingly nauseous every time she looks at him?
Not only is Devi is a woman with heart, but that heart leads with fortitude and compassion and garnishes her own brand of glory. Her attachment to her Verdemont suit of armour is a quirky touch, yet at totally understandable. After all this is her survival apparatus. Of course she names her weapons.
As her whole world implodes, the one thing she trusts in (as a Paradoxian) is the Sainted King Stephen, Holy Ruler of Paradox. Oh my!
Devi is as Rupert says the 'craziest, bravest, loveliest' thing he'd ever seen.
A tight writing style, inventive mind, marvellous aliens and tough yet sympathetic situations propels The Paradox series, Bach's gift to us readers, into the upper echelons of space faring adventures.

A NetGalley ARC

A delectably pleasurable read!

A Wicked Pursuit: A Breconridge Brothers Novel (The Breconridge Brothers) by Isabella Bradford  

I just really enjoyed A Wicked Pursuit.
I found myself smiling at some little absurdity and outright chuckling at others. 
Of course my heart was wounded when Gus's (that's Miss Augusta Wetherby) heart was wounded, and at moments both cross and understanding of Harry (Charles Neville Fitzroy, fourth Earl of Hargreave).  
Harry is actually pursuing Gus's more beautiful half sister, Miss Julia Wetherby.
When Harry is badly injured in a riding accident at the Wetherby's country home, and sister Julia hies off to London unable to face the thought of the dashing Harry an invalid, Gus is the one who nurses Harry through this traumatic time. Actually Julia can't bear the possibility of being saddled with a cripple.
Harry is such a petulant roguish character with the heart of gold and Gus is the level headed enchanting Cinderella who comes to believe in them and herself.
Mind you Harry is also something of a spoiled brat at times, but we forgive him, as we are meant to. He can be very charming and persuasive.
And of course we meet a pride of careless relations and overbearing ones.
A Wicked Pursuit is just the thing for a leisurely, not too complicated reading time, a worthy novel to languish over on a cosy afternoon, or evening, or really whenever.
But most of all what Wicked is, is a plain old-fashioned completely delectable love story!

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, February 13, 2014

a dearth of 'rogues' ____

When the Rogue Returns (The Duke's Men) by Sabrina Jeffries 

____unless your counting the villain and and the other ducal Manton investigators.
Talented maker of  artificial gems, Isabella is caught up in a plot to steal a betrothal diamonds necklace belonging to Dutch Royalty.
Masterminded by her brother-in-law, Gerhart, and sister Jacoba, Isabella is devastated to learn that her husband Victor Cale was part of the heist. Not only that, but he has deserted her.
Broken hearted she changes her identity and flees to Edinburg where she becomes a successful jeweller and business woman.  
Of course we find out that the truth is far from what she thought.
Her husband Victor, has also had a change fortunes. Once a soldier without family connections, he has since found out that he's a cousin to a Duke and has been welcomed back into the fold.
His new family runs an inquiry agency near Bow Street, Manton's Investigations. He undertakes to go to Edinburg to follow up a client's case, not the least because he realizes that the name of the woman he is to investigate is called Sofia Franke, the same surname as his mother. Is this coincidence?
Of course he finds Isabella, the woman who threw him over for a lucrative criminal life. 
The premise of the novel is great. Isabella's work as a maker of quality imitation stones is fascinating, but truthfully I found both lead characters somewhat flat. In the end, although there was a jewell heist, wicked protagonists, and romance I was just not drawn in. I am still wondering why 'Rogue' is in the title. Victor doesn't seem at all roguish to me. 
All in all Rogue Returns is disappointing despite having all the right elements; grand theft, intrigue, love and adventure.  There's just no 'wow' factor in the interaction between the main characters. They're all just a little too wooden. Still, the potential depth of this novel Inclines me to hope for promise realized in forthcoming titles. 

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Startling, Shocking, Stark!

