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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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Startling, engrossing!




                                


Once more Terry Brooks focuses our eyes towards the Four Lands.
There's a strange new brand of magical warriors stalking the lands. Former High Druid Drisker Arc has been targeted by assassins.  A young woman with the magic gift of wishsong, Tarsha Kaynin, seeks out Drisker Arc to learn more about her abilities. At Paranor, the Druids are blithely ignoring threats. Dar Leah is sent to investigate but politics and jealousies get in the way.
We are witnessing the return of past artifacts and magic gifts and the names of people we've long loved, including the appearance of a young rascal Shea Ohmsford! (stay tuned I'm sure).
And yes I was glued to the pages and was left bereft and eagerly awaiting the next instalment!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A moonlight meeting, a marriage and a battle!

The Reluctant Highlander: A Highland Romance (The Highland Series #1by Amanda Scott



                               

1420's Scotland. Lady Fiona Ormiston is a winsome stubborn lass and Sir Àdham MacFinlagh a thoughtful highlands  warrior.
The opening scenes are amusing. Fiona has a penchant for swimming where she shouldn't at a time that's definitely suspect. As a knight, Àdham sees it as his duty to rescue a damsel whom it seems doesn't think she needs rescuing.
King James is bent on encouraging 'tactical marriages' where former enemies might be brought together, strengthening the kingdom. Fiona and Àdham fit into that category. But will taking Fiona back into the highland wilds be a blessing or a curse?
Of course there are plots within plots and Fiona and Àdham Rae going to have their hands full in dealing with each other and the dangers that lurk beyond their horizon.
The thing is Fiona doesn't have too good a sense of direction. This is a mixed blessing at times.
The story flows well.  An enjoyable romantic historical highland novel.

A NetGalley ARC

*** 1/2

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Passion and petulance with a good dose of perfection!

Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother #5) by Emily Larkin

  


                             

Mordecai Black and Nell Wrotham. What a tale and what a pair!
He is a large man with a large heart and dark secrets. A perfect foil for Nell.
Nell is one in a line of daughters going back in time who is given a wish by a faerie godmother--not the sweet old lady short, rather the eyes flashing and lightning crashing sort!
And a faerie godmother gift was something to be thought about. But then life gets in the way and suddenly the gift Nell thought long and hard to ask for just didn't meet the circumstances. All else became moot. But how is Mordecai going to take the apparition of Nell's gift. After all what a godmother gives cannot be taken away!
I loved the dance between Mordecai and Nell. A scintillating read from go to woe!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Oh Yes! Say Yes!

Say yes to the Scot: A Highland Wedding Box Set by May McGoldrick, Sabrina York, Lecia Cornwall and Anna Harrington  

A great collection of historical highlander novellas that combine to make an arresting and oftentimes humorous read.

HOW A LASS WED A HIGHLANDER by Lecia Cornwall
Opening story is an enchanted love story complete with a heroine who is always becoming lost and a hero who has hard choices to make. A cleverly enticing story somewhere between A Midsummer's Night Dream and Outlander without the time travel.

A MATCH MADE IN HEATHER by Anna Harrington
Ok clever title!
1809-1819 Ten years pass. A lot can happen in that time ... And it does! Spurned by 'The only woman he’d ever loved and wanted to marry,' Garrick Townsend found himself face to face with Arabel Rowland, with years of loss and vengeance between them. If only the Heather could talk.

A MIDSUMMER WEDDING by May McGoldrick
1484 Elizabeth Hay had been contracted to marry Macpherson of Benmore Castle, the Black Cat of the Highlands, for more than five years. Now she wanted out of that contract with the Highland Lord, little more than a pirate. Fate and floods and the interference of a Queen might help put paid to the betrothal--or not? This is the prequel to the Macpherson Clan saga. 

