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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, October 17, 2017

Addictive!

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12)  by Elizabeth Hoyt



 As always I am in awe of the characters and situations Hoyt has created in the Maiden Lane series. An addictive collage of interweaving stories.
The Duke of Desire is at once devastating and delicious, a Beauty and the Beast reflection that calls to the soul.
Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore carries scars that repel and attract. His emotions are bound by his past. Cynical, dark and damaged--he looms large. He is a wonderful contrast to the intelligent and stubborn Iris.
Raphael has set out to destroy the Lords of Chaos. He had been introduced to Lords' depravity as a child when his father lead the group. A happenstance that has left him seared to his very being. He fled England and has just now returned. He is pursuing the hunt when fate intervenes and Raphael, having infiltrated the group, finds himself at a hellish bacchanalia with Lady Iris Jordan being served up as the main dish. The picture is horrifying, the attendant Lords 'were fighting over her like feral dogs over a scrap of meat.' 
Raphael had met Iris some months before and felt a powerful attraction to her. Now he must rescue her from this wickedness. Of course there are twists and turns and things don't quite go to plan. I will say no more other than marriage was not the first option, rather the second. The story engages Iris and Raphael in the push and pull of that original attraction, leavened with a hearty dose of passion, as they attempt to either move forward or disengage from the relationship thrust upon them. A fascinating process.
I love that Iris Jordan, whom we met in the Duke of Pleasure, as the lifelong friend to Katherine, the late wife of the Duke of Kyle, now comes into her own. Not that she wasn't a force to be reckoned with in that story. But here, in the Duke of Desire, Iris truly emerges like a swan, given the freedom to unleash her true personae.
The balance of dark and light between Raphael and Iris is brilliantly woven. Each is a balm to the other as their story unfolds, with all the looked for angst and sensuality. I loved it!
I cannot tell you how sad I am that this is the last full novel in the series. I am desolate!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Friday, October 13, 2017

A fearful winter!

A Hunt in Winter (A Joe Swallow Mystery #3) 
by Conor Brady



1888 'Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow (now promoted to detective inspector)' is faced with the murders of three young women sending the residents of Dublin into a frantic state of fear and panic. Are the murders linked or not? Is this a Jack the Ripper copycat or has the Ripper come across the Irish Sea?
Swallow is part of the Dublin G-Dividion. 'Fifty-odd detectives investigated crime across the city, and were also the administration’s first and principal bulwark against political subversion. Their responsibilities ran from protecting the chief men who governed Ireland for the Crown to keeping watch on Fenians ... and the ever-multiplying groups that wanted, for one reason or another, to overthrow the established order.'
At this moment the G-Men are needed to come up with answers to the murders. Not be diverted by the wishes of the whose sole motivation is to keep tabs on various Irish groups at the behest of the Crown. The G-Men are at odds with the Secret Service officers, mainly men with a military background, who are currently looking for anything to get on the leader of the Irish Party at Westminster, Charles Stewart Parnell. Their lines of enquiry are looking to blacken Parnell's character in the hope to end the bid for Irish home rule. They want the G-Men's official note books. And that looking for notes leads to a personal tragedy for Swallow.
His bête noir is Major Nigel Kelly. Swallow thought him a fraud and a poseur. 
Swallow's boss, John Mallon, the chief superintendent describes Kelly as, 'a sour bastard, and a dangerous one [with] a face like a wolf, and the instincts of one.'
I absolutely disliked Kelly at a gut level. The adversarial position between the two law enforcement branches runs deep. The tension between them is palpable. As is that between Kelly and Swallow.
How those tensions run through the criminal investigation and color the political investigations  gives legs to this vivid drama that grabs this particular historical period with a rawness that's both particular and defining.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A wonderful romp!

