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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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dreams and desires

The Lady Meets Her Match (Midnight Meetings) by Gina Conkle

1768 during the Georgian period. When a woman has a dream and wants to make an independent foray into the world of business all sorts of prejudices and people can be obstacles. When Claire Mayhew decides to take matters into her own hands life becomes very interesting for Cyrus Ryland, a wealthy merchant and businessman who strongly believes that women should be protected and that only men can and should prosper in commercial endeavours
Stealing into a man's house to further your cause amidst masked revellers might seem like a good idea but the unveiling at the stroke of midnight causes all sorts of problems. With nothing left of an encounter with a mysterious woman but a leather shoe one can be forgiven  for thinking the world of fantasy and reality have interlocked. Certainly this slightly different Cinderella story is a satisfying read littered as it is with romance and intrigue.

A NetGalley ARC

Medieval highland romance

Devil's Moon (Border Nights #2) by Amanda Scott 

1428 in the Scottish highlands. Hold you lands fast and hold your love faster. Dev (Devil) Sir David Ormiston made a promise to his dying comrade and closest friend Rab Gledstanes to watch over Rab's lands, his twin sister Lady Robina Gledstanes and his younger brother Benjy, the now new young Laird.
How to do that is not made easy when Robina defies him at every turn and Dev's ability to protect them is unsure. Dev's aware of Robby's wild ways and provoking behaviour, is attracted to the woman she has become, and the woman in Robina finds herself drawn to the man Dev is.
Still secrets abound and trust must grow for all to come about.
A pleasing continuance to the series.

A NetGalley ARC

Murder and musical genius!

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow 

A fascinating walk through 1786 Vienna during the time of Emperor Joseph II. Lorenzo Da Ponte the court librettist is  working with Mozart on The Marriage of Figaro. At the same time he is fighting off the taunts and political machinations of his court rivals. When Da Ponte's barber is taken to debtor's prison Ponte agrees to help him. Suddenly Da Ponte's path is strewn with murder, secret police and possible traitors before he can come to some illuminating conclusions. A clever mystery that rings true with the jostling politics of artistic rivals and the more sinister actions of other interested parties. Lebow brilliantly imbues the  times and personalities with startling and believable realism.

A NetGalley ARC

More intelligent Victorian mystery!

The Angel Court Affair (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Series Book 30) by Anne Perry

This time Pitt is caught in the maelstrom of religious opinions and dissent. Pitt has been asked to guard Sofia Delacruz, a charismatic woman who is creating ripples amongst the  religious by challenging their fast held beliefs. Sofia is an English woman who ran away to Spain and has now returned as a religious speaker. She brings with her a message of radical beliefs that is upsetting the status quo. Pitt has been charged with her safety at a time when there is political unrest across Europe.
Questions arise for Pitt about God and belief. Questions about the acceptance and worth of intelligent women, questions Jemima is asking of Pitt and Charlotte. Perry deals insightfully with questions of love and faith, forgiveness and hope. 
Sofia disappears and it is up to Pitt with the help of Vespasian and Victor Narraway to help. 
The reasons for Sofia's return to England are tied up with her cousin Barton Hall. Newspaperman Frank Laurence and cricket star Dalton Teague involve themselves in this case to the annoyance of Pitt. The path travels from London to Spain and Toledo and back.
I was as consumed with interest about Sofia, her beliefs and her background, and the significance of her disappearance, as Pitt and his allies. The puzzle holds almost to the end. And in the end greed and envy stands alongside hope and faith. Another complex and convincing Victorian mystery set against the national and international politics of the time from Perry. I do so enjoy the intelligent work that Perry produces

A NetGalley ARC

Seduction and desire

Sebastian's Lady Spy (Secrets & Seduction Book 5) by Sharon Cullen

Ah! That the 'love you love you not' state of being! The twists and turns of the dance of love, all overlaid with suspense, treason and desire. Too heady a mixture for Sebastian Addison and Contessa Gabrielle Marciano? Spies for England's Office of Intelligence, thrown into an assignment that neither wanted--at least not together. Too many memories, too many regrets. Memories of shared passion dogs their steps and their interaction. But there's a traitor aiding France and they must put aside personal feelings. Their mission comes first. Banishing feelings is however much more difficult than they both thought. Intrigue and undisclosed love. A heady mixture!
A worthy successor to the previous titles in the series.

