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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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Nothing of the poetical must take root in her mind!

Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace 
by Jennifer Chiaverini


Fascinating look into the life of Lord Byron's daughter, Ada Byron King, a gifted mathematician and visionary.
Rigorously guided by an overbearing, fearful mother who's one concern is that her daughter not have the contagion of excessive passion that her father did, it's no wonder Ada's brilliance found an outlet via reasoning and calculations. Her relationship with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Machine is that of a far seeing acolyte who comprehends the machine's wide ranging future possibilities and joins his fight for government funding and recognition.
Ada's mother's relationship with her daughter is mostly uncompromising, bordering on obsessively harsh at times and barely understandable at others. Lady Byron's fear that blood will tell and that her daughter will be as wicked as her father governs the way Ada is raised.
At times I felt weighted down and oppressed by Ada's upbringing, for Ada it obviously was so much more. It seems she just was never allowed to just 'be'.
Still I couldn't help but be intrigued by the upbringing this woman experienced, the way she had to carefully govern and restrain herself to gain what she desired. The way friends of her mother's surrounded and channeled Ada's energies. Not for nothing did Ada label these friends, The Three Furies.
Ada survived her childhood, eventually married and was able to pursue some of her dreams.
As Chiaverini says, 'It is an immeasurable loss to mathematics, computing, and poetical science that Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, never had the chance to discover the fullness of that energy and power.'
Chiaverini's fictional account, based on rigorous research bears this out, combining as it does biographical data to present a well rounded story. I found this an intriguing revelation of an unknown (to me) extraordinary woman.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Flight and fight!

The Heiress's Deception (Sinful Brides #4)    by Christi Caldwell 


                              

When your despicable brother, the Duke of Bedford, uses all the underhanded methods in his repertoire to lay his hands on your dowry, the only alternatives are to acquiesce to his demands and become a victim, or take charge and run.
That's just what Lady Eve Pruitt did. She ran! Right into the life of Calum Dabney, the man she'd thought had hanged as a thief because that same dreaded brother had had him thrown into Newgate when she was only a young child and had taunted her with Calum's death.
Callum will not do anything to harm his 'family', those he'd grown up with on the streets, but when a new bookkeeper comes looking for a position at the group's gambling establishment,  the Hell and Sin Club, things are turned upside down.
Quite a riveting addition to Caldwell's Sinful Brides series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

'The idea of excitement' brought to life!

Dashing All the Way: A Christmas Anthology
by Celeste Bradley, Eva Devon, Elizabeth Essex, Heather Snow

Nary a story flagged! 5 star holiday season romances with a touch of spice and a dash of cheer that are all excellent inclusions centering around Christmas time in one way or another. From house parties to balls, to situations of intrigue where the stakes are high and the games deadly. Whilst the Eva Devon story did not have as much in common as the others, the central theme continues of female character who is an extraordinary woman looking to take unusual steps.

A Rake for Christmas by Eva Devon 
Beautifully told story of the meeting of a rake (Anthony Basingstoke) and a wallflower (Lady Evangeline Pennyworth), a rake afraid of love and a wallflower unseen until he 'saw' her. What Evangeline wants is to be desirable, and to Anthony she is just that. But he knows the destruction of love. As a child he experienced the chaotic passion and discord of his parent's marriage and that has colored his perceptions. Love is painful and dangerous.

Up on the Rooftops by Elizabeth Essex 
Loved this story! Tobias McTavish, ex jewel thief is targeted. Someone is robbing London's ton of their baubles and jewels exactly in the way the Scottish Wraith used to before being caught. Serving his sentence at His Majesty's Pleasure in the navy had Toby freed and pursuing a gentleman farmer's lot. Now he needs to clear his name. Little does he know that his former Captain's sister, Caledonia Bowmont, has decided he is innocent and she throws herself into helping him. Drat, but she's attracted to Toby! A scintillating, fast moving tale!