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement 

I had been watching the U.S.-Mexican version of the series, The Tunnel, so when I saw this title I vaguely thought it might have something to do with disappeared young women in Mexico.
It does! Really, anything one might say seems trite in the face of the grim truths related. 
It is a bleak comment on the fate of young girls and women in areas of Mexico. 
The story is set in the hillside area of Guerrero, an hour from Acapulco. An area that drug lords and dealers have ravaged. A place where the village men might be taken to work drug crops, or where they cross the Border into the U.S. to make a simple living. In the beginning they send money home. Then that dwindles into a trickle and into nothing as the men establish other families, U..S families, as part of their new lives. They women and families in Mexico are left behind, not widows or fatherless, just discarded. They are abandoned and powerless. They fall prey to the cartels, are there for the taking, for abuse, and more. So begins the dressing of girls as boys, the hiding in holes to avoid capture, as the trafficking in girls as young as seven escalates. As Ladydi's mother declares, 'The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.'

The stark, unadorned description about life in this part of Mexico is seen through the eyes of Ladydi Garcia Martinez from when a young girl. As Ladydi grows up, we grow with her and see life from her and her communities  viewpoint. The lengths that these girls and their mothers go to to survive, and their ties to each other are amazing. There are betrayals, there are the stories of girls taken, like Ladydi's friend Paula. 
Later in prison, fellow prisoner Luna comments to Ladydi on the letters of the alphabet.
'Can you believe there are only twenty-six letters to say everything? There are only twenty-six letters to talk.' I find this such a big thought! And Jennifer Clement uses these same twenty-six letters to bring us a 'tour de force.' 
We hear about stolen girls who mark themselves with virtual constellations of cigarette burns. So that when their bodies are found, authorities will know they were stolen.  Then perhaps their families would be told. A story, a revelation of the darkness, the shadows that surrounds women in these areas of Mexico and the daily travesties that this darkness permits. And yet, even in prison there is some joy. In many ways prison is the safe place. A tragic indictment of what things have come to. Ladydi's story is beautifully and starkly written, as gold shining through the dross, and includes a legion of indomitable spirits.

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, February 9, 2014

romance noir!

A Dangerous Invitation (The Rookery Rogues) by Erica Monroe 

Not your usual regency romance! No sashaying Ladies and rakish Dukes! Instead the desperation of life on the wrong side of the tracks! Here in the dark underbelly of London, in the depths of rookery we meet those who do what they must to survive. Life in the most sordid of Dicksonian conditions. 
Kate grew up in and out of her fathers shipping company in the docks of London.
Daniel worked his way up in the company to become her father's assistant. The two were engaged. A man, Tommy Dalton, was murdered and Daniel, drunk on gin, was accused. A friend helped Daniel escape and now three years later He has returned to the Rookery to try and prove his innocence, and to find the woman he's never stopped loving. 

Kate's life is very far from what he had imagined. Her father's business failed, and with his death, she was left destitute on the streets. Deserted by her friends, she was a woman alone in the most desperate parts of London. She's literally clawed her way back from the gutter.   Now a successful fence she is beholden to no-one and in charge of her life.
Searching for the truth is a dangerous game especially when others have so much to lose.
I really enjoyed the storyline's premise, the tension leading up to the discovery of    who murdered Dalton, some of the minor characters along the way like Atlas and the question marks raised about Sergeant Thaddeus Knight. All are nuggets of gold.
It's just that I felt that towards the end the writing fell away and didn't maintain the verve it opened with. Perhaps it's something about Kate and Daniel's interactions that were a tad off kilter. Really, the plot was strong enough that it didn't need their sexual interplay in full flight. In fact the storyline might have been stronger with less. Daniel's struggle with gin is real, Kate's struggle with maintaining her life is gritty and heartfelt. Individually they're strong characters, but their dialogue in the together moments just lacks something.
Perhaps I wanted Kate to continue to be some sort of leading light to those around her. She certainly has the strength for it.
Don't get me wrong, I will continue to follow this series. Indeed, the Rookeries has it all--mystery, gangs, murder, brothels, the resurrection trade. It's all one in the rookery!