A NetGalley ARC

Monsters abound!

At the Water's Edge: A Novel by Sara Gruen 

Tragedy and otherworldly happenings throw us directly into the heart break of loss and despair. Juxtaposed against the reality of World War II, this is a story of personal loss and the search for meaning. A fascinating tale set during the latter years of World War II in a tiny village on the shores of Loch Ness.
A young woman Madeline Hyde reluctantly accompanies her husband Ellis, and his best friend Hank on a journey to Scotland to hunt down the Loch Ness monster. They travel on a hospital ship having called in favours from high places.  Ellis in particular is seeking to unravel the secret of the Monster, gain fame and thus ally charges that he and Hank are cowards. Both have been unable to join the 'war effort' due to physical factors disallowing them. Hank and Ellis have been friends for ever. Madeline was a friend to both and now wife to Ellis. The three having been ruthlessly pursuing the careless Philadelphian socialite life, treading a path of mindless, endless high society events and self gratification. 
The journey to the remote highlands becomes one of self discovery for Madeline and a growing awareness of something off centre about her husband. On the trip over she is confronted by the dreadful injuries of soldiers on the boat. This begins the purging of the veil between her play world and the reality of her life. As Maddie confronts the petty and not so petty betrayals of her husband, she comes into her own. The dark side of Maddie's existence is thrown into relief against the life of the villagers who are living their lives under the threats that war time brings. The mystery of the Loch Ness monster, the world of superstition and Scottish fey characters are just some of the elements that Maddie is exposed to.  A place of people with generous and forgiving hearts is another. A powerful, poignant and beautifully crafted story of illusion, disillusion and love. Of heartfelt emotional action where 'monsters abound, usually hiding in plain sight'.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, March 23, 2015

Complex and I ntriguing!

The Tapestry: A Novel by Nancy Bilyeau 

Joanna Stafford a former Domonican Novice has returned to London and court. King Henry has called for her to work on his tapestry collection. The life she has put behind her re-emerges. A series of mishaps and confrontations leaves Joanna emotionally  in a strange place. A distant cousin to Henry, she is at first housed with her cousin Catherine Howard at a time just before Catherine becomes Henry's mistresss. Joanna is shocked and saddened by the way Catherine is used by her kinsmen.
Joanna is not safe. Two attempts are made on her life, old enemies circle her and new acquaintances are suspect. On top of this the power of the prophecy seems to dog her path.
Geoffrey Scovill, Hans Holbein and Ambassador Chapyus are amongst her acquaintances. Powerful people are noticing her. This is unsafe. Joanna wants nothing more than to be anonymous. One feels Joanna juggling the situation, seeking the least intrusive path, yet constantly finding herself in the limelight.
Joanna's acquaintanceships are the who's who of the times: Emperor Charles, King Henry, Thomas Culpepper, Norfolk, Surrey. She moves in powerful circles albeit unwantingly.
As the drama moves between Dartford, Henry's court, Brussels and Germany. Joanna's love, the Friar Edmund also reappears. The covenant, the black arts and some of the most powerful men of alchemy in Europe are referenced.
Throughout Joanna is strengthened and strengthens other by her faith, steadfastness and quick thinking. Her relationship with Culpepper, her view of him is interesting.
Geoffrey Scovill is always present as both a protector and a reminder of the way her heart has been torn between him and Edmund.
A novel of Henry VIII's court: intrigue, plots and retribution, filled with terror, sorrow and compassion. Joanna's story is well worth reading.

A NetGalley ARC

Darkly fascinating!

Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell 

1855 London at the time of Victoria and the Crimean War. The government has just been brought down over military bungles in the Crimea. Everything is in flux. And a series of murders are about to be committed. Particularly fiendish, bizarrely clever and repugnant murders are being committed amongst the upper class and civic leaders. Each death leads back to someone or some persons who have attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria. It seems the Queen herself is targeted. Londoners are in a panic. As the raison d'être for the murders unfolds it makes sense in a tortured way. There is a balance between the horror and  the understanding of how the mind can break and evolve into a different truth. De Quincy, the opium-eater, Emily and the Scotland Yard detectives Sean and Ryan are on hand to witness the first death. They are attending a church service at St James Church .  They present a wonderful and scandalous juxtaposition against the normal attendees, shocking many there by their very difference, their appearance and Emily's ever-so practical bloomers.
Well written to the point of bizarre, the tension in the story holds right to the end. I just had to keep reading. The major characters are wonderfully crafted. Emily, Thomas, the detectives, the upright and brave Colonel Trask, Lord Palmerston, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I did enjoy Emily's foray into arsenic and old lace, or rather arsenic and clothing dyes and food colourings.
Thomas De Quincy and his daughter Emily are an excitingly different pair of characters. Reading 'A Review by Katherine Neville' on Murder as a Fine Art on Amazon helped to flesh out Thomas DeQuincy. It is a valuable background read. I highly recommend it. As I hadn't read any previous novels in the series This review helped me to read Inspector of the Dead with a more informed background. I also enjoyed Morrell's end notes about his meticulous research, his walks through London places at all hours and weather to understand the times, the places and the shadows. Incredible!