THE SCOT SAYS I DO by Sabrina York
A youthful romance left both parties with unresolved angst and disappointments. Years later Duncan and Catherine meet again. This time the stakes have upped. Cat finds herself desperate to save her brother from debtor's prison. Will Cat choose the solution from the man who spurned her so long ago or seek another path?

A NetGalley ARC

**** 1/2

Friday, June 9, 2017

Interesting premise!

The Darkest Corner (Gravediggers #1) by Liliana Hart



                              

Smart and funny in a gothic, out-of-body sort of way. We have US funded anti terrorists working for a faceless black op organization that operates outside of legal parameters. Putin gets a mention. That keeps things topical!
Rifting off those various SEAL type stories that have gorgeous, high adrenaline types who save the day, the gravediggers are somewhat different because they go to death and back to be reborn (not in a paranormal way, good old experimental drugs not found in the FDA list). These men are taken from organizations from the CIA to Mossard.
Their contact and boss is Eve Winter, a cold hearted queen of 'b's' who cannot be trusted! 
In charge of this team is the hunky Deacon Tucker.
Then there's Tess Sherman, a third generation Russian Mafiosi brat who is apparently drop dead gorgeous although she sees things through a lens of her self-convinced imperfections.
Tess is a mortician, and yes it gets a tad gruesome!
Her mother is a piece of work, and her grandmother is delicious. The Russian connection becomes an important focus in the story
I just keep thinking that Joanne Woodwood would have had a much better time of it in 'Rachel, Rachel' if her circumstances were as Tess's.
Combining action, humor and steamy romance with a touch of the macabre makes this is an eventful read.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Witty!

... a puzzler!

Her Favorite Duke (The 1797 Club #2)  by Jess Michaels


                           

The beginning of this episode of The 1797 Club has promise, although it raised questions. Engaged to the wrong Duke at a young age by her brother James to one of his best friends, Meg had to endure seven years of an engagement that had not one jot of romance. Her heart has always been Simon's. Simon returned the feelings silently. They are however the best of friends. When they are caught out overnight in a storm their life changes. Now is the time to seize the moment. After all Meg is compromised and Simon must step up to the plate. Which he does but instead of being relieved Simon mopes around feeling guilty for have betrayed a brother Duke. The beginning had promise, the last part dragged out a bit. The resolution was predictable. The puzzle? Why wait seven years, why punish yourself when you've gained the prize--the woman you've always loved, why try to destroy that by decrying the what is now? The answers are complicated but too slow in the coming.
Themes of love, betrayal and honor (alongside those steamy love scenes that hallmark Michael's novels) underpin all, but there's not enough oomph in the overall story to really grab your interest.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Unfulfilled promise

Eloping With The Princess (Brotherhood of the Sword #3) by Robyn DeHart

  

                              

The characters of Viscount Jason Ellis and Isabel Crisp have strong promise. Ellis we had met in  'Undercover with the Earl.' I found the potential for an excellent story with the added twist of powers vying for Victoria's throne was somewhat undeveloped. But I must recognize that this novel only runs to fifteen chapters. 
If you haven't seen the series built around the young Victoria then you maybe won't realize the tensions around her becoming queen. To use the back room struggles when Victoria ascends to the throne is clever. Whilst acknowledging this with the limited plot development, DeHart could have built so much more on that historical fact, and given us more substance and fulfilled the inherent promise. Rather we were caught up in the laboured push and pull of to consummate or not.
Still this continues the Brotherhood plots and the series is based on an interesting premise.

A NetGalley ARC

** 1/2

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tense action and dangerous outcomes!