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, February 7, 2014

loved it!

Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod  
I enjoyed 'Paris Letters' immensely. The story of one woman's walk, well flight really, to redefinition. Janice MacLeod of 'Clan MacLeod' and 'the Highander' (a recurring joke), a successful advertising writer, one day took a deep breathe and decided to try for a new direction. Her mission, to see what the world could offer her and what she could offer the world. Her aim, two years travel in Europe with Rome and Paris on the top of the list. Her goal was to save a $100 a day. Her savings plan is brilliant. (I could learn a bit, although I'm already practising some of her savings ideas. I do cook and chop my own vegetables.
I loved her beginning place, 'My first trip to Paris began in my underwear drawer.' A great line!
Her message is that de-cluttering is the place to start. This chapter was thought provoking. Her pared down wardrobe she sees as giving her, 'a certain freedom in not having so many choices.' I love the idea. Janice's recommendation no.7, that, 'buying things on sale doesn't save money' because your still spending something is true but oh so hard to refrain from. Certainly I could do with following much of Janice's advice. In many ways a self help book, this is also an engaging look at life and love, traveling and pursuing goals. Her three muses, her inner voice characterizations, offer excellent advice that is spot on.  Janice's time in Paris and the wonderful drawings / letters she writes, the business she builds using her talents are inspirational. And then there is Christophe, the man she meets in Paris. The Paris streets  and people come alive under her pen. You walk them with her.
Readable and très agréable!

A NetGalley ARC

Thursday, February 6, 2014

...a celebration of life...and calcio!

The Sun and Other Stars: A Novel by Brigid Pasulka 

Life in an Italian village like San Benedetto has inoculated Etto against joining the chatter about leaving, against being a 'big talker in a long line.' It seems that those who do talk the talk or walk the talk either never leave or can't help but eventually return. Hence Etto's reluctance to contemplate sketching big dreams. This is one of the truths that this 22 year old contemplates. There are as we discover other reasons.
Revolving around soccer or calcio as it known in Italy, 'The Sun and Other Stars' is a tale of the experience of being lost, of disassociation after loss. And of finding yourself, of returning to life, of letting the small things and larger things of life, of rediscovered and new loves, warm you and restore you as surely as the sun does bringing warmth into your very bones. A story of hope, beautifully crafted by Pasulka.      
How Etto, and subsequently his papa find life again after tragedy and loss (the death of his brother and later his mother), how this has scarred him, his papa, and their relationship, is intensely presented. Etto's story is told through a patina of displacement as through a glass darkly. We hover with him on the edge of his feelings. We soar with him as he sketches his loss and rage on the vaulted ceiling of the closed school. It's only as Etto becomes part of the visiting Ukranians that he starts to live again.  Yuri Fil, a Ukrainian player is awaiting charges for match fixing. He has chosen San Benedetto to lie low in, away from the paparazzi. Yuri plays with the Genoan soccer team and is Etto's papa's hero. Etto meets him by way of Yuri's sister up on the playing field above the village where his brother Luca is buried. Etto is enamoured with Zhuki. These people, these strangers, pull him into their lives. And it is with them that Etto begins to come alive. We begin to really see him, and he begins to see himself.
Pasuika's eye for the Italian village life is finely wrought.
I loved the Nonne's. They are everywhere overseeing the life of the village. A powerful, yet somehow endearing group. The telegraph line of the town, all seeing, all knowing!
The village men at Martina's bar, their camaraderie, their deep addiction, nay bone deep, gut response to the game of calcio is brilliantly alive as only those who have experienced the true attachment to the game by its fans can know. It's palpable!
Through Etto's eyes we are privy to the town's life. Something the tourists who overrun the town during the season never see. We readers are at one with the villagers. We feel their pain and their life.
The circle of soccer, of calcio, makes it all happen. The village is a large family and through Etto, his family and old and new friends that we become part of it.
When you finish and reflect on the story,  and consider its title in the light of all that you've read, you realize how apt the title is. And you breath a simple, Yes!