The Highlander Is All That (Untamed Highlander #4) by Sabrina York


                          

What a giddy, hilarious bunch of young women are the St Claire sisters. I loved them and their quasi dragon Aunt Esmerelda, a powerful member of the ton.
And it's into this household two Scots are sent by the Duke of Caithness to stand in for him and chaperone his cousins during their London season. Well all that 'standing in' doesn't quite go to plan. 
Elizabeth St. Claire is enchanted by the idea of all things to do with the Highlands and when Hamish Robb arrives she attracted to him from the very first greeting. The thing is Hamish feels he can't betray the Duke and that he's not wealthy enough for Elizabeth. A conundrum! Elizabeth is not in agreement with Hamish's sentiments.
And then of course there's Ann, Victoria and Mary! Each has a storyline that plays out quite delightfully.
There are some amusing scenes. I loved it when Lady Jersey chases down Hamish at an event and corners him in a library.
The St Claire sisters' season is like no other, peppered with wonderful scenes of mayhem and romance.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A sparkling historical mystery!



St Petersburg in January 1900 before the Russian Revolution. Alexander's walk through this fabulous city is  charged, exciting and wonderfully descriptive.
Lady Emily Hargreaves is once again up to her fur hat in a murder. And no ordinary murder. Right after her sensational debut of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake the soloist, Irusya (Irina Semenova Nemetseva), is found outside the stage door, face down in the snow dead, bejewelled in her own blood.
Then there's the mysterious, ghostly dancer who appears dressed as the dead ballerina flaunting a silken red scarf symbolic of the death Nemetseva met, captivating the populace and muddying the waters of Lady Emily's investigations. Because, of course Emily is right in the thick of things, murder, Revolution, threats to Tsar Alexander, all grist for the mill.
And then there's the delectable Hargraves himself who quite turns my head, let alone Emily's.
The story wends from events prior to murder and then after. Including the story of Katenka (Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova) and her brother Lev, an activist, Irusya's relationship to both of them, and others beyond this circle who might have cause to dispose of Irusya.
What a treat! A walk through a charged time in history, accompanying Lady Emily on her investigation of a particularly poignant murder.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Saturday, October 7, 2017

'Damn you to hell, Axbridge.'

The Duke of Danger    (The Untouchables #6)   by Darcy Burke


                          

Not a sentiment to encourage love and romance. But when Lionel Maitland, Marquess of Axbridge, kills Lady Emmaline Townsend's husband in a duel she finds that her husband has left her nothing but debts.
The 'Duke of Danger', an unfair label given 
Lionel by the 'wallflower' young women before they became more intimate with some of that group. To be fair they do wince when those nicknames are now mentioned in their presence,
Lionel has an unfortunate reputation for duelling. His opponents end up dead. Hence his sobriquet. Those deaths haunts him. He is a man of honor and each death eats into his soul.
His latest victim, Viscount Geoffrey Townsand, is the husband of Lady Emmaline Townsend. Unfortunately Townsend's wound turned septic, hence Emmaline's situation. Lionel is more scarred than his friends imagine by the result but he cannot reveal the reason for the duel or Townsend's dishonourable behaviour. The scandal around the event would besmirch Emmaline.
Emmaline is unforgiving of Lionel and will have her revenge, even if it as a last resort is to save herself from her parents antics. 
Her parents are forcing her into an unwanted marriage with Sir Duncan Thayer, who 'was horribly unattractive, with a hooked nose, protruding front teeth, and rather fetid breath if the rumors were accurate. Worst of all, he possessed a lecherous nature. Every time she’d met him, he’d looked at her as if she wasn’t wearing any clothes.'
Lionel had given Emmaline his card and told her he would give her any assistance she needed. He was hers to command. Not that marriage had been on his mind, but for Emmaline desperate times call for desperate measures.
I must admit a soft spot for the marriage of convenience trope where angst and coldness turns to a smouldering relationship albeit assailed with doubts. How the author solves the entanglements  to  give us an HEA result  is always fascinating.
As the plot unfolds we find that Viscount Geoffrey Townsand was up to some nefarious doings. The mystery deepens and the facts surrounding Geoffrey's actions are unexpected.
A satisfying read.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Frontier troubles

The Scotsman Who Saved Me (Seven Brides for Seven Scotsmen #1)   by Hannah Howell.  