Desperate Fire (Angel in the Whirlwind #4) by Christopher G. Nuttall


                              


Despite some Commonwealth opposition, the final showdown with the Theocracy is given full approval after the true madness of that Empire's reactions to loss are revealed. The harsh reality is exposed when the Theocracy explodes seeded nuclear devices on an occupied planet just as the Commonwealth is set to liberate it, ensuring the planet and its inhabitants to total destruction. Kat is left handling a humanitarian crisis on one hand and the political ramifications on the other.
Operation Hammer is devised. Kat Falconer as a Commodore of the fleet and second-in-charge will have to call on all the cunning, stealth, and giftedness she has in the final showdown. The Commonwealth takes the fight to the very centre of the Theocracy's domain--to their home planet Ahura Mazda. The battle will be hard fought. Lives will be lost and treachery is a heartbeat away. The true madness of the fanatical leaders actions will continue to be exposed.
Kat is facing some of the hardest moments of her life, both on the personal and professional front.
The resolution left me with similar feelings I had at certain times in the Honor Harrington series. I found myself hanging on the edge of remorse and frustration, and relief that there would be more to come.
Another grand and surprising finish to Kat's ongoing challenges.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A reluctant highwayman and his erstwhile victim


                             
When Lady Alice Worthingham and her mother are robbed by a highwayman, Alice doesn't play the meek and mild victim. The action that follows is highly unorthodox and the Surrey Bandit aka the Viscount, Lord Callum Arundel has unknowingly met his match!
I liked Lady Alice, I liked Lord Callum.
I just wasn't drawn into their sphere in the way I wanted to be. Sure the dramatic potential was all here. The poor relation who became a viscount, blackmailed into committing crimes to keep his family safe. The beautiful, somewhat eccentric Lady who discovers his secret. A Lady drawn to him like a moth to a flame. A Lady who felt slighted by him in an earlier encounter, who seeks to punish him and in doing so finds herself playing with fire.
Except that fire seemed contrived. An HEA ending that didn't quite jell for me.
A note that leapt out at me was Victoria's use of the word 'golly.' It just didn't seem to fit. Although I did look up when the usage came into being. Apparently it was, 'First recorded in 1840-50; euphemistic alteration of God.' (from dictionary.com). Thanks to Tamara Gill for learning something new!
However I venture to say that this is very strong language for a young woman of those times--to me it was somewhat 50's, by Golly Gosh! 
I did somewhat see the villain in the piece early on. The way that played out was satisfying and in keeping with the leading characters.
As I said in a previously reviewed title in this series. A somewhat farcical play with added heat.
I go back to my original reaction, this story just did not hang together in the way I had hoped it would. It's potential was under realized. But, 'all's well that ends well.' 

A NetGalley ARC

***

Monday, May 22, 2017

Goose Girl reimagined!



                           

Dickerson continues to take a well known fairy story and reimagine it to life in a new way. This time Grimm's tale of the Goose Girl is reborn. Lady Magdalen is to marry Steffan, the Duke of Wolfberg. This marriage will help lift her province out of poverty. En route she is forced by her maid and maid's father to exchange places. Agnes her maid will now marry the Duke. However at the Duke's castle, the wicked Lord has seen to it that his son Alexander will take Steffan's place. Men are sent to kill Steffan. Fortunately that plot fails.
Steffan and Magdalen have to find a way to regain their respective proper places and come to a mutual understanding of what love and worthiness truly is. I liked Magdalen, but Steffan left me somewhat unmoved. He certainly has more growing to do than Magdalen.
Theirs is not a straightforward path. However both Magdalene and Steffan have right, faith and endurance on their side. And after all this is a 'fairy story'.
I must say that Magdalene has far more compassion for Agnes, the maid who betrayed her, than I would have.
At times I found the going a little strained. I understand the perspective underlying Dickerson's faith based writings and applaud her for it. I sometimes felt that there was an over inclusion of Magdalen and Steffan's references to scripture and the God's will, leading to a somewhat stilted reading process that interfered with the flow of the storyline. What had all the hallmarks of being a nuanced literary endeavour just didn't eventuate to its full potential. 
Dickerson's works do however continue to break new grounds in the realms of Christian fiction specifically, and fiction more generally, and that's very promising. 

A NetGalley ARC

*** 1/2

Unusual!