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Excellent Tudor mystery!

An Air of Treason: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery (Sir Robert Carey Series) by P F Chisholm

Oxford, 1593, and courtier Sir Robert Carey, youngest son of The Lord Chamberlain, Baron Hunsdon,  still has not received his warrant from his cousin (on the legitimate and the illegitimate sides) Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth is progressing to Oxford which is frantically crowded and preparing for her much  anticipated visit.
Carey is thinking of ways to present himself to the Queen, when she sends for him.
When your Queen calls? What can you do but obey!
When your Queen changes your plans and her promises what can you do but acquiesce.
Elizabeth charges Carey with solving a thirty year old mystery--that of the death of the former wife of Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Amy Dudley (nee Robsart) who appeared to have  fallen down stairs to her death.
Carey is by himself in Oxford. Dodd is still down south and Carey is forced to hire a new serving man, Hughie Tyndale. He's a Scotsman, paid to assassinate Carey. We first meet him as he is busily planning and discarding ways to dispose of Carey. He decides that being Carey's henchman will suffice, offering ample opportunity.
As a bonus, the story is littered with fascinating facts about Tudor life, from the weight of courtly dress to practices in hiring servants. When Carey hires Hughie he inspects his ears, 'looking for a ragged ear from having it nailed to the Edinburgh pillory for thieving.'
Carey also hires an insignificant looking  clerk, one John Tovey, whom I'm hoping will  round out to be a helpful foil in Carey's future adventures, that is if Chisholm keeps him on.
Sergeant Dodd is a treasure of a character. He's waylaid enroute to Oxford.
The scene between Elizabeth and Dodd is nicely and amusingly written.
And then there's Kat. I do hope we meet her again.
Levels of coincidental happenings, combining both Carey's investigative abilities and chance, spiral down or up depending on your perspective, to the final unforeseen revelations.
(I found the Spoiler Alert historical note at the end of the book particularly interesting. Chisholm talks about the source materials he used regarding Amy Dudley's death).
As this chapter of Carey's story closes we are left wondering what the next chapter in his life might bring.
A notably enjoyable Tudor mystery from a series I, for one, mean to continue to explore.

A NetGalley ARC

...the Tides continue to flow and fascinate!

Carousel Sun (Carousel Tides Series) by Sharon Lee

Welcome to Archers Beach, Maine. A small struggling tourist town with an amusement park featuring amongst other delights, an old fashioned wooden Carousel with a menagerie of fantasy animals that used to include a Batwing Horse. But that's another story.
Archers Beach is place where Silkies, Guardians, dryads, sea witches, supernatural beings that use jikinap (magic), and various otherworldly creatures can be found, if you know about them, if you can see them. A place where Mid Summer's Eve is an amazing celebration that is vigorous and true, for those in the know.
Kate Archer is a trenvay and temporary Guardian of the Land, whilst her grandmother the Guardian and a dryad, recovers from a daring rescue of her daughter Nessa, also Kate's mother, from another place, the Land of Flowers.
Six worlds of the cosmology are bound together. Our world is the most unpredictable.
Actually the Carousel is a prison, with a wild gate near it. The wooden animals are renegade Ozali, powerful magicians whose exploits have caught the attention of the Wise, the final arbitrators and dispensers of justice across the six worlds. Judgement by the Wise is never predictable, sensical or logical. The Ozali have been bound by the Wise, imprisoned as the wooden fantasy animals of the Carousel.          
Kate, had repudiated her bond with the land and is now working to strengthen it, taking on more responsibilities and training to control her jikinap, her magic, with her grandmother's elderly beau and magic worker, Mr. Ignat', in reality Fire Ozali Belignatious, from Land of Flowers. Jikinap is a 'metaphysical substance that can be sold, stolen, earned, given away or accepted as a gift. In a dual between Ozali...the winner absorbs the loser's power.' jikinap is greedy in its desire for more. It's a gift to be wary of, a gift that needs control.
Kate has not seem Borgan, also a trenvay and Guardian of the Gulf of Maine, whom she is mightily attracted to since he helped her dispose of an evil Ozali from the Land of Flowers.
Borgan disappeared into the sea to regain his strength but seems to Kate to have been gone too long.
Archers Beach is still being troubled by the drug smuggler, Joe Nemeier. Kate has had clashes with him before and these continue.
Brogan and Kate are opposites. Kate is Guardian of the land and Borgan, Guardian of the Sea around the Gulf. Still opposites attract. After all the line between sea and land diminishes ever so slowly. The ebb and flow is all around. Where does one end and one begin? Love has it's own dance.