The Very Debonair Lady Claire by Heather Snow 
Claire Barton is determined to find out who murdered her twin. A code breaker for the very secrative Abchurch section of the War Department, Clarence has used Claire's talents to help determine some of the codes. Now Clarence is dead and Claire assumes his identity to trap the killer. The new spymaster turns out to be an old friend, almost husband, Lord Andrew Sedgewick. He sees her immediately and it takes all of Claire's powers of persuasion to have him support her. For Andrew's part, he's racked with fear and guilt over the woman he loves whom he walked away from six years ago. A grand tale of love, betrayal, intrigue and romance.

A Liar Under the Mistletoe by Celeste Bradley 
Amie Jackham takes what her father taught her and uses it for survival. The Liar's club uses those lessons in service to the Crown. Lord Elliot Hughes, a Liar's club spy surprises Amie as  she is stealing from the lockbox he has his sights on.
Exciting and at times bewildering, currents of previous stories run deep as thieves vie at Christmas time.
An exciting chase with a young feisty female thief who gives Elliot a run for his money. Amie surprises!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Portia 'had not expected [her] adventure to include a naked manswimming in the waters off the beach!'

Same Time, Next Christmas (Mistress Trio #3)   
by Victoria Alexander


                           

A rather startling opening leads to a fascinating life's journey with a young widow in Victorian times. When Portia, Lady Redwell, decides to continue on with her Italian Christmas holiday despite her aunt and companion having to leave to return to London, she little guesses that an adventure would open up that would span Christmases to come. She little realizes that she will change forever. Portia is about to experience "What happens when we step out of the boxes we have always lived our lives in. When we dare to take a chance. To select the road untraveled. To accept, even embrace, the new, the unknown." A heady idea! Is Portia up to it?
When Portia finds a stranger swimming naked at her villa's private beach she is angry. Her holiday place is not for sharing! Fletcher Jamison must look elsewhere! 
Ultimately Portia has to decide whether merely being content in any future relationship is enough. Or does she want the 'magic' that her two friends have. Will she settle for the type of relationship she had with her dead husband or does she want more?
Rarely impulsive, Portia finds herself being exactly that. I liked watching Portia struggle with that side of herself. A side that Aunt Helena comments, much to Portia's puzzlement, as being so much like Portia's mother!

A NetGalley ARC

****

Thursday, December 7, 2017

‘A bubbling broth of murder, theft, blasphemy and sacrilege.’!

A Medieval mystery (The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan #18) 

by Paul Doherty


Once again Doherty plunged me into the colorful firmament of medieval London of 1381. The starkness of an age where danger encroaches from every side is vividly portrayed. Doherty's descriptions of the hanging fields and the dark depths of the London alleyways are worthy of an Hieronymus Bosch painting. London Hades is a fitting title given the area where the action takes place.
This time Athelstan and his friend 
Sir John Cranston, Lord High Coroner of London, otherwise known as ‘Sir Jack,’ are enmeshed in the dark doings of the gangs of London.
Simon Makepeace, the 'Flesher', leader of 'London’s most vicious and notorious [gang, the] rifflers', an  abhorrent person as his moniker surmises, and his minions are unstoppable, backed as they are by Lord Arundel. When the bodies of a priest, Parson Reynaud, and two others are discovered mysteriously slain within the church of St Benet's, the Flesher's mother's body stolen from her coffin, and the Flesher's treasure taken from the church's iron-bound strongbox, Athelstan is pressed into service. 
Things appear to harken back to when the Twelve Apostles (wonderful gem stones) in their Rose Casket were stolen from the King's barge some eighteen years ago. They were never seen again. The French are taking a keen interest.
Meanwhile another mystery linked to a recent death and a strange discovery in Athelstan's parish of St Erconwald’s sits patiently in Athelstan's mind.
Court politics as always are always lurking in the background.
A mystery that once again puzzles and delights. I did not see the ending coming until the full disclosure was given.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A Duchess-in-training, maybe!