A NetGalley ARC

Obsessions and secrets!

A Highlander's Obsession: A Highlander's Beloved Novel by Vonnie Davis 

Accompanying her eccentric pink glad, pink slippered grandmother 'gram' to Scotland to attend a funeral brings Paisley more drama than she'd thought. She'd always heard animals talk but when she heard the handsome highlander's thoughts, well she just did what any red blooded girl would do, she fainted. 
Creighton Matheson is just a tad too breast-beating over the top alpha for me. More a cave man shouting mine! when he meets Paisley Munroe. Mind you Paisley's tears started to wear me down after a while but Creighton didn't seem to mind. Obsession is right! But when a young gorgeous woman walks into your life you don't back down. 
Welcome to the Scottish highlands, shifter bears, Viking curses and ghosts. No wonder Paisley felt like she'd fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice!  A pleasant read.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, March 13, 2015

Patron Saints, Dragons and Half-Dragons continue to enthral

Shadow Scale: A Companion to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman 

The nation of Gorred--a place of dragons, half-dragons and a plethora of Saints. A nation where one moment you are fearing the Censors will take away your mentor and perform the equivalent of a dragon lobotomy, the next you are fighting for freedom from a powerful group of dragons, the Loyalists who want to return dragons to their rightful place, to be able to take dragon rather than human form. The Censors are those dragons who excise all those dragons who threaten the status quo. The Loyalist group seems able to track your every move and want to annihilate  all half-dragons--the ityarsarri.  Agreements and long held treatises are broken. Rules of behaviour for dragons are challenged. At Lab Four, a secret Censor facility Seraphina meets the quigutl when she attempts to rescue Orma. A sub species small dragon like creatures, they are quite fascinating.
The secret of half-dragons is revealed and it is truly terrible. Half-dragon and musician Seraphina has a connection to all. Her walled off mental garden where contained mythic like personalities just might be the key. As dream becomes reality Seraphina is forced to face her own fears and her dragon heritage. How to hold all that knowing and unknowing, how to hold onto your inner self into your own inside your head and heart, how to protect your consciousness from the denizens of your mind garden is truly a dangerous puzzle. Jannoula is one such garden inhabitant. Seraphina was right to fear her. Jannoula is chaos unbound, charming, innocent and the mistress of deception.  As one by one her friends fall under Jannoula sway, Seraphina is powerless to counteract. Plans are ruthlessly overturned and loved ones become foes. Complex, thrilling and sometimes confusing, the story strides forward. Seraphina has for so long been afraid, has locked down her abilities that all is nearly lost. Diplomacy and battles, searches in the subterranean paths in the Censors' laboratories for her mentor Orma, the action overwhelmingly moves forward. Seraphina's belief in herself is a long time coming, but when it arrives she is a dragon unscaled! Her relationship with the Queen and Prince Lucien is a continual underlying tension that seems to taper off. Given the angst and the action that combine in this companion volume, Shadow Scale is indeed an exciting sequel to Seraphina

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Paradise lost ...