A NetGalley ARC

Sharply written! Hannah is a gift!

The MacGregor's Lady (MacGregor Series) by Grace Burrowes 

I must admit that I was puzzled by the opening. I couldn't quite understand why Asher MacGregor, the newly titled ninth Earl of Balfour, was meeting two women from across the Atlantic and and escorting them to London for the season. What was the link? Who had asked him to meet them and why? Gradually a fuller picture emerges.
Hannah Cooper, heiress, or 'Boston' as Asher calls her, is stubborn and single minded, enduring all for her family. As her tale emerges we become enraged on her behalf. She is entrapped by her times and her gender.
Asher is the lost Earl, come at the eleventh hour back to the fold, tragedy at his back and in his heart. A tragedy that 'Boston' unknowingly helps keep at bay. Slowly we become privy to his story of conflict and loss. 
These two compliment each other in so many ways. They are indeed sympatico.     
Balfour is compassionate, insightful and yet afraid of love. Hannah is intelligent and brave, yet fearful. Not for herself but for others.
Miss Hannah Cooper is not what Asher expected, and she walks with a limp as she so plainly and unselfconsciously tells him, 'A blind man could tell I limped from the cadence of my steps.'
Ah, feet again! This time a foot that's associated with a limp, not a sock. I am loving the lure of the elegant foot that crops up in Burowes' novels from time to time. Certainly Balfour himself wonders that, 'feet could be erotic...they were supposed to mind their mundane business...here he was haunted by the feel of a lady's soft foot.'
Burrowes has taken the girl meets boy story and turned it on its head, retaining the small telling acts of love, of being in love, in new and heady ways. Her storytelling, as always, displays depth and insight.
Underlying the story is the very real fact that wives, children, sisters and mothers were at this time at the mercy of their male relations. They were belongings. When those relationships were good, they were encouraging, not stultifying; but when they were bad they were--despicable.
An interesting aside is the use of laudanum at this time, particularly by women and its quite debilitating effect. Addiction is not far away. Hannah's aunt and companion, Miss Enid Cooper, is dependant upon laudanum. This dependency opens up opportunities for Hannah.
A wonderful tale of endurance, love and sacrifice--not necessarily in this order.
It is quite dazzling to witness the assembled magnificence of the MacGregor brothers along with their wives and children, whom we know from previous tales. Their support of each other, the exhibition of a caring supportive family is very real.
A feast of characters, decisively written and a pleasure to read!

A NetGalley ARC

Mad Dukes and Mayhem!