A Good Day to Marry a Duke (Sin and Sensibility #1)   

by Betina Krahn



                             

An interesting basis to a new series. American heiresses 'who descended on England in the late Victorian era' engaging in the London season, hoping for a titled husband. The author's note at the end of the book is quite illuminating about the practice of sending dowered daughters 'across the pond' to bring back a blue blood husband. Some 'bemoaned it as 'the tidal wave of “dollar princesses” '. Although it seems many of these men were no prize, rather total disasters. But do read this fascinating footnote.
Daisy Bumgarten has a lot to live down. Her New York debut was a total failure. I felt pained along with Daisy when we overheard the catty, disparaging comments of the New York disdaining elites. 
To help her family Daisy agrees to a London season. After all she has three younger sisters lining up behind her. The trouble is Daisy finds it hard to push down the sparkling outspoken woman she really is.
So to London where Daisy's sights, or rather her sponsor's sights, have been firmly set on Arthur Graham, the sixth Duke of Meridian.
Unfortunately, Arthur's brother Lord Ashton Graham is charged with not only discovering Daisy's english antecedents, but with actively dashing her hopes. What he didn't expect was how much he would come to appreciate Daisy. Indeed, the very air sizzles between them, but Daisy must do her duty to her family. Ash as the 'spare' portrays the unenviable lot of many of those in his position. His treatment by his family and his brother's trustees is deplorable.
In all this Arthur, a retiring avid naturalist starts to develop into his own man, thanks largely to Daisy's influence and understanding. So we have the kindly, somewhat preoccupied Duke lifting his head to become aware of his estate and his trustee's actions, the dazzling Daisy and the misunderstood handsome rake Ash. Their stories come together in a highly charged and delightful fashion.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, December 4, 2017

Just have to love Penric and his crew!

Penric's Mission (Penric and Desdemona #4)   by Lois McMaster Bujold 


                          

Well that sucks! I was so drawn in to Penric and his happenings that before I knew it I was on the last page. The ending was far too abrupt. I need, indeed must get hold of what happens next!!
Note: I read the sequel (Mira's Last Dance) and am now much happier
Anyway in Mission, Penric enters into a secret diplomatic mission for the Duke of Adri that ends in unmitigated disaster with Penric imprisoned and the future looking grim. Desdemona as usual has a few pithy words to say! A well constructed world that opens up new vistas, with a fitting sense of humor and occasion.
Penric is altogether one of my favorite characters, and here his story just keeps on giving!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Disturbing!



                              

A psychological thriller that deals with pedophilia, unresolved sexuality acceptance and relational difficulties in three voices. These three voices  lead the story, interacting to form the whole. This modus operandi employed by Bonner lends a fascinating pull slowly drawing the reader further into the unfolding action. 
The brutal murder of fourteen year old Madeline has Detective David Vogel methodically parsing every action of those close to her, every nuance is noted as he digs further into Madeline's life and the lives of those within her orbit. 
I found this an uncomfortable read due to the subject matter and yet quite brilliant its execution. Bonner has a way with words that captivates you and places you right in the here and now, whether you want to be or not. It's hard to detach from the visual images she evokes.
Really this is a 5 star writing performance from Bonner, but from my personal liking of the subject matter, 1 star.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Just delightful!

The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (Lady Travelers Society #2) 

by Victoria Alexander


                              


Widowed Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe finds that all was not as smooth sailing as she thought. It seems she and her husband had partied their way through life, incurring the sort of debts that fit their new extravagant lifestyle. Having paid off most of what was owed, Willie's last hope of some monetary security is to reclaim a Renaissance painting her husband used as collateral for a loan. And that's where the Lady Travelers Society comes in. Willie has to travel to Venice to seal the deal. She will lead a tour of American women through Europe, including Paris and Venice.
Unfortunately Dante Augustus Montague is searching for a lost painting to make up a triptych that once belonged to his family's collection. The painting that belongs to Willie! The key to her future independence! Deviously, Dante has his sister and niece join the group. Dante is the surprise participant.
Willie is just a superb character, Dante is a wonderful foil for her.
I loved the American ladies and the way their friendships grew with Willie. Suddenly she is not a pariah any more. (I can see Society swishing their collective dresses and avoiding her in her time of need)
Alexander's descriptions of cities the groups visited are perfect. I was transported to both Paris and Venice with the vivid language she employs, bringing those wonderful cities to life.
This second addition to the Lady Travelers Society never wavered. It drew me on and in. Intrigue, romance, mystery and humor all wrapped up in a European montage. Fabulous!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Solid read. Intriguing and enjoyable!