Mist of Midnight: A Novel (The Daughters of Hampshire) by Sandra Byrd 

A mysterious romance with a touch of the Gothic. Rebecca Ravenshaw left England as a child 20 years ago, bound for India with her well to do missionary parents. She is one of a handful who survived the Indian Mutiny. After harrowing months and harrowing dreams, with her family dead, her life destroyed, she returns to England to her family home, to take up her life and claim her Hampshire estate, her inheritance and her place in society. Her arrival elicits consternation and disbelief.  A young woman claiming to be her had convinced the family solicitors that she, the imposter, was Rebecca. The young woman has since died under suspicious and terrible circumstances. For Rebecca, the shock of having her identity stolen, of being left in limbo with an uncertain future, feed into and highlight her tragic past. Having suffered terribly, Rebecca finds herself cast into a society that withholds itself. Here she is, without support or true evidence of who she is with people who disinclined to believe her. Not only that, but a distant cousin has been named heir and has taken over her holdings, Captain Luke Whitfield, a troubled man who has his own set of secrets. Whom can she trust? Rebecca must wait for evidence of who she is to come from India, bide her time and try to solve the mystery of who the young woman is who impersonated her.
Nicely written, the biblical quotes highlight Rebecca's inner fear, discussions and reasonings.  I do like Mrs Ross, her chaperone. Clear headed and empathetic her role is not to be dismissed.

A NetGalley ARC

Monday, March 9, 2015

Regency romance on the X rated side.

The Scoundrel's Lover (The Notorious Flynns #2) by Jess Michaels 

Afternoon tea and meaningless conversations or salacious desires and heady jasmine scents? The relationship drawn between what is respectable and acceptable and what is not. Annabelle Flynn must chose between the respectability of a disengaged Society marriage or the call of her wild side, the call of her Flynn-dom. The Flynn's, a by-word for Society's view of disrespect-ability. Can Annabella escape this? Does she really want to escape this? It seems like nature and nurture combine to confine her. The dark desires and lust explored, the impetus towards scandal, the voyeurism that tantalizes and draws Annabelle into that forbidden side are always at the forefront, despite her best intentions. I feel like I'm looking at a potential Elizabeth Bennett overcome by an Anna Steele doppelgänger. What  started as Annabelle's rescue of her broken brother Crispin from himself at the notorious Donville Masquerade hell club run by the electrifying Marcus Rivers, turns into Annabelle's being drawn like a moth to the flame into excitement and illicit sexual activities, with Marcus as the focus of all that titillating addictive fascination that overtakes her.  
Annabelle and Flynn are both fascinating characters. They have real stories but their sexual proclivities tend to drown out those stories. To marry for respectability and renounce your family or to pursue the not so hidden passion filled desires of your heart and remain true to those you love is the thrust of the storyline. If the erotic historical is your forte then this suits. I did feel somewhat ambushed.  I have read other Jess Michaels work but I wasn't quite expecting this level of explicitness. This is darker than the previous titles.

A NetGalley ARC

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sherlockian intrigue enters a new era!

Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan by Vasudev Murthy 

What is it about Sherlock Holmes--the pull of Sherlockian or Holmesian interpretations? We can't seem to get enough of him. And he appears everywhere, in print, in film, in television, all with differing perceptions of the man, the myth--and now we have the 'Missing Years'
It's 1893, approximately two years since Reichenbach Falls and Sherlock's death. Watson receives a note ostensibly from Sherlock asking him to go to Japan. Does he think twice? No, he goes!
On Board ship he meets a number of interesting people including the quiet and gentle Mr. Kazushi Hashimoto with whom he shares a cabin. The morning the ship docks in Alexandria, Watson awakes to find the small cabin window open and Mr. Hoshimoto dead. With another passenger, Mr. Shamsher Singh, Watson investigates how access might have been gained to the cabin. Watson himself appears to have slept through the incident, a restless sleep accompanied by strange dreams.
This is just the beginning of a diabolical plot that leads straight to Moriarty! The plot moves from Bombay to Vladivostok, across Asia to Japan. Three criminal gangs--Yakuza, the opium trade and economic domination are all part of the twist. Add to that the spectre of Moriaty and the cup is more than full--it doth overflow!  As Watson observes when Sherlock is recounting his time post the Falls, 'the whole thing was bewildering in its complexity.'
(Having just read a Laurie King novel about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes partly set in Japan I was fascinated. Particularly as on their journey someone was killed in a locked cabin--and some other occurrences that whilst very different draw similar lines of arraignment. Fascinating!)
Watson's chronicles, and the inclusion of comments by other players, adds an interpretive account post the case, further illuminating events for us. Initially I didn't warm to this artifice but as time went on I appreciated Watson's little asides. The story took on its own reality. And those endless monographs! I do appreciate author Watson's humour with his running commentaries about Poisoned Pen Press.
Holmes and Watson's seemingly mad scramble across the southern asian continent is a wonderful mixture of pure Sherlockian intrigue that combines the heady excitement of new discoveries, be it the landscape and it's flora and fauna, cultural, architectural, scientific enquiries that Holmes is so focused on and delighted by, or escaping Moriaty's seekers in a variety of astonishing and heart stopping ways. It's here that I thought Sherlock Holmes--a precursor to Indiana Jones perhaps?
The culmination in Japan is bursting with possibilities, indeed the whole expanse of Holmes and Watson's journey is hectic, rapid and astonishing.
The forward by certainly Vasudev Murthy helps to focus attention upon the story telling possibilities inherent in Sherlock's missing years.  The further I delved into missing years chronicle by Watson, the more I was drawn into its dynamics.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Witty, romantic and so enjoyable!