The story begins in the Arkansas Ozarks in 1860. The MacEnroy brothers come across a burnt cabin, dead bodies and two survivors Lady Emily Stanton and her nephew Ned, hidden in a tunnel in the root cellar. The events go on from here.
There were some amusing parts. Iain's wooing attempts of Emily for one. The 'shagging' discussion was particularly noteable. (I did investigate to see if that word was in use in these times and apparently it was. Check the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
I liked Iain MacEnroy, I Emily Stanton. There's a batch of interesting secondary characters in this story who stand out. I really liked Mrs. O’Neal and Mabel who was happy to shoot a nasty character if Emily wanted her too.
There's a dastardly cousin Albert hunting down Emily and her nephew Ned. There's a nefarious Bank Manager trying to take the MacEnroy's down, and then the canny lawyer who assists Iain.
The playfulness of the series title referencing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was truly clever.
I am a huge fan of Hannah Howell's. I adore her Wherlocke and The Murray's series and have read them all.
By comparison, The Scotsman Who Saved Me just doesn't have the same intrigue, suspense and wonderful characters that I expected. Which is sad because I so-o was looking forward to reading this new Howell offering. It could be that I just don't really enjoy historical westerns, even when handsome Scots are part of the scene. This is not my preferred historical genre. Obviously others really enjoyed this novel. So I think I have to put my response down to personal preference. 
All in all though, an easy and enjoyable read after my head got around the brogue usage.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fools rush in, maybe!

The Rogue's Conquest (The Townsends #2)    by  Lily Maxton.  



                            


Half way through reading Rogue's Conquest I realized I'd been smiling the whole time. How good is that! I was obviously enjoying this light hearted story with an intelligent wallflower heroine, whose interest in beetles surpasses all else and does rather take her into some stuffy, closed-to-women places. Albeit that Eleanor Townsend ends up in that place presenting her paper as a man. Whatever, when means must!
Of course Eleanor's sister Georgina must take some of the blame. After all she's the one who suggested Eleanor only need disguise herself as a man (one Cecil Townsend) to present her paper on the mating habits of stag beetles to the Natural History Society.
When Eleanor asked Georgina why she was helping her, Georgina delightfully threw out the line, 'You know I’m not good with dull. I’m counting on you to liven things up for me.' Upon which Eleanor mused that she was a strange sort of girl. (By the way, I already have the expectation that Georgina's story will be extraordinary to match her rather different view on life for one so young)
All would have been successful if pugilist, turned gentleman, James MacGregor who had attended the meeting for his own reasons, hadn't picked up on a  small tell and discovered 'Cecil's' secret.
And he might have left it there if he hadn't wanted an entree into the sphere around the beautiful Lady Sarah, daughter of the Earl of Lark. James wants to woo and win Lady Sarah.
But there's the small matter of his attraction to Eleanor that keeps getting in the way of his objective.
Eleanor and James' story really appealed to my sense of the ridiculous. I loved the strait forward earnestness of Eleanor, the hoyden in Georgina, Robert Townsend as the best of brother's, and the abandoned and rejected  child within the gentleman pugilist, James MacGregor. I also realized I'd missed the first in series and must read it now!
A somewhat whimsical romance that I really enjoyed.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

'He was no barbarian. And certainly no gentleman.'