                              

A story that sparkles 'the whole night through' and beyond.
Spiced with two great lead characters, Jones a man of secrets and action, a spy extraordinaire from the harsh humble beginnings of the Rookeries and now in service to the Crown. A spy's spy who hunts traitorous agents. Jones has to in his sights Lord Wycomb, a coldly efficient master of the art. Which leads Jones straight to Baroness Cat Ashdown. 
Cat has found herself 'wedged between the trustees, her uncle, the estate, and the husband she would soon [be forced to wed]. [It seemed] whatever happened she couldn't win.' 
Cat 'had trained to be Mary Elizabeth Frances Catherine Ashdown, 13th Baroness of Worthington. Fought to prove she could carry on the legacy of the first Mary Elizabeth Frances Ashdown, who had been granted the barony five hundred years earlier. Fought and lost' it would appear. But Cat was not going down without a fight!
Cat though is determined to find someway to win, to regain charge of her inheritance and escape her uncle's plan to marry her off to a man not to her liking. Cat wants is to be able to govern her lands independently, her uncle wants something entirely different.
Hence Cat and Jones' first meeting in a darkened study under a desk that they are both trying to break into is both hilarious and suspenseful.
Cat is more than she seems--brave, loyal, feisty, strong and fearless. Jones is a complex character, honorable and true. Be still my beating heart. The sparks fly when these two engage in a joust royal that captured me right from the start. Not to mention the plot twists and turns.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Monday, November 27, 2017

'You will always be my scoundrel prince'

The Scoundrel Who Loved Me   by Lauren Smith, Kristin Gabriel, Ella Quinn, Laura Landon. 
    

A scintillating meld of stories with handsome, daring heroes and their ladies who may not all be princesses but who have the hearts of strong regal women. 

His Wicked Embrace by Lauren Smith
A rake with a conscience and a stolen Persian princess. Rescued from a slave sale in a brothel by Mr. Lawrence Russell, the half-English princess Zehra Darzi takes shelter with Lawrence, a shelter that feels right.
A variation on the 'Taken' movie set in Regency London. A daring rescue, a damsel in distress and a dashing hero.

The Secret Scoundrel by Kristin Gabriel
A sudden meeting in a darkened garden has spinster Diana Harwood wondering if she's bereft of her senses. Accepting a package from an unknown man is unusual--even for her. Well he was taller than her, and that's a start. But really! A nicely timed romance with the added lure of mystery.

One Duke or Another by Ella Quinn
This explores the idea of young woman as property to be used as bargaining chips by uncaring fathers. Laia is to be married (as a fourth wife) to a duke old enough to be her father if not her grandfather in exchange for a property her father covets. Her brother has different ideas and somehow Laia finds herself entering society at Bath. Here she meets her brother's friend Guy Paulet and heir to her dark-hearted fiancĂ©, the Duke of Bolton. Along the way subterfuge, scandal and a possible murder are uncovered. A pleasing addition to The Towers series.

A Scoundrel at Heart by Laura Landon
'A scoundrel prince'? I'm not sure but Thomas Chandler, Earl of Renfrew, is a lovely man trapped behind a badly scared face who can no longer bare to face the gasps of shock from the ton. Lady Cleora Wentworth is a beautiful young woman blinded in an accident. Cleora  comes to know who Thomas is and loves him. Thomas in turn loves Cleora to distraction, but their love is doomed. A love story with a difference, Beauty and the Beast with a twist. Thomas may not be a scoundrel in my book but he is a prince who needs to learn to take risks.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, November 20, 2017

Chance and circumstance!