Wicked, My Love (Wicked Little Secrets)  by Susanna Ives 

When our current stock of Victorian romance writers truly remembered the existence of  Mary
Wolstencroft a whole new genre of heroine came into being. The Bluestocking, she's formidable, generally portrayed as women's rights explorers, often overlooked or social inept. Women that today's women can thank as part of the progress to enfranchment, the recognition of their abilities and their freedoms. Not only that, but they present an excellent opening for writers to incorporate intrigue, humour and indepth social commentary. And that's just what Susanna Ives has given us.  She's given us Isabella St. Vincent. Isabella is a gem. She has an off beat presence that wonderfully combines the different with the interesting. She is an intellect who wants to embrace her womanhood. The how of doing that is the hard part. I laughed at the language Isabella uses, thank you to Aunt Judith, for her womanly parts. I loved her ability to work out mathematical odds and problems. I loved that her abilities helped countless numbers of women to turn their lives around. If only Isabella could turn her personal relationships around!
Her childhood arch enemy is Lord Randall but in their pursuit of matters that touch the very foundations of their joint banking interests, that childhood frisson between them takes on a life of its own, down paths neither has contemplated. A witty, somewhat different and most enjoyable read!

A NetGalley ARC

Ah! the undercurrent of Parisian noir that is Aimee!

Talk about troubles piling up! Aimee Leduc is now mother to young Chloe. Melac, Chloe's father, reappears at the christening six moths after Chloe's birth, with never a word to Aimee in that time, and is talking joint custody. Complications indeed for Aimee. She is furious, I am furious!
No wonder she is contemplating, with the desperateness of an addict taking up smoking her beloved gaulois.             
Aimee is confronted once more with her fathers death. This time a mysterious gypsy woman, possibly an informant of her father's, on her death bed has sent for Aimee. Aimee hurries to the hospital only to find the woman gone! Seemingly kidnapped from the ward.
History and hurts collide into an explosive conclusion!
Aimee as detective is managing to live alongside Aimee as mother.  This dichotomy is about to be hampered by Aimee as daughter seeking answers to her father's death. Her split focus, the pressure this puts her under is an explosive undercurrent.
I do feel that this volume in the Aimee story is not a good place to start the series. But to any newcomers, don't be put off, start at the beginning of this fabulous series about this feisty, wonderful Parisian. Aimee is driven and edgy, torn between duties and loyalties, outrageous in her vintage courture clothing and Vespa, being a maman in the park, and completely wonderful! Another edgy work overlaid with a definitive Parisian noir mysteriousness.
Little informative gems abound. The mention of Pagoda sent me scurrying to find out more. I will certainly be visiting there!
Renee is as always supportive. His relationship with Aimee as ever on an edge.
Once more Aimee's story enthralled me. Really I adore Aimee! I know, I know some have given up, but Aimee is family.

A NetGalley ARC

Delightful and different!

Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford

This story has a slightly different premise from the norm. Mary Fleming and John Bexley were married for only a month before he set sail for China with the Trade Commission.
Now after a two year separation, John has returned and I really didn't like his attitudes and peremptory treatment of the wife he left behind. Mary has spent the intervening years with an aunt, at the direction of her family.

John is a different person to the one Mary remembers, but then Mary is no longer the shy little thing he left behind. Mary has a gift. She draws people as she sees them, which can be both illuminating and devastating. Her drawings take on a life of their own. Rather more than one of the required womanly arts. As Mary and John relearn who each other truly is, both Mary's gift and John's pursuit of matters of interest to the England collide.
Add a touch of intrigue and a thoroughly nasty coworker and you have a read that quite warms the heart and touches the soul.

A NetGalley ARC