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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

...intriguing highlander travails

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

...the continuing tradition of the grapevine

Stella Mia by Rosanna Chiofalo     

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

A NetGalley ARC


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

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

A NetGalley ARC

Tony Venables Hunter of Sherwood series. Riveting medieval thrillers!

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

April Taylor's Tudor Enigma series

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

Sunderers, strife and division. The Intrigue continues!

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

Court of Conspiracy review

Saturday, December 27, 2014

excellent alternate Tudor mystery!

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chaos, bananas and mystery. A treat indeed!

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

...a slick thriller!

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, December 6, 2014

...a heart warming foray!

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

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

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, December 5, 2014

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

The Oblate's Confession by William Peak 

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

A NetGalley ARC

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

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

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

A NetGalley ARC