The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman   

                                      

'A wooden spoon for courage'. An uncommon choice. But then Juliana Crawford is not by any stretch of the imagination ordinary. Juliana is running from a desperate situation. She is running to a possible future. Stranded at an inn, in a highly unorthodox move, she approaches an elderly gentleman to request a place in his coach.
Michael Roseyear (illegitimate son of an earl) is in pain from being confined to a carriage. His leg is hurting and he's bored. He needs distraction and it seems the wan, poorly clothed young woman seeking assistance will provide that. He and his wolfhound Gelert make room for their unusual guest.
Of course their journey is eventful, unavoidably delayed and downright dangerous. After all the drama they encounter their relationship might develop somewhat beyond the bounds of propriety, but their ways will part whether by choice, design, sacrifice or happenstance. To choose or not to choose, that is the question!
The idea of choice permeates the story, both lead characters discuss it. Choosing to make your own destiny, to be at the mercy of others, and how to change that.
A romance with a difference that I found very enjoyable.

A NetGalley ARC

****

A princely treasure hunt!

Mr. Campion's Abdication (An Albert Campion mystery)  
by Mike Ripley


                            

This was unusually difficult to get into. I really wanted to connect more fully with the story as the whole events around Edward's abdication, Mrs Simpson and there Nazi leanings has always fascinated me. The 'what ifs' are too horrendous to contemplate. 
The thing is that this was my first meet up with Albert Campion and so I do not have an understanding of who he is. He worked in mysterious ways--not fully visible to the naked eye, mine that is!
Thirty plus years later Campion is assisting with a film/documentary by an Italian company about the Prince and Mrs Simpson during their time at Heronhoe Hall and of a gift supposedly sent to show the Prince's appreciation to the Hall's owners, a gift now dubbed the Abdication Treasure. Campion's son and daughter-in-law appear as actors.
Buckingham Palace wants to put a stop to rumors of the treasure. A secretive background to a secretive time in history begets a secretive novel that almost pass me by.
I did like the cover, quite evocative.

A NetGalley ARC

***

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"To love or not to love. That is the question.”



I swear Charlotte is a warrior woman, a lioness in her defence of Ewan Hoffstead, Duke of Donburrow.
Right from when they met, Ewan a terrified ten and Charlotte Undercross, a perceptive seven, Charlotte has defended and encouraged Ethan.
Even years later, when he turned his back on her she still loved him and wanted only the best for him.
Ewan cannot get past the terrible burden his despicable father lay on him. Taunted as being deformed, defined by his muteness as less, this words have been poisoned darts that have burrowed their way into the deepest corners of his psyche. Not only his father's angst and derision did Ewan have to endure, but the coldness of his mother and the same bullying as his father, inflicted on him by his brothers. His brothers have been brought up to disregard Ewan as the heir. It's only his uncle's pursuit of justice that has Ewan declared the rightful heir and Earl.
Now widowed, Charlotte the Countess of Portsmith hopes for one last time to convince Ewan that her love would be enough.
The story of Ewan's banishment is heart wrenching. Ewan's sense of abandonment that cemented the knowledge that he was 'wrong' governed his life.  Unfortunately that emotional, gut wrenching response negated the real point that he was loved, just not by his parents or siblings. This love was evidenced in the way his uncle and aunt opened their arms and home to him when his father cast him off, their support for him over the years.
The challenges Charlotte faces to bring Ewan to an understanding that he is a complete person are difficult. But Charlotte is determined to give their relationship one last attempt before admitting defeat and throwing herself back onto the marriage market.
I must admit that spread liberally throughout the book is Ewan and Charlotte's physical pleasure in each other. But this is a Jess Michaels' book. 

A NetGalley ARC 

****

Christmas memories awakened!

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Molly Murphy #17) 
by Rhys Bowen.  