The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5)   by Kerrigan Byrne


Complex situations, begat by desperation, lies, bad choices, childhood abuse and oh so many other factors dog the pages in this very different story in the Victorian Rebels series. I keep thinking Annie Oakley meets a Scots Celtic god, whose soul holds close hidden horrors a la Dorian Gray. Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne's emotional burdens weigh him down.  Although there is no painting in the attic, Gavin has suppressed regrets and terrible memories, that he's spent a life time attempting to forget by cutting a path through the bedrooms of the rich and needy using his exceptional charm.
Samantha Masters was part of a gang including her husband and his brother who are train robbers. This time the robbery goes awry and in the ensuing confusion and aftermath Sam commits murder and exchanges places with an heiress, Alison Ross, and flees to the Highlands, having taken on Alison's persona.
Well of course this cattle herding, fast shooting Amaerican gal comes as a complete shock to Gavin who had plans of frightening her into selling her lands to him ... or marrying her. Whichever will work.
Naturally both of their pasts manage to catch up with them, not before a last resort wedding, unexpected attacks from angry westerners pursuing Sam, sexually charged situations, and a whirlwind of emotional angst.
I loved the secondary characters, the gruff shepherds and other members of the clan who take Sam into their hearts.
Certainly a highland historical Victorian era novel with a difference. I am still unsure about the Wild West confrontation with the Highland Warriors but if anyone can pull it off its Kerrigan Byrne.

A NetGalley ARCu

****

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Jewelry high jinks in Paris!

Fatal Charm  by Blair McDowell


A deceptively simple start to dramatic and lively unfolding action, where romance and mystery take the lead!
Caitlin Abernathy, a jewelry designer is shocked by the murder of her boy friend Allen Thompson. His last words to the medics were a message for her. Something about an omelette. It didn't make sense.
Nothing is straightforward with this day. Shortly before Caitlin learns of Allen's death she is confronted by two men who rob her of a selection of her jewelry designs as she's on her way to meet a potential client.
A stranger enters Caitlin's workshop to commission a piece. He is a noted historian, professor and  mentor for her associate and friend Aristotle, a doctoral student who resides above her studio. Dr. Colin Stryker is an Irishman, charming and intelligent. The attraction between the two is immediate.
The finding of a dragon brooch hidden amongst Caitlin's store of gems and precious stones draws these three (Caitlin, Colin and Aristotle) into an improbable quest that ranges from Berkley, California to France; from Paris and the Louvre to small villages in Brittany. The drama unfolds with the possibility of attack and death in the wings. Caitlin learns that Allen Thompson was so much more than he appeared to be. With two vicious French criminals pursing them, the suspense heats up, even as the relationship between Caitlin and Colin simultaneously takes to the fast lane.
Caitlin is a modern woman, committed to her passion for jewelry designing. Her career is just taking flight, her business world has just opened up. Romance is not part of that picture. Caitlin's heart however has its own reasoning. 
Having dabbled in jewelry design I loved how Caitlin took inspiration for her pieces from various places and sights. I liked how her commissioned pieces reflected the person she designed for. The elegance and beauty of Paris as the central backdrop for the intrigue, adds color and movement to the drama. The tug of war for Caitlin between romance and career is real and heartfelt. I particularly liked the attention to food as a gathering point and motif throughout. I was drawn back to my memories of Paris--the sights, sounds and aromas. It's these small touches that inject an extra dimension, a 'je ne sais quoi' into the mix.
A worthy successor to 'Where Lemons Bloom'. This time romance and intrigue moves from the Amalfi Coast to the 'City of Love' and does not disappoint!

(I received an ARC from the author.  This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review)

*****

Great read. Slick and understated!

Murderous Mistral: A Provence Mystery (Roger Blanc) by 
Cay Rademacher.  


Capitaine Roger Blanc is the ideal obsessive investigator, formerly with the Parisian anti-corruption unit. Perhaps a bit too obsessive as after a successful case against personages in high places he finds himself reallocated to Sainte-Françoise-la-Vallée, a hamlet in Provence 500 miles south of Paris.
At the same time his marriage collapses. Blanc is forced into making a fresh start. Fortunately he owns a 200 year old dilapidated house that he'd virtually forgotten he'd inherited and had for some unknown reason kept on paying the taxes.
His welcoming investigation was that of the body of a man deliberately torched. By all accounts Moréas had been a very nasty person; a belligerent bully who terrorized his neighbours and anyone else who crossed his path, a thief and murderer. A man no-one mourned when he met his grisly ending. 
Blanc can't help but sniff out corruption, can't help wanting to find the real culprit of Moréas' murder, not just the convenient person his upright, regulation ridden Commandant wants to hang the murder on.
Blanc's partners in his new position are nicely underplayed and as the story progresses we see them develop more fully, just as Blanc does.
The translation from German to English by Peter Millar has the story flowing without a language hitch.
This is the first in the series. I look forward to future developments in the life of Roger Blanc.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Absorbing!