                             

I thought about the word 'charming', but that's not quite right. Sorrow Marchand is not charming, she's spirited and insightful and attuned to others. Her world is not 'charming.' It is however forthright, kind and true. We really don't see much of Sorrow's interaction with the ton. What we do see is her interaction with her very unusual family--one that is certainly far from any family her fiancé, the Honorable Bertram Carlyle, has envisioned. We do see is the growth of Bertram and Sorrow's relationship into one of true understanding and appreciation, and for Bertram the coming into being his own man. Until now he's been at the beck and call of his domineering father, Lord Newton. The early arrival of Bertram's father does put Sorrow through her paces. He's a very overbearing man who's completely thrown by the menagerie that comprises Sorrow's family. There's a lot to unpack in this interesting novella about love and worth and acceptance. Again I come back to the word unusual! 

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Diabolical events unfold!

Legion (The Talon Saga #4) by Julie Kagawa


                           

Dragon twins Dante and Ember are each seeking freedom in their own ways. 
But shall the truth set them free?
Unfortunately each has a different truth and a different moral compass as to what they are willing to do for that freedom.
The wrym leader is a fright. Her plans far reaching and devastating.
A fight is looming between Talon and the order of st George, yet are they not both pawns in the games the Elder Wrym,  CEO of the Talon is playing? Dante is now the Elder's right-hand man. But 'the weight of her gaze [is] suffocating.' The Elder truly is terrifying.
Dante never feels as important as Ember and once again he's proved right. There is one piece of the Elder's plan missing. The Elder gives Dante an order,  ' “Ember Hill must be retrieved." '
But even Dante does not know the depths of the Elder's play. A move that will ratchet the situation up to a whole new threat level.
The renegades and St George cohorts are under threat.
The legion of mindless dragons, pawns in the Elder's plans are waiting in the wings, to be deployed in an all out strike against Talon's enemies.
Unexpected turns, betrayal and loss, dog the pages 
Soldier Garrett seems to be so much more--difficult I know. The accommodations that Riley makes are staggering given their initial measure of each other.
Riley is a softie underneath all that hardness, again a dragon searching for his own truth.  Ember is so much part of these two that it hurts.
The renegades find an unexpected ally. However the future of all is dimmed as this powerful phase of events unfolds.
Another triumphant addition to the series, with more twists and turns than imagined.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Marriage and more in the wild Highlands!

Hard-Hearted Highlander (Highland Grooms #3) by Julia London. 


Bernadette Holly has taken up the life as a governess after her scandalous elopement became salacious gossip for polite society. Her charge is Avaline is the daughter of an English Baron, Baron Kent. Kent is determined to marry his daughter off to Rabbie Mackenzie. The Baron wants access to the sea for trading from the dispossessed lands of Killeaven he's bought from the crown that surround the Mackenzie stronghold of Belhaire. Marriage with the Mackenzie will give him that. In a world post Culloden and the Jacobite uprising, 1750 Scotland leaves little choice for anyone. 'Scotland [was] drowning under the weight of taxes and excises.' Rabbie will marry the Sassenach for his family and their survival. 
Rabbie's heart has been broken from the day he found out his one true love Seona, was missing after the English had taken their revenge. Seona had never returned. 
Avaline is a flighty, set upon young girl with a head full of dreams and an unwillingness to face reality. But given her situation why should she? She is being married off to bring about her father's plans. Perhaps her fantasy world, her drifting through things kept her sane.
You can't help but be dismayed at treatment of women as property. Both Bernadette and Avaline are badly treated by their fathers. What happened to Bernadette when she was dragged away from her husband and her marriage annulled was truly wicked.
Of course Rabbie and Bernadette rub each other up the wrong way from the very beginning. Bernadette is trying to protect Avaline, to show her she can make choices. Avaline has other ideas. Her fear of her father doesn't help.
There were real moments of tenderness in this story between Bernadette and her nemesis Rabbie Mackenzie. Indeed, I surprised myself by my near tearful response when Rabbie comes to understand Bernadette and her story.
I did enjoy this look at two haunted people who find each other.