This is the first Molly Murphy mystery I've read. Even so, I was not lost with what was happening, or the relationships between the main characters. I am sure earlier readings would have given me more depth of understanding into the intricacies of the various relationships--between Molly and Bridie and Daniel, Daniel Sid and Gus, Molly and Daniel's mother.
Through a series of almost happenstance events, Molly, Daniel and Bridie end up spending Christmas at Greenbriars, the home of Cedric and Winnie Van Aiken, near Scarborough on the Hudson River. 
The loss of a child is devasting, and in Winnie Van Aiken's case, the disappearance of her daughter Charlotte years ago, the not knowing if Lottie is alive or dead, continues to be shattering. 
The plot around Charlotte's disappearance is convoluted. The child's footsteps led outside to the edge of a frozen stream and disappeared. Searches turned up nothing. No ransom was ever asked for. Charlotte was gone. What had happened?
Molly is on edge, she feels apprehensive in the house and doesn't like Cedric Van Aiken. Certainly things turn nasty as Molly pursues her investigative intuition about Lottie's disappearance..
I reserve judgement on Daniel. He obviously loves Molly and yet disapproves of many of her actions. Perhaps if I'd met him in earlier novels I'd like him more.
On top of this it seems their ward Bridie is to be reunited with her father--something that has Molly upset and Bridie uncertain.

A NetGalley ARC

***

'Ethan was broken. Broken, and running from it.'

Twelfth Night with the Earl (The Sutherland Sisters #3)  by Anna Bradley   


                          

Ethan Fortescue's return to Cleve's Court in Devon is full of surprises. The Earl of Devon has come to finally shut up the family seat--a place of terrible memories. This Christmas he's putting the past behind him. Or is he? The house that should be silent and dark is alight and full of merriment. There in the midst of things, directing the proceedings is his childhood friend Theodosia Sheridan.
The cut and thrust of the repartee between these two is so entertaining. Indeed, it seems the wicked Earl has a decidedly wicked sense of humor. 
Ethan is burdened with the most appalling sense of guilt centered around his brother's death at Cleve Court. Thea has determined to make Ethan face his ghosts, hoping to bring about his healing. Ethan needs to stop running! It seems though that she has made an appalling misjudgement. The deadline of winning Ethan over by the twelfth night of Christmas, helping him put aside his guilt over the tragedy of his brother, will not come to fruition.
Resident in the house with Thea are three orphans. They are precociously alert and wary of Ehtan. His efforts to win them over and his interactions with them are especially delightful.
This was a warm, often funny novel leaning on themes of guilt, love and redemption. 
The author's note on how epilepsy was perceived during these times gives a deeper understanding of the story.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Monday, November 13, 2017

Excellent graphic novel depicts Monet's life.

Monet: Itinerant of Light by Salva Rubio, illustrated by EFA (Ricard Fernandez) 


                           

A fascinating chronicle that brings one face to face with Monet's life, his struggles and his achievements. I found the graphic presentation challenging at the beginning, the background coloring seemed to swamp things but as Monet's life unfolded I came to appreciate those shadings that seemed for me to reflect the stages of his life and along the way incorporates references to the styles of Monet and his companions in the search for a new way of seeing. The illustrating is fantastic. There's a richness that the artist EFA (Ricard Fernandez) beings to bear.  I'm awed. Sometimes I find the comments in the word balloons a little stilted, but to me that always is a product of this medium.
Graphic novels are not easy reading. I find they require more concentration than the written word. What I really enjoyed was that this medium, by its nature is in the first person. The engagement with the story is just so very immediate. Monet comes alive.
I must say that I really enjoyed looking at Monet's life through graphic spectacles. Using the visual to explore the visual is brilliant.
This is not a scholarly tome although obviously based on solid research. It is a wonderful biographical investigation, a great addition for a collector of works about Monet, or a collector of graphic novels. I would certainly add it to a school library collection, or give it as a present with a difference for someone I know would enjoy it.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The rake's progress!