An Echo of Murder (William Monk #23) by Anne Perry


                           

As always a masterful rendition of murder inquiry, doubt, and the machinations of the human mind under stress. Once again Perry brings a reality check to murder most foul. Commander Monk of the Thames River Police is confronted by a murder unlike any he's seen before. A Hungarian man has been killed in what appears to be some sort of ritualistic endeavour. The body is surrounded by seventeen candles, two of them a dark, purplish-blue color.
As more killings occur fear spreads throughout the Hungarian community. Are these sacrificial murders, a secret society run amok, evidence of extreme ethnic prejudice, or the product of a deranged mind? Is the perpetrator English or Hungarian? The community wants answers and a scapegoat is needed.
The person of possibility turns out to be a friend of Hester's, part of her painful past in the Crimea. A man she knows must be innocent and yet the horrors of the war are all too near to lie peacefully. Is her friend unhinged or innocent?
The struggles for Hester and her friend are laid bare. Struggles Scruff has some idea of although his experiences have been different.
Scruff is coming into his own as he practices medicine under the tutelage of Crow. We see him emerge as a young man more confident his own abilities. It's a pleasure to watch his growth.
There are more questions than answers for Monk and Hooper and many theories to entertain.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Refreshing Beauty and the Beast story of true love gone astray.

The Lost Letter: A Victorian Romance by Mimi Matthews



                            

Sylvia Stafford, once a society diamond of the first water is left impoverished and shunned when her high rolling father takes his own life. She finds sustenance and a certain amount of peace as a governess with a kindly merchant's wife.
Unexpectedly coming into an earldom, Colonel Sebastian Conrad, badly scarred and emotionally tortured from the terror that was the Sepoy Rebellion, has withdrawn from any form of society, to his estates in Hertfordshire.
Sylvia and Sebastian had been in love. An understanding between them as Sebastian left for active duty in India was cut short when promises were not held to. Each feels betrayed and hurt.  
Conrad's feather headed sister concocts a scheme to bring them together. Anything to have her beloved brother return from his self imposed hermit lifestyle.
However misunderstandings and broken promises seem to get in the way of any form reconciliation.
A pleasing read!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Dangerous engagement indeed!



                

I found it difficult to relate to Felicity Mayson for all her heroic efforts.
I know, a merchant's daughter with a smallish dowry, who is railroaded into an engagement when she finds herself at a little known aunt's house party, can be pretty heady stuff. The man Felicity finds herself engaged to is Oliver Ratley, a wealthy young gentleman that Felicity's aunt, Lady Blackstone, has taken under her wing. Mr. Ratley seems quite taken with Felicity. His attention is almost to the point of strange. He definitely doesn't know quite how to behave properly, as Felicity reflects on when he squeezes her hand when they are introduced. That's just not right but then Felicity was trying to make allowances for him.
I still don't quite know why a woman of Felicity's supposed strong views acquiesced to the engagement, but I can understand her dilemma. This blip in Felicity's character was really out of place for the person I'd first thought she was.
The fact that it was mostly men at the house party and that treason and sedition is on the menu does give the story an extra dash of interest.
And yes, I know the aunt, Lady Blackstone turns out to be a pretty lose screw. So what do you do if you're a politely brought up regency young woman? Well eventually Felicity tried to get out word for help, but it turned out that could have been a very dangerous move.
Things became more dangerous and less lonely with the appearance of Government agent Philip McDowell as a house guest incognito. Felicity and Philip endeavour to to uncover the treacherous plots being set in motion.
There is adventure, intrigue and romance, however the characters just didn't jell for me. At times I found the prose somewhat stilted, affecting the natural flow of the story. 