Must Love Dukes (Tricks of the Ton)  by Elizabeth Michels  

I must admit that I was intrigued by the slightly surreal opening of this novel.
Devon, the Mad Duke of Thornwood, being stalked through the streets of London by a determined young woman into areas no respectable woman should wander!
A desperate act indeed. So we are thrown into a situation that begs for further questions and  prompt enlightenment. 
Which of course the rest of the story sets out to do. What is involved is a pocket watch and a young woman's purposefulness.  
Lillian Whitby as it unfolds was that woman. At home she is the one that holds her family estate together whilst her brothers sell off all that's worthwhile with nary a thought for her. Two of her brothers, the Bad brothers, at the Baddest Brother's urging, decide that the only thing left of value to sell to the highest bidder is Lily. Certainly BB (Baddest Brother) Solomon makes the suggestion to bad brother, Joshia.  
Lily is sent to London for a season (without the benefit of a wardrobe, I might add) to meet a succession of ghastly suitors that Solomon, for his own nefarious reasons, parades before her. All Lily wants is her freedom from the bullying men of the family and in marriage.  'Where is the third door?' she ponders.
Naturally, it's at a London society ball that Lily re-meets Devon. Having not being able to rid himself of the memory of Lily, Thornwood recognizes her and then blackmails her into carrying out a variety of misdeeds. Along the way strange mishaps start to occur to Lily's suitors. Her brothers become suspicious.
Devon is cast by society as the Mad Duke. A role he has over time decided to embrace with alacrity. 
As Devon says, 'It's the ton's self-appointed job to degrade and cast out those who step out of line...I've spent a great deal of time stepping out of line...I have the winnings of a nice little bet...to assuage my anger.'
Meanwhile, Devon's mother, the Dower Duchess of Thornwood, is trying to coax her son into marriage. Mmm!
Regency times when seen through the filter of this story has some very strange starts indeed!
Certainly this a love story with a difference. Suspend belief and enjoy!

A NetGalley ARC

Sunday, February 2, 2014

...the child begets the woman, cleft to her wyrd

Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild the child that would become Saint Hilda of Whitby. Griffith's novel illuminates the person Hild might have been in her earliest years. The known is cleverly interwoven into the storyline. Hild's father, Prince Hereric, was nephew to King Edwin of Northumbria. He was poisoned. Hild was brought up in the court of King Edwin.
Hild's wyrd (personal destiny) is her path. She is 'Light of the World'. She carries a seax, a type of dagger, and she stands tall.
Her sister Herewith's wyrd is different. She will be a queen.
I found it hard to resolve the description of Hild in her very young years. She is marked as special from birth. A child heavy with her future wrapped around her. Even as young as three, Hild's clarity of thought and perception is prodigious, and later as still a child not yet come into her womanhood, her wisdom is more like that of a mature woman. After all wisdom is what Hilda of Whitby will become renowned for, along with having contributed in the christianizing of Britain.  

In this fictional account of Hild's life, just as the Irish priest Fursey did, I found it sad that Hild was never allowed to be a maid, young and carefree. Her feet are set on her path from birth, thrust there by her wyrd and kept there by her mother, Breguswith.
Seer to a King, a prophet, Hild learns early to watch and understand many aspects of her world, be it nature, animals, the wind, the season for plants, the stars, the flow of the rivers. She studied behaviour, carefully watching people and identifying their tell-tail tags, gauging their interactions and reactions. Hild studies the languages of the various peoples of her land, including the roman priests. She learns to  read and values the gift of communication it is. This all helps in her reaching to understand portents and possibilities.
Everywhere is the struggle for power by kings and their priests. The struggle for kingdoms, lost and gained, and of the old gods destroyed and a new god rising. Hild is ever concerned with wars and the business of kingdoms, their waxing and waning.
And always there is the mystery of her childhood companion Cian. Cian who is always more.
The difficult path she weaves between the various courtly interests, waring princes and her mother's intrigue is fascinating. Life at this time, especially for women, is relayed so realistically you feel like you are there. The role of women is clearly defined, yet as the King's seer Hild rides beyond that place. Later she becomes the King's Fist, at great emotional cost. And for Hild there is the waxing and waning as times change, and old enemies become new, old threats are revisited. Her search for her true self is painful. For Hild 'there were patterns everywhere.'
'Tumult in the river mouth', Hild sang to herself when but a child. Words that were a promise of the path her wyrd will take her down.
The more I read, the more I was drawn in.

A NetGalley ARC