The Chaperone’s Secret (Classic Regency Romances #19)   by  Donna Lea Simpson


                            

I felt like I was reading a version of the Cinderella story with Cinders being Amy Corbett and her charge Rowena, the ugly stepsister. Amy has been snaffled away from her kind employer by Lady Rowena's autocratic father, the Duke, to chaperone his daughter during the coming season, and to ensure that Rowena finally marries. Failure is not an option. He really is a very unlikeable man. Unfortunately, Amy in accepting the employment that is, well 'fait accompli' is at the mercy of the Duke and his daughter. 
Lady Rowena is disdainful of others and solely concerned about her impact on men in particular. Her shallowness and meanness is breathtaking.
Lord Dante Pierson sees a vision go by late at night when he's sprawled in the gutter with two helpful 'ladies of the night'. Cupid's arrow pierces his heart. He's in love and determined to mend his dissolute ways and pursue the fair, unknown lady. That fair lady being the outwardly angelic Rowena, whose sweet countenance harbours a petulant inner self.
Now this all makes for a whole lot of heartache for Amy's position as chaperone.
I liked the way the characters were presented. Rowena was a fright, as was meant to be.
Amy is disturbed by the effect Rowena has on Pierson. She foresees nothing but disaster for the relationship. There is nothing she can do about it.
This novel had huge potential. There were a couple of interesting surprises towards the end but to my mind the storyline devolved into a fairly predictable melodrama. 

A NetGalley ARC

***

A new star on the space opera map.

Valiant Dust (Breaker of Empires #1)   by Richard Baker. 


                         

An interesting reworking of space opera themes. Recontact by more developed interstellar powers with isolated frontier worlds from Terra  and how that plays out. In this case the two major powers are the Aquilan Commonwealth and the Dremark Empire.
The world that is in question, Gadira II, is populated by those of Islamic leanings, adhering to moderate Quranist understandings of that faith.
It seems an agent of the Dremark Empire is setting up Gadira, for planetary unrest and thereby being able to install a puppet government aligned with Dremark's self interest. (Is it all sounding familiar?)
The main character, Lieutenant Sikander Singh North, a gunner officer, is from a similar frontier world, Kashmir. This system has been able to escalate its development under the more moderate Aquilan Commonwealth.
He's not only a member of the star fleet forces but akin to a prince in his own nation, hence his valet, Darvesh Reza who 'functions as Sikander's security detail, secretary, and general minder as well as his body servant.' I am sure Darvesh is going to join the renowned list of select sidekicks so enjoyed in other space operas.
For some reason Sikander's character is reminding me of Roger Ramius Sergei Chiang MacClintock from David Weber and John Ringo's series, Empire of Man. I know completely different characters and situations, still ... I'm intuiting some similarities.
There is a slight romantic interest for Sikander's with the intelligent, astute niece of the Sultan, Amira Ranya Meriem el-Nasir, Crown Princess of Gadir. A romance destined not to be.
Captain Markham, captain of the CSS Hector reminds me of some of the stalwart and fearless female captains from the Honor Harrington series.
The battles are all well orchestrated and described by Baker. It's in these situations of course we see further development of major and secondary characters, as they react under fire.
I look forward to the next in this series.

A NetGalley ARC

****

Compelling Victorian Mystery!

Lord Edward's Mysterious Treasure: The Breton Adventure (The Victorian Adventures #4) 
by Lillian Marek. 

                             

Marek's novel takes us to Brittany and a gothic Victorian type mystery with a romantic interest.
The scholarly Lord Edward Tremaine, son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Penworth, is lured to Brittany's coast and the forbidding Chateau Morvan by his friend Antoine on the pretext of being able to interview Tony's great grandfather, the vicomte de Morvan. Edward is excited at this possibility of direct research into the Breton rebellion, and relationship between the peasants of the area and the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Antoine really want wants Edward to help search for lost treasure from that time. Edward reminds me of a Tom Conti or Oscar Wilde type hero. On the surface he seems like an Ineffectual scholar but as events ratchet up, he becomes so much more. And Edward's very perceptive mother notices the difference in her son! 
Then there's Tony's two cousins. The delightful, warm Delphine and the sober Marguerite, a dark and secretive woman and a brilliant pianist. Intrigue and unforeseen dangers swirl around the story akin to the swirling mists that encase the Chateau. 
Tumultuous times are indeed revisited in highly charged and unexpected ways.
In this, the fourth in the series a Tremaine sibling is once again center stage.
Marek's historical setting and her use of situations  to give entree into the drama is fascinating, as is the unpacking of her historical writing muses discussed in her author's notes.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

Well done Galen! Third Son does indeed charm!