A NetGalley ARC

****


Startling, gut wrenching and wonderful vivid!

Beartown: A Novel by Fredrik Backman

*****



So enjoyable!


                             

The action literally hums! Not a dull moment! Gorgeous, ' enfant terrible', pirate spy and enticing lady spy masquerading as a lady's maid are unknowingly in search of the same things.
Half French, Danielle LaCrosse, has been placed by the home office secret services into the household of Viscount Rafferty Cavendish, to watch his brother Cade Cavendish.
Having lost her father at thirteen, and with her mother gravely ill, Danielle is determined to bring the villain responsible for her family's pain, Lafayette Baptiste, to justice. That conveniently coincided with the wishes of General Mark Grimaldi, head of an elite unit of English spies.
Equally Cade is determined to track down the enemy who nearly killed his brother, Baptiste!
State secrets, vengeance and love go hand in hand in this high powered, free flowing addition to Bowman's Playful Brides series. 
Danielle is a delight. Sure in all things to do with her trade, a lonely focused figure, part urchin, part seductress, totally unsure about friendships and love.
Cade is a perfect foil, the rakish, piratical, devil may care veneer, masking the pain of his past.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tragedy, betrayal and love!



                                

Lady Claire Cavensham believed the rumours ... that she was 'cursed'. After all she had survived a tragic accident when her beloved parents had been swept away to their doom. Her first tue love had died just before their wedding. Subsequently Claire had become engaged for a third time. Now she was about to withdraw from a fourth. Yes, the curse she laboured under was well and truly alive!
Lord Alexander Pembroke blamed his best friend Lord Paul for his sister Alice's death. His determined  vengeful pursuit of the destruction of his former friend was alive, virulent and focused. And Lady Clair was now being dragged into this vortex of swirling antagonism.
When Alex saw a chance to destroy Lord Paul he took it. That destruction lay via Lady Claire . Little did he know that the pawn he was about to use could well-nigh end up destroying him.
The portrait of Alex in pursuit of vengeance is masterful. Claire is a tragic figure who courageously fights her memories and moves slowly and excruciatingly forward. Her grief is palpable and the methods she takes to confront her fears and guilt are admirable.
I did like the character of Charles the footman. His loyalty to Claire is a touching segue.
I was never sure about Alex's best friend Lord Somerton. Perhaps I'll like him more in the future as there are hints of something brewing here. He always seemed a bit wooden to me, although his advice to Alex was sound--even though Alex ignored it.
I was not entirely satisfied by the way the story slid into final resolution. It's complex plot devolved too quickly. However, as I mostly enjoyed the love tangle Alex had tied himself and Claire into by his early Machiavellian manoeuvres, I was well satisfied.  

A NetGalley ARC

****

House party games!


An amusing romance with all the right ingredients. Lord Robert Gresham is an acknowledged leader of the ton. Handsome, laconic and intrigued rather too much by the attractive Flora Jennings. 
The opening scenes of the Lord Robert acquiring a small, seemingly thoughtful dog is amusing. In fact Plato the dog is a magnificent foil and comic, all knowing, little sage--a delightful muse who becomes a center piece in the story.
Robert did not expect Flora to be a guest at the house party! After all as he had discloses to Plato earlier, he was 'not thinking about her!' And now here she is. He'd accepted an invitation to a house party to be out of her orbit.
As the novel progresses the Duke comes a long way from the man about town to the man mad about Flora. Flora is very different from the normal run of debutants, intelligent and articulate without too many clues about the rules governing society. Flora has no inclination to be taken for granted, but then neither does she want to be ignored. In fact the relationship between Robert and Flora becomes almost a quest to see who will blink first. Thank goodness for Plato!
A worthwhile regency romp with some very pleasing characters, including of course the regency Yoda dog, Plato!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Absorbing start to a French detective series!