A NetGalley ARC

***

Broken beyond repair?

Broken Duke (The 1797 Club #3) by Jess Michaels

                                       

I keep being amazed by the way an author can meld the stories of a series so that they bounce off each other without a fault.
I must admit that The 1797 Club series is somewhat like a regency Days of our Lives only raunchier.
In this novel the background of lifetime friends falling out, and the resolution of that via the women they love, together with the realization of what love brings, is a fitting resolution for this Duke's progress towards a healthier future.
Lady Adelaide Longford's secret life as the actress Lydia Ford crashes headlong into her normal life of dutiful wallflower daughter of the ton when she meets the emotionally damaged Graham Everly, Duke of Northfield whose ex fiancé just happens to be Adelaide's best friend.
They give to each other what hasn't been before, unfortunately the truth of Lydia Ford lies between them.
The last unveiling of the plot came as a surprise although the hints were there with hindsight.
Another lively vignette in this series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Romance the Highland way!

Highland Flame (Highland Weddings #4)  by Mary Wine


                            

Jane Stanley's husband had been a feckless excuse for a man who sought to sell her favors to pay his gambling debts. When she refused and he was killed she found herself newly widowed and in the depths of the Highlands. After she refused the inn's owner the same liberties she found  herself thrust from the Scottish inn wearing only her chemise.
Which is how Laird Diocail Gordon and his men found her some days later, trudging barefooted and determined towards England--sort of.
Diocail needed a woman of Jane's background to bring order to the run down castle he'd inherited when his miserly uncle had died. 
He needed "a lady and the duties she would have been trained to do. ... Running a kitchen was more than turning bread; it was knowing how much bread to set out to rise in the morning so that the supper table was full and how much grain was needed to make it through the winter and how many hands were needed to produce it all."
His men thought Jane might be the very ticket. Diocail was not adverse to the idea.
Jane, however she might be attracted to this hulking giant of a man did not want to be be married again. But fate and circumstances had other ideas.
How these two work things out makes for a rambunctious story with some amusing highlights, underscored by deadly factors not so very far away. After all Jane is English and the Scots are wary of her and the trouble she could bring.
Diocail is a rather wonderful character and Jane is a feisty treasure.
I must admit to having once picked this story up, finding it hard to put down.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A wonderful cat and mouse game!

Lady Eleanor's Seventh Suitor(The Sutherlands #1) byAnna Bradley

If ever a woman was caught in the cross hairs of a deadly game, even as the reason for its very being is a deep mystery, that is Eleanor Sutherland. If ever a man stalked his prey so efficiently then that hunter is Camden West.
From the very beginning I was caught up in the manoeuvre that Cam had instigated against  Eleanor using her sister Charlotte. The lengths he is prepared to go to punish her are puzzling. What he punishing her for is even more so. Is it just because she appears cold and unfeeling? Lady Frost is the name Eleanor has been given. Bets are placed on her at White's. She has her own page!
As the story develops we and Cam discover that he has badly underestimated and misjudged Ellie. As she turns the tables on him things look hopeful but always Ellie is taken by surprise by yet another layer that is added to the equation.
It isn't until the end that we start to see the truth. By that time it appears too late for Cam and Ellie.
Each has taken a stand and that stand may unravel them.
How can we fault Ellie for her support of her sister Charlotte?
Cam's cousin Julian has the right of it when he said, 'I don’t like it. This is badly done, Cam.'
It was badly done, and as the story progresses those words will haunt Cam, and the suffering brought about by his actions will be borne by more than just Cam.
I surged through the reading of this unwilling to take a time out. I just needed to see things through to the end.
A fantastic read!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A lighthearted reprint for Jane Ashford fans

Last Gentleman Standing by Jane Ashford 


                           

