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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, 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