   

                                         


Chief Inspector Arthur Gambrelli, of the Metropolitan Police finds himself enmeshed in a murder outside of his jurisdiction. Ordered to investigate, he heads to an island off the coast of France near Toulon, and in the summer heat! Gambrelli is not pleased! Murdered is the attractive young mistress of a senior prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice, Jean Michel Bertrand. Bertrand is the prime suspect, hence the politics. Gambrelli is a wonderful character. Taciturn and talented--all hidden behind a no nonsense exterior, and Yes! I am seeing Gérard Depardieu! (I love Gambrelli's soliloquies and discussions with his dog, Odin.)
Shackled by internal politics, and the occasional incompetent officer, Gambrelli nevertheless brings the case to a shattering conclusion. Set in 1934 France, this was an intriguing introduction to a new French detective series.
The exploration of who Gambrelli is was cleverly interwoven. There are hints of an interesting past, previous cases that have caught the public awareness, a respected professional reputation behind the gruff exterior, and that maybe Gambrelli has married beyond his social strata. Oh, and he doesn't like elevators!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Charm, mystery and danger!



                             

Unfaltering continuation of The Runaway Desires series. I must admit to guessing some of the storyline before things developed but that was fine.
This is the story of Tempest Holderin's plantation manager and close friend Edward Cary.
Edward returns to England after twenty years absence. A mystery surrounds him and his leaving England, and now that mystery will be revealed.
Half French, Charlotte Blakemore, the widowed Duchess of Langerton finds herself the focus of her stepson's anger and sworn enemy. He vows to seize back what his father has bequeathed to her. Charlotte flees the estate and finds herself without funds, alone in the middle of the countryside. Edward appears on the scene enroute to Gloucestershire, takes pity on Charlotte and rescues her. Needing a place of safety, Charlotte joins him on his journey. Of course that leads to some very interesting situations. Especially as each has there own set of secrets, which to some degree trip over each other and add a certain piquancy to the mix.
I liked both the man Cary portrays and the woman Charlotte presents.
Other Runaway Desires are referenced or make their appearance including the Tempest and Andrew Corrvans, and Sarah and Lord St. John Sutcliffe.
All's well that ends well, despite the anguished beginnings for both leads.
They found do indeed find l'amour after handwringing episodes of fate and fortune.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Brilliant, allusive and riveting!

The Shadow Land: A Novel by Elizabeth Kostova



                             

Vividly descriptive narrative flows across the pages of Kostava's work at once both musical and poetical. The opening pages draw you in. A veneer of haunting melody continues to engage. 
Alexandra Boyd has come to Bulgaria as a form of penance and a hope for renewal after her beloved brother Jack's death. Bulgaria was the place he'd always wanted to visit. A place from their childhood dreams and games.
An accidental meeting at a taxi ramp in Sofia leads Alexandra to a riveting chase and search across Bulgaria, all the time dogged by her personal loss, whilst uncovering the story of the people she seeks.  Finding an funeral urn misplaced with her luggage, shockingly affects Alexandra coming alongside as it does the memory of her own loss. This fuels the impetus for her decision to find the urn's owners. The quest  becomes paramount to all else.
This quest has Alexandra on a journey crisscrossing not only the geographical Bulgaria, but the memories of the past under communist rule and the fate of the urn's occupant, Stoyan Lazarov, a talented musician, and that of his family.
Through Stoyan's eyes in the past and his family in the present we see the enforced labor camps under Communist rule and their inhumane overseeing. We see the indomitable human spirit struggle for life when circumstances become too much for the body and soul to hold. The dark days of Stoyan's experiences are lightened by the memory methods he develops to engage a different reality, a separating from the concrete, and the awesome discipline of being somewhere other in the midst of hardship as he fights for survival.
The past is set against the present as Alexandra's journey encounters its own dangers--and joys. Alexandra 'could hear music, where there was no music.' A novel of hope!


A NetGalley ARC

*****