A regency novel in the Georgette Heyer mode.
The story has interesting characters, treachery, villainy, a mystery, interesting characters and an heiress newly come. 
Miss Elisabeth Elham is named as the heir to her Scrooge type miserly uncle. Upon finding out about her fortune she immediately takes up her two hitherto unknown cousins, Belinda and Tony who were also in the running as heirs to share in her good fortune.
Earning her living as a teacher, Elisabeth proceeds to London and the pace of the plot becomes dizzying with the elements added. These include a handsome country neighbor, a charming fribble of a would be swain, a Duchess friend of her chaperone and long lost older cousin  Lavina, a mysterious planter Mr. Garrett, a kidnapping and so much more. And let's not forget the unrepentant canine Gowser! 
A pleasant read.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Masterful!

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) by Mary Jo Putney.  


 The research by Putney gives a solid background to a story that spans some years and encompasses betrayal, heartache, the 1812 British Invasion of Washington and Baltimore, race relations, slavery and courage.
When sixteen year old Catherine Callista Brooke  was being forced into marriage with a man old enough to be her father, her best friend "Lord George Gordon Richard Augustus Audley, third and most worthless son of the Marquess of Kingston", suggested elopement to Scotland.
What followed was a horrendous tale that forced the two apart and set them upon very different paths.
Now, fifteen years and many life changes later, Gordon, called Richard by Callie (one of two people only ever to do so) is asked to go to America to find a Mrs. Audley. Curiously he wonders if they are related somehow as Audley is his name. Richard arrives as the British are attacking Washington, and just as Mrs. Audley is being seized upon by looters. A kindly death seems the best of options being presented her.
Imagine his surprise when the mysterious Mrs. Audley is the Callie of his youth. Callie is even more astonished when the friend she'd been told had died appears back from the dead effecting a dramatic rescue.
And this is less than a quarter of the way into the story. 
I found the moments throughout of Callie dealing with what the future might hold for her and the letting go insightful.
This a gripping tale that had me reading over breakfast, on the subway and in between various appointments until I'd finished.
Explosive stuff! A fitting follow up in the Rogue Redeemed series.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

"I would make Erlend remember"!

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller.  


                                

An engaging new novel ripe with assassins, political intrigue, the pale remnants of dark magic, and the need for vengeance.
Sallot Leon is a thief with a shattering history who wants to be more. And that more happens the day they (I say they because Sal is apparently gender fluid, although it took me a while to realize this) hold up a coach, steal a ring from a young woman, and find in her purse a flyer inviting those who might, to audition for the role of one of the Queen's left hand assasins--Opal.
Sal decides to audition, an audition that includes taking evidence of their abilities and suitability.
Sal has a future ambition nourished in the darkness of their situation.. To pay back the nobles who caused her homeland of Nacea to be decimated, all slain without mercy or notice by the dreaded Mage created shadows. They would be the "perfect soldiers [but] ... couldn’t be called back. The shadows had no bodies and no minds, only broken souls." They searched for their bodies killing all before them.
Sal gaining admission to the auditions is the beginning of no holds barred training that includes the right to kill off the opposition.
Sal's quest, their search for meaning and information about those who betrayed their homeland also comes to the fore, adding a certain piquancy to the trials and upping the ante.
The plot is not an unfamiliar one, although obviously the march towards resolution is unique. I couldn't put this down. Whilst some aspects come to fruition, the future for Sal holds more questions to be asked and answered and more diabolical plots and mysteries to be unraveled.

A NetGalley ARC 

****

There's trouble and then there's Jack!