Third Son's a Charm (The Survivor's #1)    by Shana Galen.  


I really enjoyed the first entry in Galen's new series, The Survivor's.
Lady Lorraine, daughter of the Duke of Ridlington, is a bundle of energy that she has trouble keeping inside. She's determined, inquisitive, daring and delightful.
Ewan Mostyn is a returned soldier, a younger son of Lord Pembroke. He was one of a number of younger sons who fought and survived the Napoleonic Wars with Lieutenant Colonel Draven’s special unit. 'The survivors called themselves the Survivors. They called Ewan the Protector.'
Back in civilian life, the Colonel has opened a club for the men of his unit. A place they can gather and support each other, eat and sleep. For Ewan it's his lifeline.
The story begins with a runaway dog, a slightly damaged owner and a large bulk of a man who saves both from impending doom, not that the lady seems at all grateful much less aware of her eminent danger.
The Duke of Ridlington wants a bodyguard for his daughter and after the contretemps with Ewan and his daughter it seems the Duke's decided that Ewan is the man for the job.
This first of the series that will be woven around these survivors is a winner. Wonderful interaction between Lady Lorraine and Ewan--often hilarious. I love the tree limb sequences. 
Of course there's an antagonist. Such a coincidence, (Hmm! the literary universe does move in mysterious ways), that it's Ewan's slimey cousin Francis, a person who's been a thorn in his flesh since early childhood. That these two should meet, and that Lorraine is the intersecting point, raises all sorts of emotions, bad memories and angst for Ewan and adds the requisite sinister note to the story. 
I loved Galen's writing style, her turn of phrase. I was particularly struck by Ewan's metaphor regarding Francis's pursuit of his charge. 'Ewan had no illusions that his cousin was in love with Lady Lorraine. He wanted her dowry, and once he had it, he would discard his wife like a browning apple core.' That last image is brilliant!
And to think the starting point for this series was 'The Dirty Dozen' as Galen says in her Author's Note. (I always read the authors notes. I find them so enlightening.)
Anyway, I'm sold! I'm so looking forward to all the Survivor's stories!

A NetGalley ARC

*****

A past Christmas tragedy wakes.

A Christmas Return (Christmas Stories #15)  
by Anne Perry.  


                          


Never disappointing, Perry pens a mystery novella that keeps you wondering. An unusual Christmas present, the wretched reminder of a tragic past and a cry for help, catapults Mariah Ellison, (Charlotte Pitt's grandmother), into a situation that has her drawing on all the fortitude she can muster. Mariah Ellison finds herself facing her own dark past memories as she comes to the aid of a friend.
A dark wound of twenty years ago is reopened and Mariah is called to aid a friend in need.
Twenty years ago Mariah's friend, Cullen Wesley died under strange circumstances just after he'd withdrawn as the attorney for a man accused of the rape and murder of a child.
Subsequently, his ex client Owen Durward was acquitted.  is back in 
Now Durward has returned to the village of 'Haslemere, bent on clearing his reputation.' He has taken aim at Cullen's wife Rowena, spreading rumours that perhaps she killed her husband.
As the poison spreads Rowena is being shunned by the villagers.
Her grandson Peter Wesley calls on Mariah to help clear Rowensa name.
Mariah is prepared for battle, but where to start? Can they find out the truth of twenty years ago?
A tightly woven mystery that raises all sorts of questions.

A NetGalley ARC

****