A Murder too Soon: A Tudor mystery (Jack Blackjack Mysteries #2) (Bloody Mary #2) by Michael Jecks

Ah Jack, Jack! Always a hair's breadth from serious trouble and yet like a cat with nine lives you land on your feet--sort of.
Jack Blackjack, the consummate con artist has his master John Blount fooled into thinking he's an assassin. So when Blount actually sends him off to kill Lady Margery Throcklehampton, one of Lady Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting, Jack's not happy. (Elizabeth is under what amounts to house arrest by her sister, Queen Mary). Although on the bright side this takes him out of London and away from Thomas Falkes, whom he owes money to and who is not happy. As Jack muses, Falkes "wanted to personally skin [him] alive–and he was not a slave to metaphor." 
But when Jack finds himself caught in the middle of a struggle for the Tudor throne, Woodstock was no place Jack wanted to be. When he trips over the dead body of the lady he's sent to murder, things take a grim and complicated turn. Jack becomes a suspect for a murder he didn't commit, that his master now thinks he actually did, fulfilling his assassin's role, thereby keeping himself on Blount's payroll, and yet this was a "murder to soon." (Very clever title by the way). Jack continues to play a role in this latest charade, earning himself the acknowledgment of the Lady Elizabeth, but eventually at what cost?
Jack is a character of many facets, fool comes to mind most often but then there's, cut purse, gambler, ladies man, intuitive thinker and a survivalist. One day his luck might just run out!
An engaging read with a rapscallion, likeable character as the centrepiece. I love the understated self-deprecating humour of Jack. He's definitely a charmer! 
Michael Jecks' insights into the Tudor period with the various swirling forces parrying for leadership and change, or just protecting the status quo is fascinating.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

“But sometimes love is not enough.”

A Love to Remember (The Disgraced Lords #7)  by Bronwen Evans.  


                               

What started as an affair between the merry widow, the Duchess Rose Deverill the Earl of Cumberland, Philip Flagstaff ended up as true love. The only thing is that Philip is struggling with the way he came into his earldom and has vowed to never marry.
Feeling responsible for his brother Robert's death at Waterloo, Philip has decided to forgo marriage and children as a penance.
However when his mistress and the woman he loves and the life of her son are threatened Philip is forced to look at what he is prepared to sacrifice for honour and guilt.
A different story that highlights the tug between perceived honour and love.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Monday, August 21, 2017

Actions and consequences!

When the Scoundrel Sins (Capturing the Carlisles #2) by Anna Harrington.  


Harrington bases Annabelle (Belle) Green's story around the laws of inheritance and matrimony pursuant to regency times. When a woman married her property becomes her husband's to do with as he willed.
However the twist in this story is that Belle has been left an estate by her benefactor's husband near the Scottish border that will revert to the church if she's not married by her twenty-fifth birthday. Belle must marry to retain her home she loves dearly. But whom is there to marry who will let her retain oversight of her beloved Castle Glenarvon.
And there's the rub. Belle has been more or less away from society due to having been caught in an interesting situation at a ball six years ago with the rake, Quinton Carlisle, her nemesis and one of her oldest childhood friends.
The third son of a duke, Quinn is about to set sail for America to take up land and a new future.
However his aunt Agnes, Belle's benefactress wants him to vet Belle's suitors and help with Belle's situation. As both Belle and Aunt Agnes see it, Quinn owes Belle. After all it takes a rogue to know a rogue. Here's the thing, Quinn has always been taken with his blue stocking friend Belle, but love and marriage has no part to play in his life, for a variety of reasons. A driving one being that all he has seen of love is the heartache and hurt when a partner dies, not the joy. Another reason is that Quinn wants to be his own man and prove himself, which is what the land in America promises.
I found the characters somewhat obtuse as they battled their own inclinations. Lost in their own realities, they both seemed unwilling to entertain alternatives.
The story has a supercilious suitor, sabotage, love denied, and the drama around Belle's best course of action. As Belle's sad childhood is revealed, Quinn fights his inclination to protect her. As the attraction between Belle and himself becomes an unstoppable flame, Quinn continues to  fight the notion of love, but the chemistry between them has little chance of being denied. Quinn is continually fighting duty and attraction. 
The solution ends up being an elegant surprise with a few twists that shows that all the angst might have been avoided with a good dose of reality. Still this is a romantic regency novel not real life.

A NetGalley ARC

****